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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double-Sided – Yes, Really

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

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

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

Chromosome 1 match.png

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

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

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

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

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

Your Three Matches

Let’s say you have three matches.

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

Chromosome 1-4.png

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with a basic question.

Why Would I Want to Use a Chromosome Browser?

Genealogists view matches on chromosome browsers because:

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

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

That’s a genetic genealogy home run!

Home Runs 

There are four bases in a genetic genealogy home run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the important concept:

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

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

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

Chromosome 1.png

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

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

Parent-Child Matches

Let’s explain this another way.

Chromosome parent.png

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

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

Chromosome parent child.png

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

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

Stay with me!

Inheritance Example

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

Chromosome inheritance.png

In the example above:

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

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

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

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

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

Chromosome actual

Click to enlarge image.

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

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

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

There are two types of phasing.

Parental Phasing

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

Chromosome inheritance actual.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statistical/Academic Phasing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grey/Opaque Background is Your Chromosome

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

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

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

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

Chromosome 1.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about those colorful bars?

Chromosome Browser Matching

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

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

Chromosome browser.png

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

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

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

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

The Same Address – Stacked Matches

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

Chromosome browser locations.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to evaluate!

Two Faces – Matching Can be Deceptive!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chromosome inheritance match.png

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

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

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

Chromosome actual overlay

Click to enlarge image

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

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

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

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

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

Chromosome actual maternal.png

Click to enlarge image

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

Triangulation – Think of 3

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

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

Chromosome inheritance triangulation.png

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

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

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

Three Way Matching and Identifying Imposters

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

Chromosome 3 way match.png

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

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

Chromosome paternal.png

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

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

Chromosome maternal paternal.png

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

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

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

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

Chromosome identical by chance.png

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

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

Chromosome maternal paternal IBC.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember Three Things

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

Are you ready to hit your home run?

What’s Next?

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

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

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Thank you so much.

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Conferences: Different Flavors – How They Work & What to Expect as an Attendee or Speaker

As you’ve noticed, I’m sure, I sometimes speak at conferences.

Roberta speaking at conference.jpg

Not all conferences are the same – nor are they created equal for either the speakers or attendees. That’s by design, based on the type of conference and who is sponsoring the event.

How well a conference resonates with you depends on your personal goals and the goals of the sponsoring party.

Let’s look at the different factors that makes conferences unique – and interesting.

After we understand the different kinds of conferences, then we’ll talk about conferences from the speaker’s, and aspiring speaker’s, perspectives.

Last, we’ll review aspects you’ll want to consider when considering conferences as either an attendee or speaker.

Conferences Types and Sponsors

Conferences in general, not just genealogy, are sponsored by four types of organizations – each with different goals. We will look at each type in terms of organizations, sponsorship, speakers, expectations and fees!

Type 1 – Academic and Professional Conferences

Long before I spoke at genealogy conferences, I spoke at academic and professional conferences about technology and science related topics. These conferences generally focus on a specific theme. Example themes would be GIS (geographic information systems), medicine or a specific area of technology.

At academic and professional conferences, the speakers are paid by organizations that they work for, such as universities or companies associated with the subject. In other words, they are speaking as an employee, meaning they are paid by their employer and speaking is part of their job. Speakers at these conferences aren’t typically free-lancers, self-employed people or consultants.

In my opinion, this conference model is the origin of the myth that genealogical speakers only need to be offered a small honorarium, often in the ballpark of $100, instead of being “paid.” The conference committees were and are used to speakers who are paid by their employers and feel that simply being asked to speak is an honor in and of itself within your profession.

It’s a fine model for a group of speakers who are speaking as part of their paid employment, but not for people who aren’t.

In the genealogical world, people employed by vendors who speak fall into this category, but professional and non-professional genealogists who don’t work for a company that pays their salary are exceptions. People not employed by organizations are literally trading a significant number of hours of paid work for preparing their presentation, traveling and speaking – not to mention paying their own costs.

The conferences who subscribe to this model feel that the exposure to the public will build the speaker’s business, and while that’s true if the speaker has something to sell, like a book, it’s not true if the speaker already has a full calendar and the only thing they “sell” is services. In this second scenario, it actually costs the speaker to speak because they forego revenue.

Some speakers are retired from professions that offer pensions, so they aren’t trying to earn a living as a professional – but that’s far from true for everyone.

In terms of expectations, at a professional or academic conference, you can generally expect to hear a wide range of speakers including individuals who work for organizations other than vendors, academics, and of course vendors’ employees.

These professional conferences are generally run by professional or academic associations that are often nonprofit and charge a membership fee, in addition to a conference admission fee.

Their goal is usually not to make a profit but to cover the actual conference expenses. Some conference functions, such as lunches and a dinner, if offered, are usually extra.

Generally, the attendees’ and speakers’ conference fees, travel and expenses are covered by their employer, because the attendee needs to keep current in their field. Conferences of this type are considered part of continuing education and professional development.

Costs of Holding a Conference

For all conferences, venues and associated services, meaning food and beverages, prices are exceedingly expensive. For example, a conference center fee for water pitchers in a conference room is $55 per room for 5 gallons, plus an additional $35 for 3 additional gallons. Coffee costs over $100 per carafe. Of course, these costs include the people in the background delivering and coordinating.

The deposit alone for a conference expecting a maximum of 250 people was $28,000 last year. And that was just to reserve the facility. You get the idea.

Attendees often receive a “goody bag” with items contributed by the conference itself or vendors who would like for you to visit their booths and/or consider purchasing their products.

2019 familytreedna booth

Generally, associated vendors have paid booths or table space which generates some revenue for the conference itself. Sometimes booth space is purchased by location, with the largest, best and most expensive “premier” locations just inside the entrance to the Expo Hall.

At RootsTech, below, during setup before the conference opened, FamilySearch, the conference sponsor is in the center, just inside the door, flanked by MyHeritage to their left, and Ancestry, not shown, to the right.

Rootstech day 1 setup

The conference keynote speech is generally given by someone well known who is of interest to anyone in that particular field and is expected to be both informative and entertaining. Some keynote speakers, such as entertainers, are very pricey, in the 10s of thousands of dollars.

Type 2 – Vendor Sponsored Conferences

Vendors sponsor conferences to educate their customers and create goodwill in their user community.

These types of conferences highlight the vendor’s products and innovative ways to utilize those products.

You can expect to see several sessions about the vendor’s tools, products and services, including new announcements. You won’t see anything about competitors’ products.

Generally, there is an admission fee, but these conferences tend to be highly subsidized by the vendors and include events like receptions and often some included meals.

MyHeritage 2019 Gilad keynote.png

Photo of Gilad Japhet, opening MyHeritage LIVE 2019 in Amsterdam, courtesy MyHeritage.

A good example of this is the recent #MyHeritageLIVE conference in Amsterdam. Gilad Japhet, the founder and MyHeritage CEO is giving he opening keynote, above, at their second international conference.

At MyHeritage LIVE, the $149 conference fee didn’t begin to cover what the attendees received. For example, an included canal tour, a nice sweatshirt and stuff bag, a journal, a reception with drinks included, 2 lunches, several breaks with snacks and drinks and an amazing party with live entertainment including a “Beatles” band and Dutch folk dancers.

MyHeritage LIVE me with Marianne Melcherts.png

No, those people aren’t Dutch folk dancers, that’s me celebrating our shared Dutch heritage with Marianne Melcherts!

All of that’s in addition to the actual conference sessions with the best speakers in the industry, which is the actual purpose of the conference. You can see a quick one minute video, here, and free session recordings including the keynote, here. I covered the conference here and here.

Next MyHeritage LIVE conference – Israel sometime probably in the fall of 2020.

The annual Family Tree DNA International Conference for project administrators falls into the vendor sponsored category too and costs about the same.

2015 ftdna panel

Panelists, left to right, Katherine Borges, Steven Perkins, Dr. Tim Janzen, Jennifer Zinck and Debbie Parker-Wayne.

Above, Bennett Greenspan, Family Tree DNA CEO hosting a 2015 panel discussion and below, Bennett speaking about the Y DNA pedigree.

Rootstech day 3 Bennett Y pedigree

The next Family Tree DNA conference is scheduled for November of 2020 – next year. Their conference is focused on educating project administrators who are hightly interested genetic genealogists that function as volunteer supporters for their tens of thousands of cumulative project members.

Family Tree DNA has over 10,000 projects focused on a wide variety of areas, all of which are free to participants. I’ve always perceived their educational conference for (and restricted to) administrators as a form of an educational “thank you” for the many hours donated by administrators.

2015 ftdna 2004 bennett

The Family Tree DNA conference, the first in the genetic genealogy industry was initially held in 2004, back when NOBODY was talking about genetics at genealogy conferences. Katherine Borges of ISOGG provided this slide of Bennett welcoming project administrators at that first conference. We’ve come a very long way in the past 15 years as an industry.

Vendor-sponsored conferences often don’t have vendor booths or tables, and if they do, they are organizations that support or utilize the vendor’s products and tools. Sometimes the vendors themselves have support tables, roundtable discussions and such.

How individual vendors industrywide handle speaker compensation at their conferences for people outside of their organization varies widely. Speakers are generally personally invited to speak and there is no open call for papers at these types of conferences.

Vendor conferences are usually extremely affordable and represent a great value for the attendees because they are subsidized.

Type 3 – Organization Sponsored Conferences

Most genealogy conferences fall into this category.

2019 Rootstech sign

Some conferences are general in nature, such RootsTech (sponsored by FamilySearch affiliated with the LDS church) and NGS (National Genealogical Society.)

You can read about the history of RootsTech here. I covered RootsTech 2019 here and here and will be speaking at RootsTech 2020.

The current RootsTech information for February 2020 with earlybird pricing can be found here and for NGS in May 2020 here. RootsTech is always in Salt Lake City, and NGS 2020 is as well.

Other conferences focus on a specific theme, such as the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) conference.

In the genetic genealogy world, the i4gg (Institute for Genetic Genealogy) conference was launched a few years ago to focus specifically on genetic genealogy, which means they included sessions all the way from basic to advanced.

Today, almost every conference includes several DNA sessions and most include a DNA track.

