Whole Genome Sequencing – Is It Ready for Prime Time?

Dante Labs is offering a whole genomes test for $199 this week as an early Black Friday special.

Please note that just as I was getting ready to push the publish button on this article, Veritas Genetics also jumped on the whole sequencing bandwagon for $199 for the first 1000 testers Nov. 19 and 20th. In this article, I discuss the Dante Labs test. I have NOT reviewed Veritas, their test nor terms, so the same cautions discussed below apply to them and any other company offering whole genome sequencing. The Veritas link is here.

Update – Veritas provides the VCF file for an additional $99, but does not provide FASTQ or BAM files, per their Tweet to me.

I have no affiliation with either company.

$199 (US) is actually a great price for a whole genome test, but before you click and purchase, there are some things you need to know about whole genome sequencing (WGS) and what it can and can’t do for you. Or maybe better stated, what you’ll have to do with your own results before you can utilize the information for genealogical purposes.

The four questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Why do you want to consider whole genome testing?
  • What question(s) are you trying to answer?
  • What information do you seek?
  • What is your testing goal?

I’m going to say this once now, and I’ll say it again at the end of the article.

Whole genome sequencing tests are NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR GENEALOGICAL DNA TESTS for mitochondrial, Y or autosomal testing. Whole genome sequencing is not a genealogy magic bullet.

There are both pros and cons of this type of purchase, as with most everything. Whole genome tests are for the most experienced and technically savvy genetic genealogists who understand both working with genetics and this field well, who have already taken the vendors’ genealogy tests and are already in the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal comparison data bases.

If that’s you or you’re interested in medical information, you might want to consider a whole genome test.

Let’s start with some basics.

What Is Whole Genome Sequencing?

Whole Genome Sequencing will sequence most of your genome. Keep in mind that humans are more than 99% identical, so the only portions that you’ll care about either medically or genealogically are the portions that differ or tend to mutate. Comparing regions where you match everyone else tells you exactly nothing at all.

Exome Sequencing – A Subset of Whole Genome

Exome sequencing, a subset of whole genome sequencing is utilized for medical testing. The Exome is the region identified as the portions most likely to mutate and that hold medically relevant information. You can read about the benefits and challenges of exome testing here.

I have had my Exome sequenced twice, once at Helix and once at Genos, now owned by NantOmics. Currently, NantOmics does not have a customer sign-in and has acquired my DNA sequence as part of the absorption of Genos. I’ll be writing about that separately. There is always some level of consumer risk in dealing with a startup.

I wrote about Helix here. Helix sequences your Exome (plus) so that you can order a variety of DNA based or personally themed products from their marketplace, although I’m not convinced about the utility of even the legitimacy of some of the available tests, such as the “Wine Explorer.”

On the other hand, the world-class The National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project now utilizes Helix for their testing, as does Spencer Well’s company, Insitome.

You can also pay to download your Exome sequence data separately for $499.

Autosomal Testing for Genealogy

Both whole genome and Exome testing are autosomal testing, meaning that they test chromosomes 1-22 (as opposed to Y and mitochondrial DNA) but the number of autosomal locations varies vastly between the various types of tests.

The locations selected by the genealogy testing companies are a subset of both the whole genome and the Exome. The different vendors that compare your DNA for genealogy generally utilize between 600,000 and 900,000 chip-specific locations that they have selected as being inclined to mutate – meaning that we can obtain genealogically relevant information from those mutations.

Some vendors (for example, 23andMe and Ancestry) also include some medical SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) on their chips, as both have formed medical research alliances with various companies.

Whole genome and Exome sequencing includes these same locations, BUT, the whole genome providers don’t compare the files to other testers nor reduce the files to the locations useful for genealogical comparisons. In other words, they don’t create upload files for you.

The following chart is not to scale, but is meant to convey the concept that the Exome is a subset of the whole genome, and the autosomal vendors’ selected SNPs, although not the same between the companies, are all subsets of the Exome and full genome.

I have not had my whole genome sequenced because I have seen no purpose for doing so, outside of curiosity.

This is NOT to imply that you shouldn’t. However, here are some things to think about.

Whole Genome Sequencing Questions

Coverage – Medical grade coverage is considered to be 30X, meaning an average of 30 scans of every targeted location in your genome. Some will have more and some will have less. This means that your DNA is scanned thirty different times to minimize errors. If a read error happens once or twice, it’s unlikely that the same error will happen several more times. You can read about coverage here and here.

Genomics Education Programme [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.

Here’s an example where the read length of Read 1 is 18, and the depth of the location shown in light blue is 4, meaning 4 actual reads were obtained. If the goal was 30X, then this result would be very poor. If the goal was 4X then this location is a high quality result for a 4X read.

In the above example, if the reference value, meaning the value at the light blue location for most people is T, then 4 instances of a T means you don’t have a mutation. On the other hand, if T is not the reference value, then 4 instances of T means that a mutation has occurred in that location.

Dante Labs coverage information is provided from their webpage as follows:

Other vendors coverage values will differ, but you should always know what you are purchasing.

Ownership – Who owns your data? What happens to your DNA itself (the sample) and results (the files) under normal circumstances and if the company is sold. Typically, the assets of the company, meaning your information, are included during any acquisition.

Does the company “share, lease or sell” your information as an additional revenue stream with other entities? If so, do they ask your permission each and every time? Do they perform internal medical research and then sell the results? What, if anything, is your DNA going to be used for other than the purpose for which you purchased the test? What control do you exercise over that usage?

Read the terms and conditions carefully for every vendor before purchasing.

File Delivery – Three types of files are generated during a whole genome test.

The VCF (Variant Call Format) which details your locations that are different from the reference file. A reference file is the “normal” value for humans.

A FASTQ file which includes the nucleotide sequence along with a corresponding quality score. Mutations in a messy area or that are not consistent may not be “real” and are considered false positives.

The BAM (Binary Alignment Map) file is used for Y DNA SNP alignment. The output from a BAM file is displayed in Family Tree DNA’s Big Y browser for their customers. Are these files delivered to you? If so, how? Family Tree DNA delivers their Big Y DNA BAM files as free downloads.

Typically whole genome data is too large for a download, so it is sent on a disc drive to you. Dante provides this disc for BAM and FASTQ files for 59 Euro ($69 US) plus shipping. VCF files are available free, but if you’re going to order this product, it would be a shame not to receive everything available.

Version – Discoveries are still being made to the human genome. If you thought we’re all done with that, we’re not. As new regions are mapped successfully, the addresses for the rest change, and a new genomic map is created. Think of this as street addresses and a new cluster of houses is now inserted between existing houses. All of the houses are periodically renumbered.

