Are You DNA Testing the Right People?

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

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

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

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

It’s All Relative😊

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying Cousins

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

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

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

Who to test descendants software

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People You Already Know

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

Who to test 1C.png

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

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

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

Who’s Relevant?

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

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

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

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

Example 1: Grandparents – 2 children deceased, 1 living

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

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

Descendant test

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.

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

Example 2: Grandparents – 2 children living, one deceased

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

Descendant test 2

Click to enlarge

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

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

In this scenario, I’m providing 3 tests.

Example 3: My Immediate Family – both parents living

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

Descendants - parents alive

Click to enlarge

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

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

In this scenario, I’m providing 5 tests.

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

Descendants - father deceased

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

Multiple Databases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales

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

Who are you planning to test?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

GEDmatch Acquired by Verogen

Verogen GedMatch logo.pngVerogen logo.png

Until this afternoon, I had never heard of Verogen. Today Verogen “joined forces with” GedMatch. Based on reading the details, while the GEDmatch personnel are staying involved, the ownership and management appears to have passed to Verogen.

I didn’t know about this in advance, but I’m not surprised. Curtis Rogers, one of the GEDmatch owners is in his early 80s and already retired once in his life. GEDmatch needs modernization and Verogen has committed to breathe new life into GedMatch which provides tools not available elsewhere and much loved by many genealogists.

The press release is here.

Verogen

Verogen is a forensic genomics firm founded in 2017 to focus on the challenges of human identification and improve public safety and global justice for all, according to their website.

Verogen 1.png

The graphic above and below, from their website, explain their focus.

Verogen 2.png

According to this 2017 article, DNA equipment supplier Illumina is a Verogen partner and this May 2019 article states that the FBI has approved Verogen’s forensic DNA sequencing system and underlying technology.

I have been and remain supportive of investigative genealogy in order to identify deceased bodies and to bring violent criminals to justice. Another benefit of this technology is the ability to exonerate those wrongfully convicted.

The question for today, though, is how this affects genealogists as GEDmatch users.

Upcoming Changes

The press release states that GEDmatch users will see improvements in the future, such as:

  • Increased stability
  • Optimal searchability
  • Enhanced homepage
  • Increased functionality

With regard to the GEDmatch vision and terms of service, that won’t change “with respect to the use, purposes of processing and disclosure of data.”

In other words, the way GEDmatch works now is the way it will continue to work, at least for the time being. Companies change thier terms and conditions routinely, are bought and sold, just as this is a change from previous terms.

The press release goes on to say that as many as 70 violent crimes have been solved to date using genealogy searches, although they don’t say through GEDmatch specifically. Family Tree DNA also allows uploading forensic kits after a verification process for law enforcement (LE) matching. That’s roughly 1 case per week solved which means closure brought to families and villans being identified and taken off the streets, making everyone safer.

I’d wager that there are many more cold cases in the process of being solved given that multiple companies have now announced forensic genealogy research services.

“Never before have we as a society had the opportunity to serve as a molecular eyewitness, enabling law enforcement to solve violent crimes efficiently and with certainty,” Verogen CEO Brett Williams said.

“Still, our users have the absolute right to choose whether they want to share their information with law enforcement by opting in,” Williams said. “We are steadfast in our commitment to protecting users’ privacy and will fight any future attempts to access data of those who have not opted in.”

One interesting aspect of this announcement is that GEDmatch has 1.3 million users and as many as 1000 people are uploading daily. That’s great news for those of us who utilize their tools as genealogists, and law enforcement too, assuming that at least some of those people opt-in.

The press release goes on to say that Curtis Rogers, one of the founders will continue to be involved with GEDmatch as this partnership moves forward.

How does this affect you today?

GEDmatch

Users when signing on to GEDmatch must read the updated terms and conditions that state that GEDmatch is “operated by Verogen, following the acquisition by Verogen of the website.”

Whether people *actually* read, or not, they must then choose one of the following 3 options:

Verogen options.png

There can be no question whatsoever that users didn’t have the opportunity to make a choice, because you cannot enter the GEDmatch/Verogen site if you don’t make a selection.

If you choose Option 2, Reject, your entire account along with all of the kits and GEDCOM files are deleted permanently.

Verogen delete.png

I did not delete my account.

For the record, “Decide Later” does not mean that you can use the site until you decide. It simply returns you to the login page.

To access the GEDmatch site, meaning your account and tools, you MUST accept Option 1, indicating that you agree to all of the terms of service.

This also applies to any other kits you have uploaded that you manage, so be sure that the kits fit the criteria as set forth by GEDmatch, and that you have obtained permission of living individuals and discussed their LE opt-in preferences.

You can of course delete any individual kits after agreeing and signing in or change options.

GEDmatch/Verogen Terms of Service

I read the terms of service several times and found nothing unexpected or alarming, given that I was already aware that my kits that I have opted-in for LE are being utilized in forensic and law enforcement matching for identification of remains and violent criminals.

If you aren’t aware of that and how the site works in that general, this is a needed review anyway.

Every person needs to read the terms of service and decide how to proceed for themselves.

You can read the updated terms of service below which actually serves as a great overview of the GEDmatch options and services, or if you are a user, sign on to your account and you will see the same verbiage.

Verogen tos.pngVerogen tos 1.pngVerogen tos 2.pngVerogen tos 3.pngVerogen tos 4.pngVerogen tos 5.pngVerogen tos 6.pngVerogen tos 7.pngVerogen tos 8.pngVerogen tos 9.pngVerogen tos 10.pngVerogen tos 11.png

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Celebrate Your DNA

One of the challenges I have with conferences is that I spend so much time in the vendor area. Books, maps and DNA baubles are bright shiny objects to me.

I ran across Alex Coss in his role as “Chief DNA Celebrator” in his booth. Yes, that’s really what his business card says. I’m sure it won’t surprise you now when I tell you the name of his company is “Celebrate DNA.”

I ordered two items from Celebrate DNA to celebrate my own genetic heritage. I love wearing DNA-themed items. People ask questions and I get to explain how much fun DNA is and how critical to genealogy.

The great thing about Alex’s items is that many (most) of Alex’s products are customized for you based on your own DNA results.

Celebrate DNA shirt.jpg

I particularly like my double helix t-shirt. I know, that’s the geeky side of me showing through.

Celebrate DNA options.png

Celebrate DNA has are a lot more styles to select from in both t-shirts and sweatshirts.

I think these would be great to wear to family reunions and are sure to be conversation starters.

Celebrate DNA roots.png

Now, I want a canvas bag with my heritage splashed across the world. I don’t care if the percentages align with my genealogy or not, because my ancestors are from those locations. My history lives there.

Celebrate DNA day of the dead.png

I *need* this shirt for research trips, but perhaps in a different background color! There are lots of colors to choose from.

Celebrate DNA offers many other items too; mugs, bags, posters, hats and more.

These would make great genealogy holiday gifts for yourself or others.

Celebrate DNA is having a sale and offering an additional discount if you order by clicking here, then enter ESTES10 to receive a 10% discount on top of the sale prices.

Enjoy!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

DNA File Upload-Download and Transfer Instructions to and from DNA Testing Companies

Upload download.pngSome of my most popular articles are the instructions for how to download your DNA files from the various vendors in order to upload and transfer your DNA files to other vendors to obtain more matches.

Now, I’ve put the instructions for all the vendors together in one place. Feel free to share with your friends, family and groups by posting the link to this article.

Why Transfer?

People test at multiple vendors or transfer their files in order to:

  • Take advantage of unique features at each vendor
  • Match against people in each database that haven’t tested elsewhere
  • Benefit from the lower cost of transfers as compared to testing at each vendor

Transfers themselves along with matching is free, but more advanced features require either a full subscription (MyHeritage,) a monthly subscription (GedMatch) or a one-time unlock fee (Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage without a subscription.)

Vendors who welcome uploads and have a full suite of products are:

GedMatch is not a testing vendor. Customers only transfer files from other vendors TO GedMatch to use their tools, not from GedMatch.

Vendors who don’t allow uploads, meaning you must test there, are:

Download and Upload Instructions

Transferring your DNA consists of downloading your raw DNA data file from one vendor and uploading the file to another vendor’s system.

This process does NOT delete your DNA file or results from the original system. That’s an entirely different process, not related to a file download.

Here’s how to transfer – with individual steps for downloading from and uploading to each vendor:

How many new matches will you receive by transferring to each vendor?

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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

In Search of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – History Channel Documentary

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 10 PM for “In Search of the Lost Colony,” a documentary on the History Channel. Here’s the schedule.

Lost Colony History Channel

If you can’t see the episode on Friday, past “In Search Of” episodes are available for viewing and The Lost Colony episode will be available here too after airing. You can watch it on your computer after it airs if you don’t have access to The History Channel.

If you’d like more background, you can read my article, The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Did They Survive? – National Geographic, Archaeology, Historical Records and DNA.

A Little History

In 2007, I became involved in the search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a group of settlers who sailed to what is now Roanoke Island, NC in 1587 with the intention of establishing an English Colony.