Most general conferences focus on a wide range of topics. RootsTech, the largest conference with 30,000 to 40,000 attendees over several days (no they’re not all there at once) is a good example. You can find everything from how to use German church records to advanced DNA – and pretty much everything in between.

These conferences highly encourage vendor participation and have an exhibition hall.  Vendor tables and vendor sponsored sessions help to offset the cost of the venue and of speaker compensation.

Rootstech day 3 Charting Companion

Organization sponsored conferences generally tend to handle speaker compensation based on the old academic model. However, this isn’t always true and varies widely.

The reason that organizations tend to lean towards the academic conference model is a matter of dollars and cents – it costs less than paying a large number of speakers in addition to their transportation and lodging which keeps the conference costs lower, which in turn presumably encourages more attendees.

Part of their thinking is that the speakers, because they are interested in the topic at hand will be attending the conference anyway, so the organizers feel they are in essence only paying speakers for an hour of their time in a location where they would already be.

For the record, I disagree and feel that speakers, if they are not paid by their employer should be fairly compensated for their time and effort.

For attendees, due to the wide subject matter draw and size of these conferences, they are great for networking and meeting other people you may only know virtually.

You’ll also find all of the major vendors and many sponsor talks by well-known speakers and/or employees in their booths as well.

2019 ftdna booth presentation

Here’s me in the Family Tree DNA booth at RootsTech and Ran Snir speaking about DNA in the MyHeritage booth.

2019 MyHeritage booth

Nonprofit organizations that don’t have anything to sell, such as WikiTree, also have a presence and offer learning opportunities. Their booths are staffed entirely by volunteers, so stop by and say hello and learn what’s possible.

rootstech-day-4-wiki.jpg

In terms of expectations, these conferences are often large, which is both the good news and the bad news.

Sometimes the conference organizations themselves will sponsor free learning areas.

Rootstech day 2 discovery zone

There was even a DNA Basics area at RootsTech in 2019, staffed by volunteers. I’d volunteer for a shift there.

2019 DNAbasics

Another favorite conference is the entirely free Dublin, Ireland conference, Genetic Genealogy Ireland headed up by volunteer,  Dr. Maurice Gleeson and with the lecture rooms sponsored by Family Tree DNA. This lovely conference takes place in a conference center as part of the larger “Back to Our Past” conference with an admission to the entire conference center of about $10 per day.

Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2019 schedule.png

A wide range of speakers volunteer in order to support this amazing organization with something to offer everyone with Irish ancestors. GGI attempts to live stream and makes their sessions available on their own YouTube channel, here.

In 2019, the GGI conference takes place on October 18th and 19th in Dublin and I strongly encourage anyone in Ireland or Northern Ireland to attend. It’s well worth your time. You can see the speaker bios here on their blog and or follow them on Facebook, here.

Two new conferences in 2019, both in England, include RootsTech London taking place October 24-26 and THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham. Yes, there’s still time to sign up and attend RootsTech London.

THE Genealogy Show in June was a smashing success, according to attendees. While the initial conference was relatively small, about 4000 people, it was extremely well received. I heard glowing reviews and people really enjoyed the intimate atmosphere that included lots of wonderful sessions with well-known speakers from around the world.

THE Genealogy Show 2020 will be held on June 26-27 and you can take a look at the keynote speakers here.

Yes, you just might know someone who’s speaking:) I can’t wait!

Type 4 – Virtual Conferences

Entire virtual conferences as well as live streaming and recording sessions at regular conferences as they occur are becoming increasingly popular.

In fact, now there’s a Virtual Genealogy Association who has a full 3 day conference coming up in November – as in next month. Registration closes on October 18th and since there’s no travel involved, it’s an exceptional value at $59 for members and $79 for non-members.

Virtual Genealogical Association 2019.png

Choices of types of virtual learning for attendees not physically attending conferences vary, including:

  • Live webinars where viewers can interact with the speakers in some capacity. These tend to be purchased in advance, restricted in number and one must register.
  • Live streamed sessions where large numbers of people can watch as the sessions occur, or later. #MyHeritageLIVE did this in Oslo in 2018, recently in Amsterdam and the sessions were entirely free. RootsTech does live streaming and recording in some capacity for selected sessions. A few RootsTech sessions are live and free, some are available only for paid attendees and last year, a virtual pass was available. Some sessions aren’t recorded or livestreamed at all. NGS also records some sessions and provides them to members and conference attendees. Family Tree DNA doesn’t record but provides presenters’ Powerpoint presentations available online afterwards – if the presenter agrees.
  • Webinars where speakers create and record sessions for organizations in advance who then provide the sessions to members either by subscription, such as DNA-Central and Legacy Family Tree Webinars, or as individual purchases. Legacy Family Tree Webinars offers many for free.
  • Recorded sessions available to purchase. This model varies, but several conferences record sessions and make them available later in some way to be viewed. Often conference attendees are provided access either free or for a minimal cost so they can “attend” sessions that conflicted with other sessions during the actual conference. Non-attendees can pay for the entire set. As a speaker, it’s easier to participate in this type of venue because you’re not traveling. On the other hand, for speakers, it takes some adapting to be able to present looking at a screen when you’re used to looking at a crowd where you can see reactions.

Speakers are often compensated better for these types of sessions than at the large conferences. Again, your mileage may vary.

Ummm, YouTube

When you attend sessions of speakers who have been selected to speak at conferences, virtually or in person, generally, they are competent, capable and engaging.

Some vendors and organizations make their videos available on YouTube and that’s great. Some of these same speakers do the same – and that’s wonderful too.

However, other not-so-competent people produce a wide variety of “informational videos” which range from wonderful to highly inaccurate. The consuming public has no way to differentiate between an informed specialist and a crackpot, or anything in-between. Including less than upstanding companies.

Same caution for Facebook and social media. There’s no way to discern the difference between 20 bad, incomplete or incorrect answers and the one that is perhaps unpopular, but accurate😊

Consumer beware.

Speaker Compensation, Considerations and Expectations

Lots of people aspire to become speakers at conferences and would like to know how this works but are just too polite to ask. So I’m just going to tell you.

  • Public Speaking

First, you need to be comfortable in front of people. Audience sizes range from a few at local events, to hundreds at state and regional events, to thousands at national conferences.

2019 ballroom b

Here’s a photo of a portion of one of the medium sized rooms at RootsTech. Hint – they look even larger from the front – where the speaker is standing – and the room is often dark so the speaker can’t see the entire audience. In other words, it’s a kind of endless, dark sea.

People will be coming and going, so speakers need to be well-prepared, confident, not easily distracted, able to handle technical glitches and not subject to stage fright. Also, bring your magic wand.

  • Compensation

At various conferences, there’s a wide range of speaker compensation and packages offered, from nothing to significant. Let’s face it, there’s a huge difference between Donny Osmond and performers who would be of interested to many and comfortable on a huge stage, and an unknown speaker.

Rootstech main stage.jpg

If you’re interested in speaking, watch for the various conferences’ “call for papers” or “call for sessions.” That’s code for submitting your ideas and applying to speak at their conference. When submitting proposals for sessions, focus on the theme of the conference, don’t duplicate what other speakers are offering and look for a unique topic or angle.

If you’re not used to public speaking, you can hone your skills, and presentations, at local events.

Some conferences, large and small, where it’s perceived that the speaker will be attending anyway offer honorariums in the range of $100 per session and sometimes one night paid hotel per session presented at the conference. Generally, but not always the speaker’s conference entrance fee is waived too. If you are actually going to attend the conference anyway, and want to contribute, this is a good way. It’s also a great way to break into the speaking circuit and get your name out there.

If you’re an experienced speaker, these conferences aren’t terribly attractive unless you actually are planning to attend or have something to sell, such as books or subscriptions to your website. In other words, speaking can be great for sales – but it’s an opportunity, not a guarantee.

For better-known high-visibility speakers who are not necessarily going to be attending a conference unless invited to speak, compensation is individually negotiated and generally includes full travel, lodging and expenses in addition to a speaking fee.

Nationally known speakers often, but not always, fall into this category.

For example, to the best of my knowledge, other than the keynotes, RootsTech pays all speakers the same which is an honorarium, one night’s hotel for each session, plus a ticket to the conference is included. There are some other perks too, such as a speaker prep room with drinks and snacks (chips, etc.) where speakers can find relative peace and quiet for a few minutes.

“Famous people” such as the RootsTech keynote speakers are in another compensation category altogether and I’m not privy to that information. Most people at the level have agents who negotiate on their behalf.

Some organizations pay residual royalties for your sessions if people purchase them during or after the conference.

The bottom line about compensation is that your mileage will vary, widely, and it’s up to each person to decide what is and is not acceptible.

Dear Myrt recently wrote about why organizations need to pay speakers well, and included lots of really great suggestions for organizations, especially nonprofits, that need assistance with fundraising.

  • Copyright

Copyright is another matter that speakers need to consider. You may or may not retain full copyright to your material. Read the speaker contract carefully. I declined an opportunity through a university where the contract specified that they, the university, retained copyright of my prepared material. I had spoken there previously and the contact was different at that time. The new contract also specified that I was responsible for my own hotel, which meant that in essence, I was speaking for free AND driving a (long) day each way, plus preparation for the privilege. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and the university was insulted that I wasn’t simply honored enough with the invitation to accept.

Also consider that if your session is provided to the public for free that other venues might not be anxious to hire you for that same session. Once content is freely available, other people aren’t likely to want to pay for the same session and you’ll need to come up with something new for future conferences and speaking engagements.

  • Photography in Sessions

As a speaker, you may or may not be required to include specific slides forbidding picture taking during sessions. This is a result of conferences attempting to be respectful of copyrighted material and making attendees aware of same.

If you are not required to add this slide, you need to think about what you will and will not allow in your sessions, and how to handle the situation if you have a rule breaker in the audience. Some conferences monitor rooms for this occurring and will deal with it so that speakers don’t have to.

As a rule of thumb, vendors LOVE it when you take pictures, because sharing on social media equates to free advertising, but private speakers don’t. I always ask if there is any question.

I generally don’t mind occasional photos, BUT, not of every slide. I have had the situation occur where someone literally copied all of my slides’ content and recreated it as their own. Some people feel speakers are inflexible and unreasonable about photography, but after incidents like this, I’m sure you’ll understand why speakers who invest years becoming educated and maintaining that level of education and days preparing (often for minimal compensation) don’t want their work infringed upon and abused. Most people wouldn’t even think of doing that, but unfortunately, we have to prepare for that possibility.