Today, typically results are delivered in either of two versions: hg19(GRVH37) or hg38(GRCH38). What happens when the next hg (human genome) version is released?

When you test with a vendor who uses your data for comparison as a part of a product they offer, they must realign your data so that the comparison will work for all of their customers (think Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, for example), but a vendor who only offers the testing service has no motivation to realign your output file for you. You only pay for sequencing, not for any after-the-fact services.

Platform – Multiple sequencing platforms are available, and not all platforms are entirely compatible with other competing platforms. For example, the Illumina platform and chips may or may not be compatible with the Affymetrix platform (now Thermo Fisher) and chips. Ask about chip compatibility if you have a specific usage in mind before you purchase.

Location – Where is your DNA actually being sequenced? Are you comfortable having your DNA sent to that geographic location for processing? I’m personally fine with anyplace in either the US, Canada or most of Europe, but other locations maybe not so much. I’d have to evaluate the privacy policies, applicable laws, non-citizen recourse and track record of those countries.

Last but perhaps most important, what do you want to DO with this file/information?

Utilization

What you receive from whole genome sequencing is files. What are you going to do with those files? How can you use them? What is your purpose or goal? How technically skilled are you, and how well do you understand what needs to be done to utilize those files?

A Specific Medical Question

If you have a particular question about a specific medical location, Dante allows you to ask the question as soon as you purchase, but you must know what question to ask as they note below.

You can click on their link to view their report on genetic diseases, but keep in mind, this is the disease you specifically ask about. You will very likely NOT be able to interpret this report without a genetic counselor or physician specializing in this field.

Take a look at both sample reports, here.

Health and Wellness in General

The Dante Labs Health and Wellness Report appears to be a collaborative effort with Sequencing.com and also appears to be included in the purchase price.

I uploaded both my Exome and my autosomal DNA results from the various testing companies (23andMe V3 and V4, Ancestry V1 and V2, Family Tree DNA, LivingDNA, DNA.Land) to Promethease for evaluation and there was very little difference between the health-related information returned based on my Exome data and the autosomal testing vendors. The difference is, of course, that the Exome coverage is much deeper (and therefore more reliable) because that test is a medical test, not a consumer genealogy test and more locations are covered. Whole genome testing would be more complete.

I wrote about Promethease here and here. Promethease does accept VCF files from various vendors who provide whole genome testing.

None of these tests are designed or meant for medical interpretation by non-professionals.

Medical Testing

If you plan to test with the idea that should your physician need a genetics test, you’re already ahead of the curve, don’t be so sure. It’s likely that your physician will want a genetics test using the latest technology, from their own lab, where they understand the quality measures in place as well as how the data is presented to them. They are unlikely to accept a test from any other source. I know, because I’ve already had this experience.

Genealogical Comparisons

The power of DNA testing for genealogy is comparing your data to others. Testing in isolation is not useful.

Mitochondrial DNA – I can’t tell for sure based on the sample reports, but it appears that you receive your full sequence haplogroup and probably your mutations as well from Dante. They don’t say which version of mitochondrial DNA they utilize.

However, without the ability to compare to other testers in a database, what genealogical benefit can you derive from this information?

Furthermore, mitochondrial DNA also has “versions,” and converting from an older to a newer version is anything but trivial. Haplogroups are renamed and branches sawed from one part of the mitochondrial haplotree and grafted onto another. A testing (only) vendor that does not provide comparisons has absolutely no reason to update your results and can’t be expected to do so. V17 is the current build, released in February 2016, with the earlier version history here.

Family Tree DNA is the only vendor who tests your full sequence mitochondrial DNA, compares it to other testers and updates your results when a new version is released. You can read more about this process, here and how to work with mtDNA results here.

Y DNA – Dante Labs provides BAM files, but other whole genome sequencers may not. Check before you purchase if you are interested in Y DNA. Again, you’ll need to be able to analyze the results and submit them for comparison. If you are not capable of doing that, you’ll need to pay a third party like either YFull or FGS (Full Genome Sequencing) or take the Big Y test at Family Tree DNA who has the largest Y Database worldwide and compares results.

Typically whole genome testers are looking for Y DNA SNPs, not STR values in BAM files. STR (short tandem repeat) values are the results that you receive when you purchase the 37, 67 or 111 tests at Family Tree DNA, as compared to the Big Y test which provides you with SNPs in order to resolve your haplogroup at the most granular level possible. You can read about the difference between SNPs and STRs here.

As with SNP data, you’ll need outside assistance to extract your STR information from the whole genome sequence information, none of which will be able to be compared with the testers in the Family Tree DNA data base. There is also an issue of copy-count standardization between vendors.

You can read about how to work with STR results and matches here and Big Y results here.

Autosomal DNA – None of the major providers that accept transfers (MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, GedMatch) accept whole genome files. You would need to find a methodology of reducing the files from the whole genome to the autosomal SNPs accepted by the various vendors. If the vendors adopt the digital signature technology recently proposed in this paper by Yaniv Erlich et al to prevent “spoofed files,” modified files won’t be accepted by vendors.

Summary

Whole genome testing, in general, will and won’t provide you with the following:

Desired Feature Whole Genome Testing
Mitochondrial DNA Presumed full haplogroup and mutations provided, but no ability for comparison to other testers. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the only vendor doing comparisons not available.
Y DNA Presume Y chromosome mostly covered, but limited ability for comparison to other testers for either SNPs or STRs. Must utilize either YFull or FGS for SNP/STR analysis. Upload to Family Tree DNA, the vendor with the largest data base not available when testing elsewhere.
Autosomal DNA for genealogy Presume all SNPs covered, but file output needs to be reduced to SNPs offered/processed by vendors accepting transfers (Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch) and converted to their file formats. Modified files may not be accepted in the future.
Medical (consumer interest) Accuracy is a factor of targeted coverage rate and depth of actual reads. Whole genome vendors may or may not provide any analysis or reports. Dante does but for limited number of conditions. Promethease accepts VCF files from vendors and provides more.
Medical (physician accepted) Physician is likely to order a medical genetics test through their own institution. Physicians may not be willing to risk a misdiagnosis due to a factor outside of their control such as an incompatible human genome version.
Files VCF, FASTQ and BAM may or may not be included with results, and may or may not be free.
Coverage Coverage and depth may or may not be adequate. Multiple extractions (from multiple samples) may or may not be included with the initial purchase (if needed) or may be limited. Ask.
Updates Vendors who offer sequencing as a part of a products that include comparison to other testers will update your results version to the current reference version, such as hg38 and mitochondrial V17. Others do not, nor can they be expected to provide that service.
Version Inquire as to the human genome (hg) version or versions available to you, and which version(s) are acceptable to the third party vendors you wish to utilize. When the next version of the human genome is released, your file will no longer be compatible because WGS vendors are offering sequencing only, not results comparisons to databases for genealogy.
Ownership/Usage Who owns your sample? What will it be utilized for, other than the service you ordered, by whom and for what purposes? Will you we able to authorize or decline each usage?
Location Where geographically is your DNA actually being sequenced and stored? What happens to your actual DNA sample itself and the resulting files? This may not be the location where you return your swab kit.