Luck was not in their favor. Many elements were against them. The supply ship with their food was wrecked on the shoals during one of the notorious hurricanes that plague the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Adding even more drama, the captain of the lead ship in the voyage was supposed to transport the colonists on to the Chesapeake, but refused to do so, in essence, stranding them. Did I mention that the notorious captain just happened to be a pirate, rescued from the gallows by a man who was scheming for the colony to fail?

You might be guessing by now that there are layers upon layers of drama – and you’d be right.

The transport ships themselves were headed back to England after depositing the colonists and agreed to carry only one person from the colony with them. The colonists elected their “governor,” John White as their representative to return to England and request resupply. Somehow, somehow, the colonists, White’s daughter among them, would try to survive half a year, until about Easter 1588, when crossing the Atlantic would once again be safe. At that time in history, winter crossings were not undertaken.

However, the Spanish Armada and the war between England and Spain interfered with the resupply plan. It wasn’t until 1590 that John White was able to return, on yet another pirate ship, to attempt to resupply or rescue the colonists.

A Big Mystery

He found…nothing.

The colonists were gone – disappeared – but they left White a one-word message – Croatoan – carved into a post at their fort and “Cro” carved into a tree.

Croatoan tree

Dawn Taylor (left) and Anne Poole beside a reproduction of the carving White discovered upon his 1590 return to Roanoke Island.

Croatoan was the name of the friendly Indians who lived on Hatteras Island, just south of Roanoke Island.

Another hurricane arose, preventing White from visiting Hatteras, but their ships had sailed within sight of Hatteras on their way to Roanoke.

Were the colonists gone?

Had they survived?

Did they perish?

Or move on?

Inland perhaps?

What do we know?

What is yet to be discovered?

The Documentary

Along with others involved in the search, I filmed a segment for the History Channel in June. My portion was recorded at the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston, Texas. As you might guess, my portion involves DNA testing.

Lost Colony, Dr Connie Bormans and Roberta Estes

Here’s a sneak peek, Dr. Connie Bormans, Lab Director, at left, with me in the dark lab coat, at right, during the filming. You’ll enjoy a lovely tour of the genetics lab while walking a test through the process, assuming that portion is included in the documentary.

This is the first production of this type that I’ve been involved with. I’ve declined several other invitations because of concerns about sensationalism.

I’ve enjoyed programs on the History Channel before and hoped that they would be less inclined to fall into that trap.

The DNA Projects

Regardless, the DNA part of this story is mine to tell, and I wasn’t about to forego that opportunity.

I founded the Lost Colony DNA projects in 2007.

The Lost Colony Y DNA Project for males who carry the Lost Colony surnames AND whose families are found in early eastern North Carolina OR among the Native people is here, and the Lost Colony Family Project for those interested but aren’t male who carry the colonist surnames is here.

How Does Filming Work?

I’ve always wondered how this works, so I’m sharing with you.

It’s interesting to note that people in the episodes don’t know what the other people said or who else is involved.

In my case, I did happen to know about two other people, Anne Poole, Director of the Lost Colony Research Group and Andy Gabriel-Powell. The three of us along with Dawn Taylor and others have worked on solving the mystery together for a dozen years now, focused on archaeological excavations in various locations on the Outer Banks along with historical records in the US, England, Spain and Portugal.

Lost colony dna

Anne and I sifting during one of the digs.

Andy, the former mayor of historic Bideford, England, home of Richard Grenville, authored the book Richard Grenville and the Lost Colony of Roanoke which you can view, here.

I know the production crew interviewed other people as well, but I’ll find out who they are and what everyone says right along with you.

It might not surprise you to learn that numerous people have been involved in the search for the Lost Colony over the ensuing 432 years – and not all of them ethical. Like anything else high-profile, the Lost Colony has attracted its share of bad actors along with some fantastic researchers.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what or whom to believe, so Anne, Andy and I, along with our colleagues working alongside us, committed to document and source all information independently. Our goal was and is to excavate the truth, regardless of where that truth leads.

In 2007, Anne and I founded the loosely organized, all-volunteer, Lost Colony Research Group to facilitate various types of research and coordinate archaeological excavations.

The LCRG sponsored half a dozen digs and committed to making our finds public, allowing future researchers access to our research, artifacts and DNA results when technology has improved and perhaps more is known or can be discovered. It’s the only responsible approach.

People interviewed during the filming are not actors and are not paid, nor are they afforded the opportunity to review and approve any footage or anything in the segment before it’s aired.

Other than clarifying a couple of questions after the filming and being informed of the date and time when the episode will air, we had no communications with the production crew or staff after filming.

None of us knows what the segment contains or how it will be portrayed. We don’t actually even know if we are IN the segment, just that we were filmed. The segment at the lab with Dr. Bormans took about a day and a half of filming, plus several days of preparation, as did Andy’s and Anne’s portions, respectively. Most of what is filmed winds up on the cutting room floor. That’s the nature of the beast.

I have my fingers crossed that the resulting program is scientifically sound as well as entertaining. The Lost Colony is, after all, one of America’s oldest mysteries.

One thing is for sure – I’ll be watching. I hope you do too.

If you have ancestors in the US or in the British Isles – you or your family might just have that critical piece of information needed to solve the mystery!

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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

DNAPainter: Ancestral Trees

Ancestral Tree.png

DNAPainter has introduced a new feature, Ancestral Trees.

Ancestral tree fan.png

You can create a tree by hand or upload a GEDCOM file from your own software or one of the online vendors who support a tree export to a GEDCOM file, such as Ancestry or MyHeritage.

GEDCOM Import

As a longtime genealogist, I wanted to upload my GEDCOM file, because there’s absolutely no reason to recreate the wheel, or the fan, pardon the pun.

I’ve been building my file for decades, so it’s rather large, with over 35,000 people. Not all are ancestors of course.

If the upload process was going to choke on a large file, mine is a good candidate. DNAPainter indicates that files of 50,000 people or less shouldn’t be a problem. My file upload worked fine and took all of a couple minutes.

It’s worth noting that your GEDCOM file itself is not uploaded and retained. Only your direct line ancestors are extracted and uploaded to your DNAPainter account. You can read about options here.

Pedigree

A pedigree version of my direct ancestral tree appeared as soon as the upload completed.

Ancestral tree pedigree.png

By hovering over any person, you can perform a several functions.

You can delete the person, edit their information, add parents or mark them as a genetic ancestor by clicking on that box.

Ancestral tree options.png

What, exactly, is a genetic ancestor?

Genetic Ancestors

Genetic ancestors are people in your tree that are confirmed, genetically, to be your ancestors. For example, if you match a full first cousin on your mother’s side, that confirms your maternal grandparents as your grandparents.

Two pieces of independent data confirm that – your paper trail plus the fact that the first cousin matches you in the first cousin range.

Confirming ancestral segments, and therefore ancestors, is what DNAPainter does. DNAPainter creates a visualization of your chromosomes with the DNA segments you inherited from your ancestors painted on the appropriate maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an example.

Ancestral tree chromosome 22.png

All of the grey matches on my chromosome 22, above, descend from cousins who share ancestors Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy with me. In addition, there are other matches painted as well who descend from other ancestors, such as their son, in addition to my painted ethnicity segments.

In the blue, grey and red match trio, we can see that the exact segment was passed from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel to their son Joel Vannoy who married Phoebe Crumley whose daughter Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes. We can track that segment back three generations with just this one example, plus the two generations between me and my great-grandparents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy – for a total of 5 ancestral generations. Pretty cool, huh!

Use the Legend

When you paint chromosomes, you define ancestors to a color as you paint segments attributed to them.

You can view the legend of the ancestors you’ve painted – either all of them or divided into maternal or paternal.

Ancestral tree legend.png

Utilize this legend to mark the appropriate people on your Ancestral Tree as genetic ancestors.

Couple or Person?

You’ll need to make a decision.

Are you going to mark both people of a couple as your genetic ancestors when someone else that you match descends from this same couple, or are you only going to mark your descendant child of that couple?

Using the same example as the grey/blue/red trio on my painted chromosomes, I can see the pedigree descent, below.

Ancestral tree ancestors.png

If my initial match was to a cousin who descended through Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, I wouldn’t know which of those two ancestors actually passed the matching segment to my grandfather, William George Estes, then to my father and me.

Ancestral tree path.png

I know for sure I inherited the segment though William George Estes, but I don’t know if he received it from his father, Lazarus Estes, his mother Elizabeth Vannoy, or parts from both of his parents.

However, given that we are talking about only one segment at a time, it’s likely that the segment actually came from either Lazarus or Elizabeth, not a combination of both. But it’s not certain.

If I match someone on multiple segments, each segment has its own independent history. Multiple segments could have and probably did originate with different ancestors on up the tree.

Do I mark only William George Estes as the confirmed ancestor, or do I mark both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy as the confirmed couple?

Eventually, after I match more people, as shown in the chromosome painting, I’ll have evidence that this segment descends through Elizabeth Vannoy and her father Joel Vannoy.