  • Photography of You

You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to allow people to take photos of you in social or classroom situations and post to social media so long as it’s handled tastefully. In other words, no hating on me by using my photo that I allowed in good faith. Most people at conferences understand that photos may very well be posted on social media and are fine with that.

2019 blogger photo

This picture, taken by Daniel Horowitz of a group of bloggers at the Family History Library, that he gave me permission to use in my blog article, shows me giving out my very first DNAeXplain ribbon that I had made specifically for RootsTech 2019. What great memories with my blogger friends – one of whom 7 months later recognized me passing by walking on the street in Amsterdam. Small world!

  • Evaluations & Feedback

As a speaker, you can expect to be evaluated. Not all evaluations are wonderful. There is almost always a “grouchy” person, so if you’re super sensitive – public speaking might not be for you. (Hint – humor is not universal. Do not joke about your bigamist ancestor in Salt Lake City, even if he wasn’t Mormon😊. Trust me on this.)

You may or may not be provided with the feedback. There are sometimes very good suggestions. Other times, not so much. I’m sometimes left wondering why an attendee downgrades a speaker, complaining that the session wasn’t advanced enough when it was described as introductory, or vice versa. Many things, such as audio quality in a room, are beyond the speakers’ control, but the speaker’s ratings will suffer because of it.

One conference pays an honorarium-size bonus to speakers who rank over a certain score – as if to infer that the speakers would do less than their best without that small financial incentive. I don’t think for one minute that’s true.

What Do Conferences Expect of Speakers?

Most of the time, other than a few specifics, there isn’t a universal list of speaker expectations. However, I’m sharing based on my own experiences. Your experience may vary and other speakers may have other items to add.

  • Speakers are expected to create a Powerpoint presentation, sometimes in a specific format, screen size, fonts or using a specific template.
  • Speakers are expected to have practiced the presentation and both fill and limit themselves to the time allotted. This takes practice and fine-tuning the presentation. Rule of thumb is 1 slide every 2 minutes.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. People tend to speed up and sometimes mumble when they get nervous.
  • More graphics, fewer words, high contrast, large font. I never use below 24 and generally larger.
  • Speakers are expected to have a remote “clicker” and may or may not be expected to use their own laptop for the actual presentation. Speakers may also be required NOT to use their own laptop, so should at least be marginally comfortable with other technologies, such as both MACs and PCs.
  • Your room size with multiple screens may preclude you from using a laser pointer, so don’t depend on that feature.
  • As a speaker, you will need to have a backup (thumb drive) and a backup of the backup, preferably someplace online and accessible remotely just in case. Yes, I’ve needed both.
  • You will probably be expected to show up for a brief practice session that includes a technical dry-run to be sure your laptop is compatible with everything. In cases where you aren’t using your own laptop, then you’ll need to practice with the system in use.
  • You will be expected to provide adapters (dongles) and conversion devices. For example, different kinds of video in and out cables.
  • If you want to utilize the internet, this will require special planning and arrangements, and I highly discourage this practice. Utilize screenshots. Wi-Fi is unreliable and Murphy, guaranteed, will visit you. Voice of experience here.
  • You’ll be expected to utilize some type of screen capture software that is of a higher quality than “print screen” when creating your slides. I use Snagit. It’s not free but works wonderfully and has both mark-up and blur features.
  • You will be expected to be sure that your images are copyright-free and if you use other people’s or company’s images, you have permission to do so. This isn’t just a courtesy, as some media companies specifically target infringers for compensation in the thousands of dollars if you’ve used their images without permission or payment.
  • You will be expected to obscure/blur names and identifying information of any examples you use unless you have obtained permission from that person. I generally obscure anyway because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m remiss even when I have permission. It’s just easier.
  • You may be expected to provide your own projector (NGS) which is an archaic practice at best. Projectors are not inexpensive and are deal-breakers for many speakers. Projectors are available to rent from hotels but rentals are often as expensive as simply purchasing a projector. In my opinion, all conferences should rent or own enough projectors to accommodate all rooms utilized simultaneously for speaking, plus at least one spare – because Murphy.
  • You may be expected to provide a syllabus several weeks or months in advance, in a very specific format or template. (This is my least favorite part of speaking.)
  • You will be expected to provide promotional information in advance, generally including a summary, a brief bio, a larger bio and at least one professional quality photo.
  • You may be encouraged to or conversely forbidden from mentioning your own items for sale, such as books. You may be discouraged or forbidden from mentioning your website even if nothing is for sale. Know the expectations in advance.
  • You may be encouraged by the conference to include links or relevant references to articles you’ve written on your free website, then be criticized in the speaker rating for doing so. Or vice versa.
  • Creating a session for a conference, including research, Powerpoint and graphics, and the syllabus will take approximate a week of your time for each one-hour session and that’s assuming you already know your topic well. If you can utilize the same presentation again, the up-front “cost” may be an investment for you. However, keynotes and high-visibility speakers as well as speakers for national conferences are expected to have fresh, up-to-date content customized (at least minimally) for each organization.
  • Speakers are expected to be available for questions – if not during the session, then sometime during the conference.
  • Speakers are expected to mingle with other conference attendees at least part of the time. Exceptions to this would be “famous people,” such as RootsTech keynotes that aren’t connected to genealogy. If you’re not Donny Osmond, you’ll be expected to make yourself available. Of course, most of us would be mingling regardless. What better way to meet new friends and cousins? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve discovered I’m related to at conferences in general conversation.
  • Dress and act professionally. For example, do not show up in a t-shirt and flip-flops unless it’s part of a “costume” that goes with the topic of your presentation.

Jedi me.jpg

Yes, I confess, the rumor is true, I once appeared as a “Jedi,” complete with surprise lightsaber at the appropriate moment. But I had a great reason!

Jedi presentation.jpg

That session, completely custom, was so much fun! But was I ever nervous. It was a bit of a departure from the norm.

Courtesies

I only speak at a limited number of conferences per year, so I do provide an announcement on my blog that I’m speaking for an organization. Not everyone has this ability, but it’s something I feel I can provide as a service to both the organization and my readers because I limit my speaking engagements to 4 or 5 per year and no more.

Speakers should never be expected to stay in private homes, marginal areas, or in hotels that are less than “Holiday Inn” level accommodations. If there is a conference hotel, the speakers should expect to stay in that hotel.

Check with the organization to make sure you know who is supposed to make your reservations (you or them), and when, and obtain a confirmation number. Nothing worse than showing up to a booked hotel, insisting you have a reservation that someone else supposedly made.

Considerations

Here are several things to think about, both when selecting a conference as an attendee or a speaker.

  • Networking

For me, the best part of conferences is networking. I love meeting people, many of whom I only know online.

People, like you, who follow my blog.

People who don’t.

People I “know” on Facebook.

People who are distant cousins.

Serendipity!

In 2019, in Salt Lake City, I accidentally met Myrt and wound up on her show while researching at the Family History Library, before 2019 RootsTech. Beside Myrt on the right is Luana Darby who is the conference chair of NGS 2020. All I can say is bless Luana’s heart, because I chaired one national conference and it’s something I’ll never do again.

2019 me with Myrt

I can’t tell you how many times I’m chatting with someone and we discover that indeed, we are related or we have a DNA match that needs to be explained. That happened right after the Myrt session, at lunch, with Cheryl. Serendipity!

Conferences and speaking are very rewarding experiences – even if you’re not a speaker or don’t attend a lot of sessions at the conference.

The key to having an enjoyable experience is to understand your goals and evaluate the conference in light of those goals.

For example, I don’t feel I need to attend sessions all the time. I select a few that are of particular interest to me and schedule those in my phone. I like having the option of recorded sessions later for viewing at home.

What I really enjoy is to visit with people, check out vendors’ booths, see demos and learn from other conference attendees. That I can’t do at home.

  • Venue

For both speakers and attendees, location can be very important. I only speak at 4 or a maximum of 5 conferences per year. My goal is educational outreach, so I want to reach as many people as possible. For me, this generally means larger conferences and often keynotes.

I confess, I decide which conferences I’m going to attend based on the following criteria, in no specific order – in fact, the order may change based on the attractiveness of the offer. This criteria is probably equally as important to attendees.

  • Schedule

I have not yet cloned myself to be in two places at once and I will not back one event up to another. Been there, done that, won’t do it again. Jet lag is miserable.

  • Lead Time

I book about a year in advance, sometimes more. Many speakers do. As an attendee or a speaker, if you want to attend a specific conference, register early and book at the conference hotel before the reduced rate conference room block is sold out.

  • Location, Location, Location

If a conference is occurring someplace I want to visit, I’m much more likely to be interested. For example, I just spent the week after the MyHeritage conference traveling in the Netherlands with my friend, Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire.

I have three separate ancestral lines that lived in the Netherlands and I love to walk where my ancestors were born, lived, married, worked and died. I also love to meet my cousins and I met 8 Ferverda (Ferwerda) cousins. Pure bliss!

I’m not including a shameless list of places my ancestors lived that I’d like to visit😊

There are more locations than I could ever visit in my lifetime, as well as a few bucket list locations that I’d like to visit where my ancestors inconsiderately didn’t live.

As a genealogist, I’m sure you have a “genealogy location bucket list” too.

  • Topic

Some topics interest me much more than others. I love teaching about all aspects of DNA, but one of my favorites is how to utilize genetic genealogy to identify Native American ancestors.

This fall, in addition to a Native American session, I’m keynoting about the Lost Colony of Roanoke in North Carolina for the North Carolina Genealogical Society right after a documentary about the Lost Colony is released. (More about that documentary in a future article.)

I’m also attending and keynoting at an Archaeogenetics and Genetic Genealogy conference at the University of Umea, Sweden in November. Ancient DNA is fascinating to me, and I really wanted to attend this conference, so I welcomed the invitation to keynote. And no, I have no ancestors from there, at least not that I can individually identify, although clearly my mitochondrial DNA line originated in Scandinavia before being found in Germany in the 1500s.

Find topics that you love in places you want to visit.