The Question – Will I Order?

The bottom line is that if you are a genealogist, seeking genetic information for genealogical purposes, you’re much better off to test with the standard and well know genealogy vendors who offer compatibility and comparisons to other testers.

If you are a pioneer in this field, have the technical ability required to make use of a whole genome test and are willing to push the envelope, then perhaps whole genome sequencing is for you.

I am considering ordering the Dante Labs whole genome test out of simple curiosity and to upload to Promethease to determine if the whole genome test provides me with something potentially medically relevant (positive or negative) that autosomal and Exome testing did not.

I’m truly undecided. Somehow, I’m having trouble parting with the $199 plus $69 (hard drive delivery by request when ordering) plus shipping for this limited functionality. If I was a novice genetic genealogist or was not a technology expert, I would definitely NOT order this test for the reasons mentioned above.

A whole genome test is not in any way a genealogical replacement for a full sequence mitochondrial test, a Y STR test, a Y SNP test or an autosomal test along with respective comparison(s) in the data bases of vendors who don’t allow uploads for these various functions.

The simple fact that 30X whole genome testing is available for $199 plus $69 plus shipping is amazing, given that 15 years ago that same test cost 2.7 billion dollars. However, it’s still not the magic bullet for genealogy – at least, not yet.

Today, the necessary integration simply doesn’t exist. You pay the genealogy vendors not just for the basic sequencing, but for the additional matching and maintenance of their data bases, not to mention the upgrading of your sequence as needed over time.

If I had to choose between spending the money for the WGS test or taking the genealogy tests, hands down, I’d take the genealogy tests because of the comparisons available. Comparison and collaboration is absolutely crucial for genealogy. A raw data file buys me nothing genealogically.

If I had not previously taken an Exome test, I would order this test in order to obtain the free Dante Health and Wellness Report which provides limited reporting and to upload my raw data file to Promethease. The price is certainly right.

However, keep in mind that once you view health information, you cannot un-see it, so be sure you do really want to know.

What do you plan to do? Are you going to order a whole genome test?

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Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

Family Tree DNA Holiday Sale – Up to 40% Off

Family Tree DNA’s Holiday Sale traditionally begins this week, so I’m glad to see these prices before Thanksgiving. And guess what, it looks like Family Tree DNA now has a nifty new box that’s much easier to wrap for gift giving.

This means that you can order a kit today and have it delivered in time to convince Grandma, Uncle Joe or Aunt Betty to swab just before they eat on Thanksgiving or at family gatherings later in December!

I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know what Y and mitochondrial DNA are today, given all the ads about ethnicity. That’s somewhat ironic, since this industry cut its teeth on Y and mito before commercial autosomal testing existed.

So, let’s take advantage of the fact that our relatives might have already tested elsewhere or might be interested in ethnicity and buy them a test or transfer their results (with their permission of course.)

After all, they’ll receive something fun and you’ll learn more about your common ancestors. It’s a win-win.

Test or Transfer?

Transfer their results (for free) to Family Tree DNA if they tested at:

  • MyHeritage
  • Ancestry (V1) before May of 2016

Test them at Family Tree DNA if they tested at:

  • 23andMe
  • LivingDNA
  • Ancestry (V2) after May of 2016

The Ancestry V2 kit will transfer to Family Tree DNA, but when Ancestry changed their chip from V1 to V2, fewer DNA locations are compatible. When transferring a V2 kit, you’ll receive your best and highest matches at Family Tree DNA, but not your more distant matches. You don’t want to miss out on those, which is why I recommend retesting for autosomal if you took an Ancestry DNA test after May of 2016.

Then, add a Y or mitochondrial DNA test at Family Tree DNA. Note that if they’ve transferred, they’ll be sent a swab kit for Y or mitochondrial orders.

You’ll be especially interested in testing their Y and mitochondrial DNA if their DNA represents your ancestral lines that you can’t test for yourself. I wrote about creating a Y and mitochondrial DNA pedigree chart here. After you’ve tested yourself, testing specific relatives is exactly how you build that pedigree chart.

The prices are right.

Single Products, Bundles or Upgrades

Want to purchase a single test, a bundle of tests or a upgrade an existing test? There are sale prices for all kinds of combinations!

To take advantage of these great prices and order or upgrade, click here.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

MyHeritage LIVE 2018 Day 1 Photos, Details and Party

The MyHeritage parties are legendary. That in and of itself is a bit ironic, because Gilad Japhet, the founder and CEO is a rather reserved man. The words Gilad and party just don’t seem to fit together, but he certainly knows how to host an awesome party.

Know what? Genealogists will take time away from records to party, dress up and dance too. We aren’t serious all the time!

The article I wrote yesterday about the DNA announcements was quite hurried.

Now, it’s 4:30 AM, I’m terribly jet lagged so unexplainably awake, and since I can’t sleep, I’m writing this article to catch you up on Day 1 of the conference. Of course, this means that by about noon, I’ll be dying for a nap. You’ll have to watch my live panel discussion at 3:30 PM Oslo time today to see if you can tell I’m running on about 4 hours of sleep. (Don’t forget in the US some places changed to Daylight Savings time overnight.) Here’s the link to my article with the livestream link and the time zone calculator.

Day One in More Detail

MHLive Gilad opening crowd

Here’s Gilad just before he opened the conference. Everyone was excited. Don’t you love his shoes?

Before I go any further, I want to thank Gilad for the conference invitation and access to him and the team to be able to take these awesome photos and for the information provided.

Now, if you haven’t already done so, please go and read the day 1 announcement article, here.

I’d like to clarify a couple points and expand on that article.

I had dinner last night with Ran Snir, DNA Product Manager, along with fellow colleague Diahan Southard, and we discussed the new upcoming DNA related features. I’d like to clarify some terminology surrounding anticipated features.

Painting – The term “painting” was used yesterday, and in the context of what MyHeritage is doing, it does NOT mean the same thing as DNAPainter painting. I’ve written several articles about how I use DNAPainter, but the introductory article is here.