Ancestral tree line of descent.png

Now I know that the segment descends from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel, but until someone from either the McNiel line or the Vannoy line upstream match me on that same segment, or part of the segment, I won’t know whether that segment descends from Elijah or Lois or maybe a partial contribution from each.

Until then, I need to decide how I’m going to handle the designation of Genetic Ancestor – the couple or their child who is my ancestor. As long as you are consistent in your methodoloy and you understand your strategy, I don’t think there is any specific right or wrong answer.

Displaying Genetic Ancestors

After designating a person in your tree as a genetic ancestor, you’ll be able to select “Show genetic ancestors” from the DNA filters.

Ancestral tree filters.png

Your pedigree chart will show the black DNA icon for every ancestor that you’ve identified as a genetic ancestor.

Ancestral tree genetic ancestors.png

Next, you can view your Genetic fan chart.

Your Genetic Fan Chart

Ancestral tree fan option.png

By switching from tree to fan, you’ll be able to view your genetic tree in fan format.

Ancestral tree fan genetic ancestors.png

The darkened ancestral “squares” show the people you’ve indicated as genetic ancestors. The lighter colors are people in my tree, but not yet genetically confirmed.

My particularly problematic quadrant is the dark red one that also happens to include my mitochondrial DNA. Why is this line so lacking as compared to the others?

Ancestral tree descent.png

By flying my cursor over the ancestor on the tree that I want to see, DNAPainter tells me that the end of line ancestor in the outer band is Elisabeth Schlicht, born in 1698. I know immediately what the problem is, and why I only have a few generations confirmed.

Barbara Mehlheimer was the immigrant in the 1850s. None of the rest of her family came to America. Few if any of the family in Germany have tested. If they have, I don’t know it because either I don’t match them or they don’t have a tree.

That entire red quadrant beyond the 4th generation is partially identified in the German church records, but not (yet) genetically confirmed.

X and Mitochondrial DNA Paths

Another feature that you can select is to see the X and mitochondrial DNA paths.

Ancestral tree X path.png

The X inheritance path is shown above, and mitochondrial DNA below.

Ancestral tree mtDNA path.png

I discussed X matching here.

X DNA and mitochondrial DNA is NOT the same thing, although they both have a unique inheritance path. I wrote about X matching and mitochondrial DNA and their differences, here.

DNAPainter only shows that inheritance path. The genetic ancestor designation does NOT MEAN that the genetic ancestors on the X path are confirmed by the X chromosome, only that those ancestors are somehow confirmed – by you.

The mitochondrial path does NOT necessarily mean that that line is mitochondrially DNA confirmed – just that the line is autosomally confirmed, or not – depending on whether you checked genetic ancestor.

I, personally, am only using the genetic ancestor designation as autosomal, meaning chromosomes 1-22 AND the X chromosome. When I indicate that Edith Barbara Lore, who is my mitochondrial ancestor, is a genetic ancestor, I’m referring to autosomal confirmation, not mitochondrial.

I’d actually love to see separate Y and mitochondrial DNA confirmations – although I’m afraid it might be confusing to people. On the other hand, it might be a great teaching opportunity about Y and mito.

Another useful feature of DNAPainter is tree completeness.

Tree Completeness

At the upper right, you’ll see the option for tree completeness.

Ancestral tree completeness.png

By clicking, a new box opens with a list of ancestors that appear more than once in your tree – known as pedigree collapse.

Ancestral tree pedigree collapse.png

This was quite interesting. Fifteen are Acadians and 19 are Germans from multiple lines. the commonality is that all of these people hail from villages or geographically isolated regions where there isn’t a lot of population being added during the timeframe in question.

Not one repeat ancestor hails from colonial America, although I’d bet they exist in areas where these families lived in close proximity. Many records have been destroyed and I have lots of brick walls in those lines.

Ancestral tree identified ancestors.png

Scrolling on down the page, we see a report by generation of how many ancestors are identified per generation. I have identified all of my 4th great-grandparents, but only about 3/4th of the next generation. After that, the percentage drops roughly in half every generation.

Of the 4th great-grandparents, who lived 6 generations ago, (counting my parents as generation 1,) born in the mid-1700s, three women don’t have surnames and one is known only by her mitochondrial DNA results. I’m hopeful that one day, those results will lead me to her identity.

The Future

Jonny Perl has indicated that he’s working to integrate the genetic ancestor designation with the chromosome painting function, including colors. That will require more decision-making on the part of the user though, because sometimes the source of the segment isn’t clear, especially when families lived close and there are multiple possible paths of descend from multiple ancestors. And of course, there’s always the possibility of an unexpected parent or adoption thrown into the mix.

What does the user do when they have 10 cousins who match on a segment but conflicting information as to the ancestral source? When that occurs in my tree, I evaluate the evidence of each match on that segment and make an individual decision. Automating this process might be challenging, especially considering the situations of partial segment matches and endogamy.

While I wait, I’ll just revel in the nice dark colors on my ancestry fan tree and see what I can do to darken a few more of those areas by painting more matches.

Have you uploaded your tree and claimed your genetic ancestors? How are you doing?

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Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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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

23andMe Automatically Creates Tree Using New Technology – Relationship Triangulation

23andMe has introduced a new tree feature that automatically creates a “tree” for you based on your predicted relationships to others and their predicted relationships to each other. 23andMe hasn’t coined a term for this, but I’m calling it Relationship Triangulation.

Let’s look at traditional forms of triangulation and how Relationship Triangulation is different.

Triangulation

Segment Triangulation – In traditional triangulation for genetic genealogists, we match the same (reasonably sized) segments between a minimum of 3 not-closely-related people to assign that segment to a common ancestor. Of course, in this scenario, you need to know who your ancestors are – at least some of them.

Once enough people test and match on that segment, hopefully at least a few will be able to identify a common ancestor or minimally, an ancestral line. You can read about this type of triangulation here and a more detailed article here.

Tree Triangulation – Genealogists use what I refer to as “tree triangulation” when segment data isn’t available, like at Ancestry, or when they are seeking to determine parentage.

Adoptees use this method of triangulation where they look at the trees of their closest matches, hoping to discover a common ancestor in their close matches’ trees – because that points the way to a descendant of those ancestors who is their biological parent.

I’ve described this technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

Relationship Triangulation

What 23andMe is doing with relationship triangulation is different yet.

They are using the same techniques used by genetic genealogists manually to try to place their matches in their trees. In essence, we perform the following steps:

  1. Look at the predicted relationship provided by the testing company in order to get an estimation of where that person might fit in our tree – in other words, how far back in the tree the common ancestor will be found. First cousins share grandparents, second cousins share great-grandparents, etc. Additionally, I utilize the relationship table at DNAPainter to view alternative relationships based on total shared DNA.
  2. Look at who we and our match matches in common. For example, if the match also matches my first cousin on my father’s side, there’s a high probability that’s where the person fits on my tree. If they also match with my second and third cousin on my father’s side, especially if they match on the same segment (traditional segment triangulation) then I not only know which “side” they match on, I can push the match back several generations to the common ancestor or ancestral couple I share with the third cousin.
  3. If I also have detailed haplogroup information about the ancestors in my family tree, and my match also has haplogroup information, I can use that to rule out or include lines as potential placements. 23andMe provides haplogroup estimates at a high level, not at a detailed level, but they can still serve to rule out various lineage placements on the tree when compared with other people. For example, if a person’s mitochondrial haplogroup is J1c, they can’t be the child of a female ancestor whose haplogroup is H1a. This is exactly why I have constructed a DNA Pedigree Chart.

What is 23andMe Doing?

I don’t have any inside information about exactly how 23andMe is constructing this tree, but they published the following. The difference, of course, is that they have automated the process and they don’t have customers’ trees to work with.

This information is found on your account at 23andMe under the 3 dots at the upper right-hand side of the tree itself, which I’ll show you how to access in a moment.

23andMe tree options.png

23andMe tree about.png

23andMe tree predicting.png

23andMe will probably provide additional information and make adjustments as this feature comes out of beta – including the ability to modify relationships which are inaccurate – and several are.

Beta is Required

In order to utilize the new tree feature, you must enable Beta for your account, which you can find under your name in the Setting area.

23andMe FamilySearch settings

If you need help, I wrote detailed instructions for enabling Beta in this article.

Accessing Your Tree

You can access the new tree feature in 2 ways.

23andMe DNA Relatives 2.png

At the top, under Ancestry, select DNA Relatives

23andme DNA Relatives selection.png

Scroll to the very bottom.

23andMe Family Tree beta.png

To see your tree, click on the Family Tree link.

The second way to access your tree is under DNA Relatives. When you click on any specific person, if they are in your tree, you’ll see the following:

23andMe tree cousin.png

The “View your Family Tree” button takes you to your family tree.

Your Squiggly Relationship Triangulation Tree

Please click to enlarge this tree in the image below. The font for names is small, but at 23andMe, you can zoom in on various sections.

23andMe tree

Click to enlarge

When you first see your tree, it looks a bit odd and takes a some getting used to because it looks different than the trees genealogists are used to working with.