  • Exposure

Given my personal goals of reaching a large number of people relative to utilizing DNA for genealogy, organizations that have large audiences and/or that include livestreaming, webinars and other outreach activities are generally more attractive to me – while the opposite may be true for other speakers who don’t want their sessions to be widely shared.

  • Compensation

I’m human and I want to be paid fairly for my time. I can stay home and enjoy a full consulting schedule without speaking, or I could do genealogy or quilt – my other loves.

Unfortunately, hours and minutes are like money and we can only spend them once and then they are forever gone. For most in-demand speakers, speaking is something we enjoy, not something we do to get wealthy. I have yet to break even for the hours I would have otherwise worked – which is another reason why I limit my conference speaking to 4 or 5 per year, max, at places I want to go or conferences I want to attend.

I think of this as ying and yang.

  • Convenience

I actually don’t like to fly, at all. I do it anyway, sometimes. However, two transfers to get from where I live to the conference venue probably isn’t going to be attractive to me unless I really, REALLY want to go there. Three is a deal-breaker.

You may feel exactly the opposite. Fortunately, there’s a lot to choose from today.

Most of All – Have Fun!!!

I hope this article helps you understand the lay of the land relative to conferences both as an attendee and as a speaker.

  • If you’re looking for a specific topic, consider joining or following an organization that specializes in that topic.
  • If you’re looking for a general conference, consider some of the larger regional or national conferences.
  • If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require traveling long distances, monitor local, state or regional groups along with virtual conferences.
  • If you’re looking for something entirely online, consider the Virtual Genealogy Association, Legacy Family Tree Webinars or the recorded sessions from other conferences such as Genetic Genealogy Ireland on YouTube.
  • If you’re looking for a low-cost conference but still with high quality speakers, consider the subsidized vendor conferences or the virtual conferences.
  • To familiarize yourself with these groups and conferences ahead of time, join the organizations, follow the them on Facebook, subscribe to their blogs or bookmark their webpages.
  • If you’d like to attend the Family Tree DNA conference, which tends to focus on science along with Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA in addition to autosomal, volunteer as an administrator for a project of interest to you, or start a project if one doesn’t exist. Does your surname appear on the search page, here or half way down the main page, here.

We have more quality opportunities for genealogy and genetic genealogy education today than ever before.

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MyHeritage LIVE 2019 Day 2 and Party

Let’s start out with some trivia.

Did you know that the Hilton Amsterdam is the home of this famous photo?

MyHeritage Live Beatles

No, well me either. I’m glad someone told me on Sunday. Kind of explains the Beatles themed party Saturday evening.

MyHeritage Live Beatles suite

As for the Beatlemania party, I’ll save those photos for last😊

Please note that I’m still traveling and these photos are rather rough – so please keep that in mind.

MyHeritage LIVE Day 2

There was lots to see and do on Sunday – a DNA track, a genealogy track and also a hands-on lab series.

MyHeritage Live shoe

I floated between several sessions hoping to improve my search skills in the morning. It was difficult to choose, but fortunately, you don’t have to because they are all going to be available shortly at Legacy Tree Webinars.

MyHeritage Live Alon Carmel

I popped into The WorldWide DNA Web by Alon Carmel to learn a bit more about the upcoming ethnicity release.

I also attended Evaluating Your Smart Matches and Record Matches by James Tanner. My phone decided to misbehave and I don’t have any photos of this session. I had never heard James speak before and I encourage you to watch his session when the webinars become available.

I understand from others that his session in the afternoon, Developing Your Own Research Plan at MyHeritage, was excellent, especially for someone just starting out.

The session I found the most interesting from Day 2 of the #MyHeritageLIVE conference was the one dealing with the MyHeritage health test.

MyHeritage Live Yaniv Erlich

First, I found the scientific aspect fascinating as presented by Dr. Yaniv Erlich (PhD, not MD).

MyHeritage Live Gilad audience

Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage CEO, joined us in the audience.

MyHeritage Live vantage

As you probably know, MyHeritage added the Health test earlier this year. I ordered mine and have been waiting to finish writing the article until after this conference.

MyHeritage Live health summary 3

MyHeritage reports on 27 conditions, including 14 diseases and 13 carrier reports.

I feel it’s particularly important that in the US, the test is physician ordered. This means that when you order the test, you answer a few questions that are automatically submitted to PWNHealth where they are reviewed by a physician to determine if a genetic health test is appropriate for you.

The test is then run in a CLIA certified lab – meaning the test is a medical grade test.

Then, the results are reviewed by a physician. If your results are in the high risk range, a second test is performed using a different type of technology to verify the results before they are returned to you – at no charge to you.

If the results are in the high risk range and would be concerning, you are provided with a genetic counseling session – also at no charge.

I feel this is particularly important.

Yaniv provided additional detail which I will include in my upcoming article.

Yaniv said something that I think is particularly relevant – seeing the results in black and white sometimes encourages people to make decisions and act in a different way than simply hearing your physician say to live a healthy lifestyle during your yearly physical.

My Own Experience

I had not told anyone at MyHeritage about my own experience with genetic health testing before the MyHeritage LIVE conference.

The day before the MyHeritage Health Panel discussion, I decided that I was going to tell my own story during the session if the opportunity arose and it was appropriate. I think it’s important, not just to me, but perhaps to you too.

MyHeritage Live health panel

The health panel included Geoff Rasmussen as moderator, at left, Diahan Southard, me and Yaniv Erlich, left to right.

I’m not intimidated by much, but talking about your own health publicly can be daunting. People are very sensitive and often embarrassed by health topics, especially ones like type two diabetes and weight because they are sometimes viewed as character defects, not health issues. In any case, I was a bit nervous.

However, I decided when I launched my blog 7 years ago that I was going to be transparent. I really think stories like mine can help others.

I have two points to make.

  1. Genetics isn’t destiny.

With very few exceptions, genetics isn’t destiny. You may have a genetic predisposition for a disease, but you may also be able to mitigate that disease with lifestyle and environmental changes. You may want to monitor that aspect of your health more closely. You have choices.

Forewarned is forearmed.

  1. Knowledge is power.

My sister had breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy in 1988.

Several years ago, I took a medical genetics health test.

We thought my sister was cancer free and had dodged that bullet. She and her husband were traveling when I received a phone call from my brother-in-law that my sister had experienced a heart attack. She died the next day.

Some years ago, I took a direct-to-consumer medical test focused on health results to see if I too carried a predisposition for breast cancer. I was relieved to discover that I do not, BUT – I discovered something I didn’t expect. I carried an elevated risk for heart disease.

Not in the red (danger) range, but knowing that my sister died of a heart attack in addition to this elevated risk was enough to get my attention in a way that nothing else ever had before.

I knew I had to do something.

I was heavy.

So was my sister.

I was not able to lose weight and keep it off.

Neither was my sister.

I knew I had to do something about this, and I decided after much deliberation to have bariatric surgery to facilitate weight loss. If you’re thinking for one minute that I took the “easy way out,” you’re sorely mistaken. Regardless of the methodology, I was and remain successful and that’s all that matters.

Now, a decade later, I not only lost a significant amount of weight, I’ve kept it off. My BMI is normal, I’m not diabetic and I’m healthier and feel better than I did before the surgery.

My quality of life is greatly improved and the chances of me developing obesity-related diseased are greatly reduced – including heart disease and diabetes, although I don’t have an elevated genetic risk for that.

However, obesity itself is a risk factor for diabetes, without genetics. No risk factors also doesn’t mean you won’t get the disease. It only means there’s not a currently known genetic element.

Yaniv showed a chart that indicated that people at high risk of diabetes are more sensitive to high BMI. Furthermore, if you have high risk of either heart disease or diabetes, you need to and can minimize the risk of the other factor.

These predispositions are not a death sentence, BUT DOING NOTHING IS! Sooner than later.

I will be writing an article shorting detailing my results and including several slides from Yaniv’s session. I want to be sure I fully understand them before publication, so I’ll need to follow up with Yaniv before completing that article.

I know I had made the right decision for me, but seeing the actual data confirmed it.

Furthermore, it’s not just about me. I have a husband, two children and grandchildren and I want to spend as much quality time with them as possible in this lifetime.

There are two critical words there.

Quality and time.

I know that not everyone wants to know about their health predispositions. I understand and it’s a personal decision for everyone.

I hope you’ll consider health testing.

There are more perspectives than mine, and more topics were covered during the panel discussion – such as differing opinions as to whether children should be tested. I hope you’ll view the session when they become available through Legacy Tree Webinars. All panelists had important points worth considering and things I hadn’t thought about.

Party

Now for Beatlemania.

I’m actually not a big party person, but MyHeritage provided props for party-goers and everyone had fun. Some folks danced. Some hung out and others sat in the lobby chatting.

MyHeritage Live Jonny Perl and Evert-Jan Blom.png

Here are Jonny Perl (DNAPainter) and Evert-Jan Blom (Genetic Affairs) talking.

MyHeritage Live Jonny and EJ

And later at the party in their Beatlemania garb.

MyHeritage Live Geoff Rasmussen and Daniel Horowitz.png

Geoff Rasmussen of Legacy Tree Webinars and Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage.

MyHeritage Live Marianne Melcherts

Marianne Melcherts of MyHeritage (who you can find in the MyHeritage Facebook Users’ Group) and me. Yes, we’re both Dutch or have Dutch heritage.

MyHeritage Live Marianne dutch field.png

Here – this is better!

MyHeritage Live Ran Snir

Cheese and tulips. Ran Snir of MyHeritage (right) and someone whose name escapes me at the moment. (Sorry.)

MyHeritage Live Texas couple.png

Everyone was having so much fun! These lovely folks came from Texas.

MyHeritage Live lace hat.png

The folk dancers were amazing. Look at that lace cap.

MyHeritage Live Dutch folk dancers.png

Even the dancers had fun.

What’s Next?

MyHeritage Live Aaron Godfrey.png

Aaron Godfrey provided the closing session.

MyHeritage Live Aaron numbers.png

This event was an amazing success. I can’t wait to see how many people tuned in by livestream.

MyHeritage Live Germany.png

Aaron had one more story for us.

MyHeritage Live Germany father.png

A 99 year old lady DNA tested to find her biological father and found a close match. There was a family rumor…

The family wanted to meet her.