DNAPainter paints your own chromosomes only, identifying the segments of your ancestors. This is not what MyHeritage meant by painting. MyHeritage is referring to reconstructing your ancestors’ DNA.

Reconstructing Ancestral DNA – When MyHeritage referred to painting yesterday, they meant that several descendants’ DNA segments that they carry identically by descent (IBD) will be combined and “stitched together” to “create” a partial genome of that ancestor. No, they didn’t say exactly how this would be done, and no, they did not discuss how it would be managed. In other words, who controls the profile of the ancestor – and mitigates disputes about what segments should be, and should not be attributed to that ancestor.

For me, this raised several questions, but we’ll have to wait until the new feature is released to see how MyHeritage will deal with the inherent issues of:

  • Your most distant autosomal ancestor is actually a couple because you can’t yet divide the DNA into husband and wife.
  • The trees of the descendants need to be complete and accurate.
  • People descending from the same child of the ancestor will also carry the DNA of the wives in each generation, so they need to be compared to people descended from other children of the ancestor to ascertain that the DNA is of the ancestor – not of wives in downstream generations.
  • People tend to marry cousins, siblings, etc., especially when living in the same area. DNA from another line may be unknowingly introduced into two different children’s lines, appearing that the resulting segment comes from the ancestor (or ancestral couple) when in fact, it doesn’t.

These are challenges, not barriers, so let’s continue with Gilad’s presentation.

Extracting DNA from Old Envelopes and Stamps

In the next slides, Gilad discusses extracting DNA from old stamps and envelope seals – the goal being that the resulting file can be uploaded to MyHeritage so that your deceased relative’s DNA can be resurrected through the DNA held in the envelope stamp and seal – which they hopefully licked. This is something we’ve dreamed of (and attempted) since the beginning of DNA testing for genealogy. Apparently Gilad dreamed of it too, because several of his own items are being processed right now.

Gilad provided some examples of other types of stamps and seals that might contain the saliva of our ancestors. Think outside of the box, or in this case, outside of the envelope. No, hair and other items were not discussed. There was a sidebar discussion but at this point, only envelopes and stamps are being utilized.

Theory of Family Relativity

The last session of the day was presented by Maya Lerner, the VP of Product where she discussed, among other things, their new Theory of Family Relativity.

I apologize for the quality of some of these photos. I opted not to bring by larger camera to reduce travel weight, using my cell phone instead. I regret that choice.

The Theory of Family Relativity, currently under development will combine the DNA estimates of where a person is likely to fit into a tree with actual records from the MH database to show the most likely placement of a DNA match.

Today, when we have a match, based on the amount of shared DNA, MyHeritage estimates and illustrates the relationship position that this person holds in our tree, but does not show us on our actual tree itself where this person might fit. That’s up for us as genealogists to figure out.

As I understand the new feature, the relationship distance, shown above, will be combined with records such as phased DNA, census, birth, death, logical criteria (women don’t bear children at age 7 or 70) and other records which would exclude some relationships in our actual tree, while providing evidence for others.

New Features

Aside from the DNA announcements, MyHeritage is also introducing a lot of new non-DNA related features.

City Directories – For example, they are digitizing and indexing city directories. The great thing is that they aren’t just indexing names, but also addresses. As a genealogist, Gilad has personally discovered the usefulness of being able to search for an address in immigration records to view everyone, even with misspelled names, who claimed they were joining family at that specific address. It’s another clue.

European Newspapers – in multiple languages. Digitizing and indexing.

Other New Content – Czeck census, German registration records, Brazil records,

There are so many awesome new features coming, what should you be doing to prepare now?

What You Should Be Doing NOW

  • If you’ve tested elsewhere, upload your DNA raw data file to MyHeritage. The upload is FREE and so are all of the features, but ONLY until Dec. 1st. After that, there will be a fee associated with some advanced features. So upload your file and those of your family members (with permission of course) now. I wrote instructions about how to upload to MyHeritage here, to and from Family Tree DNA here, and from Ancestry here.
  • If you haven’t tested elsewhere, purchase a kit, or two. The more of your relatives such as parents, siblings (if your parents are gone,) aunts, uncles, cousins that you can test, the more information that can be learned about your genealogy and connections to others. Give DNA kits for the holidays. Take them to family reunions. Thanksgiving is coming. Kits are on sale right now for an amazing $49 each. Click here to purchase.
  • Be thinking about envelopes and stamps that your deceased family members have licked. Who else in your family, that you might be seeing over the holidays might have these types of items? The technology for extracting DNA from these prized genetic heirlooms may finally be ripe. We’re waiting for early samples submitted to see how successful this technology will be.

Party Time!!!

Ok, I know you’ve been patiently waiting for the party pictures.

MyHeritage is sponsoring the EuroVision Song Contest, so we were the lucky beneficiaries.

Two entertainments groups were featured. The first was a Norwegian folk group. The music was awesome, haunting and ethereal. Like nothing I’ve heard before. They actually make some of these sounds with their cheeks.

The second group was a contemporary band and they were amazing too. Did you know that genealogists love to dance? Must be in the genes!

For those of you wondering, yes, I really do have a halo, but it slips from time to time😊 Here’s living proof!

Thanks Gilad, for a great party to celebrate the MyHeritage wonderful new features😊

How exciting to be on the leading edge.

____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

Hot links are provided to companies with whom I have an affiliate relationship. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication free for everyone.

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through my affiliate link if you are interested in products from the following companies.

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My Heritage Live 2018 – DNA Announcements

This is a quick and dirty update about DNA products and services at the MyHeritage LIVE conference, although increasingly, the line between DNA and rest of genealogy is entirely disappearing.

I spent most of day 1 in the DNA track, as you might imagine.

I’m trying to fit this article in between sessions and dinner so I apologize in advance for the brevity. I’m trying to provide you with the important information in a timely manner, so details and more photos will have to wait for another time.

Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage opened the conference and his keynote session was not only interesting, from a family history perspective, but also full of information about the future products and features.

The next sessions that I attended relative to DNA were:

  • MyHeritage DNA 101 by Ran Snir, the DNA Product Manager
  • MyHeritage DNA: Advanced Features, also by Ran
  • What’s Next: The MyHeritage Genealogy and DNA Roadmap by Maya Lerner, VP Product

The announcements from the above sessions combined were:

  • The MyHeritage DNA data base is now just under 2 million participants.
  • Shared Ancestral Places: Live now. An interactive map of the location and significant life events (birth, death, etc.) of you and your matches. This would be particularly useful if you don’t know how you match, no common surname, but you discover that you both have ancestors in the same location, or close proximity. The locations are geocoded to avoid issues such as spelling and inconsistent data entry.