Here’s what the blue box contents say:

23andMe tree blue.png

23andMe tree blue 2.png

23andMe tree blue 3.png

I tried to see if there was a way to add people in my tree. When you click, the node enlarges, but there isn’t anything to be done yet.

23andMe tree closeup.png

How Is 23andMe Creating Relationship Trees?

23andMe is constructing my family tree based on how I’m related to people, and how they are related to each other as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are also using their basic haplogroup information.

Let’s look at how this works.

My two children have tested. I did not tell 23andMe that they are my children, but because both of their mitochondrial haplogroups are the same, and I’m related to both of them in a parent/child relationship, and they are related to each other as siblings, I have to be their mother. That’s the only combination of relationships that works for the three of us.

If one of them was my parent, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

One could be my parent, and one my child, but then, again, they would not be related to each other as siblings.

Furthermore, my son would carry my mitochondrial haplogroup, but I would not carry my father’s mitochondrial haplogroup, so my relationship to him cannot be that he is my father. It would be very unlikely for a father’s mitochondrial haplogroup to match a child by happenstance although that’s not impossible, especially with only partial haplogroups with no full sequence testing. If you’re interested in the difference, you can read more about that here.

Lastly, my children would be related to a subset of the people I’m related to, but (in general) sharing less DNA, so a generation removed. If one of them was my parent, I would be related to a subset of the people they are related to.

23andMe is also looking at who shares DNA with other relatives.

23andMe tree relatives.png

In this DNA Relatives chart comparing me with cousin Laura, you can see that she and I share a common segment of DNA with my twin and with “J”, meaning we have segment triangulation, although my V4 kit doesn’t count for triangulation because it’s a duplicate. Additionally, Laura and I both match Trista, but Laura, Trista and I don’t share a common DNA segment between the three of us.

Laura, “J,” Trista and my V4 test are all shown in my tree. We’ll analyze those matches momentarily.

My Two Results

You’ll notice that I have two tests at 23andMe. I took a V3 test and another V4 test when it was introduced to see if my results were the same. 23andMe accurately calculated this as a “twin” relationship.

In general, the results are close, but not exactly the same. Interestingly, my V3 tree has 2 more cousins than my V4 tree. Of course, the need to “fit people in” on the tree means the layout looks different between the two trees, so I’m only going to work with one set of results in order to reduce confusion.

It’s confusing to look at both trees side by side, because these trees are auto-generated to “best fit” the branches with the available screen space – so the branches are not in the same place on both trees. As more cousins are added to your tree, the layout will change.

Paths

For each person in your created tree, you can click on the person you match and the path from them to you highlights.

I have to laugh, because there is a quilt pattern named “Drunkard’s Path,” and it’s much straighter than this path from my second cousin, Patricia, to me.

23andMe tree path.png

Of course, today there are no names on these “?” ancestor nodes but I know who they are.

Let’s take a look to see if these placements are accurate.

Identifying Nodes on the Tree

Based on where my matches are placed, I determined the identity of the “connecting couple” nodes on my tree and utilized Snagit to mark up the 23andMe tree, below.

You can see that I’ve labeled my mother and father, based on what I know about the various people that I match. For example, I know where my Ferverda cousins reside on my tree, so those cousins must be on my mother’s side.

Conversely, my Vannoy cousins must be on my father’s side.

In my case, my mother is on the left and my father on the right, which is backwards to the normal genealogist pedigree way of thinking. However, without any tree information at all, 23andMe is flying completely blind.

23andMe tree markup

Click to enlarge

I analyzed each of my 18 matches that 23andMe placed on my tree, of my 1553 total matches at 23andMe.

Accurate Placements

The gold stars indicate accurate placements. There are a total of 7 gold stars, BUT, of those 7, one is my own second kit which clearly is my “identical twin.” Two are my children whose accounts I manage. Of the balance, there are:

  • one 1C1R
  • one second cousin
  • two third cousins

There are a total of 4 accurate placements that are not immediate family members whose kits I manage.

Why might a placement not be accurate? 23andMe says the following:

23andMe unexpected.png

This is exactly why I utilize the DNAPainter segment tool to evaluate different possibilities for the matching total centiMorgans.

Unknown Placements

Green boxes on my tree are people who are unknown, but based on their common matches with known cousins, they are in the right general area of my tree. I wish I could tell more.

With 23andMe’s historic lack of tree support, and few people having added surnames or recently, ancestors through Family Search, it’s impossible to determine how these matches descend from common ancestors. The best I can do based on common matches and shared DNA is to determine and assign “sides” and sometimes roughly how many generations back to the common ancestor.

Hopefully, once people can actually identify ancestors on their trees, this may well improve. I’m concerned that so many years have passed with no tree support that many people aren’t signing in anymore, will never notice the tree feature and won’t add anything. I hope I’m wrong.

There are only 4 people in my tree whose relationship to me is unknown. Perhaps I should send them a message. I do know approximately where they belong on the tree, so I could at least ask some leading questions with surnames I think they might recognize.

Uncertain Placement

The gold box is an uncertain placement. Based on common matches, this person descends from Ollie Bolton’s parents’ line, not from Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley. However, Diane also matches Patricia M who descends from my mother’s line, so she could be doubly related to me. Those lines are not even from the same state, so this person is a bit of an anomaly.

This causes me to wonder how 23andMe will handle situations where a match does descend from both sides of a person’s tree.

I should send her a message too.

Inaccurate Placements

The red boxes indicate placements that are known to be incorrect, and why they are incorrect. When the placement needs to be moved to another connecting node couple, I’ve drawn a red arrow.

I’ve numbered the red boxes so we can discuss each one.

In box #1, Cheryl is identified correctly as to her relationship with me, as is “J,” but their relationship to each other is inaccurate. They are half siblings, not first cousins.

In boxes #2 and #3, these people are shown descending from my grandparents, when in reality, they descend from my great-grandparents. Of course, this makes their relationship to me inaccurate too.

In box #4, my half-grand-niece, meaning my half-sister’s granddaughter is shown as descending through another child of my grandparents, when in fact, she descends from my father and his first wife. My father needs another spouse in the chart and the relationship needs to be calculated accordingly.

In box #5, both individuals are actually one more generation further down the tree than they are shown, so the relationship needs to be recalculated.

Summary

How did 23andMe do with their automated Relationship Triangulation tree construction?

23andMe summary.png

  • One third, 33%, are inaccurate..
  • The close family matches, 17%, are accurate, but really don’t count – those were freebies.
  • There are exactly as many unknown as accurate, 22%.
  • 6% are uncertain, meaning I can’t tell if this person is accurately placed or not, because the matches are confusing.
  • Of my total 1553 matches, 1.16% were placed in a tree. I wonder if 23andMe has drawn an arbitrary line at 3rd cousins, at least for now.

Given that this tree was entirely constructed by 23andMe without any genealogical foreknowledge, based only upon genetic relationships to me along with genetic relationships of my matches to each other – this isn’t bad at all. It’s certainly a start.

Adoptees must think they’ve died and gone to the happy hereafter, because all other vendors’ tree support requires you to actually HAVE a tree of some description. Of course, adoptees and people seeking an unknown parent don’t have trees for their unknown parents.

23andMe creates a tree from scratch for you based only on genetic relationships – Relationship Triangulation.

While only one third of these matches are accurately placed today, all were at least on the correct side of the tree, with one confusing possible exception. Genealogists already know that things like pedigree collapse and endogamy will complicate efforts like this.

My mother’s side was accurately identified to appropriate great-grandparents, but my father’s side wasn’t as clean, especially where “half” relationships are involved.

It would be interesting to combine the Leeds Method or Genetic Affairs clustering with the 23andMe technology and see what those results look like.

23andMe would be in a much better position had they never obsoleted tree support years ago. They have never been a “genealogy” company, with their focus always having been on medical genetics. Genealogists, with their incessant need to know were the perfect people to attract to test. 23andMe has always given us “just enough,” but never trees or the heavy duty tools we need.

Perhaps the tide has turned and this is their way of reintroducing a hybrid genetic+genealogy tree.

The Future

In the short-term future, 23andMe is going to add the ability to define and modify relationships on this tree, which will help them refine and improve their machine learning tools. This will also help with their medical research initiatives because clearly, the companies they partner with want to know specifically, not generally, about the heritability of medical traits.

Trees encourage genealogists to provide 23andMe with family information for their medical research, while trees clearly benefit genealogists too.

In the longer term, for genealogists, let’s hope that the marriage of genetics, machine learning, trees and technology produces helpful tools.

This Relationship Triangulation tree is interesting and fascinating, if not yet terribly useful. This technology holds a lot of promise and every innovation begins with a imperfect tenuous first step.

Who knows what the future will bring, either at 23andMe or perhaps as other vendors integrate this same type of technology.

You can’t play if you don’t test and 23andMe does not accept uploads.

If you would like to take the 23andMe genealogy only test, click here or if you want the 23andMe genealogy + health test, click here.

If you have already tested, check your account for your new tree and tell me what you think!