MyHeritage Live reunion

On her birthday.

MyHeritage Live best birthday.png

At a surprise party!

MyHeritage Live 99 and counting.png

I swear, MyHeritage needs to start including boxes of tissues in the goody bags! Don’t wait to DNA test. You never know who’s waiting for you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with me to #MyHeritageLIVE 2019 in Amsterdam.

But wait – there’s one more announcement!

MyHeritage Live 2020.png

Yes, there is going to be a MyHeritage LIVE 2020.

MyHeritage Live Israel.png

The plan is for Israel, although a date won’t be announced until a venue can be finalized.

Lots of conference attendees were very excited and already making plans to attend.

In closing, I hope you’ll do the following:

Start making at least tentative plans for Israel!

Have fun and enjoy your genealogy. More and more records are becoming available every single day and may hold gems for you.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 Amsterdam Day 1

MyHeritage Live goodies

Please forgive the “roughness” of this article. Our days here at MyHeritage LIVE are jam packed.

First, look online for the hashtag #MyHeritageLIVE to see postings of photos on social media by other people.

Don’t forget that the sessions are being livestreamed for free.  The live stream is available on the MyHeritage LIVE website and on the MyHeritage Facebook page, so please tune in from 9:00 a.m. Amsterdam time on September 7th. If you need help calculating the time difference to your local time zone, you can use https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/.

The sessions will also be available at Legacy Tree Webinars soon after the conference.

I’m posting photos from my phone during the conference when I can on my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/DNAexplain/. To see more photos, check there and like the page, please.

Yesterday afternoon, four of us walked in the old part of the city, visiting a museum and enjoying the atmosphere and cuisine. I promise a nice newsy article soon.

MyHeritage Live 4 musketeers

We had so much fun just hanging out. That’s part of the wonderfulness of conferences and associated reunions. Martin McDowell, right, and Maurice Gleeson, left and I have been in 5 countries together now. Next year, maybe we’ll make it 6 or 7!

MyHeritage Live University of Amsterdam

MyHeritage sponsored a canal tour for all conference attendees.

MyHeritage Live canal tour

We had SO MUCH FUN. Amsterdam is a city of water, canals, boats bridges with flowers, bicycles and old buildings – and this picture has it all. It’s also the land of my ancestors so in essence, I’m coming home.

World Premiere – The Missing Piece

The conference started last evening with a movie and feel-good session about 2 sisters, both adopted having been abandoned in South Korea, discovering each other and reuniting.

MyHeritage live audience

The front row was a veritable who’s who in the (genetic) genealogy community. Everyone was excited about the movie.

MyHeritage live missing piece

Kim and Christine were adopted 47 years ago, one in the US and one in Belgium. It was unknown that they were sisters since they were discovered 6 weeks apart in a train station.

MyHeritage live sisters

The never-before-seen movie follows their emotional journey.

MyHeritage live sisters meeting

They both traveled back to South Korea and met for the first time on the same train platform where they had been discovered.

MyHeritage live sisters hugs

There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

MyHeritage live sisters on stage

The sisters joined us. They had not seen the movie before, so they say it for the first time with us as well. We could hear them giggling.

MyHeritage Live sisters with audience

It was very nice for conference attended to be able to talk to Kim and Christine.

Saturday – Conference Day 1

MyHeritage Live 2019 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet with Daniel Horowitz getting ready.

MyHeritage live Gilad welcome

Gilad Japhet opened the conference with a lovely session that started out with a heartwarming story of reunification. Yes, another one.

MyHeritage Live DNAQuest

MyHeritage has contributed 20,000 free tests for adoptes.

MyHeritage Live reunions

Gilad helps people himself, yes, personally.

MyHeritage Live Tribal Quest

Another MyHeritage pro-bono initiative is Tribal Quest. I can’t even begin to tell you how this speaks to my heart.

MyHeritage Live Health

Next, Gilad spoke about MyHeritage Health and the benefits available to people who wish to take control of the factors in their life that they can. For the most part, predisposition is not fate – and we can influence factors to help prevent or screen aggressively for diseases.

MyHeritage Live health summary

MyHeritage will be adding more diseases and expanding their tests.

MyHeritage Live SNPedia

MyHeritage acquired both SNPedia and Promethease.

SNPedia is the wiki of SNPs.

MyHeritage Live Promethease

Promethease is a search engine that searched SNPedia and reports their findings to you based on your DNA tests.

As of today, Promethease is free for the balance of 2019. You can upload your results and see what SNPs are in the database that may affect your results.

Do be aware that some vendors do not clinically verify their results, so false positives are possible and do happen.

In November 2019, two things will happen.

  • People who have uploaded and stored their results to Promethease will have them uploaded into MyHeritage to expand their database by about 10%. If people do not want their results uploaded, they can delete them before November.
  • Europeans affected by GDPR will be given an option to have their results uploaded into MyHeritage.

This will be good for MyHeritage users because the more matches, the more information can be gleaned.

MyHeritage Live education

MyHeritage has formed an education site.

MyHeritage Live education summary

I can’t wait to check this out.

MyHeritage Live Theory of Family Relativity

Gilad reviewed Theory of Family Relativity. He mentioned that soon, they will appear and update spontaneously.

MyHeritage Live TOFR summary

I hope they add a feature allowing us to dismiss incorrect theories and provide documentation as to why.

MyHeritage Live ethnicity estimates

Better ethnicity estimates are on the way, and these are way cool.

MyHeritage Live migrations

Gilad explained that these will be in two parts, and that the regions will provide migration information every 50 years, the top surnames in that regional group, and a new features to be release slightly later that will be “beyond admixture” that will be specific enough to be able to identify Mormons, Mennonites and such.

If this is as good as Gilad thinks it will be, maybe it will actually assist genealogy and end the love-hate relationship genealogists have with ethnicity estimates.

MyHeritage Live ethnicity summary

Gilad says they will be particularly useful for people with European heritage.

MyHeritage Live Dutch football.png

MyHeritage is increasing their visibility in the Netherlands.

MyHeritage Live record collections

They are bringing lots of European records online.

MyHeritage Live free text matching

MyHeritage is introducing new free-text matching technology to provide intelligent matching, not just work matching.

MyHeritage Live Europe books

This was a great opening to kick off the day.

If you have not yet tested your DNA or transferred it to MyHeritage, now is the time.

Here’s a link to the article I wrote with step by step instructions about how to download your data file from other vendors and upload to MyHeritage.

MyHeritage Live Future of DNA panel

Maya Lerner, VP of Product, left, above, offered a session earlier in the day that expanded on the products touched on by Gilad in the opening keynote.

In the afternoon she hosted a panel discussion that included Blaine Bettinger, myself and Yaniv Erlich. Interesting thoughts on the future of DNA. We all talked about better tools. Blaine and I agreed that our hopes are that one day, our DNA will tell us who our ancestors are. Photo is courtesy Yvette Hoitink whose session about finding Dutch records was lovely.

MyHeritage Live Yvette Hoitink

All I can say is that I’m glad she is my own personal Dutch genealogist. Fortunately for others, I don’t employ her full time and she has time for other people too😊

MyHeritage Live Dutch collection

MyHeritage is bringing many Dutch collections online.

MyHeritage Live Dutch resources

Yvette put her presentation online for you along with a handout!

MyHeritage Live Blaine Bettinger

Blaine talked about one of my favorite subjects, mapping chromosomes.

MyHeritage Live chromosome mapping

Any in case you’re wondering, yes, I did get permission for photography from the speakers and from Gilad personally for the conference as a whole.

MyHeritage Live chromosome mapping 3 steps

I hope everyone is mapping their DNA segments to ancestral couples.

Party

And of course the party in the evening. Beatlemania.

MyHeritage Live beatle

Here’s a teaser picture, but the rest will have to wait until the next article. I have to run because I’m missing sessions this morning, but thankfully I can watch them later at Legacy Tree Webinars.

I hope you’re watching the livestreams.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 Sessions to be Live Streamed this Weekend

MyHeritage Live 2019

Great news!

Today, MyHeritage announced that they have once again arranged for the MyHeritage LIVE conference sessions to be live streamed.

While the Friday activities won’t be available online, the regular conference sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, Sept 7 and 8 will be for FREE. Please note that the sessions will begin VERY early in the US.

The live stream will be available on the MyHeritage LIVE website and on the MyHeritage Facebook page, so please tune in from 9:00 a.m. Amsterdam time on September 7th. If you need help calculating the time difference to your local time zone, you can use https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/.

Make sure to visit the conference website to see the full schedule.

I will be blogging about the conference as I can, but you can tune in to see the conference proceedings real time.

There’s an amazing lineup of speakers and I can’t wait!

Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage CEO always makes announcements at conferences. Care to speculate about what might be in store for us?

I hope you can join us online to see for yourself.

Mitochondrial DNA Resources – Everything You Need to Know

Mitochondrial DNA Resources

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

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

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

What the Difference Between Mitochondrial and Other Types of DNA?

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

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

Why Mitochondrial DNA?

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

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

What About Those Results?

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

Mitochondrial DNA personal page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitochondrial DNA Information for Everyone

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

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

Mitochondrial resources haplotree

These are mine. Where are yours?

What Can Mitochondrial DNA Do for You?

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

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

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

Searching for Native American Ancestors?

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

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

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

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

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

What secrets will your mitochondrial DNA reveal?

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Sale Reminder, Conference Speaking Schedule, RootsTech Signup Opens Soon – and Oh Those Yearbooks

I’d like to share a few newsy things with you.

First, a quick reminder about the summer sales at FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage that end soon.

Additionally, you can still sign up for the MyHeritage LIVE conference next week in Amsterdam and yes, I’ll be presenting at RootsTech 2020. Registration opens soon.

I’ll be presenting at two additional conferences this year, in North Carolina and Sweden, but after that, thankfully, my schedule slows down a bit.

And yearbooks, oh those pictures of big hair and old boyfriends!!!

So, this is actually more of a newsletter😊

Family Tree DNA

Labor Day FTDNA.png

Just a quick reminder that the Summer Sale at FamilyTreeDNA ends in another two days – at the end of August.

Almost everything is on sale, including the autosomal Family Finder test for $59.