This map illustrates the shared ancestral locations of other people who match me and my match.

By clicking on the pin above, I can see the location of Oley, PA and without looking further, I can tell you which family line this is.

This feature is not yet on the mobile app, but it will be updated soon.

  • Ancestor Reconstruction: Future feature. If multiple descendants of a particular ancestor test, MyHeritage will create a “kit” for your ancestor and combine the segments from the multiple descendants identified as originating with that ancestor. I have lots of questions about this feature, such as how other ancestors DNA would be eliminated, such as the wives of ancestors for starters. I’ll see if I can obtain clarification. Gilad referred to this as “painting,” but I’m not sure that this feature is painting in the way we think of DNAPainting – so I would not jump the conclusion that it is. What Gilad actually said was that MyHeritage was creating a tool to provide the reconstructed DNA of ancestors.
  • Envelopes and Stamps: Soon. MyHeritage is partnering with a third party (unnamed) firm to extract DNA from envelopes and stamps. The results will used to create a kit for that ancestor at MyHeritage. Cost was not discussed. Multiple extracted samples can be combined to create one more robust kit.
  • This technique will also be used to add the DNA of famous people to their database. Gilad did state in the examples of the people he discussed that they did not have any direct relatives, so he is cognizant of this ethical “brave new world.”
  • X chromosomal information will be added soon.
  • Maternal/paternal side match indicators will be added soon. Beta product shown.
  • Mass segment triangulation: Future. Gilad was asked about mass triangulation, and he stated that they were working on “something even better,” and someone else later added that they were going to do mass triangulations on specific segments.
  • Theory of Family Relativity. Future but under development. When you receive a new match, you will be able, based on the DNA segments PLUS all available and relevant records to view different theories of how this person might fit into your tree. Multiple theories may be shown to the user. Each theory will be presented to the user with a confidence level ranking.
  • Ethnicity update is coming next year. It will be more refined and include more areas. MyHeritage in their Tribal Quest program has been visiting people in remote or isolated locations, helping them to preserve their family stories and sampling their DNA as well. This helps MyHeritage to build reference models against which to compare their customer’s DNA for ethnicity predictions.

MyHeritage LIVE Conference to be Livestreamed – FREE

What are you doing next weekend, November 3 and 4? Want to attend a conference – free – and without even leaving home? Well, you’re in luck! You can even attend in your jammies!

I just received an e-mail from MyHeritage stating that the DNA and genealogy sessions in Oslo at MyHeritage LIVE on Saturday and Sunday, November 3rd and 4th will be livestreamed free.

The workshops, of course, won’t be livestreamed, but you really need to be present in person to benefit from a workshop.

How cool is that – a free two-day genealogy and DNA conference, but you might have to get up early, depending on where you live.

Here’s the relevant part of the MyHeritage e-mail.

We are making the final arrangements to live stream the genealogy and DNA tracks online on our website.

The schedule is available at http://live2018.myheritage.com with the local Oslo times listed.

If you need help calculating the time difference to your local time zone, you can use https://www.thetimezoneconverter.com/.

Make sure to visit http://live2018.myheritage.com at the time of the lecture to watch the live stream.

If you’re planning on viewing the livestreams, be sure to account properly for the time difference. Please also check the schedule closer to time for the sessions you want to view, because conference schedules can and do change, sometimes rather unexpectedly.

You can also check social media using the hashtag #MHLIVE2018 to keep up with what’s happening at the conference.

Daniel Horowitz, the MyHeritage genealogy expert will be posting on the following platforms, and of course, I’ll be blogging which also posts to my twitter feed.

Also, Dan has been answering questions in the comments of my previous article about the conference, here.

Ancestry Displays City/State Where You Live on Map to Your DNA Matches

A new Ancestry feature, in beta mode, has been rolled out to many, if not most, users. Truthfully, I was quite surprised to discover that Ancestry is displaying the location where I currently live to my DNA matches through fourth cousins.

I never intentionally gave permission for this, meaning I never expected the location where I live to be utilized in this fashion. I’ve been an Ancestry subscriber for many years, and while I may have entered my location information originally, I certainly would never have done that today. We live in a different “privacy breach,” “identity theft” and otherwise unpleasant world than we did a few years ago.

The potential ramifications of this mapping tool are mind-boggling – both negative and positive, depending on your perspective.

For people searching for unknown parents or not terribly distant ancestors, the location information is awesome. Ancestry clearly knows this, which is why your matches to 4th cousins are shown. They are your genealogically most useful matches.

For those more concerned with privacy, this feature could open the door to a number of dangerous or at least unpleasant situations – from dangerously crazy people to family stalkers to unknown children/parent situations resulting in someone landing unexpectedly on your doorstep. I may not want to meet a previously unknown sibling, especially not at my house. And certainly not without some amount of preparation first – including a criminal background check. And yes, I’ve been there and done that, in case you were wondering.

Seeing where I live on a map, displayed to my genetic matches brought me face to face with the realization of how careful we need to be with what we choose, even inadvertently, to share. It’s also important to review your past selections to be sure they are still what you want.

So, here’s how to use the tool and how to change your location if you wish to do so.

Ancestry Matches Map

On your matches tab, beside the blue Search Matches button, click on Matches Map.

Next, you’ll see the map with what appears to only be your matches through 4th cousins, although I can’t verify that exactly. I know 4th cousin matches are included and I didn’t see any more distant.

You can see your own pin, in red.

You can click on any of these pins to view the city and state where that person lives based on the information they provided in their profile.

Here’s how to change your location.

Changing Your Location

To change the location, click on your pin on the map.

You’ll see this popup.

I tried to simply remove the information, but I was not allowed to save. A location is required in this tab, but if you go directly to your Profile, accessible from your user ID on your main page, you can remove the location entirely and save.

Before I discovered that selecting my profile directly allowed me to remove my location entirely, I entered the location where I’d love to live. I now live in Bergen, Norway:)

If you’re not comfortable with the city being displayed, but the state is fine, then you can make that modification as well. If you no longer live where you were born, your birth location might be more useful genealogically.

However, even though the new location is displayed to you on the map when you change to a new location, it is NOT CHANGED on the Ancestry map site at the same time. I signed out, signed in again, and the map pin is still displaying my previous location, even though my profile now reflects the new location. It took a few hours for the change to take effect.

Safety and Privacy Considerations

I would strongly prefer that Ancestry provide an opt-in option for people to have their location displayed to their matches, or for that matter, to anyone – especially since a location is required on the map tab when you attempt to make a change. This would avoid the surprise factor of seeing your location revealed on a map. I’m fine with ancestral locations, but not with where I currently live.