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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

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Genealogy Research

Family Tree DNA Dashboard Gets a New Skin

I signed into an account at FamilyTreeDNA and a surprise was waiting for me. FamilyTreeDNA molted and the dashboard on everyone’s personal page has a new look and feel.

New dashboard

Click to enlarge

The various tests along with results are at the right, and other information including updates, projects and badges are on the left.

New dashboard 2

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Additional features, tests, tools and family trees are at the bottom.

New dashboard 3

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Unfortunately, the tree is now at the very bottom – out of sight which means it will be more out of mind than it already is. We need more people to participate in trees, not fewer☹

But there are lots of improvements. Let’s step through each new feature and take a look.

Tutorial

At the very top of the page, under the gear setting at far right, you’ll see several options.

New dashboard tutorial.png

The first option is “View Tutorial” and that’s where I suggest that you start. The quick tutorial shows you how to rearrange your dashboard and how to add Quick Links – two new features.

Rearranging the Furniture

New dashboard rearrange.png

By clicking on “Rearrange Dashboard” you can move the test blocks around.

New dashboard move

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When you click on “Rearrange,” the boxes appear with dotted lines around them and all you have to do is click on one and pull it where you want, then click to place and release it.

When finished, click on “Exit Rearrange.” This is easy and you can’t hurt anything, so experiment.

Previous Version

Don’t like the new dashboard at all, click on “View Previous Version,” but please don’t do that yet, because I think you’re going to like what comes next.

New dashboard previous.png

Quick Links

New dashboard quick links.png

At upper left, you can add up to 5 Quick Links, one at a time. These would be the functions you access the most.

New dashboard add quick links.png

Let’s see, what do I do most? That’s easy, Family Finder matches, then linking people in my family tree, then Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA matches, then the Big Y Block Tree.

New dashboard quick links 5

Click to enlarge

Now all I have to do is click on one of these links.

Format Changes

Now, all tools are shown full size on the product tabs. Previously, Advanced Matching, the Matrix and the Data Download were located in small print beneath the feature tabs. They’ve been moved up with the rest where they are much more visible and easy to notice.

New dashboard format

Click to enlarge

The Learning Center is shown as well.

Upgrades

Another feature I like is that it’s easy to see at a glance what level of each test you’ve taken. In the upper right corner of each product where there are different levels, the tests you’ve taken are darkened. In the example above, the tester has taken all of the Y DNA tests. If he had not, the Big Y, for example, would be light gray, as illustrated below, and all he would have to do to order an upgrade is to click on the gray Big Y box.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that says “Upgrade” and I’m concerned that clicked on the greyed out box is not intuitive.

One thing you can’t tell is whether or not you’ve taken the original Big Y, the Big Y-500 or the Big Y-700. Perhaps this change will be made soon, because people are upgrading from the Big Y and the Big Y-500 to the Big Y-700. There’s so much more to learn and the Big Y-700 results have branched many trees.

New dashboard upgrade.png

Tests you haven’t taken aren’t obvious unless you actually click on the shopping cart icon. While you can see tests that offer upgrades, such as the Y DNA, if the person hasn’t taken the Family Finder, it’s not obvious anyplace that this test is available for purchase.

I don’ t know about you, but I really WANT people to upgrade to Family Finder if they’ve taken Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA tests, or to Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA if they’ve taken the Family Finder test. I hope Family Tree DNA adds a visible upgrade button that lists available tests for each tester.

Partner Applications

If you click on Partner Applications, you’ll see Geni. Some people mistakenly think that if you connect with Geni, that somehow feeds your tree at Family Tree DNA. To be very clear, IT DOES NOT. You can connect to Geni, but you still need to either build a tree or upload a Gedcom file to Family Tree DNA.

New dashboard partner apps.png

Public Haplotrees

At the bottom of everyone’s pages, you’ll find Public Haplotrees.

New dashboard public haplotrees.png

Clicking on this link takes you to the wonderful Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA haplotrees, complete with country flags and reports.

New dashboard Y haplotree.png

I wrote about how to use the public Y tree here and the public mitochondrial tree here.

MyFamilyTree

You can access your own tree either at the top of the page, or now at the bottom.

New dashboard myTree.png

New dashboard myTree 2

Click to enlarge

I would like to see the tree icon moved to the top where everyone sees it, since trees are integral and important to all three kinds of DNA tests. Everyone needs trees.

Badges

The haplogroup designations, along with any other badges, are much more visible now, shown on the left-hand side of the page.

New dashboard badges.png

Furthermore, the badge says whether or not the testing has been sufficient to confirm the haplogroup, or if it is predicted.

Projects

Just above badges, we find myProjects. I love that the projects are now displayed in such a prominent place. I hope that people will think to join projects, or look to see what’s available now that it’s in the middle of the page and not just as a link in the top banner.

New dashboard projects.png

Clicking on the project name takes you to the public display.

You can also still access projects from the top as well.

New dashboard projects 2.png

Updates

Another aspect of the new interface that I like is myUpdates.

Found at the top left, just below Quick Links, this new communications box provides the latest information from Family Tree DNA to you.

For my account, I see the following:

New dashboard myUpdates.png

New surveys with this update are the Family Ancestry survey, the Y DNA survey and the mtDNA survey. Of course, I don’t have a Y DNA survey because as a female, I don’t have a Y chromsome.

I want to review the surveys in depth, so I’ll be writing an article very shortly – but in the mean time, you need to know that these answers ARE FINAL, meaning that once you submit them, you can never change them. Please be vigilant and accurate, because these surveys are important so that the resulting science is reliable for all customers.

Security and Privacy

On the previous version of the personal page, your personal information, genealogical questions, privacy and security were located just beneath your profile photo.

New dashboard old.png

Not so now. In fact, they are completely obscured in the down arrow under your name at far right, NOT in the gear showing beneath your name.

New dashboard gear.png

Intuitively, I looked under the gear, above, but that’s not the place. It’s another gear. The Account Settings gear that you see drop down by clicking on your name, shown below, is NOT the same gear as you’re seeing above.

New dashboard account settings.png

Yes, I know this is confusing at first, but it’s not when you realize that there are two separate gears and if one doesn’t show the option you’re looking for, just click on the other one.

Click on the “Account Settings” gear by first clicking on your name to access the following information:

  • Account Information: contact information, beneficiary, password
  • Genealogy: surnames, earliest known ancestors
  • Privacy and Sharing: profile, matching preferences, origins, family trees
  • Project Preferences: sharing and authorizations by project
  • Notification Preferences: e-mail notifications by test and for projects

I hope that things like the surnames and earliest known ancestors will be moved to a much more visible location with prompts for people to complete. It was hard enough before to encourage people to complete this information and now the option to access these tabs is entirely invisible.

The earliest known ancestor and surnames are critical to the matches maps, to the EKA (earliest known ancestor) fields in both the Y and mitochondrial DNA displays and to the surname matching for Family Finder matches. Having testers complete this information means a much more meaningful and productive experience for all testers.

These three functions, in particular, are too important to have “out of sight, out of mind.”

Project Administrators

If you are a project administrator or have written instructions for your family or groups of people about to how to manage pages, change account settings, or join projects – you need to review and update your documents.

Group Project Search

A new group project search function has been added at the bottom of the main Family Tree DNA page, if you are not signed in.

New dashboard group projects.png

You can access the page, here.

New dashboard search page.png

I’m not sure that a potential customer will understand that they are supposed to enter a surname to find a project – or the benefits of doing so. I hope this can be changed to add instructions to enter a surname or topic, and add wording to more closely reflect the search function on the main page.

However, most people will still access the surname search in the center of the main Family Tree DNA page where it does say “search surname.”

New dashboard surname search.png

I would also like to see an “ancestor search” added so that people can see if someone with their ancestors has already tested. This would encourage testing.

Summary

In summary, I like these features of the new dashboard:

  • I like the fact that the icons and features are all the same size in the space for that product – like advanced matching , the matrix and the learning center.
  • I like that the dashboard can be rearranged.
  • I like that the projects are showing clearly at left.
  • I like the new myUpdates section.
  • I like the Quick Links.
  • I like the larger, more noticeable badges that tell testers whether their haplogroup is predicted or confirmed. It might be nice to have a popup explaining how testers can confirm a predicted haplogroup and the associated benefits.
  • I like the fact that testers can see at a glance the level of their testing for each product, which also means they can quickly see if an upgrade is available.
  • I like the fact that this version is much more friendly towards handheld devices such as iPads and phones.

Improvements I recommend are:

  • Add the Account Settings back to the main page.
  • Move the trees from the bottom to the top to encourage user participation.
  • Add back the familiar blue upgrade button. People aren’t going to look in the shopping cart for a menu.
  • Add a feature at the top that shows clearly for the 3 main products, Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and Family Finder if one of those 3 has not been ordered and is available for the tester to order.
  • Separate Big Y into Big YBig Y-500 and Big Y-700 buttons, providing Big Y and Big Y-500 testers with an upgrade avenue.
  • Add a popup at the top to encourage people to build a tree or upload a Gedcom file.
  • Add a popup at the top to encourage people to test other family members and to link testers in their tree so that they can enjoy phased matches assigned via matches to maternal and paternal family members.
  • Add a popup at the top to coach people to complete the various functions that enhance the user experience including:
    • Earliest Known Ancestor
    • Surnames
    • Matches Map information
    • Sharing
    • Joining projects

The new features are certainly welcome and a great start.