However, of particular interest for Y chromosome carriers (men), the Big Y-700 is on sale for purchase or upgrade.

When the Big Y-700 was first introduced in January of 2019, there was some skepticism about how effective the new test would be, and how much added benefit testers would receive as compared to the Big Y-500. The results have been nothing short of amazing.

This test is a rerun, not an upgrade, because the chemistry and processes are truly new and improved.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and many, literally tens of thousands of new SNPS that divide the Y DNA tree have been discovered. While this is all good for science, which I discussed here, it’s also genealogically relevant – so it’s good for you too.

My own Estes line has branched and I’m desperately hoping for a similar branch in the Campbell line to help identify which of several Campbell men is the father of my brick wall. I’m so close after all these years I can taste it!

FamilyTreeDNA provided the following comparative information as to recent growth of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA public trees.

Public Haplotree Updated Statistic Previous Statistic
mtDNA Haplotree • 170,000 mtFull Sequences • 150,000 mtFull Sequences
Y-DNA Haplotree • 20,000 branches • 16,000 branches
• 150,000 variants • 118,000 variants
• 170,000 confirmed SNPs • 160,000 confirmed SNPs

That’s huge growth since early 2019 and all because of people like you and me testing at the Big Y and full sequence mitochondrial DNA levels.

If you’re wondering how to interpret your results, don’t forget about my new educational mitochondrial series and the upcoming Y DNA series as well.

Family Tree DNA Sale Pricing!

Here’s a chart with the regular and sale prices for each product so you can see just how much you’re saving.

Test Sale Price Regular Price Savings
Y37 $129 $169 $40
Y67 $199 $268 $69
Y111 $299 $359 $60
Big Y-700 $499 $649 $150
Family Finder $59 $79 $20
mtFull mitochondrial full sequence $149 $199 $50
Bundles
Family Finder + Y37 $178 $248 $70
Family Finder + mtFull $198 $278 $80
Family Finder + Y67 + mtFull $387 $546 $159
Family Finder + Y111 + mtFull $487 $637 $150
Family Finder + Y37 + mtFull $317 $447 $130
Family Finder + Y67 $248 $347 $99
Family Finder + Y111 $348 $438 $90
Y37 + mtFull $268 $368 $100
Y67 + mtFull $338 $467 $129
Y111 + mtFull $438 $558 $120
Upgrades
Y12 to Y37 $99 $109 $10
Y12 to Y67 $169 $199 $30
Y12 to Y111 $279 $359 $80
Y25 to Y37 $49 $59 $10
Y25 to Y67 $139 $159 $20
Y25 to Y111 $239 $269 $30
Y37 to Y67 $89 $109 $20
Y37 to Y111 $178 $228 $50
Y67 to Y111 $89 $99 $10
Y12 to Big Y-700 $489 $629 $140
Y25 to Big Y-700 $489 $599 $110
Y37 to Big Y-700 $459 $569 $110
Y67 to Big Y-700 $399 $499 $100
Y111 to Big Y-700 $349 $449 $100
Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 $229 $249 $20
mtDNA (HVR1) to mtFull $139 $159 $20
mtPlus (HVR1+HVR2) to mtFull $129 $159 $30

To purchase any of the tests, or upgrade, click on any link above, or here.

MyHeritage Sale and Conference

The MyHeritage sale continues through September 3rd at the sale price of $59.

Labor Day MyHeritage.png

I’m excited, because I hope lots of new people will test at MyHeritage, or transfer there.  They have lots of European testers, and that’s just what I need to “jump the pond.”

The MyHeritage Theories of Family Relativity tool, combined with their triangulation feature, is bearing lots of fruit – connecting people to each other and to their ancestors.

Just yesterday I received an e-mail notification that I have a new Theory and the match to my newly discovered cousin will help me identify others who share that same DNA. Of course, common DNA segments are the breadcrumbs to ancestors.

To order the MyHeritage test, click here, or to transfer a file from a test at another vendor, click here.

You can also order the new MyHeritage ancestry plus health test, here. I wrote about that test, here. I have my results, and I’m pleased.

I wrote a step-by-step article with instructions for how to transfer to MyHeritage easily, here.

MyHeritage LIVE Conference

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 7 days.png

I’ll be at the MyHeritage LIVE conference beginning next week in Amsterdam and will be your imbedded reporter there. I hope to meet many of you, especially those from Europe.

Speakers are listed here. And yes, I’m on two panels, The Future of DNA Testing at 4:45 on Saturday, September 7th, and DNA Testing for Health at 3:00 on Sunday.

You can still register. The coupon code for 10% off is Roberta10. Just enter it at checkout when you sign up, here.

RootsTech 2020

RootsTech 2020 speaker.jpg

I’m presenting 2 sessions at RootsTech 2020 February 26-29 in Salt Lake City, plus at least a couple of guest “booth talks” in various vendor booths.

I’ll write more about this later, but registration opens on September 18th. Not only that, but if you want to stay at the conference hotels, or anyplace close, you’ll need to make those reservations early. I found out the hard way, trust me.

North Carolina Genealogical Society

I’ll be presenting both the keynote and other sessions November 1-2 with the North Carolina Genealogical Society in Raleigh, NC. The flyer with the schedule is here, but their website seems to be experiencing difficulty today.

If you’re interested in DNA, the Lost Colony of Roanoke, or have NC ancestors, this is a great opportunity. Please be sure to say hello if you’re at the Raleigh conference.

Archaeogenetics and Genetic Genealogy Conference in Umea, Sweden

I can hardly wait for my visit to Umea, Sweden to keynote the International Archaeogenetics and Genetic Genealogy Conference hosted by the University of Umea, November 13-14. The schedule is here, but note that only day 1 is in English, except for my session on day 2.

This conference is focused on science and promises to be absolutely amazing! I can hardly wait. I hope to see a number of friends from Scandinavia and meet those of you from that region that might be able to attend. I also hope to see the Aurora Borealis durign my visit!

You can sign up here. Let me know if you’re planning to attend.

Enjoy the Holiday and Torture Your Family with Old Pictures😊

Monday is Labor Day in the US, so enjoy the holiday.

Roberta Estes 1971.jpg

Oh, by the way, Ancestry’s new US yearbook collection is available for free through September 2nd. Are you there? Who can you find? Anything interesting you could take to that Labor Day cookout with your family?

Here’s the link. The indexing has been done using OCR scan technology of course, so if you’re not finding what you want in this collection, the MyHeritage yearbook collection is free too, here, also without a subscription, and includes universities.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments

Ethnicity is always a ticklish subject. On one hand we say to be leery of ethnicity estimates, but on the other hand, we all want to know who our ancestors were and where they came from. Many people hope to prove or disprove specific theories or stories about distant ancestors.

Reasons to be cautious about ethnicity estimates include:

  • Within continents, like Europe, it’s very difficult to discern ethnicity at the “country” level because of thousands of years of migration across regions where borders exist today. Ethnicity estimates within Europe can be significantly different than known and proven genealogy.
  • “Countries,” in Europe, political constructs, are the same size as many states in the US – and differentiation between those populations is almost impossible to accurately discern. Think of trying to figure out the difference between the populations of Indiana and Illinois, for example. Yet we want to be able to tell the difference between ancestors that came from France and Germany, for example.

Ethnicity states over Europe

  • All small amounts of ethnicity, even at the continental level, under 2-5%, can be noise and might be incorrect. That’s particularly true of trace amounts, 1% or less. However, that’s not always the case – which is why companies provide those small percentages. When hunting ancestors in the distant past, that small amount of ethnicity may be the only clue we have as to where they reside at detectable levels in our genome.

Noise in this case is defined as:

  • A statistical anomaly
  • A chance combination of your DNA from both parents that matches a reference population
  • Issues with the reference population itself, specifically admixture
  • Perhaps combinations of the above

You can read about the challenges with ethnicity here and here.

On the Other Hand

Having restated the appropriate caveats, on the other hand, we can utilize legitimate segments of our DNA to identify where our ancestors came from – at the continental level.

I’m actually specifically referring to Native American admixture which is the example I’ll be using, but this process applies equally as well to other minority or continental level admixture as well. Minority, in this sense means minority ethnicity to you.

Native American ethnicity shows distinctly differently from African and European. Sometimes some segments of DNA that we inherit from Native American ancestors are reported as Asian, specifically Siberian, Northern or Eastern Asian.

Remember that the Native American people arrived as a small group via Beringia, a now flooded land bridge that once connected Siberia with Alaska.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

After that time, the Native American/First Nations peoples were isolated from Asia, for the most part, and entirely from Europe until European exploration resulted in the beginning of sustained European settlement, and admixture beginning in the late 1400s and 1500s in the Americas.

Family Inheritance

Testing multiple family members is extremely useful when working with your own personal minority heritage. This approach assumes that you’d like to identify your matches that share that genetic heritage because they share the same minority DNA that you do. Of course, that means you two share the same ancestor at some time in the past. Their genealogy, or your combined information, may hold the clue to identifying your ancestor.

In my family, my daughter has Native American segments that she inherited from me that I inherited from my mother.

Finding the same segment identified as Native American in several successive generations eliminates the possibility that the chance combination of DNA from your father and mother is “appearing” as Native, when it isn’t.

We can use segment information to our benefit, especially if we don’t know exactly who contributed that DNA – meaning which ancestor.

We need to find a way to utilize those Native or other minority segments genealogically.

23andMe

Today, the only DNA testing vendor that provides consumers with a segment identification of our ethnicity predictions is 23andMe.

If you have tested at 23andMe, sign in and click on Ancestry on the top tab, then select Ancestry Composition.

Minority ethnicity ancestry composition.png

Scroll down until you see your painted chromosomes.

Minority ethnicity chromosome painting.png

By clicking on the region at left that you want to see, the rest of the regions are greyed out and only that region is displayed on your chromosomes, at right.

Minority ethnicity Native.png

According to 23andMe, I have two Native segments, one each on chromosomes 1 and 2. They show these segments on opposite chromosomes, meaning one (the top for example) would be maternal or paternal, and the bottom one would be the opposite. But 23andMe apparently could not tell for sure because neither my mother nor father have tested there. This placement also turned out to be incorrect. The above image was my initial V3 test at 23andMe. My later V4 results were different.