As a genealogist, I can certainly see how this feature would be useful. If you’re fine with having the city/state where you live revealed to your matches and other Ancestry users who view your profile, then this is a great tool and you don’t need to change anything.

Do be aware that your location information combined with your name and a search tool like Intellus or BeenVerified can/will reveal your address, phone, e-mail, family members names and more.

Now is a good time to review your profile. Consider what you are willing to reveal and make any changes accordingly.

Blogging, Rules and Mom’s Motto

I know that everyone is awaiting a follow-up article on how to utilize ethnicity results more fully for genealogy, and obviously, this article isn’t it. You know that saying, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans?” Well, that’s last week, this week and maybe next week, so please, just bear with me.

However, I’d like to take this opportunity to have a bit of a fireside chat about blogging, how it works, my blog rules, and civility.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, once said, “my turf, my rules,” in her Rules of my Road series, and she was right.

People follow blogs because the content resonates with them for any number of reasons.

Genetic genealogy is the intersection of my two great loves, science and genealogy. It’s my passion, but I’m guessing I didn’t need to tell you that. Why else would someone spent thousands of hours writing and educating others, on a paid platform, as a volunteer effort?

Blogging

Blogging can be lots of fun. In many cases, I “take you along with me” as I try out new methodologies, or I share my successes…and failures. In my 52 Ancestors series that runs every weekend (ok, most weekends when I can,) I share my research methodologies with everyone with the secret hope that someday, somehow, new cousins will find me, and those articles, even after I’m gone.

I hope you’ll find inspiration and new ways through genetics to find your ancestors too. I love to hear your success stories and to have participated or encouraged you in some small way. You inspire me!

Blogging is also exhausting. I didn’t realize when I started that it’s a 24X7X365 commitment – and I’ve passed my 6th blogiversary.

Why is blogging exhausting?

Aside from researching and writing articles, questions and comments arrive all the time. With 1057 articles and over 35,000 comments posted on those articles, I’m sure you can imagine the scope of the commitment required. I read and authorized every single one of those comments.

Why do I read every comment? I only allow accurate, civil, non-spam comments to post.

Now for the shocker.

The number of spam comments in that same time is…are you ready…1,253,012, with another 1300+ in the spam queue waiting for review. And no, I’m not going to review all 1300 of those. Not to mention, the spam queue doesn’t catch all of them. That’s up to me. That also doesn’t count the number of comments that aren’t actually spam, but that I haven’t allowed to post for any one of several reasons.

Let that soak in for a minute.

One and a quarter million spam messages tried to take advantage of my blog and your readership. The gateway or filter between them and you is the WordPress spam filter, and me. That’s 208,000 per year, or 570 nasty spammy things per day. Needless to say, I hate spam.

So, I monitor the blog on my PC, on my laptop, on my phone, and I do my best wherever I am. It takes a huge, huge amount of time and level of commitment. More than I ever imagined – and I don’t have a staff. I’m it.

Dollars and Cents

Blogging isn’t free, at least not for me.

WordPress does offer a free platform, but the requirements for this blog far surpasses what they provide to hobbyists for free. I love WordPress and would recommend it for anyone who is interested. In fact, I wrote about how to blog here.

Many bloggers and free web sites monetize their sites. The ads you see are a way for the blogger or site creator to recoup some of the money being spent as well as their time and effort. I don’t do that and I actually pay WordPress so no ads will appear.

Bloggers create new content for consumers. Some blogs and newsletters require subscriptions. I’ve never embraced that model although that is not a criticism of anyone who does. In fact, I subscribe to several.

Everyone has to eat, and if a someone values an expert opinion, it’s entirely valid for the person who has educated themselves, and maintains that education, to expect some form of compensation for their expertise.

In my case, I wanted education for every genealogist about how to utilize DNA effectively to remain free in order to reach the maximum amount of people possible. Education about the genetic aspects of genealogy benefits all genealogists.

I may in the future add a donation button for those who wish to contribute, although many of you have gifted me in numerous ways, for which I’m exceedingly grateful.

I do have an affiliate relationship with a few companies, which is disclosed at the bottom of each article that has any links to those companies. I’ve included the standard disclosure at the bottom of this article for reference.

I am also occasionally under non-disclosure agreements with some companies when they discuss future development of products. I’m glad to be able to (hopefully) influence future development of products for genealogists from time to time.

For those who are wondering, blogging and affiliate links, at least for me, is not a “living.” It’s more like Starbucks and dinner on a good month. Other months, it’s a big goose egg.

The Rules

To state the obvious, I work more than full time, providing Y and mitochondrial DNA reports for customers. I also provide Quick Consults, speak at conferences and consult in this field. I write, I quilt, I do my own genealogy, and I have a family.

I don’t have any time nor desire to deal with conflict or drama of any nature.

Having written for public consumption, on my blog and in my professional career, I realize that sometimes what one writes and intends to convey is not exactly what the other person reads. For example, humor sometimes, often, doesn’t come across as humor in the written word. I’ve penned numerous things that I’ve been taken to task for without intending what was perceived. I’ve learned to be more careful.

What I’m saying is that I know how easily that can unintentionally happen.

Having said that, my number one rule for this blog is civility.

Civility

  • Don’t be rude.
  • No name calling.
  • No flaming.
  • No trolling.
  • No drama.
  • No politics.
  • No racism.
  • No discrimination of any sort.
  • No disparaging comments.
  • No religion unless there is a genetic or genealogical aspect to the discussion, such as Jewish DNA or endogamy among the Mennonite, etc.
  • Do not attempt to bait people. I will not allow it to post whether it’s focused towards me or others – whether I agree with the comment or not.
  • Do not make sweeping generalizations.
  • Do not say, even in gest, something akin to “all XXX are stupid,” whether you are speaking of consumers, vendors, etc.
  • That doesn’t mean a comment can’t be critical of a vendor’s product. Just stick with non-emotional facts and discussion.
  • That doesn’t mean a commenter can’t disagree with me or another commenter. However, if the words are personally denigrating, condescending, offensive, hurtful or patronizing, the comment won’t be approved.

I have a limited time when reading each comment to decide thumbs up or thumbs down and if I have to ponder if it’s appropriate, the answer is thumbs down.

I may also not be approving on a computer at home. I could be on a phone laying in bed, in the airport, or in the hospital. Yes, I’ve done that.

And while you may think I’m too restrictive, remember, it may be you that I’ve protected, and you’ll never know because the offending comment was not allowed to post.

Conversely, anyone who has strong opinions and wants to voice them can do the same thing I have. Start a blog, write, educate, provide valuable content.