I hope these improvements are added quickly, because I fear that we lose opportunities every day when people don’t understand or don’t add information initially, then never sign in again.

We need to help testers and family members understand not only THAT they need to provide this information, or that they can upgrade their tests, but WHY that’s important and beneficial.

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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

First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water

First steps helix

Recently someone asked me what the first steps would be for a person who wasn’t terribly familiar with genealogy and had just received their DNA test results.

I wrote an article called DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching which was meant to show new folks what the various vendor interfaces look like. I was hoping this might whet their appetites for more, meaning that the tester might, just might, stick their toe into the genealogy waters😊

I’m hoping this article will help them get hooked! Maybe that’s you!

A Guide

This article can be read in one of two ways – as an overview, or, if you click the links, as a pretty thorough lesson. If you’re new, I strongly suggest reading it as an overview first, then a second time as a deeper dive. Use it as a guide to navigate your results as you get your feet wet.

I’ll be hotlinking to various articles I’ve written on lots of topics, so please take a look at details (eventually) by clicking on those links!

This article is meant as a guideline for what to do, and how to get started with your DNA matching results!

If you’re looking for ethnicity information, check out the First Glances article, plus here and here and here.

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages provides you with guidelines for how to estimate your own ethnicity percentages based on your known genealogy and Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum explains how ethnicity testing is done.

OK, let’s get started. Fun awaits!

The Goal

The goal for using DNA matching in genealogy depends on your interests.

  1. To discover cousins and family members that you don’t know. Some people are interested in finding and meeting relatives who might have known their grandparents or great-grandparents in the hope of discovering new family information or photos they didn’t know existed previously. I’ve been gifted with my great-grandparent’s pictures, so this strategy definitely works!
  2. To confirm ancestors. This approach presumes that you’ve done at least a little genealogy, enough to construct at least a rudimentary tree. Ancestors are “confirmed” when you DNA match multiple other people who descend from the same ancestor through multiple children. I wrote an article, Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?, discussing how much evidence is enough to actually confirm an ancestor. Confirmation is based on a combination of both genealogical records and DNA matching and it varies depending on the circumstances.
  3. Adoptees and people with unknown parents seeking to discover the identities of those people aren’t initially looking at their own family tree – because they don’t have one yet. The genealogy of others can help them figure out the identity of those mystery people. I wrote about that technique in the article, Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching.

DNAAdoption for Everyone

Educational resources for adoptees and non-adoptees alike can be found at www.dnaadoption.org. DNAAdoption is not just for adoptees and provides first rate education for everyone. They also provide trained and mentored search angels for adoptees who understand the search process along with the intricacies of navigating the emotional minefield of adoption and unknown parent searches.

First Look” classes for each vendor are free for everyone at DNAAdoption and are self-paced, downloadable onto your computer as a pdf file. Intro to DNA, Applied Autosomal DNA and Y DNA Basics classes are nominally priced at between $29 and $49 and I strongly recommend these. DNAAdoption is entirely non-profit, so your class fee or contribution supports their work. Additional resources can be found here and their 12 adoptee search steps here.

Ok, now let’s look at your results.

Matches are the Key

Regardless of your goal, your DNA matches are the key to finding answers, whether you want to make contact with close relatives, prove your more distant ancestors or you’re involved in an adoptee or unknown parent search.

Your DNA matches that of other people because each of you inherited a piece of DNA, called a segment, where many locations are identical. The length of that DNA segment is measured in centiMorgans and those locations are called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms. You can read about the definition of a centimorgan and how they are used in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’Crab.

While the scientific details are great, they aren’t important initially. What is important is to understand that the more closely you match someone, the more closely you are related to them. You share more DNA with close relatives than more distant relatives.

For example, I share exactly half of my mother’s DNA, but only about 25% of each of my grandparents’ DNA. As the relationships move further back in time, I share less and less DNA with other people who descend from those same ancestors.

Informational Tools

Every vendor’s match page looks different, as was illustrated in the First Glances article, but regardless, you are looking for four basic pieces of information:

  • Who you match
  • How much DNA you share with your match
  • Who else you and your match share that DNA with, which suggests that you all share a common ancestor
  • Family trees to reveal the common ancestor between people who match each other

Every vendor has different ways of displaying this information, and not all vendors provide everything. For example, 23andMe does not support trees, although they allow you to link to one elsewhere. Ancestry does not provide a tool called a chromosome browser which allows you to see if you and others match on the same segment of DNA. Ancestry only tells you THAT you match, not HOW you match.

Each vendor has their strengths and shortcomings. As genealogists, we simply need to understand how to utilize the information available.

I’ll be using examples from all 4 major vendors:

Your matches are the most important information and everything else is based on those matches.

Family Tree DNA

I have tested many family members from both sides of my family at Family Tree DNA using the Family Finder autosomal test which makes my matches there incredibly useful because I can see which family members, in addition to me, my matches match.

Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal and paternal sides in a unique way, even if your parents haven’t tested, so long as some close relatives have tested. Let’s take a look.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matches.png

Sign on to your account and click to see your matches.

At the top of your Family Finder matches page, you’ll see three groups of things, shown below.

First Steps Family Tree DNA bucketing

Click to enlarge

A row of tools at the top titled Chromosome Browser, In Common With and Not in Common With.

A second row of tabs that include All, Paternal, Maternal and Both. These are the maternal and paternal tabs I mentioned, meaning that I have a total of 4645 matches, 988 of which are from my paternal side and 847 of which are from my maternal side.

Family Tree DNA assigns people to these “buckets” based on matches with third cousins or closer if you have them attached in your tree. This is why it’s critical to have a tree and test close relatives, especially people from earlier generations like aunts, uncles, great-aunts/uncles and their children if they are no longer living.

If you have one or both parents that can test, that’s a wonderful boon because anyone who matches you and one of your parents is automatically bucketed, or phased (scientific term) to that parent’s side of the tree. However, at Family Tree DNA, it’s not required to have a parent test to have some matches assigned to maternal or paternal sides. You just need to test third cousins or closer and attach them to the proper place in your tree.

How does bucketing work?

Maternal or Paternal “Side” Assignment, aka Bucketing

If I match a maternal first cousin, Cheryl, for example, and we both match John Doe on the same segment, John Doe is automatically assigned to my maternal bucket with a little maternal icon placed beside the match.

First Steps Family Tree DNA match info

Click to enlarge

Every vendor provides an estimated or predicted relationship based on a combination of total centiMorgans and the longest contiguous matching segment. The actual “linked relationship” is calculated based on where this person resides in your tree.

The common surnames at far right are a very nice features, but not every tester provides that information. When the testers do include surnames at Family Tree DNA, common surnames are bolded. Other vendors have similar features.

People with trees are shown near their profile picture with a blue pedigree icon. Clicking on the pedigree icon will show you their ancestors. Your matches estimated relationship to you indicates how far back you should expect to share an ancestor.

For example, first cousins share grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. In general, the further back in time your common ancestor, the less DNA you can be expected to share.

You can view relationship information in chart form in my article here or utilize DNAPainter tools, here, to see the various possibilities for the different match levels.

Clicking on the pedigree chart of your match will show you their tree. In my tree, I’ve connected my parents in their proper places, along with Cheryl and Don, mother’s first cousins. (Yes, they’ve given permission for me to utilize their results, so they aren’t always blurred in images.)

Cheryl and Don are my first cousins once removed, meaning my mother is their first cousin and I’m one generation further down the tree. I’m showing the amount of DNA that I share with each of them in red in the format of total DNA shared and longest unbroken segment, taken from the match list. So 382-53 means I share a total of 382 cM and 53 cM is the longest matching block.

First Steps Family Tree DNA tree.png

The Chromosome Browser

Utilizing the chromosome browser, I can see exactly where I match both Don and Cheryl. It’s obvious that I match them on at least some different pieces of my DNA, because the total and longest segment amounts are different.

The reason it’s important to test lots of close relatives is because even siblings inherit different pieces of DNA from their parents, and they don’t pass the same DNA to their offspring either – so in each generation the amount of shared DNA is probably reduced. I say probably because sometimes segments are passed entirely and sometimes not at all, which is how we “lose” our ancestors’ DNA over the generations.

Here’s a matching example utilizing a chromosome browser.

First Steps Family Tree DNA chromosome browser.png

I clicked the checkboxes to the left of both Cheryl and Don on the match page, then the Chromosome Browser button, and now you can see, above, on chromosomes 1-16 where I match Cheryl (blue) and Don (red.)

In this view, both Don and Cheryl are being compared to me, since I’m the one signed in to my account and viewing my DNA matches. Therefore, one of the bars at each chromosome represents Don’s DNA match to me and one represents Cheryl’s. Cheryl is the first person and Don is the second. Person match colors (red and blue) are assigned arbitrarily by the system.

My grandfather and Cheryl/Don’s father, Roscoe, were siblings.

You can see that on some segments, my grandfather and Roscoe inherited the same segment of DNA from their parents, because today, my mother gave me that exact same segment that I share with both Don and Cheryl. Those segments are exactly identical and shown in the black boxes.

The only way for us to share this DNA today is for us to have shared a common ancestor who gave it to two of their children who passed it on to their descendants who DNA tested today.

On other segments, in red boxes, I share part of the same segments of DNA with Cheryl and Don, but someone along the line didn’t inherit all of that segment. For example on chromosome 3, in the red box, you can see that I share more with Cheryl (blue) than Don (red.)

In other cases, I share with either Don or Cheryl, but Don and Cheryl didn’t inherit that same segment of DNA from their father, so I don’t share with both of them. Those are the areas where you see only blue or only red.

On chromosome 12, you can see where it looks like Don’s and Cheryl’s segments butt up against each other. The DNA was clearly divided there. Don received one piece and Cheryl got the other. That’s known as a crossover and you can read about crossovers here, if you’d like.

It’s important to be able to view segment information to be able to see how others match in order to identify which common ancestor that DNA came from.

In Common With

You can use the “In Common With” tool to see who you match in common with any match. My first 6 matches in common with Cheryl are shown below. Note that they are already all bucketed to my maternal side.

First Steps Family Tree DNA in common with

click to enlarge

You can click on up to 7 individuals in the check box at left to show them on the chromosome browser at once to see if they match you on common segments.

Each matching segment has its own history and may descend from a different ancestor in your common tree.

First Steps 7 match chromosome browser

click to enlarge

If combinations of people do match me on a common segment, because these matches are all on my maternal side, they are triangulated and we know they have to descend from a common ancestor, assuming the segment is large enough. You can read about the concept of triangulation here. Triangulation occurs when 3 or more people (who aren’t extremely closely related like parents or siblings) all match each other on the same reasonably sized segment of DNA.

If you want to download your matches and work through this process in a spreadsheet, that’s an option too.

Size Matters

Small segments can be identical by chance instead of identical by descent.

  • “Identical by chance” means that you accidentally match someone because your DNA on that segment has been combined from both parents and causes it to match another person, making the segment “looks like” it comes from a common ancestor, when it really doesn’t. When DNA is sequenced, both your mother and father’s strands are sequenced, meaning that there’s no way to determine which came from whom. Think of a street with Mom’s side and Dad’s side with identical addresses on the houses on both sides. I wrote about that here.
  • “Identical by descent” means that the DNA is identical because it actually descends from a common ancestor. I discussed that concept in the article, We Match, But Are We Related.

Generally, we only utilize 7cM (centiMorgan) segments and above because at that level, about half of the segments are identical by descent and about half are identical by chance, known as false positives. By the time we move above 15 cM, most, but not all, matches are legitimate. You can read about segment size and accuracy here.

Using “In Common With” and the Matrix

“In Common With” is about who shares DNA. You can select someone you match to see who else you BOTH match. Just because you match two other people doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s on the same segment of DNA. In fact, you could match one person from your mother’s side and the other person from your father’s side.

First Steps match matrix.png

In this example, you match Person B due to ancestor John Doe and Person C due to ancestor Susie Smith. However, Person B also matches person C, but due to ancestor William West that they share and you don’t.

This example shows you THAT they match, but not HOW they match.

The only way to assure that the matches between the three people above are due to the same ancestor is to look at the segments with a chromosome browser and compare all 3 people to each other. Finding 3 people who match on the same segment, from the same side of your tree means that (assuming a reasonably large segment) you share a common ancestor.

Family Tree DNA has a nice matrix function that allows you to see which of your matches also match each other.

First steps matrix link

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The important distinction between the matrix and the chromosome browser is that the chromosome browser shows you where your matches match you, but those matches could be from both sides of your tree, unless they are bucketed. The matrix shows you if your matches also match each other, which is a huge clue that they are probably from the same side of your tree.

First Steps Family Tree DNA matrix.png

A matrix match is a significant clue in terms of who descends from which ancestors. For example, I know, based on who Amy matches, and who she doesn’t match, that she descends from the Ferverda side and that Charles, Rex and Maxine descend from ancestors on the Miller side.

Looking in the chromosome browser, I can tell that Cheryl, Don, Amy and I match on some common segments.

Matching multiple people on the same segment that descends from a common ancestor is called triangulation.

Let’s take a look at the MyHeritage triangulation tool.

MyHeritage

Moving now to MyHeritage who provides us with an easy to use triangulation tool, we see the following when clicking on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

First Steps MyHeritage matches

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Cousin Cheryl is at MyHeritage too. By clicking on Review DNA Match, the purple button on the right, I can see who else I match in common with Cheryl, plus triangulation.

The list of people Cheryl and I both match is shown below, along with our relationships to each person.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation

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I’ve selected 2 matches to illustrate.

The first match has a little purple icon to the right which means that Amy triangulates with me and Cheryl.

The second match, Rex, means that while we both match Rex, it’s not on the same segment. I know that without looking further because there is no triangulation button. We both match Rex, but Cheryl matches Rex on a different segment than I do.

Without additional genealogy work, using DNA alone, I can’t say whether or not Cheryl, Rex and I all share a common ancestor. As it turns out, we do. Rex is a known cousin who I tested. However, in an unknown situation, I would have to view the trees of those matches to make that determination.

Triangulation

Clicking on the purple triangulation icon for Amy shows me the segments that all 3 of us, me, Amy and Cheryl share in common as compared to me.

First Steps MyHeritage triangulation chromosome browser.png

Cheryl is red and Amy is yellow. The one segment bracketed with the rounded rectangle is the segment shared by all 3 of us.

Do we have a common ancestor? I know Cheryl and I do, but maybe I don’t know who Amy is. Let’s look at Amy’s tree which is also shown if I scroll down.

First Steps MyHeritage common ancestor.png

Amy didn’t have her tree built out far enough to show our common ancestor, but I immediately recognized the surname Ferveda found in her tree a couple of generations back. Darlene was the daughter of Donald Ferverda who was the son of Hiram Ferverda, my great-grandfather.

Hiram was the father of Cheryl’s father, Roscoe and my grandfather, John Ferverda.

First Steps Hiram Ferverda pedigree.png

Amy is my first cousin twice removed and that segment of DNA that I share with her is from either Hiram Ferverda or his wife Eva Miller.

Now, based on who else Amy matches, I can probably tell whether that segment descends from Hiram or Eva.

Viva triangulation!

Theory of Family Relativity

MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity provides theories to people whose DNA matches regarding their common ancestor if MyHeritage can calculate how the 2 people are potentially related.

MyHeritage uses a combination of tools to make that connection, including:

  • DNA matches
  • Your tree
  • Your match’s tree
  • Other people’s trees at MyHeritage, FamilySearch and Geni if the common ancestor cannot be found in your tree compared against your DNA match’s MyHeritage
  • Documents in the MyHeritage data collection, such as census records, for example.

MyHeritage theory update

To view the Theories, click on the purple “View Theories” banner or “View theory” under the DNA match.

First Steps MyHeritage theory of relativity

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The theory is displayed in summary format first.

MyHeritage view full theory

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You can click on the “View Full Theory” to see the detail and sources about how MyHeritage calculated various paths. I have up to 5 different theories that utilize separate resources.

MyHeritage review match

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A wonderful aspect of this feature is that MyHeritage shows you exactly the information they utilized and calculates a confidence factor as well.

All theories should be viewed as exactly that and should be evaluated critically for accuracy, taking into consideration sources and documentation.

I wrote about using Theories of Relativity, with instructions, here and here.

I love this tool and find the Theories mostly accurate.

AncestryDNA

Ancestry doesn’t offer a chromosome browser or triangulation but does offer a tree view for people that you match, so long as you have a subscription. In the past, a special “Light” subscription for DNA only was available for approximately $49 per year that provided access to the trees of your DNA matches and other DNA-related features. You could not order online and had to call support, sometimes asking for a supervisor in order to purchase that reduced-cost subscription. The “Light” subscription did not provide access to anything outside of DNA results, meaning documents, etc. I don’t know if this is still available.

After signing on, click on DNA matches on the DNA tab on the toolbar.

You’ll see the following match list.

First Steps Ancestry matches

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I’ve tested twice at Ancestry, the second time when they moved to their new chip, so I’m my own highest match. Click on any match name to view more.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches

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You’ll see information about common ancestors if you have some in your trees, plus the amount of shared DNA along with a link to Shared Matches.

I found one of the same cousins at Ancestry whose match we were viewing at MyHeritage, so let’s see what her match to me at Ancestry looks like.

Below are my shared matches with that cousin. The notes to the right are mine, not provided by Ancestry. I make extensive use of the notes fields provided by the vendors.

First Steps Ancestry shared matches with cousin

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On your match list, you can click on any match, then on Shared Matches to see who you both match in common. While Ancestry provides no chromosome browser, you can see the amount of DNA that you share and trees, if any exist.

Let’s look at a tree comparison when a common ancestor can be detected in a tree within the past 7 generations.

First Steps Ancestry view ThruLines.png

What’s missing of course is that I can’t see how we match because there’s no chromosome browser, nor can I see if my matches match each other.

Stitched Trees

What I can see, if I click on “View ThruLines” above or ThruLines on the DNA Summary page on the main DNA tab is all of the people I match who Ancestry THINKS we descend from a common ancestor. This ancestor information isn’t always taken from either person’s tree.

For example, if my match hadn’t included Hiram Ferverda in her tree, Ancestry would use other people’s trees to “stitch them together” such that the tester is shown to be descended from a common ancestor with me. Sometimes these stitched trees are accurate and sometimes they are not, although they have improved since they were first released. I wrote about ThruLines here.

First Steps Ancestry ThruLines tree

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In closer generations, especially if you are looking to connect with cousins, tree matching is a very valuable tool. In the graphic above, you can see all of the cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda who have tested and DNA match to me. These DNA matches to me either descend from Hiram according to their trees, or Ancestry believes they descend from Hiram based on other people’s trees.

With more distant ancestors, other people’s trees are increasingly likely to be copied with no sources, so take them with a very large grain of salt (perchance the entire salt lick.) I use ThruLines as hints, not gospel, especially the further back in time the common ancestor. I wish they reached back another couple of generations. They are great hints and they end with the 7th generation where my brick walls tend to begin!

23andMe

I haven’t mentioned 23andMe yet in this article. Genealogists do test there, especially adoptees who need to fish in every pond.

23andMe is often the 4th choice of the major 4 vendors for genealogy due to the following challenges:

  • No tree support, other than allowing you to link to a tree at FamilySearch or elsewhere. This means no tree matching.
  • Less than 2000 matches, meaning that every person is limited to a maximum of 2000 matches, minus however many of those 2000 don’t opt-in for genealogical matching. Given that 23andMe’s focus is increasingly health, my number of matches continues to decrease and is currently just over 1500. The good news is that those 1500 are my highest, meaning closest matches. The bad news is the genealogy is not 23andMe’s focus.

If you are an adoptee, a die-hard genealogist or specifically interested in ethnicity, then test at 23andMe. Otherwise all three of the other vendors would be better choices.

However, like the other vendors, 23andMe does have some features that are unique.

Their ethnicity predictions are acknowledged to be excellent. Ethnicity at 23andMe is called Ancestry Composition, and you’ll see that immediately when you sign in to your account.

First Steps 23andMe DNA Relatives.png

Your matches at 23andMe are found under DNA Relatives.

First Steps 23andMe tools

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At left, you’ll find filters and the search box.

Mom’s and Dad’s side filter matches if you’ve tested your parents, but it’s not like the Family Tree DNA bucketing that provides maternal and paternal side bucketing by utilizing through third cousins if your parents aren’t available for testing.

Family names aren’t your family names, but the top family names that match to you. Guess what my highest name is? Smith.

However, Ancestor Birthplaces are quite useful because you can sort by country. For example, my mother’s grandfather Ferverda was born in the Netherlands.

First Steps 23andMe country.png

If I click on Netherlands, I can see my 5 matches with ancestors born in the Netherlands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I match because of my match’s Dutch ancestors, but it does provide me with a place to look for a common ancestor and I can proceed by seeing who I match in common with those matches. Unfortunately, without trees we’re left to rely on ancestor birthplaces and family surnames, if my matches have entered that information.

One of my Dutch matches also matches my Ferverda cousin. Given that connection, and that the Ferverda family immigrated from Holland in 1868, that’s a starting point.

MyHeritage has a similar features and they are much more prevalent in Europe.

By clicking on my Ferverda cousin, I can view the DNA we share, who we match in common, our common ethnicity and more. I have the option of comparing multiple people in the chromosome browser by clicking on “View DNA Comparison” and then selecting who I wish to compare.

First Steps 23andMe view DNA Comparison.png

By scrolling down instead of clicking on View DNA Comparison, I can view where my Ferverda cousin matches me on my chromosomes, shown below.

First STeps 23andMe chromosome browser.png

23andMe identifies completely identical segments which would be painted in dark purple, the legend at bottom left.

Adoptees love this feature because it would immediately differentiate between half and full siblings. Full siblings share approximately 25% of the exact DNA on both their maternal and paternal strands of DNA, while half siblings only share the DNA from one parent – assuming their parents aren’t closely related. I share no completely identical DNA with my Ferverda cousin, so no segments are painted dark purple.

23andMe and Ancestry Maps Show Where Your Matches Live

Another reason that adoptees and people searching for birth parents or unknown relatives like 23andMe is because of the map function.

After clicking on DNA Relatives, click on the Map function at the top of the page which displays the following map.

First Steps 23andMe map

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This isn’t a map of where your matches ancestors lived, but is where your matches THEMSELVES live. Furthermore, you can zoom in, click on the button and it displays the name of the individual and the city where they live or whatever they entered in the location field.

First Steps 23andMe your location on map.png

I entered a location in my profile and confirmed that the location indeed displays on my match’s maps by signing on to another family member’s account. What I saw is the display above. I’d wager that most testers don’t realize that their home location and photo, if entered, is being displayed to their matches.

I think sharing my ancestors’ locations is a wonderful, helpful, idea, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to know where I live and I feel it’s stalker-creepy and a safety risk.

First Steps 23andMe questions.png

If you enter a location in this field in your profile, it displays on the map.

If you test with 23andMe and you don’t want your location to display on this map to your matches, don’t answer any question that asks you where you call home or anything similar. I never answer any questions at 23andMe. They are known for asking you the same question repeatedly, in multiple locations and ways, until you relent and answer.

Ancestry has a similar map feature and they’ve also begun to ask you questions that are unrelated to genealogy.

Ancestry Map Shows Where Your Matches Live

At Ancestry, when you click to see your DNA matches, look to the right at the map link.

First Steps Ancestry map link.png

By clicking on this link, you can see the locations that people have entered into their profile.

First Steps Ancestry match map.png

As you can see, above, I don’t have a location entered and I am prompted for one. Note that Ancestry does specifically say that this location will be shown to your matches.

You can click on the Ancestry Profile link here, or go to your Personal Profile by click the dropdown under your user name in the upper right hand corner of any page.

This is important because if you DON’T want your location to show, you need to be sure there is nothing entered in the location field.

First Steps Ancestry profile.png

Under your profile, click “Edit.”

First Steps Ancestry edit profile.png

After clicking edit, complete the information you wish to have public or remove the information you do not.

First Steps Ancestry location in profile.png

Sometimes Your Answer is a Little More Complicated

This is a First Steps article. Sometimes the answer you seek might be a little more complicated. That’s why there are specialists who deal with this all day, everyday.

What issues might be more complex?

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about these things for now. Just know when you run into something more complex or that doesn’t make sense, I’m here and so are others. Here’s a link to my Help page.

Getting Started

What do you need to get started?

  • You need to take a DNA test, or more specifically, multiple DNA tests. You can test at Ancestry or 23andMe and transfer your results to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, or you can test directly at all vendors.

Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe accept uploads, meaning other vendors tests, but both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA accept most file versions. Instructions for how to download and upload your DNA results are found below, by vendor:

Both MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA charge a minimal fee to unlock their advanced features such as chromosome browsers and ethnicity if you upload transfer files, but it’s less costly in both cases than testing directly. However, if you want the MyHeritage DNA plus Health or the Family Tree DNA Y DNA or Mitochondrial DNA tests, you must test directly at those companies for those tests.

  • It’s not required, but it would be in your best interest to build as much of a tree at all three vendors as you can. Every little bit helps.

Your first tree-building step should be to record what your family knows about your grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. Here’s what my first step attempt looked like. It’s cringe-worthy now, but everyone has to start someplace. Just do it!

You can build a tree at either Ancestry or MyHeritage and download your tree for uploading at the other vendors. Or, you can build the tree using genealogy software on your computer and upload to all 3 places. I maintain my primary tree on my computer using RootsMagic. There are many options. MyHeritage even provides free tree builder software.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage offer research/data subscriptions that provide you with hints to historical documents that increase what you know about your ancestors. The MyHeritage subscription can be tried for free. I have full subscriptions to both Ancestry and MyHeritage because they both include documents in their collections that the other does not.

Please be aware that document suggestions are hints and each one needs to be evaluated in the context of what you know and what’s reasonable. For example, if your ancestor was born in 1750, they are not included in the 1900 census, nor do women have children at age 70. People do have exactly the same names. FindAGrave information is entered by humans and is not always accurate. Just sayin’…

Evaluate critically and skeptically.

Ok, Let’s Go!

When your DNA results are ready, sign on to each vendor, look at your matches and use this article to begin to feel your way around. It’s exciting and the promise is immense. Feel free to share the link to this article on social media or with anyone else who might need help.

You are the cumulative product of your ancestors. What better way to get to know them than through their DNA that’s shared between you and your cousins!

What can you discover today?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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