Versions May Differ

Please note that your ethnicity predictions may be different based on which test you took which is dictated by when you took the test. The image above is my V3 test that was in use at 23andMe between 2010 and November 2013, and the image below is my V4 test in use between November 2013 and August 2017.

23andMe apparently does not correct original errors involving what is known as “strand swap” where the maternal and paternal segments are inverted during analysis. My V4 test results are shown below, where the strands are correctly portrayed.

Minority ethnicity Native V4.png

Note that both Native segments are now on the lower chromosome “side” of the pair and the position on the chromosome 1 segment has shifted visually.

Minority ethnicity sides.png

I have not tested at 23andMe on the current V5 GSA chip, in use since August 9, 2017, but perhaps I should. The results might be different yet, with the concept being that each version offers an improvement over earlier versions as science advances.

If your parents have tested, 23andMe makes adjustments to your ethnicity estimates accordingly.

Although my mother can’t test at 23andMe, I happen to already know that these Native segments descend from my mother based on genealogical and genetic analysis, combined. I’m going to walk you through the process.

I can utilize my genealogy to confirm or refute information shown by 23andMe. For example, if one of those segments comes from known ancestors who were living in Germany, it’s clearly not Native, and it’s noise of some type.

We’re going to utilize DNAPainter to determine which ancestors contributed your minority segments, but first you’ll need to download your ethnicity segments from 23andMe.

Downloading Ethnicity Segment Data

Downloading your ethnicity segments is NOT THE SAME as downloading your raw DNA results to transfer to another vendor. Those are two entirely different files and different procedures.

To download the locations of your ethnicity segments at 23andMe, scroll down below your painted ethnicity segments in your Ancestry Composition section to “View Scientific Details.”

MInority ethnicity scientific details.png

Click on View Scientific Details and scroll down to near the bottom and then click on “Download Raw Data.” I leave mine at the 50% confidence level.

Minority ethnicity download raw data.png

Save this spreadsheet to your computer in a known location.

In the spreadsheet, you’ll see columns that provide the name of the segment, the chromosome copy number (1 or 2) and the chromosome number with start and end locations.

Minority ethnicity download.png

You really don’t care about this information directly, but DNAPainter does and you’ll care a lot about what DNAPainter does for you.

DNAPainter

I wrote introductory articles about DNAPainter:

If you’re not familiar with DNAPainter, you might want to read these articles first and then come back to this point in this article.

Go ahead – I’ll wait!

Getting Started

If you don’t have a DNAPainter account, you’ll need to create one for free. Some features, such as having multiple profiles are subscription based, but the functionality you’ll need for one profile is free.

I’ve named this example profile “Ethnicity Demo.” You’ll see your name where mine says “Ethnicity Demo.”

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter.png

Click on “Import 23andme ancestry composition.”

You will copy and paste all the spreadsheet rows in the entire downloaded 23andMe ethnicity spreadsheet into the DNAPainter text box and make your selection, below. The great news is that if you discover that your assumption about copy 1 being maternal or paternal is incorrect, it’s easy to delete the ethnicity segments entirely and simply repaint later. Ditto if 23andMe changes your estimate over time, like they have mine.

Minority ethnicity DNAPainter sides.png

I happen to know that “copy 2” is maternal, so I’ve made that selection.

You can then see your ethnicity chromosome segments painted, and you can expand each one to see the detail. Click on “Save Segments.”

MInority ethnicity DNAPainter Native painting

Click to enlarge

In this example, you can see my Native segments, called by various names at different confidence levels at 23andMe, on chromosome 1.

Depending on the confidence level, these segments are called some mixture of:

  • East Asian & Native American
  • North Asian & Native American
  • Native American
  • Broadly East Asian & Native American

It’s exactly the same segment, so you don’t really care what it’s called. DNAPainter paints all of the different descriptions provided by 23andMe, at all confidence levels as you can see above.

The DNAPainter colors are different from 23andMe colors and are system-selected. You can’t assign the colors for ethnicity segments.

Now, I’m moving to my own profile that I paint with my ancestral segments. To date, I have 78% of my segments painted by identifying cousins with known common ancestors.

On chromosomes 1 and 2, copy 2, which I’ve determined to be my mother’s “side,” these segments track back to specific ancestors.

Minority ethnicity maternal side

Click to enlarge

Chromosome 1 segments, above, track back to the Lore family, descended from Antoine (Anthony) Lore (Lord) who married Rachel Hill. Antoine Lore was Acadian.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 1.png

Clicking on the green segment bar shows me the ancestors I assigned when I painted the match with my Lore family member whose name is blurred, but whose birth surname was Lore.

The Chromosome 2 segment, below, tracks back to the same family through a match to Fred.

Minority ethnicity chromosome 2.png

My common ancestors with Fred are Honore Lore and Marie Lafaille who are the parents of Antoine Lore.

Minority ethnicity common ancestor.png

There are additional matches on both chromosomes who also match on portions of the Native segments.

Now that I have a pointer in the ancestral direction that these Native American segments arrived from, what can traditional genealogy and other DNA information tell me?

Traditional Genealogy Research

The Acadian people were a mixture of English, French and Native American. The Acadians settled on the island of Nova Scotia in 1609 and lived there until being driven out by the English in 1755, roughly 6 or 7 generations later.

Minority ethnicity Acadian map.png

The Acadians intermarried with the Mi’kmaq people.

It had been reported by two very qualified genealogists that Philippe Mius, born in 1660, married two Native American women from the Mi’kmaq tribe given the name Marie.

The French were fond of giving the first name of Marie to Native women when they were baptized in the Catholic faith which was required before the French men were allowed to marry the Native women. There were many Native women named Marie who married European men.

Minority ethnicity Native mitochondrial tree

Click to enlarge

This Mius lineage is ancestral to Antoine Lore (Lord) as shown on my pedigree, above.

Mitochondrial DNA has revealed that descendants from one of Philippe Mius’s wives, Marie, carry haplogroup A2f1a.

However, mitochondrial tests of other descendants of “Marie,” his first wife, carry haplogroup X2a2, also Native American.

Confusion has historically existed over which Marie is the mother of my ancestor, Francoise.

Karen Theroit Reader, another professional genealogist, shows Francoise Mius as the last child born to the first Native wife before her death sometime after 1684 and before about 1687 when Philippe remarried.

However, relative to the source of Native American segments, whether Francoise descends from the first or second wife doesn’t matter in this instance because both are Native and are proven so by their mitochondrial DNA haplogroups.

Additionally, on Antoine’s mother’s side, we find a Doucet male, although there are two genetic male Doucet lines, one of European origin, haplogroup R-L21, and one, surprisingly, of Native origin, haplogroup C-P39. Both are proven by their respective haplogroups but confusion exists genealogically over who descends from which lineage.

On Antoine’s mother’s side, there are several unidentified lineages, any one or multiples of which could also be Native. As you can see, there are large gaps in my tree.

We do know that these Native segments arrived through Antoine Lore and his parents, Honore Lore and Marie LaFaille. We don’t know exactly who upstream contributed these segments – at least not yet. Painting additional matches attributable to specific ancestral couples will eventually narrow the candidates and allow me to walk these segments back in time to their rightful contributor.

Segments, Traditional Research and DNAPainter

These three tools together, when using continent-level segments in combination with painting the DNA segments of known cousins that match specific lineages create a triangulated ethnicity segment.

When that segment just happens to be genealogically important, this combination can point the researchers in the right direction knowing which lines to search for that minority ancestor.

If your cousins who match you on this segment have also tested with 23andMe, they should also be identified as Native on this same segment. This process does not apply to intracontinental segments, meaning within Europe, because the admixture is too great and the ethnicity predictions are much less reliable.

When identifying minority admixture at the continental level, adding Y and mitochondrial DNA testing to the mix in order to positively identify each individual ancestor’s Y and mitochondrial DNA is very important in both eliminating and confirming what autosomal DNA and genealogy records alone can’t do. The base haplogroup as assigned at 23andMe is a good start, but it’s not enough alone. Plus, we only carry one line of mitochondrial DNA and only males carry Y DNA, and only their direct paternal line.

We need Y and mitochondrial DNA matching at FamilyTreeDNA to verify the specific lineage. Additionally, we very well may need the Y and mitochondrial DNA information that we don’t directly carry – but other cousins do. You can read about Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, here.

I wrote about creating a personal DNA pedigree chart including your ancestors’ Y and mitochondrial DNA here. In order to find people descended from a specific ancestor who have DNA tested, I utilize:

  • WikiTree resources and trees
  • Geni trees
  • FamilySearch trees
  • FamilyTreeDNA autosomal matches with trees
  • AncestryDNA autosomal matches and their associated trees
  • Ancestry trees in general, meaning without knowing if they are related to a DNA match
  • MyHeritage autosomal matches and their trees
  • MyHeritage trees in general

At both MyHeritage and Ancestry, you can view the trees of your matches, but you can also search for ancestors in other people’s trees to see who might descend appropriately to provide a Y or mitochondrial DNA sample. You will probably need a subscription to maximize these efforts. My Heritage offers a free trial subscription here.

If you find people appropriately descended through WikiTree, Geni or FamilySearch, you’ll need to discuss DNA testing with them. They may have already tested someplace.

If you find people who have DNA tested through your DNA matches with trees at Ancestry and MyHeritage, you’ll need to offer a Y or mitochondrial DNA test to them if they haven’t already tested at FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor who provides the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests at the higher resolution level, beyond base haplogroups, required for matching and for a complete haplogroup designation.

If the person has taken the Family Finder autosomal test at FamilyTreeDNA, they may have already tested their Y DNA and mtDNA, or you can offer to upgrade their test.

Projects

Checking projects at FamilyTreeDNA can be particularly useful when trying to discover if anyone from a specific lineage has already tested. There are many, special interest projects such as the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project, the American Indian project, haplogroup projects, surname projects and more.

You can view projects alphabetically here or you can click here to scroll down to enter the surname or topic you are seeking.

Minority ethnicity project search.png

If the topic isn’t listed, check the alphabetic index under Geographical Projects.

23andMe Maternal and Paternal Sides

If possible, you’ll want to determine which “side” of your family your minority segments originate come from, unless they come from both. you’ll want to determine whether chromosome side one 1 or 2 is maternal, because the other one will be paternal.

23andMe doesn’t offer tree functionality in the same way as other vendors, so you won’t be able to identify people there descended from your ancestors without contacting each person or doing other sleuthing.

Recently, 23andMe added a link to FamilySearch that creates a list of your ancestors from their mega-shared tree for 7 generations, but there is no tree matching or search functionality. You can read about the FamilySearch connection functionality here.

So, how do you figure out which “side” is which?

Minority ethnicity minority segment.png

The chart above represents the portion of your chromosomes that contains your minority ancestry. Initially, you don’t know if the minority segment is your mother’s pink chromosome or your father’s blue chromosome. You have one chromosome from each parent with the exact same addresses or locations, so it’s impossible to tell which side is which without additional information. Either the pink or the blue segment is minority, but how can you tell?

In my case, the family oral history regarding Native American ancestry was from my father’s line, but the actual Native segments wound up being from my mother, not my father. Had I made an assumption, it would have been incorrect.

Fortunately, in our example, you have both a maternal and paternal aunt who have tested at 23andMe. You match both aunts on that exact same segment location – one from your father’s side, blue, and one from your mother’s side, pink.

You compare your match with your maternal aunt and verify that indeed, you do match her on that segment.

You’ll want to determine if 23andMe has flagged that segment as Native American for your maternal aunt too.

You can view your aunt’s Ancestry Composition by selecting your aunt from the “Your Connections” dropdown list above your own ethnicity chromosome painting.

Minority ethnicity relative connections.png

You can see on your aunt’s chromosomes that indeed, those locations on her chromosomes are Native as well.

Minority ethnicity relative minority segments.png

Now you’ve identified your minority segment as originating on your maternal side.

Minority ethnicity Native side.png

Let’s say you have another match, Match 1, on that same segment. You can easily tell which “side” Match 1 is from. Since you know that you match your maternal aunt on that minority segment, if Match 1 matches both you and your maternal aunt, then you know that’s the side the match is from – AND that person also shares that minority segment.

You can also view that person’s Ancestry Composition as well, but shared matching is more reliable,especially when dealing with small amounts of minority admixture.

Another person, Match 2, matches you on that same segment, but this time, the person matches you and your paternal aunt, so they don’t share your minority segment.

Minority ethnicity match side.png

Even if your paternal aunt had not tested, because Match 2 does not match you AND your maternal aunt, you know Match 2 doesn’t share your minority segment which you can confirm by checking their Ancestry Composition.

Download All of Your Matches

Rather than go through your matches one by one, it’s easiest to download your entire match list so you can see which people match you on those chromosome locations.

Minority ethnicity download aggregate data.png

You can click on “Download Aggregate Data” at 23andMe, at the bottom of your DNA Relatives match list to obtain all of your matches who are sharing with you. 23andMe limits your matches to 2000 or less, the actual number being your highest 2000 matches minus the people who aren’t sharing. I have 1465 matches showing and that number decreases regularly as new testers at 23andMe are focused on health and not genealogy, meaning lower matches get pushed off the list of 2000 match candidates.

You can quickly sort the spreadsheet to see who matches you on specific segments. Then, you can check each match in the system to see if that person matches you and another known relative on the minority segments or you can check their Ancestry Composition, or both.

If they share your minority segment, then you can check their tree link if they have one, included in the download, their Family Search information if included on their account, or reach out to them to see if you might share a known ancestor.

The key to making your ethnicity segment work for you is to identify ancestors and paint known matches.

Paint Those Matches

When searching for matches whose DNA you can attribute to specific ancestors, be sure to check at all 4 places that provide segment information that you can paint:

At GedMatch, you’ll find some people who have tested at the other various vendors, including Ancestry, but unfortunately not everyone uploads. Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information, so you won’t be able to paint those matches directly from Ancestry.

If your Ancestry matches transfer to GedMatch, FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage you can view your match and paint your common segments. At GedMatch, Ancestry kit numbers begin with an A. I use my Ancestry kit matches at GedMatch to attempt to figure out who that match is at Ancestry in order to attempt to figure out the common ancestor.

To Paint, You Must Test

Of course, in order to paint your matches that you find in various databases, you need to be in those data bases, meaning you either need to test there or transfer your DNA file.

Transfers

If you’d like to test your DNA at one vendor and download the file to transfer to another vendor, or GedMatch, that’s possible with both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage who both accept uploads.

You can transfer kits from Ancestry and 23andMe to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage for free, although the chromosome browsers, advanced tools and ethnicity require an unlock fee (or alternatively a subscription at MyHeritage). Still, the free transfer and unlock for $19 at FamilyTreeDNA or $29 at MyHeritage is less than the cost of testing.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet.

DNA vendor transfer cheat sheet 2019

From time to time, as vendor file formats change, the ability to transfer is temporarily interrupted, but it costs nothing to try a transfer to either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, or better yet, both.

In each of these articles, I wrote about how to download your data from a specific vendor and how to upload from other vendors if they accept uploads.

Summary Steps

In order to use your minority ethnicity segments in your genealogy, you need to:

  1. Test at 23andMe
  2. Identify which parental side your minority ethnicity segments are from, if possible
  3. Download your ethnicity segments
  4. Establish a DNAPainter account
  5. Upload your ethnicity segments to DNAPainter
  6. Paint matches of people with whom you share known common ancestors utilizing segment information from 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA matches who have uploaded to GedMatch
  7. If you have not tested at either MyHeritage or FamilyTreeDNA, upload your 23andMe file to either vendor for matching, along with GedMatch
  8. Focus on those minority segments to determine which ancestral line they descend through in order to identify the ancestor(s) who provided your minority admixture.

Have fun!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

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

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

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

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

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

Constructing a Tree

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

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

The Tree

Generations tree

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

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

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

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

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

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

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

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

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

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

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

Matches

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

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

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

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

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

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

Who Matches Each Other?

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

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

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

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

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

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

Generations adoptee theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

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

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

Generations WATO

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

Generations WATO2

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

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

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

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

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

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

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

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

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

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

Generations 3384

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

Generations parent child

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

Generations 226

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

Generations 226 chart

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

The Steps to Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generations relationship table

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

Generations relationship levels

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

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

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

Generations descendants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generations descendants 1C.png

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

Generations descendants 2C

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

The Perfect Scenario

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

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

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

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

DNA is a waiting game.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

MyHeritage LIVE 2019 in Amsterdam – Sign Up Now!

I’ve been waiting to share this information with you until everything was nailed down, and now I can.

I’m going to be attending and participating in MyHeritage LIVE in Amsterdam this September 6-8th. If you recall, I attended the first MyHeritage LIVE conference in Oslo last fall and loved every single minute.

If you want to take a look, I wrote about that conference, complete with photos, here and here.

MyHeritage LIVE Amsterdam 2019

This year’s conference will be held in Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities. MyHeritage wrote about it in their blog, here.

Confession

I confess, some of my ancestors were from Amsterdam. And yes, I’m incorporating the conference into an “ancestor trip” with Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire whose blog can be found on her website here. Yvette will be presenting at the conference too, so if you’re attending, you get a chance to both hear and meet her.

I’m actually thrilled that Yvette is presenting, because I was her first customer in 2012 when she replied, then as an employee of the Dutch National Archives, to my blog article about my “hopeless” Dutch ancestors. Well, they not only weren’t hopeless, Yvette has been my genealogist ever since and we still discover documents and new ancestors on a regular basis.

Here’s that fateful exchange which was the beginning of a wonderful friendship AND of me adding more than, drum roll…2 dozen ancestors to my tree – and we’re not brick walled yet!!!

Not only that, but the newspaper articles for northern Indiana, included as part of my MyHeritage subscription, have helped me make countless discoveries in my Dutch Ferwerda (Ferverda/Fervida in the US) line after they immigrated in 1868. And I’m not referring to a couple of articles, but literally hundreds. Yes, hundreds.

With Yvette’s help, I’m connecting the Dutch DNA matches that my mother is receiving at MyHeritage. I transferred Mom’s autosomal test to MyHeritage because she’s one generation closer than I am and MyHeritage has a significant European presence. I’m so grateful that MyHeritage facilitates DNA transfers because mother passed away years before they began DNA testing. You can upload your DNA to MyHeritage for free by clicking here or order a DNA kit here.

Ok, enough excited rambling from me. You’re probably wondering who’s speaking and the presentation topics.

Who’s Speaking?

Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage founder and CEO opens the conference with the keynote. If you have never heard Gilad speak, you’re in for a wonderful treat. Gilad is a passionate genealogist and an amazing human, a trait that radiates from him as he speaks and infects the audience. No, I’m really not biased.

Last year as Gilad was discussing why he had ordered indexing of addresses in city directories in addition to names by giving an example of finding one of this ancestor’s relatives in New York City, I sat in the audience and found the building on Google maps for him, showing him afterwards. One genealogist to another. He’s that approachable.

Of course, there ARE other speakers too, many of whom I’m sure you’ll recognize!

MyHeritage LIVE Amsterdam speakers

Oh look, Yvette’s photo and mine are side by side! How perfect.

MyHeritage LIVE Amsterdam speakers 2

MyHeritage LIVE Amsterdam speakers 3

I’m very fortunate to count many of these folks as my friends and can’t wait to meet others.

And of course, I look forward to meeting and talking with you. One of the best part of conferences is who we meet.

You can take a look at the schedule, here.

The Party

I probably shouldn’t even mention this, because far be it from me to suggest that a world-class party would in any way influence your decision to attend – so let’s just say that the MyHeritage parties are both famous and infamous.

MHLive 2018 party

Me trying to take a selfie with Gilad Japhet at last year’s party.

At last year’s party, the 2018 EuroVision winners performed. This year, EuroVision was held in Israel, with MyHeritage as the sponsor and a Dutch man, Duncan Laurence won. In fact, you can watch and listen here.

Now, I don’t know what’s in store for the MyHeritage party this year, but don’t miss this event! It’s legendary.

Early Bird Pricing

Right now, the conference price is 150 Euros which is equivalent to about $170 US. You can still get discounted flights too because the conference is several weeks away.

Early bird pricing ends on July 31. Click here to sign up or read more.

OK, that’s it for now. I surely do hope to see you in Amsterdam. Let me know if you’re planning to attend!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research