Genetic genealogy is intended to be fun and this blog is intended to be educational in nature – not a platform for conflict. The bottom line, like Judy said, my blog, my rules.

Mother’s Motto

When I was a teenager and was perfecting the fine art of being sassy and learning how to debate, which Mother accurately perceived as arguing – she taped something to the bathroom mirror, which I absolutely hated at the time. But she was right.

And did I ever need to hear it.  When I edit my own articles for the blog, I often have to consider her directive, especially if I’m upset about something. In fact, don’t laugh, but I can hear her say this, even yet today.

I often struggle with word choices, meaning exactly how to convey what I’m intending to convey – and not something else. I also have an “anger rule.” If I’m angry when I write something, I have to wait at least 24 hours to publish it. If I’m still angry, another 24. Needless to say, after cooling down, the word choices tend to change.

In this challenging time, the last thing we need is harshness. Please do comment on articles, but write with caring and consideration in your heart. I would ask you to think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of the words you wrote.

Words are powerful tools. They can teach, they can be thought provoking, or that can intentionally or unintentionally declare war. People won’t listen if they feel they are being attacked or challenged, whether that was the intention or not, so the best way to get a point across is to make the other person feel good about listening to what you have to say.

Here’s a wonderful little vignette that I love about the power of word choices.

Thanks for subscribing and engaging. I value each and every one of you.

Have a great day, check your DNA matches, find some ancestors and I’ll be back with you soon.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

Family Tree DNA’s PUBLIC Y DNA Haplotree

It’s well known that as a result of Big Y testing that Family Tree DNA has amassed a huge library of Y DNA full sequence results that have revealed new SNPs, meaning new haplotree branches, for testers. That’s how the Y haplotree is built. I wrote about this in the article, Family Tree DNA Names 100,000 New Y DNA SNPs.

Up until now, the tree was only available on each tester’s personal pages, but that’s not the case anymore.

Share the Wealth

Today, Family Tree DNA has made the tree public. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU Family Tree DNA.

To access the tree, click here, but DON’T sign in. Scroll to the bottom of the page. Keep scrolling, and scrolling…until you see the link under Community that says “Y-DNA Haplotree.” Click there.

The New Public Haplotree

The new public haplotree is amazing.

This tree isn’t just for people who took the Big Y test, but includes anyone who has a haplogroup confirming SNP OR took the Big Y test. Predicted haplogroups, of course, aren’t included.

Each branch includes the location of the most recent known ancestor of individuals who carry that terminal SNP, shown with a flag.

The branches are color coded by the following:

  • Light blue = haplogroup root branches
  • Teal or blue/green = branches with no descendants
  • Dark blue = branches that aren’t roots and that do have at least one descendant branch

The flag location is determined by the most distant known ancestor, so if you don’t have a “Most Distant Known Ancestor” completed, with a location, please, please, complete that field by clicking on “Manage Personal Information” beneath your profile picture on your personal page, then on Genealogy, shown below. Be sure to click on Save when you’re finished!

View Haplotree By

Viewing the haplotree is not the same as searching. “View by” is how the tree is displayed.

Click on the “View By” link to display the options: country, surnames or variant.

You can view by the country (flags), which is the default, the surname or the variants.

Country view, with the flags, is the default. Surname view is shown below.

The third view is variant view. By the way, a variant is another word for SNP. For haplogroup R-M207, there are 8,202 variants, meaning SNPs occurring beneath, or branches.

Reports

On any of the branch links, you’ll see three dots at the far right.

To view reports by country or surname, click on the dots to view the menu, then click on the option you desire.

Country statistics above, surname below. How cool is this!

Searching

The search function is dependent on the view currently selected. If you are in the surname view, then the search function says “Search by Surname” which allows you to enter a surname. I entered Estes.

If I’m not currently on the haplogroup R link, the system tells me that there are 2 Estes results on R. If I’m on the R link, the system just tells me how many results it found for that surname on this branch and if there are others on other branches.

The tree then displays the direct path between R-M207 (haplogroup R root) and the Estes branch.

…lots of branches in-between…

The great thing about this is that I can now see the surnames directly above my ancestral surname, if they meet the criteria to be displayed.

Display criteria is that two people match on the same branch AND that they both have selected public sharing. Requiring two surnames per branch confirms that result.

If you want to look at a specific variant, you can enter that variant name (BY490) in the search box and see the surnames associated with the variant. The click on “View by” to change the view from country (maps) to surnames to variants.

Change from country to surname.

And from surname to variants.

What geeky fun!!!

Go to Branch Name

If you want to research a specific branch, you can go there directly by utilizing the “Go to Branch Name” function, but you must enter the haplogroup in front of the branch name. R-BY490 for example.

When you’re finished with this search, REMOVE THE BRANCH NAME from the search box, if you’re going to do any other searches, or the system thinks you’re searching within that branch name.

My Result Isn’t Showing

In order for your results to be included on the tree, you must have fulfilled all 3 of these criteria:

  • Taken either a SNP or Big Y test
  • Opted in for public sharing
  • More than one result for that branch with the same exact surname

If you think your results should be showing and they aren’t, check your privacy settings by clicking the orange “Manage Personal Information” under your profile picture on your main page, then on the Privacy and Sharing tab.

Still not showing? See if you match another male of the same surname on the Big Y or SNP test at the same level.

If your surname isn’t included, you can recruit testers from that branch of your family.

How Can I Use This?

I’m like a kid with a new toy.

If any of your family surnames are rather unique, search to see if they are on the tree.

Hey look, my Vannoy line is on haplogroup I! Hmmm, clear the schedule, I’m going to be busy all day!

Every haplogroup has a story – and that story belongs to the men, and their families, who carry that haplogroup! I gather the haplogroups for each of my family surnames and this public tree just made this task much, MUCH easier.

Discovering More

If the testers have joined the appropriate surname project, you may also be able to find them in that project to see if they descend from a common line with you. To check and see, click here and then scroll down to the “Search Surname” section of the main Family Tree DNA webpage and enter the surname.

You can see if there is a project for your surname, and if not, your surname may be included in other projects.

Click on any of those links to view the project or contact the (volunteer) project administrators.

Want to search for another surname, the project search box is shown at the right in this view.

What gems can you find?

Want to Test?

If you are a male and you want to take the Big Y test or order a haplogroup confirming SNP, or you are a female who would like to sponsor a test for a male with a surname you’re interested in, you can purchase the Big Y test, here. As a bonus, you will also receive all of the STR markers for genealogical comparison as well.

Wonder what you can learn? You will be searching for matches to other males with the same surname. You can learn about your history. Confirm your ancestral line. Learn where they came from. You can help the scientific effort and contribute to the tree. For more information, read the article, Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story.

Have fun!!!

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Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to:

 

 

 

 

In the Beginning – First Steps in Genealogy

Everyone starts someplace in their genealogy. A lucky few have the opportunity to springboard from another family member who has documented the family carefully. Most of us, me included, began in the simplest of ways – asking family members.

Thank goodness I did that while there were at least a few family members left of older generations. I wish I had begun sooner, but that’s probably the most common lament of genealogists.

The next most common lament, today, would be that we wish we had DNA tested every single person in the older generations. If you haven’t, please do, immediately, while you can – and be sure they are in at least in the Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and MyHeritage databases. I also recommend uploading to GedMatch as well which will catch genealogists that test at 23andMe. Generally, only genealogists upload  to GedMatch.

I didn’t start out to be a genealogist. I was simply interested in my family. I didn’t even really grasp what a genealogist was. One day someone said to me, “Oh, so you’re a genealogist,” and I replied, “No, I’m just curious about my family.”

Famous last words.

I didn’t know there was such a thing as a pedigree chart, and my notes for the first few years were on plain paper with little organization other than a page or folder for each person. I then advanced to a green bookkeeping columnar pad to keep track of what was in the folders.

Eventually, some poor soul took pity on me and gave me a pedigree chart. I started filling in what I knew and it would be another decade before I made my first “genealogical” find in the local Family History Center. I refer to that as my first genealogical find because I wasn’t talking to a family member and had begun researching through records. My curiosity had gotten the best of me!

I remember the thrill of that obsession-defining moment well.

It was my first visit to the Center, following a brief introductory session that I had discovered in the local newspaper, and I was filled with trepidation. I didn’t want someone trying to convert me, but I was also very curious. I needn’t have worried. In all the years I visited the local FHC at the Mormon Church, no one ever tried to convert me and I visited regularly, making discovery after discovery.

The first discovery that life-changing evening, the marriage of Lazarus Estes to Elizabeth Vannoy, is what hooked me. We found it in an index, and I was terribly disappointed to discover that I had to order a microfiche and wait until it arrived from some distant location to find out WHEN Lazarus married Elizabeth. Oh, the torture!

But hooked I was, and I anxiously awaited the call from the FHC librarian telling me that my fiche had arrived. I drove to the church in record time!

I had taken my daughter with me on the first trip to the church, just in case I needed a quick “escape.” Kids are always great for “not feeling well” and she was always having stomach aches. Obviously, no escape was needed – except maybe for her.

Recently, while going through some papers, I discovered my very first pedigree chart. My first reaction was, “ahhh, how sweet,” which quickly turned to mortification when I realized how much was blank or worse, incorrect.

Let’s just bask in the “oh so sweet” for a moment.

We all start with the information we gather from family. You can see by the different ink and white-out (you do remember, white-out, right?) that I gleefully added to this pedigree as new information was discovered. Some is written in pencil, with question marks. People weren’t sure about some things, but I made notes anyway. Thankfully!

The blank spaces aren’t blank anymore, today, but that information was revealed slowly, like peeling an onion, through records research. I had talked to my mother and my great-aunt on my maternal side, and my father’s sister on my paternal side, and I gathered all that they knew. From that point forward, I had to do the research. It fell to me.

When I looked at this pedigree chart and realized how much was wrong, my initial reaction was horror – BUT – we all have to start with what we have available. If there was ever a textbook example of why verification and documentation is essential – this is it.

Much to my embarrassment, the red arrows point to information that was wrong. I’ve sized the arrows relative to the magnitude of the inaccuracy.

For example, the biggest error is that Rebecca Rosenberg or Rosenbaum was NOT the mother of Margaret Clarkson/Claxton. For the record, Elizabeth Speaks was, but she was related to the Rosenbaums through her father’s sister’s marriage. My aunt had her in the right neighborhood and family, but attributed the wrong person as her mother.

Of course, if I hadn’t figured it out through records, eventually DNA might have revealed the problem. BUT, since the Rosenbaum descendants were related to the Speaks family, autosomal DNA might not have divulged the problem since the Rosenbaums would have matched some Speaks too. However, mitochondrial DNA would have immediately showed a discrepancy because their matrilineal ancestors weren’t the same. Don’t forget to utilize all tools available.

Oh, and based on the Rosenbaum/Rosenburg surname, my aunt informed me that we were Jewish. Also that the Bolton’s were German, and that my great-grandmother Elizabeth Vannoy was Cherokee, all of which were subsequently proven to be incorrect by using historical records plus DNA, but I digress. Point being that I believed my aunt at the time, because surely she knew – and she obviously knew more than I did which was absolutely nothing.

Notice that several of the dates have smaller arrows. Those are off by one or two years, so again, the right ballpark but the wrong information. At least the information for my parents was accurate! (humor)

It’s also interesting that on my mother’s side, much more was known about the female side of the family. But then again, my great-aunt who I was able to interview was my maternal grandmother’s sister.

My Aunt Margaret on my father’s side didn’t grow up in Tennessee and most of what she knew was second hand. For example, she told me that her Bolton grandparents, Joseph and Margot (Margaret) had both died a day or so apart in the 1918 flu epidemic. He died first and the family put him in the barn waiting for her to die the next day so they could bury them in the same coffin. I didn’t know if that was romantic or simply expeditious for the survivors, under the circumstances, especially if many were ill and coffin-makers and grave-diggers were in short supply.

Well, Aunt Margaret was close. Joseph died on February 23, 1920, not during the 1918 flu epidemic. Still, they did both die of pneumonia following the flu, according to their death certificates, which certainly weren’t available to me in the 1970s or 1980s. Joseph’s wife died on March 11, 1920. Of course, there’s no way to know if they were buried at the same funeral, or in the same coffin. Their deaths were separated by more than two weeks.

I’m certainly glad I recorded every tidbit that I did. I’ve returned to my original notes years later and found extremely valuable hints that I had originally forgotten about or didn’t understand the value of the hint initially.

How could I forget something important? It wasn’t important then or we’re human and we do forget.

Every piece of family information needs to be viewed as a hint, not as gospel. As well-meaning as our family members are, and lovely for sharing, they can only provide us with the information they know or have been provided by others. Who’s to say if it has been conveyed or remembered accurately? The most reliable information is first person, but even that is subject to lapses of memory or the softening of time.

Don’t believe it? Just remember how often you forget what you went into the other room for😊

Documenting every piece of information is up to us and seldom does that documentation process and subsequent review not provide some new tidbit or surprise.

How accurate was your original pedigree chart?

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Standard Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affiliate links are limited to: