What is a Heteroplasmy and Why Do I Care?

Most people have never heard of a heteroplasmy – but you might have one.

You Might Have a Heteroplasmy If…

…You have no exact matches at the full sequence mitochondrial DNA level.

A heteroplasmy is one of the first things I think of when someone tells me they have no exact full sequence matches but several that are a genetic distance of 1, meaning one mutation difference.

That phenomenon usually means the tester has a rare mutation that no one else has, at least no one who has tested their mitochondrial DNA (yet) – and that mutation just might be a heteroplasmy.

Heteroplasmies are generally (but not always) quite recent mutations. Actually, heteroplasmies are mutations caught in the act of mutating – kind of like an insect in genetic amber – frozen in time in your generation.

By Anders L. Damgaard – http://www.amber-inclusions.dk – Baltic-amber-beetle CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16792582

Let’s say you might have a heteroplasmy. Or maybe you want to see if you do. Even if YOU don’t have a heteroplasmy, other people’s heteroplasmies can and will affect matching.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about heteroplasmies but didn’t know to ask😊

Heteroplasmies are Fascinating

A heteroplasmy is actually quite interesting because it’s a genetic mutation in progress.

This means you have two versions of a DNA sequence showing in your mitochondrial DNA at a specific location.

Said another way, at a specific genetic location, you show both of two separate nucleotides. Amounts detected of a second nucleotide greater than 20% are considered a heteroplasmy. Amounts below 20% are ignored. Generally, within a few generations, the mutation will resolve in one direction or the other – although some heteroplasmies persist for several generations and can sometimes define family branches.

If you’d like to read more about mitochondrial DNA, I wrote a series of step-by-step articles and combined them into one resource page, here.

Show Me!

You can easily check to see if you have a heteroplasmy by signing on to your FamilyTreeDNA account. Hopefully, you’ve taken the full sequence test.

Today, new testers, thankfully, can only purchase full sequence tests, so HVR1 results don’t present quite the same challenges when combined with heteroplasmies as they used to. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

If you have only taken the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 “Plus” test, as opposed to the Full Sequence, you can upgrade by signing on here and clicking on the “Full” button on the Maternal Ancestry section of your personal page.

These buttons will be pink if you’ve taken that test already, and grey if you need to upgrade. If you have an account at FamilyTreeDNA, you can add a mitochondrial DNA test to that same account by clicking on “Add Ons and Upgrades” at the top of your personal page. You can order a test if you’re a new customer, here.

How Do I Know if I Have a Heteroplasmy?

Your mitochondrial DNA has a total of 16,569 locations that you can think of as addresses. If your DNA at those locations is normal, meaning no mutations, they won’t be listed in your results.

Mutations are shown in your mitochondrial DNA results by a different letter at the end of the location.

For example, here are my mutations for my HVR1 region. Each of these locations in the HVR1 region has a mutation.

For locations that are shown in your results, meaning those where you have a mutation, you’ll see, in order:

  • A letter, either T, A, C or G
  • The location number
  • A different letter, typically another one of T, A, C or G, but sometimes a small d

For the first mutation, C16069T, the location address is 16069, the normal value is C, the mutation that occurred is T.

Heteroplasmies are shown in your mitochondrial DNA results by letters other than T, A, C, G or d at the end of the location.

I don’t have any heteroplasmies, so I’m switching to the results of a cousin who has a heteroplasmic mutation at location T16362Y to use as an example. The trailing Y means they have a heteroplasmy at location 16362.

But first, what do those letters mean?

The Letters

The letters stand for the nucleotide bases that comprise DNA, as follows:

  • T – Thymine
  • A – Adenine
  • C – Cytosine
  • G – Guanine
  • d – a deletion has occurred. There is no nucleotide at this location.

For location T16362Y, the first letter, T, is the “normal” value found at this location. If a mutation has occurred, the second letter is the mutated value. Normally, this is one of the other nucleotides, A, C or G.

Any other letter after the location has a specific meaning; in this case, Y means that both a C and a T were found, per the chart below.

Note – if you have a small letter t, a, c or g, it’s not a heteroplasmy, and I wrote about small letters and what they mean in the article, Mitochondrial DNA Part 2: What Do Those Numbers Mean?

Check Your Results

On your FamilyTreeDNA personal page in the mtDNA section, click on the Mutations tab.

If you’ve taken the full sequence test, you’ll see Extra Mutations. You’re looking for any mutation that ends in any letter other than T, A, C, G or d.

If you haven’t taken the full sequence test, you don’t have “Extra” mutations listed, but you can still view your mutations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions.

Look for any value that has any letter other than T, A, C, G or lower case d at the end of the location.

The Y tells us that this location is a heteroplasmy.

Heteroplasmy Matching

Ok, let’s look at a heteroplasmy mutation at location 16326. A heteroplasmy can occur at any mitochondrial location. I’ve selected this location because it occurs in the HVR1 region of the mitochondrial DNA, so even people who haven’t tested at the full sequence level will see results for this location. Plus, the location at which the heteroplasmy occurs affects matching in different ways.

Using the example of T16362Y, the Y tells us that both nucleotides C and T were found. This location should match against anyone carrying the following values in the same location:

  • Y (letter indicating a C/T heteroplasmy)
  • T (standard or normal value)
  • C (mutated value)

However, currently at Family Tree DNA, the heteroplasmy only counts as a match to anyone with a Y, the specific heteroplasmy indicator, and the “normal” value of T, but not the mutated value of C.

This table shows how heteroplasmies are counted at FamilyTreeDNA. For heteroplasmy T16362Y, based on the value your potential match has at this location, you either will or will not be considered a match at that location.

Scenario Other Person’s Value Your Result – T16362Y
1 T16362Y – heteroplasmy indicator Match to you at this location
2 T16362T – normal value, not a mutation Match to you at this location
3 T16362C – mutated value Not counted as match to you at this location
  • If your match has a value of Y, the heteroplasmic C/T value, they are counted as a match to you, so no problem.
  • If your match has a value of T, the normal value, this location won’t be shown on their mutation list at all. They WILL be counted as a match to you so there’s no issue.
  • If your match has a value of C, the mutated value, in my opinion they should also be counted as a match to you, but they aren’t today. The logic, I believe, was that the most likely value is the standard or normal value and that the mutated value is much less likely to be accurate. Regardless, I’ve requested this change and am hoping for a matching adjustment in a future release for heteroplasmies.

Heteroplasmies do affect matching at the different levels.

Viewing Your Matches

Mitochondrial DNA, for testing purposes, is broken into three regions, HVR1 (hyper-variable region 1), HVR2 and the Coding Region.

At FamilyTreeDNA, you can view your matches at each level. The matches are cumulative, meaning that the HVR2 level includes the HVR1 level information, and the Coding Region level includes the HVR1 and HVR2 regions. That highest level which includes all three regions shows information from your entire your entire full mitochondrial DNA sequence.

Heteroplasmy Effects on Matching

If you otherwise match someone exactly, but one of you has a heteroplasmy and the other person carries the mutated value, you will be counted as a mismatch of 1 at the full sequence level.

A mismatch has different effects when it occurs in the HVR1, HVR2 or Coding Regions, respectively.

GD is an abbreviation for Genetic Distance which is how mutations are counted. A GD of 1 means the two people have one mutation difference between them.

In the following chart, the effects of you having a nonmatch, heteroplasmic or otherwise, in each of the regions is shown at each level. The region in which the mismatch occurs is shown in the first column, at left, and the effect the mismatch has on matching in each region is shown in columns 2-4.

The red sections are not counted as matches.

Mismatch Occurs in this Region HVR1 Level Match to Someone Else HVR2 Level Match to Someone Else Coding Region Level Match to Someone Else
HVR1 region nonmatch GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 is a match
HVR2 region nonmatch Does not affect HVR1 – so you are a match GD of 1 means no match GD of 1 is a match
Coding Region nonmatch Does not affect HVR1 – so you are a match Does not affect HVR2 – so you are a match GD of 1 is a match

For purposes of this discussion, we’re assuming our two people being compared in the chart above match exactly on every other location so matching is not otherwise affected.

  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch occurs in the HVR1 region – in other words, scenario 3 – you’ll fall into the HVR1 nonmatch row. That means you won’t be shown as a match at the HVR1 or HVR1+HVR2 levels, but you WILL be shown as a full sequence match.
  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch is in the HVR2 region of addresses, it won’t affect your HVR1 matches, but it will affect your HVR2 and Coding Region matches. This means you will be shown as HVR1 match, not an HVR2 match, but will be a full sequence match.
  • If your heteroplasmic nonmatch is in the Coding Region, it won’t affect your HVR1 or HVR2 matches, but it will affect your Coding Region matches. However, it won’t preclude matches and you’ll be shown as a match in all three regions.

To be very clear, I have no issue with these match thresholds. It’s important to understand how this works, and therefore why heteroplasmic (and other) mismatches in specific regions affect our matches in the way they do.

Why Aren’t Mismatches of 1 Counted as Matches in the HVR1 or HVR2 Regions?

The match threshold at FamilyTreeDNA for the HVR1 and the HVR1+HVR2 regions, both small regions of about 1000 locations each, is that only an exact match is considered a match. Therefore, a heteroplasmic nonmatch in this region can really be confusing and sometimes misleading, especially if either or BOTH people have NOT tested at the full sequence level.

These are the match thresholds in effect today.

HVR1 GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match HVR2 GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match Coding Region GD or # of Mutations Allowed for a Match
0 – no mutations allowed 0 – no mutations allowed 3 mutations allowed

If both people match on either the heteroplasmy identified (Y in our case) or one person has the normal value – all is fine. But if one person has a heteroplasmy and the other has the mutated value – then a mismatch occurs. This is really only problematic when:

  • The heteroplasmy mismatch is in the HVR1 region and both people have only tested at that level, causing the two people to not match at all.
  • The heteroplasmy mismatch occurs in combination with other mutations that, cumulatively, push the two people over the GD 3 full sequence matching threshold.

The second scenario happens rarely, but I have seen situations where people don’t match their mothers, aunts, siblings, or other close relatives because of multiple heteroplasmic mutations occurring in different people.

And yes, this is hen’s teeth rare – but it does occasionally happen.

So, what’s the bottom line about heteroplasmies?

Heteroplasmy Bottom Line

  1. You can suspect a heteroplasmy if you have full sequence matches, but no exact matches.
  2. If you have a heteroplasmy in the HVR1 region, understand that you may not have many or any matches in the HVR1 and HVR2 regions. The remedy is to test at the full sequence level and check matches there.
  3. If you have a heteroplasmy and don’t match someone you expect to match – reach out to them and ask about their value at that specific location. If that location isn’t listed for them in their results, then they have no mutation there and your heteroplasmy is NOT the cause of you not matching with them.
  4. If you don’t match someone you expect to match, reach out to them and ask if THEY have any heteroplasmies. The easiest way to ask is, “Do you have any mutations listed that end with anything other than T, A, C, G or d?” Feel free to link to this article so that they’ll know where to look, and why you’re asking.

Do you have any heteroplasmies?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

FREE LIVE Presentation: Turning AutoClusters into Solutions at MyHeritage

You’re invited to join me for a FREE Facebook LIVE presentation on May 24th, at 2 PM EST.

We’ll be talking about tips and tricks to turn “AutoClusters into Solutions at MyHeritage.”

AutoClusters are a great tool and few of us are using them to their fullest potential. I know I wasn’t.

MyHeritage will be hosting this seminar on their Facebook page, LIVE.

I’ve done a few of these LIVE sessions before and they are SO MUCH FUN for everyone!!! They’re super popular too. We’ve had between 14,000 and 20,000 people view each one.

Want to Hear a Secret?

I’ve made three discoveries while preparing for this presentation – in the first cluster alone. I can barely stop. Who needs sleep anyway?

No, I’m really not kidding. My great-grandmother had a missing brother. We all assumed he died because we, today, couldn’t find hide nor hair of him.

Well, guess what – he’s not missing anymore. His descendants didn’t know where he came from, and we didn’t know where he went. It’s almost impossible to connect someone backward in time if you don’t have any geographic link at all.

AutoClusters ARE genetic links, from either end.

No Registration Required

You don’t need to sign up in advance. Just set a reminder and show up at the proper date and time. There’s enough “seating” for everyone, and no wait either. Can’t join us on May 24th at 2 PM EST? Don’t worry. MyHeritage records the sessions and you can watch them later.

Upload DNA Files Now!

I’m giving you this early heads-up so that you have time to upload your DNA file to MyHeritage, and the DNA of your close relatives whose tests you manage (with permission of course), if you haven’t yet done so. If you upload now, you’ll have access to all of the tools before the session.

Here’s what you need to do.

  1. Download your DNA file from either Ancestry, 23andMe, or FamilyTreeDNA. Step-by-step instructions for downloading your DNA file from each vendor can be found here.
  2. Upload your DNA file to MyHeritage. Step-by-step instructions for uploading to MyHeritage are found here.
  3. Upload or create a tree at MyHeritage or connect your relative’s DNA to their profile card in your existing tree.
  4. If you already have a fully paid data and records subscription plan at MyHeritage, you will receive all of the advanced tools, for free – including AutoClusters. You can try a free subscription if you don’t already have one, here.
  5. If you don’t have a data and records subscription plan, you’ll need to pay the $29 unlock for the advanced DNA tools, including AutoClusters, which is less expensive and quicker than testing again.

If you have close relatives who have tested elsewhere, you might want to ask them to transfer to MyHeritage as well. If they aren’t personally interested but will download their file, you can upload it and manage their DNA from your MyHeritage account.

You’ll find tools and matches at MyHeritage not available in other databases. MyHeritage is very popular in Europe. I’ve found some of my closest Dutch and German matches at MyHeritage, including in clusters.

Which is, of course, another reason to watch “Turning AutoClusters into Solutions at MyHeritage!”

Hope to see you there!

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Using Mitochondrial Haplogroups at 23andMe to Pick the Lock

I’ve been writing recently about using haplogroups for genealogy, and specifically, your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup. You can check out recent articles here and here.

While FamilyTreeDNA tests the entire mitochondria and provides you with the most detailed and granular haplogroup, plus matches to other testers, 23andMe provides mid-range level haplogroup information to all testers.

I’ve been asked how testers can:

  1. Locate that information on their account
  2. What it means
  3. How to use it for genealogy

Let’s take those questions one by one. It’s actually amazing what can be done – the information you can piece together, and how you can utilize one piece of information to leverage more.

Finding Your Haplogroup Information

At 23andMe, sign in, then click on Ancestry.

Then click on Ancestry Overview.

You’ll need to scroll down until you see the haplogroup section.

If you’re a female, you don’t have a paternal haplogroup. That’s misleading, at best and I wrote about that here. If you click to view your report, you’ll simply be encouraged to purchase a DNA test for your father.

Click on the maternal haplogroup panel to view the information about your mitochondrial haplogroup.

You’ll see basic information about the haplogroup level 23andMe provides. For me, that’s J1c2.

Next, you’ll view the migration path for haplogroup J out of Africa. Haplogroup J is the great-granddaughter haplogroup of L3, an African haplogroup. Mutations occurred in L3 that gave birth to haplogroup N. More mutations gave birth to R, which gave birth to J, and so forth.

You’ll notice that haplogroup J1c2 is fairly common among 23andMe customers. This means that in my list of 1793 matches in DNA Relatives, I could expect roughly 9 to carry this base haplogroup.

There’s more interesting information.

Yes, King Richard is my long-ago cousin, of sorts. Our common mitochondrial ancestor lived in Europe, but not long after haplogroup J1c migrated from the Middle East.

One of my favorite parts of the 23andMe information is a bit geeky, I must admit.

Scroll back to the top and select Scientific Details.

Scroll down, and you’ll be able to see the haplogroup tree formation of all your ancestral haplogroups since Mitochondrial Eve who is haplogroup L. You can see L3 who migrated out of Africa, and then N and R. You can also see their “sister clades,” in blue. In other words, L3 gave birth to L3a through M, which are all sisters to N. N gave birth to R, and so forth.

On the free Public Mitochondrial Tree, provided by FamilyTreeDNA, you can see the haplogroups displayed in a different configuration, along with the countries where the most distant known ancestors of FamilyTreeDNA testers who carry that haplogroup are found. Note that only people who have taken the full sequence test are shown on this tree. You can still check out your partial haplogroup from 23andMe, but it will be compared to people who don’t have a subgroup assigned today on this public tree.

If you were to take the full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA, you might well have a more refined haplogroup, including a subgroup. Most people do, but not everyone.

Here’s the second half of the 23andMe haplogroup tree leading from haplogroup R to J1c2, my partial haplogroup at 23andMe.

Here’s the public tree showing the J1c2 haplogroup, and my most refined haplogroup, J1c2f from my full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA.

If you’re interested in reading more in the scientific literature about your haplogroup, at the bottom of the 23andMe Scientific Details page, you’ll see a list of references. Guaranteed to cure insomnia.😊

You’re welcome!

Using Your Haplogroup at 23andMe for Genealogy

Enjoying this information is great, but how do you actually USE this information at 23andMe for genealogy? As you already know, 23andMe does not support trees, so many times genealogists need to message our matches to determine at least some portion of their genealogy. But not always. Let’s look at different options.

While a base haplogroup is certainly interesting and CAN be used for some things, it cannot be used, at 23andMe for matching directly because only a few haplogroup-defining locations are tested.

We can use basic haplogroup information in multiple ways for genealogy, even if your matches don’t reply to messages.

23andMe no longer allows testers to filter or sort their matches by haplogroup unless you test (or retest) on the V5 platform AND subscribe yearly for $29. You can read about what you receive with the subscription, here. You can purchase a V5 test, here.

To get around the haplogroup filtering restriction, you can download your matches, which includes your matches’ haplogroups, in one place. I provided instructions for how to download your matches, here.

While 23andMe doesn’t test to a level that facilitates matching on mitochondrial alone, even just a partial haplogroup can be useful for genealogy.

You can identify the haplogroup of specific ancestors.

You can identify people who might match on a specific line based on their haplogroup. and you can use that information as a key or lever to unlock additional information. You can also eliminate connections to your matches on your matrilineal line. 

Let’s start there.

Matrilineal Line Elimination

For every match, you can view their haplogroup by clicking on their name, then scrolling down to view haplogroup information.

As you can see, Stacy does not carry the same base haplogroup as me, so our connection is NOT on our direct matrilineal line. We can eliminate that possibility. Our match could still be on our mother’s side though, just not our mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line.

If Stacy’s haplogroup was J1c2, like mine, then our connection MIGHT be through the matrilineal line. In other words, we can’t rule it out, but it requires more information to confirm that link.

Identifying My Ancestor’s Haplogroups

I’ve made it a priority to identify the mitochondrial haplogroups of as many ancestors as possible. This becomes very useful, not only for what the haplogroup itself can tell me, but to identify other matches from that line too.

click to enlarge images

Here’s my pedigree chart of my 8 great-grandparents. The colored hearts indicate whose mitochondrial DNA each person inherited. Of course, the mothers of the men in the top row would be shown in the next generation.

As you can see, I have identified the mitochondrial DNA of 6 of my 8 great-grandparents. How did I do that?

  • Testing myself
  • Searching at FamilyTreeDNA for candidates to test or who have already tested
  • Searching at Ancestry for candidates to test, particularly using ThruLines which I wrote about, here.
  • Searching at MyHeritage for candidates to test, particularly using Theories of Family Relativity which I wrote about, here
  • Searching for people from a specific line at 23andMe, although that’s challenging because 23andMee does not support traditional trees
  • Searching for people who might be descended appropriately using the 23andMe estimated “genetic tree.” Of course, then I need to send a message and cross my fingers for a reply.
  • Searching for people at WikiTree by visiting the profile of my ancestors whose mitochondrial DNA I’m searching for in the hope of discovering either someone who has already taken the mitochondrial DNA test, or who descends appropriately and would be a candidate to test

In my pedigree chart, above, the mitochondrial DNA of John Ferverda and his mother, Eva Miller, T2b, is a partial haplogroup because I discovered the descendant through 23andMe.

I was fairly certain of that match’s identity, but I need two things:

  • Confirmation of their genealogical connection to Eva Miller Ferverda
  • Someone to take the full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA that will provide additional information

I confirmed this haplogroup by identifying a second person descended from Eva through all females to the current generation who carries the same haplogroup

Now that I’ve confirmed one person at 23andMe who descends from Eva Miller Ferverda matrilineally, and I know their mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, I can use this information to help identify other matches – even if no one responds to my messages.

This is where downloading your spreadsheet becomes essential.

Download Your Matches

Next, we’re going to work with a combination of your downloaded matches on a spreadsheet along with your matches at 23andMe on the website.

I provided step-by-step instructions for downloading your matches, here.

On the spreadsheet, you’ll see your matches and various columns for information about each match, including (but not limited to):

  • Name
  • Segment information
  • Link to tester’s profile page (so you don’t need to search for them)
  • Maternal or paternal side, but only if your parents have tested
  • Maternal haplogroup (mitochondrial DNA for everyone)
  • Paternal haplogroup (Y DNA if you’re a male)
  • Family Surnames
  • Family Locations
  • Country locations of 4 grandparents
  • Notes (that you’ve entered)
  • Link to a family tree if tester has provided that information. I wrote about how to link your tree in this article. The tree-linking instructions are still valid although 23andMe no longer partners with FamilySearch. You can link an Ancestry or MyHeritage tree.

I want to look for other people who match me and who also have haplogroup T2b, meaning they might descend from Eva Miller Ferverda, her mother, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz, or her mother, Johanne Fredericka Ruhle in the US.

To be clear, the mitochondrial DNA reaches back further in time in Germany, but since 23andMe limits matches to either your highest 1500 or 2000 matches (it’s unclear which,) minus the people who don’t opt-in to Relative Sharing, I likely wouldn’t find anyone from the German lines in the 23andMe database as matches. If you subscribe to the V5+$29 per year version of the test, you are allowed “three times as many matches” before people roll off your match list.

On the download spreadsheet, sort on the maternal column.

I have several people who match me and are members of haplogroup T2b.

Upon closer evaluation, I discovered that at least one other person does descend from Eva Miller, which confirmed that Eva’s haplogroup is indeed T2b, plus probably an unknown subclade.

I also discovered two more people who I think are good candidates to be descended from Eva Miller using the following hints:

  • Same haplogroup, T2b
  • Shared matches with other known descendants of Eva Miller, Margaret Lentz or Frederica Ruhle.
  • Triangulation with some of those known descendants

Now, I can look at each one of those matches individually to see if they triangulate with anyone else I recognize.

Do be aware that just because these people have the mitochondrial haplogroup you are seeking doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re related through that line. However, as I worked through these matches WITH the same haplogroup, I did find several that are good candidates for a common ancestor on the matrilineal line based on matches we share in common.

Let’s hope they reply, or they have tested at a different vendor that supports trees and I can recognize their name in that database.

Assign a Side

At 23andMe, one of the first important steps is to attempt to assign a parental side to each match, if possible.

If I can assign a match to a “side” of my tree based on shared matches, then I can narrow the possible haplogroups that might be of interest. In this case, I can ignore any T2b matches assigned to my father’s side.

The way to assign matches to sides, assuming you don’t have parents to test, is to look for triangulation or a group of matches with known, hopefully somewhat close, relatives.

I wrote about Triangulation Action at 23andMe, here.

For example, my top 4 matches at 23andMe are 2 people from my father’s side, and 2 people from my mother’s side, first or second cousins, so I know how we are related.

Using these matches, our “Relatives in Common,” and triangulation, I can assign many of my matches to one side or the other. “Yes” in the DNA Overlap column means me, Stacy and that person triangulate on at least one segment.

Do be careful though, because it’s certainly possible to match someone, and triangulate on one segment, but match them from your other parent’s side on a different segment.

At the very bottom of every match page (just keep scrolling) is a Notes field. Enter something. I believe, unless this has changed, that if you have entered a note, the match will NOT roll off your list, even if you’ve reached your match limit. I include as much as I do know plus a date, even if it’s “don’t know which side.” At least I know I’ve evaluated the match.

However, equally as important, when you download your spreadsheet, you’ll be able to see your own notes, so it’s easy to refer to that spreadsheet when looking at other relatives in common on your screen.

I have two monitors which makes life immensely easier.

Working the Inverse

Above, we used the haplogroup to find other matches. You can work the inverse, of course, using matches to find haplogroups.

Now that you’ve downloaded your spreadsheet, you can search in ways you can’t easily at 23andMe.

On your spreadsheet, skim locations for hints and search for the surnames associated with the ancestral line you are seeking.

Don’t stop there. Many people at 23andMe either don’t enter any information, but some enter a generation or two. Sometimes 4 surnames, one for each grandparent. If you’ve brought your lines to current genealogically, search for the surnames of the people of the lines you seek. Eva’s grandchildren who would carry her mitochondrial haplogroup would include the surnames of Robison, Gordon, and several others. I found two by referencing my descendants chart in my computer genealogy program to quickly find surnames of people descended through all females.

The link to each match’s profile page is in the spreadsheet. Click on that link to see who you match in common, and who they and you triangulate with.

Because each of the people at 23andMe does have at least a partial mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, you may be able through surname searching, or perhaps even viewing matches in common, to reveal haplogroups of your ancestors.

If you’ve already identified someone from that ancestral line, and you’re seeking that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA, highlight the people who triangulate with the known descendant on your spreadsheet. Generation by generation, search for the surnames of that ancestor’s female grandchildren. I found one line just one generation downstream which allowed me to identify the ancestor’s haplogroup. In other words, the birth surname of my ancestor was missing, and that of her husband, but the surname of one of her granddaughters was there.

That person did indeed match and triangulate with other known descendants.

Sorting by haplogroup, at that point, showed two additional people I was able to assign to Eva’s haplogroup line and confirm through what few tidbits of genealogy the testers did provide.

I started with not knowing Eva’s haplogroup, and now I not only know she is haplogroup T2b, I’ve identified and confirmed a total of 6 people in this lineage who also have haplogroup T2b – although several descend from her mother and grandmother. I’ve also confirmed several others through this process who don’t have haplogroup T2b, but who triangulated with me and those who do. How cool is this?

I’ll be checking at FamilyTreeDNA to see if any of Eva’s T2b descendants have tested or transferred there. If I’m lucky, they’ll have already taken the mitochondrial DNA test. If not, I’ll be offering a mitochondrial DNA full sequence testing scholarship to the first one of those matches to accept.

Is this process necessarily easy?

No, but the tools certainly exist to get it done.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely.

It’s one more way to put meat on the bones of those ancestors, one tiny piece of information at a time.

I’ll be reaching out to see if perhaps any of my newly identified cousins has genealogical information, or maybe photos or stories that I don’t.

Tips and Tools

For tips and tools to work with your mitochondrial DNA haplogroups, read the article Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

Please visit the Mitochondrial DNA Resource page for more information.

You can also use Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool to assist in forming groups of related people based on your shared matches at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA.

What Can You Find?

What can you find at 23andMe?

Your ancestor’s haplogroups, perhaps?

Or maybe you can use known ancestral haplogroups as the key to unlocking your common ancestor with other matches.

I found an adoptee while writing this article with common triangulated matches plus haplogroup T2b, and was able to provide information about our common ancestors, including names. Their joy was palpable.

Whoever thought something like a partial haplogroup could be the gateway to so much.

23andMe tests are on sale right now for Mother’s Day, here.

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Thank you so much.

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A Triangulation Checklist Born From the Question; “Why NOT Use Close Relatives for Triangulation?”

One of my readers asked why we don’t use close relatives for triangulation.

This is a great question because not using close relatives for triangulation seems counter-intuitive.

I used to ask my kids and eventually my students and customers if they wanted the quick short answer or the longer educational answer.

The short answer is “because close relatives are too close to reliably form the third leg of the triangle.” Since you share so much DNA with close relatives, someone matching you who is identical by chance can also match them for exactly the same reason.

If you trust me and you’re good with that answer, wonderful. But I hope you’ll keep reading because there’s so much to consider, not to mention a few gotchas. I’ll share my methodology, techniques, and workarounds.

We’ll also discuss absolutely wonderful ways to utilize close relatives in the genetic genealogical process – just not for triangulation.

At the end of this article, I’ve provided a working triangulation checklist for you to use when evaluating your matches.

Let’s go!

The Step-by-Step Educational Answer😊

Some people see “evidence” they believe conflicts with the concept that you should not use close relatives for triangulation. I understand that, because I’ve gone down that rathole too, so I’m providing the “educational answer” that explains exactly WHY you should not use close relatives for triangulation – and what you should do.

Of course, we need to answer the question, “Who actually are close relatives?”

I’ll explain the best ways to best utilize close relatives in genetic genealogy, and why some matches are deceptive.

You’ll need to understand the underpinnings of DNA inheritance and also of how the different vendors handle DNA matching behind the scenes.

The purpose of autosomal DNA triangulation is to confirm that a segment is passed down from a particular ancestor to you and a specific set of your matches.

Triangulation, of course, implies 3, so at least three people must all match each other on a reasonably sized portion of the same DNA segment for triangulation to occur.

Matching just one person only provides you with one path to that common ancestor. It’s possible that you match that person due to a different ancestor that you aren’t aware of, or due to chance recombination of DNA.

It’s possible that your or your match inherited part of that DNA from your maternal side and part from your paternal side, meaning that you are matching that other person’s DNA by chance.

I wrote about identical by descent (IBD), which is an accurate genealogically meaningful match, and identical by chance (IBC) which is a false match, in the article Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance.

I really want you to understand why close relatives really shouldn’t be used for triangulation, and HOW close relative matches should be used, so we’re going to discuss all of the factors that affect and influence this topic – both the obvious and little-understood.

  • Legitimate Matches
  • Inheritance and Triangulation
  • Parental Cross-Matching
  • Parental Phasing
  • Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA
  • Parental Phasing Caveats
  • Pedigree Collapse
  • Endogamy
  • How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?
  • DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations (Seriously, It Doesn’t)
  • Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t (And How to Use It)
  • No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related
  • Imputation
  • Ancestry Issues and Workarounds
  • Testing Close Relatives is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation
  • Triangulated Matches
  • Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Siblings
  • How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them
  • Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why
  • Where Are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!
  • The Bottom Line

Don’t worry, these sections are logical and concise. I considered making this into multiple articles, but I really want it in one place for you. I’ve created lots of graphics with examples to help out.

Let’s start by dispelling a myth.

DNA Doesn’t Skip Generations!

Recently, someone emailed to let me know that they had “stopped listening to me” in a presentation when I said that if a match did not also match one of your parents, it was a false match. That person informed me that they had worked on their tree for three years at Ancestry and they have “proof” of DNA skipping generations.

Nope, sorry. That really doesn’t happen, but there are circumstances when a person who doesn’t understand either how DNA works, or how the vendor they are using presents DNA results could misunderstand or misinterpret the results.

You can watch my presentation, RootsTech session, DNA Triangulation: What, Why and How, for free here. I’m thrilled that this session is now being used in courses at two different universities.

DNA really doesn’t skip generations. You CANNOT inherit DNA that your parents didn’t have.

Full stop.

Your children cannot inherit DNA from you that you don’t carry. If you don’t have that DNA, your children and their descendants can’t have it either, at least not from you. They of course do inherit DNA from their other parent.

I think historically, the “skipping generations” commentary was connected to traits. For example, Susie has dimples (or whatever) and so did her maternal grandmother, but her mother did not, so Susie’s dimples were said to have “skipped a generation.” Of course, we don’t know anything about Susie’s other grandparents, if Susie’s parents share ancestors, recessive/dominant genes or even how many genetic locations are involved with the inheritance of “dimples,” but I digress.

DNA skipping generations is a fallacy.

You cannot legitimately match someone that your parent does not, at least not through that parent’s side of the tree.

But here’s the caveat. You can’t match someone one of your parents doesn’t with the rare exception of:

  • Relatively recent pedigree collapse that occurs when you have the same ancestors on both sides of your tree, meaning your parents are related, AND
  • The process of recombination just happened to split and recombine a segment of DNA in segments too small for your match to match your parents individually, but large enough when recombined to match you.

We’ll talk about that more in a minute.

However, the person working with Ancestry trees can’t make this determination because Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information. Ancestry also handles DNA differently than other vendors, which we’ll also discuss shortly.

We’ll review all of this, but let’s start at the beginning and explain how to determine if our matches are legitimate, or not.

Legitimate Matches

Legitimate matches occur when the DNA of your ancestor is passed from that ancestor to their descendants, and eventually to you and a match in an unbroken pathway.

Unbroken means that every ancestor between you and that ancestor carried and then passed on the segment of the ancestor’s DNA that you carry today. The same is true for your match who carries the same segment of DNA from your common ancestor.

False positive matches occur when the DNA of a male and female combine randomly to look like a legitimate match to someone else.

Thankfully, there are ways to tell the difference.

Inheritance and Triangulation

Remember, you inherit two copies of each of your chromosomes 1-22, one copy from your mother and one from your father. You inherit half of the DNA that each parent carries, but it’s mixed together in you so the labs can’t readily tell which nucleotide, A, C, T, or G you received from which parent. I’m showing your maternal and paternal DNA in the graphic below, stacked neatly together in a column – but in reality, it could be AC in one position and CA in the next.

For matching all that matters is the nucleotide that matches your match is present in one of those two locations. In this case, A for your mother’s side and C for your father’s side. If you’re interested, you can read more about that in the article, Hit a Genealogy Home Run Using Your Double-Sided Two-Faced Chromosomes While Avoiding Imposters.

You can see in this example that you inherited all As from your Mom and all Cs from your Dad.

  • A legitimate maternal match would match you on all As on this particular example segment.
  • A legitimate paternal match would match you on all Cs on this particular segment.
  • A false positive match will match you on some random combination of As and Cs that make it look like they match you legitimately, but they don’t.
  • A false positive match will NOT match either your mother or your father.

To be very clear, technically a false positive match DOES match your DNA – but they don’t match your DNA because you share a common ancestor with your match. They match you because random recombination on their side causes you to match each other by chance.

In other words, if part of your DNA came from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s but it randomly fell in the correct positional order, you’d still match someone whose DNA was from only their mother or father’s side. That’s exactly the situation shown above and below.

Looking at our example again, it’s evident that your identical by chance (IBC) match’s A locations (1, 3, 5, 7 & 9) will match your Mom. C locations (2, 4, 6 8, & 10) will match your Dad, but the nonmatching segments interleaved in-between that match alternating parents will prevent your match from matching either of your parents. In other words, out of 10 contiguous locations in our example, your IBC match has 5 As alternated with 5 Cs, so they won’t match either of your parents who have 10 As or 10 Cs in a row.

This recombination effect can work in either direction. Either or both matching people’s DNA could be randomly mixed causing them to match each other, but not their parents.

Regardless of whose DNA is zigzagging back and forth between maternal and paternal, the match is not genealogical and does not confirm a common ancestor.

This is exactly why triangulation works and is crucial.

If you legitimately match a third person, shown below, on your maternal side, they will match you, your first legitimate maternal match, and your Mom because they carry all As. But they WON’T match the person who is matching you because they are identical by chance, shown in grey below.

The only person your identical by chance match matches in this group is you because they match you because of the chance recombination of parental DNA.

That third person WILL also match all other legitimate maternal matches on this segment.

In the graphic above, we see that while the grey identical by chance person matches you because of the random combination of As from your mother and Cs from your father, your legitimate maternal matches won’t match your identical by chance match.

This is the first step in identifying false matches.

Parental Cross-Matching

Removing the identical by chance match, and adding in the parents of your legitimate maternal match, we see that your maternal match, above, matches you because you both have all As inherited from one parent, not from a combination of both parents.

We know that because we can see the DNA of both parents of both matches in this example.

The ideal situation occurs when two people match and they have both had their parents tested. We need to see if each person matches the other person’s parents.

We can see that you do NOT match your match’s father and your match does NOT match your father.

You do match your match’s mother and your match does match your mother. I refer to this as Parental Cross-matching.

Your legitimate maternal matches will also match each other and your mother if she is available for testing.

All the people in yellow match each other, while the two parents in gray do not match any of your matches. An entire group of legitimate maternal matches on this segment, no matter how many, will all match each other.

If another person matches you and the other yellow people, you’ll still need to see if you match their parents, because if not, that means they are matching you on all As because their two parents DNA combined just happened, by chance, to contribute an A in all of those positions.

In this last example, your new match, in green, matches you, your legitimate match and both of your mothers, BUT, none of the four yellow people match either of the new match’s parents. You can see that the new green match inherited their As from the DNA of their mother and father both, randomly zigzagging back and forth.

The four yellow matches phase parentally as we just proved with cross matching to parents. The new match at first glance appears to be a legitimate match because they match all of the yellow people – but they aren’t because the yellow people don’t match the green person’s parents.

To tell the difference between legitimate matches and identical by chance matches, you need two things, in order.

  • Parental matching known as parental phasing along with parental cross-matching, if possible, AND
  • Legitimate identical by descent (IBD) triangulated matches

If you have the ability to perform parental matching, called phasing, that’s the easiest first step in eliminating identical by chance matches. However, few match pairs will have parents for everyone. You can use triangulation without parental phasing if parents aren’t available.

Let’s talk about both, including when and how close relatives can and cannot be used.

Parental Phasing

The technique of confirming your match to be legitimate by your match also matching one of your parents is called parental phasing.

If we have the parents of both people in a match pair available for matching, we can easily tell if the match does NOT match either parent. That’s Parental Cross Matching. If either match does NOT match one of the other person’s parents, the match is identical by chance, also known as a false positive.

See how easy that was!

If you, for example, is the only person in your match pair to have parents available, then you can parentally phase the match on your side if your match matches your parents. However, because your match’s parents are unavailable, your match to them cannon tbe verified as legitimate on their side. So you are not phased to their parents.

If you only have one of your parents available for matching, and your match does not match that parent, you CANNOT presume that because your match does NOT match that parent, the match is a legitimate match for the other, missing, parent.

There are four possible match conditions:

  • Maternal match
  • Paternal match
  • Matches neither parent which means the match is identical by chance meaning a false positive
  • Matches both parents in the case of pedigree collapse or endogamy

If two matching people do match one parent of both matches (parental cross-matching), then the match is legitimate. In other words, if we match, I need to match one of your parents and you need to match one of mine.

It’s important to compare your matches’ DNA to generationally older direct family members such as parents or grandparents, if that’s possible. If your grandparents are available, it’s possible to phase your matches back another generation.

Automatic Phasing at FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA automatically phases your matches to your parents if you test that parent, create or upload a GEDCOM file, and link your test and theirs to your tree in the proper places.

FamilyTreeDNA‘s Family Matching assigns or “buckets” your matches maternally and paternally. Matches are assigned as maternal or paternal matches if one or both parents have tested.

Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA uses triangulated matches from other linked relatives within your tree even if your parents have not tested. If you don’t have your parents, the more people you identify and link to your tree in the proper place, the more people will be assigned to maternal and paternal buckets. FamilyTreeDNA is the only vendor that does this. I wrote about this process in the article, Triangulation in Action at Family Tree DNA.

Parental Phasing Caveats

There are very rare instances where parental phasing may be technically accurate, but not genealogically relevant. By this, I mean that a parent may actually match one of your matches due to endogamy or a population level match, even if it’s considered a false positive because it’s not relevant in a genealogical timeframe.

Conversely, a parent may not match when the segment is actually legitimate, but it’s quite rare and only when pedigree collapse has occurred in a very specific set of circumstances where both parents share a common ancestor.

Let’s take a look at that.

Pedigree Collapse

It’s not terribly uncommon in the not-too-distant past to find first cousins marrying each other, especially in rather closely-knit religious communities. I encounter this in Brethren, Mennonite and Amish families often where the community was small and out-marrying was frowned upon and highly discouraged. These families and sometimes entire church congregations migrated cross-country together for generations.

When pedigree collapse is present, meaning the mother and father share a common ancestor not far in the past, it is possible to inherit half of one segment from Mom and the other half from Dad where those halves originated with the same ancestral couple.

For example, let’s say the matching segment between you and your match is 12 cM in length, shown below. You inherited the blue segment from your Dad and the neighboring peach segment from Mom – shown just below the segment numbers. You received 6 cM from both parents.

Another person’s DNA does match you, shown in the bottom row, but they are not shown on the DNA match list of either of your parents. That’s because the DNA segments of the parents just happened to recombine in 6 cM pieces, respectively, which is below the 7 cM matching threshold of the vendor in this example.

If the person matched you at 12 cM where you inherited 8 cM from one parent and 4 from the other, that person would show on one parent’s match list, but not the other. They would not be on the parent’s match list who contributed only 4 cM simply because the DNA divided and recombined in that manner. They would match you on a longer segment than they match your parent at 8 cM which you might notice as “odd.”

Let’s look at another example.

click to enlarge image

If the matching segment is 20 cM, the person will match you and both of your parents on different pieces of the same segment, given that both segments are above 7 cM. In this case, your match who matches you at 20 cM will match each of your parents at 10 cM.

You would be able to tell that the end location of Dad’s segment is the same as the start location of Mom’s segment.

This is NOT common and is NOT the “go to” answer when you think someone “should” match your parent and does not. It may be worth considering in known pedigree collapse situations.

You can see why someone observing this phenomenon could “presume” that DNA skipped a generation because the person matches you on segments where they don’t match your parent. But DNA didn’t skip anything at all. This circumstance was caused by a combination of pedigree collapse, random division of DNA, then random recombination in the same location where that same DNA segment was divided earlier. Clearly, this sequence of events is not something that happens often.

If you’ve uploaded your DNA to GEDmatch, you can select the “Are your parents related?” function which scans your DNA file for runs of homozygosity (ROH) where your DNA is exactly the same in both parental locations for a significant distance. This suggests that because you inherited the exact same sequence from both parents, that your parents share an ancestor.

If your parents didn’t inherit the same segment of DNA from both parents, or the segment is too short, then they won’t show as “being related,” even if they do share a common ancestor.

Now, let’s look at the opposite situation. Parental phasing and ROH sometimes do occur when common ancestors are far back in time and the match is not genealogically relevant.

Endogamy

I often see non-genealogical matching occur when dealing with endogamy. Endogamy occurs when an entire population has been isolated genetically for a long time. In this circumstance, a substantial part of the population shares common DNA segments because there were few original population founders. Much of the present-day population carries that same DNA. Many people within that population would match on that segment. Think about the Jewish community and indigenous Americans.

Consider our original example, but this time where much of the endogamous population carries all As in these positions because one of the original founders carried that nucleotide sequence. Many people would match lots of other people regardless of whether they are a close relative or share a distant ancestor.

People with endogamous lines do share relatives, but that matching DNA segment originated in ancestors much further back in time. When dealing with endogamy, I use parental phasing as a first step, if possible, then focus on larger matches, generally 20 cM or greater. Smaller matches either aren’t relevant or you often can’t tell if/how they are.

At FamilyTreeDNA, people with endogamy will find many people bucketed on the “Both” tab meaning they triangulate with people linked on both sides of the tester’s tree.

An example of a Jewish person’s bucketed matches based on triangulation with relatives linked in their tree is shown above.

Your siblings, their children, and your children will be related on both your mother’s and father’s sides, but other people typically won’t be unless you have experienced either pedigree collapse where you are related both maternally and paternally through the same ancestors or you descend from an endogamous population.

How Many Identical-by-Chance Matches Will I Have?

If you have both parents available to test, and you’re not dealing with either pedigree collapse or endogamy, you’ll likely find that about 15-20% of your matches don’t match your parents on the same segment and are identical by chance.

With endogamy, you’ll have MANY more matches on your endogamous lines and you’ll have some irrelevant matches, often referred to as “false positive” matches even though they technically aren’t, even using parental phasing.

Your Parents Have DNA That You Don’t

Sometimes people are confused when reviewing their matches and their parent’s match to the same person, especially when they match someone and their parent matches them on a different or an additional segment.

If you match someone on a specific segment and your parents do not, that’s a false positive FOR THAT SEGMENT. Every segment has its own individual history and should be evaluated individually. You can match someone on two segments, one from each parent. Or three segments, one from each parent and one that’s identical by chance. Don’t assume.

Often, your match will match both you and your parent on the same segment – which is a legitimate parentally phased match.

But what if your match matches your parent on a different segment where they don’t match you? That’s a false positive match for you.

Keep in mind that it is possible for one of your matches to match your parent on a separate or an additional segment that IS legitimate. You simply didn’t inherit that particular segment from your parent.

That’s NOT the same situation as someone matching you that does NOT match one of your parents on the same segment – which is an identical by chance or false match.

Your parent having a match that does not match you is the reverse situation.

I have several situations where I match someone on one segment, and they match my parent on the same segment. Additionally, that person matches my parent on another segment that I did NOT inherit from that parent. That’s perfectly normal.

Remember, you only inherit half of your parent’s DNA, so you literally did NOT inherit the other half of their DNA. Your mother, for example, should have twice as many matches as you on her side because roughly half of her matches won’t match you.

That’s exactly why testing your parents and close family members is so critical. Their matches are as valid and relevant to your genealogy as your own. The same is true for other relatives, such as aunts and uncles with whom you share ALL of the same ancestors.

You need to work with your family member’s matches that you don’t share.

No DNA Match Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Related

Some people think that not matching someone on a DNA test is equivalent to saying they aren’t related. Not sharing DNA doesn’t mean you’re not related.

People are often disappointed when they don’t match someone they think they should and interpret that to mean that the testing company is telling them they “aren’t related.” They are upset and take issue with this characterization. But that’s not what it means.

Let’s analyze this a bit further.

First, not sharing DNA with a second cousin once removed (2C1R) or more distant does NOT mean you’re NOT related to that person. It simply means you don’t share any measurable DNA ABOVE THE VENDOR THRESHOLD.

All known second cousins match, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match, and so forth on up the line with each generation further back in time having fewer cousins that match each other.

If you have tested close relatives, check to see if that cousin matches your relatives.

Second, it’s possible to match through the “other” or unexpected parent. I certainly didn’t think this would be the case in my family, because my father is from Appalachia and my mother’s family is primarily from the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and New England. But I was wrong.

All it took was one German son that settled in Appalachia, and voila, a match through my mother that I surely thought should have been through my father’s side. I have my mother’s DNA and sure enough, my match that I thought should be on my father’s side matches Mom on the same segment where they match me, along with several triangulated matches. Further research confirmed why.

I’ve also encountered situations where I legitimately match someone on both my mother’s and father’s side, on different segments.

Third, imputation can be important for people who don’t match and think they should. Imputation can also cause matching segment length to be overreported.

Ok, so what’s imputation and why do I care?

Imputation

Every DNA vendor today has to use some type of imputation.

Let me explain, in general, what imputation is and why vendors use it.

Over the years, DNA processing vendors who sell DNA chips to testing companies have changed their DNA chips pretty substantially. While genealogical autosomal tests test about 700,000 DNA locations, plus or minus, those locations have changed over time. Today, some of these chips only have 100,000 or so chip locations in common with chips either currently or previously utilized by other vendors.

The vendors who do NOT accept uploads, such as 23andMe or Ancestry, have to develop methods to make their newest customers on their DNA processing vendor’s latest chip compatible with their first customer who was tested on their oldest chip – and all iterations in-between.

Vendors who do accept transfers/uploads from other vendors have to equalize any number of vendors’ chips when their customers upload those files.

Imputation is the scientific way to achieve this cross-platform functionality and has been widely used in the industry since 2017.

Imputation, in essence, fills in the blanks between tested locations with the “most likely” DNA found in the human population based on what’s surrounding the blank location.

Think of the word C_T. There are a limited number of letters and words that are candidates for C_T. If you use the word in a sentence, your odds of accuracy increase dramatically. Think of a genetic string of nucleotides as a sentence.

Imputation can be incorrect and can cause both false positive and false negative matches.

For the most part, imputation does not affect close family matches as much as more distant matches. In other words, imputation is NOT going to cause close family members not to match.

Imputation may cause more distant family members not to match, or to have a false positive match when imputation is incorrect.

Imputation is actually MUCH less problematic than I initially expected.

The most likely effect of imputation is to cause a match to be just above or below the vendor threshold.

How can we minimize the effects of imputation?

  • Generally, the best result will be achieved if both people test at the same vendor where their DNA is processed on the same chip and less imputation is required.
  • Upload the results of both people to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. If your match results are generally consistent at those vendors, imputation is not a factor.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but attempts to overcome files with low overlapping regions by allowing larger mismatch areas. I find their matches to be less accurate than at the various vendors.

Additionally, Ancestry has a few complicating factors.

Ancestry Issues

AncestryDNA is different in three ways.

  • Ancestry doesn’t provide segment information so it’s impossible to triangulate or identify the segment or chromosome where people match. There is no chromosome browser or triangulation tool.
  • Ancestry down-weights and removes some segments in areas where they feel that people are “too matchy.” You can read Ancestry’s white papers here and here.

These “personal pileup regions,” as they are known, can be important genealogically. In my case, these are my mother’s Acadian ancestors. Yes, this is an endogamous population and also suffers from pedigree collapse, but since this is only one of my mother’s great-grandparents, this match information is useful and should not be removed.

  • Ancestry doesn’t show matches in common if the shared segments are less than 20cM. Therefore, you may not see someone on a shared match list with a relative when they actually are a shared match.

If two people both match a third person on less than a 20 cM segment at Ancestry, the third person won’t appear on the other person’s shared match list. So, if I match John Doe on 19 cM of DNA, and I looked at the shared matches with my Dad, John Doe does NOT appear on the shared match list of me and my Dad – even though he is a match to both of us at 19 cM.

The only way to determine if John Doe is a shared match is to check my Dad’s and my match list individually, which means Dad and I will need to individually search for John Doe.

Caveat here – Ancestry’s search sometimes does not work correctly.

Might someone who doesn’t understand that the shared match list doesn’t show everyone who shares DNA with both people presume that the ancestral DNA of that ancestor “skipped a generation” because John Doe matches me with a known ancestor, and not Dad on our shared match list? I mean, wouldn’t you think that a shared match would be shown on a tab labeled “Shared Matches,” especially since there is no disclaimer?

Yes, people can be forgiven for believing that somehow DNA “skipped” a generation in this circumstance, especially if they are relatively inexperienced and they don’t understand Ancestry’s anomalies or know that they need to or how to search for matches individually.

Even if John Doe does match me and Dad both, we still need to confirm that it’s on the same segment AND it’s a legitimate match, not IBC. You can’t perform either of these functions at Ancestry, but you can elsewhere.

Ancestry WorkArounds

To obtain this functionality, people can upload their DNA files for free to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, companies that do provide full shared DNA reporting (in common with) lists of ALL matches and do provide segment information with chromosome browsers. Furthermore, both provide triangulation in different ways.

Matching is free, but an inexpensive unlock is required at both vendors to access advanced tools such as Family Matching (bucketing) and triangulation at Family Tree DNA and phasing/triangulation at MyHeritage.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at FamilyTreeDNA, here.

MyHeritage actually brackets triangulated segments for customers on their chromosome browser, including parents, so you get triangulation and parental phasing at the same time if you and your parent have both tested or uploaded your DNA file to MyHeritage. You can upload, for free, here.

In this example, my mother is matching to me in red on the entire length of chromosome 18, of course, and three other maternal cousins triangulate with me and mother inside the bracketed portion of chromosome 18. Please note that if any one of the people included in the chromosome browser comparison do not triangulate, no bracket is drawn around any others who do triangulate. It’s all or nothing. I remove people one by one to see if people triangulate – or build one by one with my mother included.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at MyHeritage, here.

People can also upload to GEDmatch, a third-party site. While GEDmatch is less reliable for matching, you can adjust your search thresholds which you cannot do at other vendors. I don’t recommend routinely working below 7 cM. I occasionally use GEDmatch to see if a pedigree collapse segment has recombined below another vendor’s segment matching threshold.

Do NOT check the box to prevent hard breaks when selecting the One-to-One comparison. Checking that box allows GEDmatch to combine smaller matching segments into mega-segments for matching.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at GEDmatch, here.

Transferring/Uploading Your DNA 

If you want to transfer your DNA to one of these vendors, you must download the DNA file from one vendor and upload it to another. That process does NOT remove your DNA file from the vendor where you tested, unless you select that option entirely separately.

I wrote full step-by-step transfer/upload instructions for each vendor, here.

Testing Close Relatives Is VERY Useful – Just Not for Triangulation

Of course, your best bet if you don’t have your parents available to test is to test as many of your grandparents, great-aunts/uncles, aunts, and uncles as possible. Test your siblings as well, because they will have inherited some of the same and some different segments of DNA from your parents – which means they carry different pieces of your ancestors’ DNA.

Just because close relatives don’t make good triangulation candidates doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Close relatives are golden because when they DO share a match with you, you know where to start looking for a common ancestor, even if your relative matches that person on a different segment than you do.

Close relatives are also important because they will share pieces of your common ancestor’s DNA that you don’t. Their matches can unlock the answers to your genealogy questions.

Ok, back to triangulation.

Triangulated Matches

A triangulated match is, of course, when three people all descended from a common ancestor and match each other on the same segment of DNA.

That means all three people’s DNA matches each other on that same segment, confirming that the match is not by chance, and that segment did descend from a common ancestor or ancestral couple.

But, is this always true? You’re going to hate this answer…

“It depends.”

You knew that was coming, didn’t you! 😊

It depends on the circumstances and relationships of the three people involved.

  • One of those three people can match the other two by chance, not by descent, especially if two of those people are close relatives to each other.
  • Identical by chance means that one of you didn’t inherit that DNA from one single parent. That zigzag phenomenon.
  • Furthermore, triangulated DNA is only valid as far back as the closest common ancestor of any two of the three people.

Let’s explore some examples.

Building Triangulation Evidence – Ingredients and a Recipe

The strongest case of triangulation is when:

  • You and at least two additional cousins match on the same segment AND
  • Descend through different children of the common ancestral couple

Let’s look at a valid triangulated match.

In this first example, the magenta segment of DNA is at least partially shared by four of the six cousins and triangulates to their common great-grandfather. Let’s say that these cousins then match with two other people descended from different children of their great-great-great-grandparents on this same segment. Then the entire triangulation group will have confirmed that segment’s origin and push the descent of that segment back another two generations.

These people all coalesce into one line with their common great-grandparents.

I’m only showing 3 generations in this triangulated match, but the concept is the same no matter how many generations you reach back in time. Although, over time, segments inherited from any specific ancestor become smaller and smaller until they are no longer passed to the next generation.

In this pedigree chart, we’re only tracking the magenta DNA which is passed generation to generation in descendants.

Eventually, of course, those segments become smaller and indistinguishable as they either aren’t passed on at all or drop below vendor matching thresholds.

This chart shows the average amount of DNA you would carry from each generational ancestor. You inherit half of each parent’s DNA, but back further than that, you don’t receive exactly half of any ancestor’s DNA in any generation. Larger segments are generally cut in two and passed on partially, but smaller segments are often either passed on whole or not at all.

On average, you’ll carry 7 cM of your eight-times-great-grandparents. In reality, you may carry more or you may not carry any – and you are unlikely to carry the same segment as any random other descendants but we know it happens and you’ll find them if enough (or the right) descendants test.

Putting this another way, if you divide all of your approximate 7000 cM of DNA into 7 cM segments of equal length – you’ll have 1000 7 cM segments. So will every other descendant of your eight-times-great-grandparent. You can see how small the chances are of you both inheriting that same exact 7 cM segment through ten inheritance/transmission events, each. Yet it does happen.

I have several triangulated matches with descendants of Charles Dodson and his wife, Anne through multiple of their 9 (or so) children, ten generations back in my tree. Those triangulated matches range from 7-38 cM. It’s possible that those three largest matches at 38 cM could be related through multiple ancestors because we all have holes in our trees – including Anne’s surname.

Click to enlarge image

It helps immensely that Charles Dodson had several children who were quite prolific as well.

Of course, the further back in time, the more “proof” is necessary to eliminate other unknown common ancestors. This is exactly why matching through different children is important for triangulation and ancestor confirmation.

The method we use to confirm the common ancestor is that all of the descendants who match the tester on the same segment all also match each other. This greatly reduces the chances that these people are matching by chance. The more people in the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence. Of course, parental phasing or cross-matching, where available is an added confirmation bonus.

In our magenta inheritance example, we saw that three of the males and one of the females from three different descendants of the great-grandparents all carry at least a portion of that magenta segment of great-grandpa’s DNA.

Now, let’s take a look at a different scenario.

Why can’t siblings or close relatives be used as two of the three people needed for triangulation?

Aunts and Uncles

We know that the best way to determine if a match is valid is by parental phasing – your match also matching to one of your parents.

If both parents aren’t available, looking for close family matches in common with your match is the next hint that genealogists seek.

Let’s say that you and your match both match your aunt or uncle in common or their children.

You and your aunts or uncles matching DNA only pushes your common ancestor back to your grandparents.

At that point, your match is in essence matching to a segment that belongs to your grandparents. Your matches’ DNA, or your grandparents’ DNA could have randomly recombined and you and your aunt/cousins could be matching that third person by chance.

Ok, then, what about siblings?

Siblings

The most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of you and someone who also matches your sibling is your parents. Therefore, you and your sibling actually only count as one “person” in this scenario. In essence, it’s the DNA of your parent(s) that is matching that third person, so it’s not true triangulation. It’s the same situation as above with aunts/uncles, except the common ancestor is closer than your grandparents.

The DNA of your parents could have recombined in both siblings to look like a match to your match’s family. Or vice versa. Remember Parental Cross-Matching.

If you and a sibling inherited EXACTLY the same segment of your Mom’s and Dad’s DNA, and you match someone by chance – that person will match your sibling by chance as well.

In this example, you can see that both siblings 1 and 2 inherited the exact same segments of DNA at the same locations from both of their parents.

Of course, they also inherited segments at different locations that we’re not looking at that won’t match exactly between siblings, unless they are identical twins. But in this case, the inherited segments of both siblings will match someone whose DNA randomly combined with green or magenta dots in these positions to match a cross-section of both parents.

How False Positives Work and How to Avoid Them

We saw in our first example, displayed again above, what a valid triangulated match looks like. Now let’s expand this view and take a look more specifically at how false positive matches occur.

On the left-hand (blue) side of this graphic, we see four siblings that descend through their father from Great-grandpa who contributed that large magenta segment of DNA. That segment becomes reduced in descendants in subsequent generations.

In downstream generations, we can see gold, white and green segments being added to the DNA inherited by the four children from their ancestor’s spouses. Dad’s DNA is shown on the left side of each child, and Mom’s on the right.

  • Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the same segments of DNA from Mom and Dad. Magenta from Dad and green from Mom.
  • Blue Child 3 inherited two magenta segments from Dad in positions 1 and 2 and one gold segment from Dad in position 3. They inherited all white segments from Mom.
  • Blue Child 4 inherited all gold segments from Dad and all white segments from Mom.

The family on the blue left-hand side is NOT related to the pink family shown at right. That’s important to remember.

I’ve intentionally constructed this graphic so that you can see several identical by chance (IBC) matches.

Child 5, the first pink sibling carries a white segment in position 1 from Dad and gold segments in positions 2 and 3 from Dad. From Mom, they inherited a green segment in position 1, magenta in position 2 and green in position 3.

IBC Match 1 – Looking at the blue siblings, we see that based on the DNA inherited from Pink Child 5’s parents, Pink Child 5 matches Blue Child 4 with white, gold and gold in positions 1-3, even though they weren’t inherited from the same parent in Blue Child 4. I circled this match in blue.

IBC Match 2 – Pink Child 5 also matches Blue Children 1 and 2 (red circles) because Pink Child 5 has green, magenta, and green in positions 1-3 and so do Blue Children 1 and 2. However, Blue Children 1 and 2 inherited the green and magenta segments from Mom and Dad respectively, not just from one parent.

Pink Child 5 matches Blue Children 1, 2 and 4, but not because they match by descent, but because their DNA zigzags back and forth between the blue children’s DNA contributed by both parents.

Therefore, while Pink Child 5 matches three of the Blue Children, they do not match either parent of the Blue Children.

IBC Match 3 – Pink Child 6 matches Blue Child 3 with white, magenta and gold in positions 1-3 based on the same colors of dots in those same positions found in Blue Child 3 – but inherited both paternally and maternally.

You can see that if we had the four parents available to test, that none of the Pink Children would match either the Blue Children’s mother or father and none of the Blue Children would match either of the Pink Children’s mother or father.

This is why we can’t use either siblings or close family relatives for triangulation.

Distant Cousins Are Best for Triangulation & Here’s Why

When triangulating with 3 people, the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) intersection of the closest two people is the place at which triangulation turns into only two lines being compared and ceases being triangulation. Triangle means 3.

If siblings are 2 of the 3 matching people, then their parents are essentially being compared to the third person.

If you, your aunt/uncle, and a third person match, your grandparents are the place in your tree where three lines converge into two.

The same holds true if you’re matching against a sibling pair on your match’s side, or a match and their aunt/uncle, etc.

The further back in your tree you can push that MRCA intersection, the more your triangulated match provides confirming evidence of a common ancestor and that the match is valid and not caused by random recombination.

That’s exactly what the descendants of Charles Dodson have been able to do through triangulation with multiple descendants from several of his children.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that the reason autosomal DNA testing uses hundreds/thousands of base pairs in a comparison window and not 3 or 6 dots like in my example is that the probability of longer segments of DNA simply randomly matching by chance is reduced with length and SNP density which is the number of SNP locations tested within that cM range.

Hence a 7 cM/500 SNP minimum is the combined rule of thumb. At that level, roughly half of your matches will be valid and half will be identical by chance unless you’re dealing with endogamy. Then, raise your threshold accordingly.

Ok, So Where are We? A Triangulation Checklist for You!

I know this has been a relatively long educational article, but it’s important to really understand that testing close relatives is VERY important, but also why we can’t effectively use them for triangulation.

Here’s a handy-dandy summary matching/triangulation checklist for you to use as you work through your matches.

  • You inherit half of each of your parents’ DNA. There is no other place for you to obtain or inherit your DNA. There is no DNA fairy sprinkling you with DNA from another source:)
  • DNA does NOT skip generations, although in occasional rare circumstances, it may appear that this happened. In this situation, it’s incumbent upon you, the genealogist, to PROVE that an exception has occurred if you really believe it has. Those circumstances might be pedigree collapse or perhaps imputation. You’ll need to compare matches at vendors who provide a chromosome browser, triangulation, and full shared match list information. Never assume that you are the exception without hard and fast proof. We all know about assume, right?
  • Your siblings inherit half of your parents’ DNA too, but not the same exact half of your parent’s DNA that you other siblings did (unless they are identical twins.) You may inherit the exact same DNA from either or both of your parents on certain segments.
  • Your matches may match your parents on different or an additional segment that you did not inherit.
  • Every segment has an individual history. Evaluate every matching segment separately. One matching segment with someone could be maternal, one paternal, and one identical by chance.
  • You can confirm matches as valid if your match matches one of your parents, and you match one of your match’s parents. Parental Phasing is when your match matches your parent. Parental Cross-Matching is when you both match one of each other’s parents. To be complete, both people who match each other need to match one of the parents of the other person. This rule still holds even if you have a known common ancestor. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been fooled.
  • 15-20% (or more with endogamy) of your matches will be identical by chance because either your DNA or your match’s DNA aligns in such a way that while they match you, they don’t match either of your parents.
  • Your siblings, aunts, and uncles will often inherit the same DNA as you – which means that identical by chance matches will also match them. That’s why we don’t use close family members for triangulation. We do utilize close family members to generate common match hints. (Remember the 20 cM shared match caveat at Ancestry)
  • While your siblings, aunts, and uncles are too close to use for triangulation, they are wonderful to identify ancestral matches. Some of their matches will match you as well, and some will not because your close family members inherited segments of your ancestor’s DNA that you did not. Everyone should test their oldest family members.
  • Triangulate your close family member’s matches separately from your own to shed more light on your ancestors.
  • Endogamy may interfere with parental phasing, meaning you may match because you and/or your match may have inherited some of the same DNA segment(s) from both sides of your tree and/or more DNA than might otherwise be expected.
  • Pedigree collapse needs to be considered when using parental phasing, especially when the same ancestor appears on both sides of your family tree. You may share more DNA with a match than expected.
  • Conversely, with pedigree collapse, your match may not match your parents, or vice versa, if a segment happens to have recombined in you in a way that drops the matching segments of your parents beneath the vendor’s match threshold.
  • While you will match all of your second cousins, you will only match approximately 90% of your third cousins and proportionally fewer as your relationship reaches further back in time.
  • Not being a DNA match with someone does NOT mean you’re NOT related to them, unless of course, you’re a second cousin (2C) or closer. It simply means you don’t carry any common ancestral segments above vendor thresholds.
  • At 2C or closer, if you’re not a DNA match, other alternative situations need to be considered – including the transfer/upload of the wrong person’s DNA file.
  • Imputation, a scientific process required of vendors may interfere with matching, especially in more distant relatives who have tested on different platforms.
  • Imputation artifacts will be less obvious when people are more closely related, meaning closer relatives can be expected to match on more and larger segments and imputation errors make less difference.
  • Imputation will not cause close relatives, meaning 2C or closer, to not match each other.
  • In addition to not supporting segment matching information, Ancestry down-weights some segments, removes some matching DNA, and does not show shared matches below 20cM, causing some people to misinterpret their lack of common matches in various ways.
  • To resolve questions about matching issues at Ancestry, testers can transfer/upload their DNA files to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and GEDmatch and look for consistent matches on the same segment. Start and end locations may vary to some extent between vendors, but the segment size should be basically in the same location and roughly the same size.
  • GEDmatch does not use imputation but allows larger non-matching segments to combine as a single segment which sometimes causes extremely “generous” matches. GEDmatch matching is less reliable than FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, but you can adjust the matching thresholds.
  • The best situation for matching is for both people to test at the same vendor who supports and provides segment data and a chromosome browser such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage.
  • Siblings cannot be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) between you and your siblings is your parents. Therefore, the “three” people in the triangulation group is reduced to two lines immediately.
  • Uncles and aunts should not be used for triangulation because the most recent common ancestors between you and your aunts and uncles are your grandparents.
  • Conversely, you should not consider triangulating with siblings and close family members of your matches as proof of an ancestral relationship.
  • A triangulation group of 3 people is only confirmation as far back as when two of those people’s lines converge and reach a common ancestor.
  • Identical by chance (IBC) matching occurs when DNA from the maternal and paternal sides are mixed positionally in the child to resemble a maternal/paternal side match with someone else.
  • Identical by chance DNA admixture (when compared to a match) could have occurred in your parents or grandparent’s generation, or earlier, so the further back in time that people in a triangulation group reach, the more reliable the triangulation group is likely to be.
  • The larger the segments and/or the triangulation group, the stronger the evidence for a specific confirmed common ancestor.
  • Early families with a very large number of descendants may have many matching and triangulated members, even 9 or 10 generations later.
  • While exactly 50% of each ancestor’s DNA is not passed in each generation, on average, you will carry 7 cM of your ancestors 10 generations back in your tree. However, you may carry more, or none.
  • The percentage of matching descendants decreases with each generation beyond great-grandparents.
  • The ideal situation for triangulation is a significant number of people, greater than three, who match on the same reasonably sized segment (7 cM/500 SNP or larger) and descend from the same ancestor (or ancestral couple) through different children whose spouses in descendant generations are not also related.
  • This means that tree completion is an important factor in match/triangulation reliability.
  • Triangulating through different children of the ancestral couple makes it significantly less likely that a different unknown common ancestor is contributing that segment of DNA – like an unknown wife in a descendant generation.

Whew!!!

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line.

  1. Don’t use close relatives to triangulate.
  2. Use parents for Parental Phasing.
  3. Use Parental Cross-Matching when possible.
  4. Use close relatives to look for shared common matches that may lead to triangulation possibilities.
  5. Triangulate your close relatives’ DNA in addition to your own for bonus genealogical information. They will match people that you don’t.
  6. For the most reliable triangulation results, use the most distant relatives possible, descended through different children of the common ancestral couple.
  7. Keep this checklist of best practices, cautions, and caveats handy and check the list as necessary when evaluating the strength of any match or triangulation group. It serves as a good reminder for what to check if something seems “off” or unusual.

Feel free to share and pass this article (and checklist) on to your genealogy buddies and matches as you explain triangulation and collaborate on your genealogy.

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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How to Download Your DNA Matching Segment Data and Why You Should

There are two or three types of data that testers may be able to download from DNA testing sites. Genealogy customers need to periodically download as much as possible.

  1. Raw data files needed for transferring DNA files from the company where you tested to other testing or analysis/comparison sites such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch for matching and other tools.
  2. Matching segment files which detail your matches, segment by segment with people whom you match.
  3. Match information files that provide you with additional information about your matches. What’s included varies by vendor.

This type of information is not uniformly available from all vendors, but is available as follows:

Vendor Raw Data File Matching Segment File Match Information File
FamilyTreeDNA Yes Yes Yes
MyHeritage Yes Yes Yes
23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Ancestry Yes No No
GedMatch Not a testing company, so no Yes Yes

I have provided step-by-step information about how to download your raw DNA data files and upload them to other vendors in a series of articles that you can find here.

Some of the answers in the table above need caveats because each vendor is different. Let’s take a look.

Matching Segment Files

In this article, I’ll provide information about how to download your matching segment and match information file(s).

Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide any segment data at all, nor do they provide a way to download your match information. Third-party tools that did this for you have been banned by Ancestry, under threat of legal action, so this information is no longer available to Ancestry customers.

You can’t obtain this information from Ancestry, but you can transfer your DNA file to other vendors such as FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and the third-party site, GEDmatch where you’ll receive additional matches. Some Ancestry matches will have transferred elsewhere as well, and you can take advantage of your matching segment information.

Why Do I Want a Matching Segment File?

The matching segment file provides you with information about exactly how and where you match each person.

Here’s an example that includes the match name, chromosome, start and end location of the match along with the total number of CentiMorgans (cM) and total SNPs in the matching segment. Your matching segment file consists of hundreds/thousands of rows of this information.

Determining who matches you on the same segment is important because it facilitates the identification of common ancestors. Segment matching is also the first step in triangulation which allows you to confirm descent from common ancestors with your matches.

I wrote about triangulation at each vendor in the following articles:

Matching and Triangulation help you sort out legitimate matches, and which ancestors that DNA segment comes from.

Sorting For Legitimate Matches

On each segment location of your DNA, you will match:

  • People from your Mom’s side
  • People from your Dad’s side
  • People that are identical by chance (IBC) where they match you because part of the DNA from your Mom’s side and part from your Dad’s side just happens to look like their DNA (or vice versa.)

You can see how matching works in this example of 10 DNA locations. You inherited half of your Mom’s DNA and half of your Dad’s.

  • Legitimate maternal matches to you on this segment will have all As in this location.
  • Legitimate paternal matches to you will have all Cs in this location.
  • Identical by chance matches will match you, because they have the same DNA as both of your parents that you carry – interspersed. They will not match either of your parents individually.

IBC matches DO technically match you, but accidentally. In other words, they are identical by chance (IBC) because they just happen to match the DNA of both of your parents intermixed. Conversely, you can match the DNA of their parents intermixed as well. Regardless of why, they are not a legitimate maternal or paternal match to you.

For example, you can see that the identical by chance (IBC) match to you, above, won’t match the legitimate maternal or legitimate paternal matches.

When comparing your matches on any segment, you’ll wind up with a group of people who match you and each other on your maternal side, a group on your paternal side, and “everyone else” who is IBC.

I wrote about IBD, identical by descent DNA and IBC, identical by chance DNA and how that works, here.

A downloadable segment match file allows you to sort all of your matches by chromosome and segment. That’s the first step in determining if your matches match each other – which is how to determine if people are legitimate matches or IBC.

Additionally, these files allow you to utilize features at DNAPainter along with the tools at DNAGedcom and Genetic Affairs.

Match Information File

There’s a second file you’ll want to download as well except at 23andMe who includes all of the information in one file. You’ll want to download these files from each vendor at the same time so they are coordinated and include the same matches from the same time.

Downloading the second file, your match information, provides additional information which will be helpful for your genealogy. The information in this file varies by vendor, but includes items such as, but not limited to:

  • Tree link
  • Haplogroup
  • Match date
  • Predicted Relationship Range
  • Actual Relationship
  • Total shared cM
  • Longest segment cM
  • Maternal or paternal bucket (FamilyTreeDNA)
  • Notes
  • Email
  • Family Surnames
  • Location
  • Percent of shared DNA

You never know when vendors are going to change something that will affect your matches, like 23andMe did last fall, so it’s a good idea to download periodically.

Downloading your segment match and match information files are free, so let’s do this.

Downloading Your Segment Match & Information Files

FamilyTreeDNA

Sign on to your account.

click images to enlarge

Under your Family Finder Autosomal DNA test results, click on Chromosome Browser.

On the chromosome browser page, at the top right, click on Download All Segments.

Caveat – if you access the chromosome browser through the Family Finder match page, shown below, you will receive the segment matches ONLY for the people you have selected.

After selecting specific matches, as shown above, the option on the chromosome browser page will only say “Download Segments.” It does NOT say “Download All Segments.”

Clicking on this link only downloads the segments that you match with those people, so always be sure to access “Download ALL Segments” directly through the chromosome browser selection on your Autosomal DNA Family Finder menu without going to your match page and selecting specific matches.

The segment download file includes only the segments, but not additional information, such as which side, maternal or paternal, those matches are bucketed to, surnames and so forth. You need to download a second file.

To download additional information about your matches, scroll to the very bottom of your Family Finder match page and click on either Download Matches or Download Filtered matches. If you’ve used a filter such as maternal or paternal, you’ll receive only those matches, so be sure no filters are in use to download all of your matches’ information.

Your reports will be downloaded to your computer, so save them someplace where you can find them.

MyHeritage

Sign in to your account and click on the DNA tab, then DNA Matches.

At the far right-hand side, you’ll see three little dots. Click on the dots and you’ll see the options to export both the entire DNA Matches list and the shared DNA segment info for all DNA Matches.

You’ll want to download both. The first file Is the DNA matches list.

To download your segment matches, select the second option, “Export shared DNA segment info…”

Your files will be emailed to you.

23andMe

At 23andMe, sign on to your account and click on “DNA Relatives” under the Ancestry tab.

You’ll see your list of matches. Scroll to the very bottom where you’ll see the link to “Download aggregate data.”

23andMe combines your segment and match information in one file.

Remember that at 23andMe, your matches are limited to 2000 (unless you’re a V5 subscriber), minus the number of people who have not opted in to Relative Sharing. Additionally, there will be a number of people in the download file whose names appear, but who don’t have any segment data. Those people opted-in to Relative Sharing, but not to share segment information.

For example, my download file has 2827 rows. Of those, 1769 are unique individuals, meaning that I have matches with multiple segments for 1058 people. This means that of my 2000 allowed matches, 231 (or more) did not opt-in for Relative Sharing. The “or more” means that 23andMe does not roll matches off the list if you have communicated with the person, so some people may actually have more than 2000 matches. It’s impossible to know how 23andMe approaches calculations in this case.

Of those 1769 unique individuals on my match list, 257, or 15% did not share segment information. I’d sure like for those to be automatically rolled off and replaced with the next 257 who do share. 1512 or roughly three-quarters, 75%, of my 2000 allowed matches are useful for genealogy.

Initially, when 23andMe made their changes last fall, they were reportedly limiting the download file number to 1000, but they have reversed that policy on the V3 and V4 chips. I downloaded files from both chip versions to confirm that’s true.

I don’t have the V5 chip subscription level, nor am I going to retest to do that, so I don’t know if V5 subscribers receive all 5000 of the allowed matches in their download file.

This is the perfect example of why it’s a good idea to download your match files periodically. 23andMe is the only testing vendor that restricts your matches and when they roll off your list, they are irretrievable.

Aside from that, safe is better than sorry. You never know when something will change at a vendor and you’ll wish you had downloaded your match files earlier.

GedMatch

GedMatch, a third-party vendor, provides lots of tools but isn’t intuitive and provides almost no tutorial or information about how to navigate or use their site. There are some YouTube videos and Kitty Cooper has written several how-to articles. GEDmatch has promised a facelift soon.

GEDmatch provides many tools for free, along with a Tier1 level which provides advanced features by subscription.

At GEDmatch, you can see up to 2000 matches for free, but you must be a Tier 1 subscription member to download your matches – and the download is restricted to your top 1000 matches.

There are two Tier 1 one-to-many comparison options that are very similar. For either, you’ll enter your kit number and make your selection. Given that you’re restricted to 1000 in the download, there is no reason to search for more than 1000 kits.

click to enlarge

Then, click on Visualization options

You will then see the list of visualization options which includes “List/CSV.”

Clicking on “List/CSV” provides you with options.

click to enlarge

You’ll want to select the Matched Segment List, and you can either select “Prevent Hard Breaks,” or not. Allowing hard breaks means that small non-matching regions between two matching segments is not ignored, and the two segments are reported as two separate segments – if they are large enough to be reported.

If you prevent hard breaks, non-matching regions of less than 500,000 thousand base positions are ignored, creating one larger blended segment. It’s my preference to allow hard breaks because I’ve seen too many instances of erroneously “blended” segments.

When your matching segment file is complete, you will be prompted to download to your computer.

Thanks to Genetic Affairs, I discovered an alternate way to obtain more than 1000 downloaded matches from GEDmatch.

GEDmatch Alternative Methodology

Genetic Affairs suggests using the DNA Segment Search with a minimum of 5000 kits, and to enable the option to “Prevent Hard Breaks.”

Do not close the session while GedMatch is processing or you’ll need to restart your query.

When finished click “Here” to download the file to your system.

Now you’re ready for part 2.

Next, you’ll want to select the Triangulation feature.

These functions take time, so you’ll be watching as the counter increases. Or maybe go eat dinner or research some genealogy.

I can hear the “Jeopardy countdown music

When finished, click on “Here” to download this second file.

Whew! Now you should have your segment and match information files from each company that supports this information and provides downloads.

Saving Files

I generally save my files by vendor and date. However, if you’re going to use the files for a special project – you may want to make a copy elsewhere. For example, I’m going to use these files for Genetic Affairs’ AutoSegment feature, so I’ve downloaded fresh files from each vendor on the same date and made a separate copy, stored in my Genetic Affairs folder. I’ll let you know how that goes😊

Bottom Line

  • Test at vendors that don’t accept transfers. Ancestry and 23andMe
  • Test at or transfer to the rest. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GEDmatch
  • Unlock or subscribe to the advanced tools that include chromosome browsers, ethnicity, and more, depending on the vendor. FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, GEDmatch
  • Upload or create trees at each vendor (except 23andMe who doesn’t support trees.)
  • Download as much information as you can from each vendor.
  • Work your matches through shared (in common with) matches, trees, segments, and clusters!

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

23andMe Changes: Triangulation Doesn’t Work the Same Way

23andMe made a significant change about the time I was recording my RootsTech presentation about triangulation which provided examples at each vendor. Unfortunately, there was no notification to customers, so most people still aren’t aware.

In the fall and winter of 2020, 23andMe made several changes that resulted in losses to the genealogy community.

At first glance, it looks like this particular change is cosmetic – simply a column heading title change – but there are modifications behind the scenes that negate triangulation at 23andMe. At least in the way triangulation previously worked with the functionality genealogists have long understood to be triangulation at 23andMe.

This article explains the changes, what they mean, and how to work around the issues.

Update

Please note that as of March 12, 2021, some of the changes seem to have reverted, but it’s unclear if all changes have reverted to the original status. It’s virtually impossible to confirm because testers cannot search for “Relatives in Common” by surname. Therefore, proceed by confirming that people who are marked as “Yes” for “DNA Overlap” do in fact triangulate on each overlapping segment using the techniques I’ve described below.

Triangulation

If you need a refresher about what triangulation means, how it works, and why it’s important, I’ve compiled triangulation resources into one article, Triangulation Resources in One Place.

Let’s look at what happened at 23andMe.

Before the Changes

Before the changes, it was possible to quickly determine if you triangulated with two other people on at least one segment by looking at the “Shared DNA” column. Now, it isn’t.

This change has HUGE ramifications.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to simply not notice the change or interpret the column heading change from “Shared DNA” to “DNA Overlap,” as unimportant, but that’s not at all the case.

A “Yes” in this column NO LONGER MEANS triangulation.

This change makes the 23andMe slides of my RootsTech session, DNA Triangulation: What, Why, and How, obsolete.

I’m rewriting that section, step by step, in this article.

Previous Information

Click any slide to enlarge

On slide 24 of my presentation, available here, I talked about clicking on a match, then scrolling down to the “Find Relatives in Common” link. If you click on that link, you see a list of who you and that match both match in common.

In this case, Everett Harold (not his surname) and I both match with my V4 kit, DH and Stacy.

That page, back then, had a column titled ‘Shared DNA.”

At that time, a “Yes” in “Shared DNA” meant that the three people triangulate on at least one segment. That’s not what it means now, and the column header has changed too.

What I said in the presentation was this:

“Looking under the Shared DNA column, the people with a Yes triangulate, and the people with a No, do not.

This means that Everett Harold, me, and DH triangulate. It also means that Everett Harold, Stacy, and I do NOT triangulate.”

Please ignore this and the next slide, #25, too, because the 23andMe page has changed – along with the meaning.

Just put what I said and what you think you know about how triangulation works at 23andMe out of your mind. If you haven’t yet watched my Triangulation session at RootsTech, please just simply skip those two slides (24 and 25) so you don’t confuse yourself with old and now irrelevant information.

We’re starting over here with triangulation at 23andMe.

Current 23andMe Information

Here’s the same 23andMe “Relatives in Common” page, today:

Click to enlarge

You can see that while Stacy was marked “No,” on the previous “Shared DNA” page, the column is now titled “DNA Overlap” and she is now marked “Yes.”

The new infographic says this:

Here’s what this change means:

  • Previously, if someone was marked as “Yes,” it meant that in fact all three people did share a common segment of DNA AND matched each other on at least one segment. That meant they triangulated on at least one segment.
  • Currently, this field only means that they share an overlapping piece of DNA with the tester. It DOES NOT mean that they all 3 match each other on that segment.
  • They may or may not triangulate.

You might be wondering how that’s different. It’s very different and quite important.

Overlap Versus Triangulation

Here’s an example of two people who both match me on chromosome 15 and are marked “Yes” in DNA Overlap. Based on this graphic alone, or that “yes,” you can’t determine if this overlapping segment means triangulation, where the orange and purple person also match each other, or not.

  • BOTH of these people match ME on chromosome 15.
  • If they also match each other on a reasonable portion of chromosome 15 where they both match me, then we all triangulate. A reasonable amount of matching DNA at 23andMe is 6 cM, their match threshold.
  • If those two people do not also match each other on a reasonably sized segment (6 cM) of chromosome 15, then we do not triangulate. This would indicate that one match is from my mother’s side, and one from my father’s side, or that perhaps one is identical by chance. In other words, we do not share a common ancestor on this segment which is the purpose of identifying triangulated segments.

Based on other comparisons which I’ll show you how to perform in a minute – the purple and orange people don’t match each other on this segment. Therefore, this segment is not triangulated between me and the purple and orange people.

Previously, for this match, the “Shared DNA” column was marked “No,” and now the “DNA Overlap” column is marked “Yes.”

The three of us don’t triangulate, and “DNA Overlap” now only means that the three people share some DNA on the same portion of a chromosome with me, NOT that they match each other, which would mean that we triangulate.

It’s a hugely important distinction.

Before, “Yes” meant triangulation and now “Yes” just means an overlap, but NOT necessarily triangulation. You have to figure that out for yourself.

Overlap at 23andMe

An overlap simply means that two people match you on the same portion of DNA.

Someone from your Mom’s side and someone else from your Dad’s side will both match you on a segment of DNA in the same location on a chromosome, shown above.  However, they won’t match each other because one is from your Mom’s side and one is from your Dad’s side. Your Mom’s DNA is different from your Dad’s.

To prove that you all three share a common ancestor, you all three need to match each other on the SAME reasonably sized overlapping chromosome segment.

However, things are even more confusing now at 23and Me.

An Additional Complication

23andMe now indicates that Everett and Stacy have a DNA overlap with me, but the chromosome browser shows NO overlap on any chromosome when I compare both Everett and Stacy to me on my chromosome browser.

How is no overlap even possible when Stacy is listed on the Shared Relatives list with me and Everett, AND 23andMe shows a yes for DNA Overlap?

I eventually found the answer, which makes match analysis much more cumbersome for genealogists. What used to be one step now takes several, not to mention the “yes” answer is now unreliable.

Essentially, all that “Yes” in the DNA Overlap field means is a hint for you to dig further.

Determining 23andMe Triangulation

It appears that the only way to tell if your two matches match each other on the same chromosome as you is to “Select different relatives or friends to compare” at the top of the chromosome browser page.

You’ll see your name plus the two people you were comparing against your DNA in the chromosome browser.

You’ve already seen how they match you on the chromosome browser. What you now need to view is how they match each other.

You can remove yourself, and replace your name with one of your two matches, as shown below.

This will show Everett’s chromosome with Stacy compared to him.

Everett and Stacy do match each other on two smallish segments, but not in the same locations as shown on their match with me.

This is Everett’s match with Stacy (purple).

I match Everett on chromosome 18, but not Stacy.

I match Stacy on chromosome 7, but not Everett.

There is no overlap shown.

Ok, I’m adding myself to Everett’s matches, just to double-check.

Next, we’re looking at Everett’s chromosomes in grey. Stacy is purple and I’m orange.

Overlap Issue

I’ve found the confusing overlap issue, but it only makes the situation worse.

Everett matches both me and Stacy on adjacent and very slightly overlapping portions of chromosome 18. However, the amount of DNA where I match Stacy on chromosome 18 is too small to be considered a match when compared to Stacy directly, meaning it’s less than 6 cM – the smallest 23andMe segment to show as a match. This tiny sliver of overlap only shows when comparing from Everett’s perspective where we can see his match to me and Stacy both on the same chromosome.

A secondary change is that now it appears that 23andMe is showing any small piece of overlapping DNA with a “Yes.” Any segment of DNA smaller than 6 cM, their match threshold, should not be listed as overlapping if we all three don’t match each other on at least 6 cM of DNA.

You can work around the changes 23andMe made, but it has made a one or two-step easy process into a more complicated, cumbersome multi-step procedure involving comparing multiple people to each other separately.

Summary

Previous Now
Column Title Shared DNA DNA Overlap
Triangulation Status Triangulation if “Yes” in the “Shared DNA” column Not an indication of triangulation, even if “Yes” in the “DNA Overlap” column
Triangulation Indicator “Yes” in the “Shared DNA” column None, triangulation not flagged

In summary, for triangulation now at 23andMe:

  • The DNA Overlap status of “yes” DOES NOT indicate triangulation.
  • The DNA Overlap status of “yes” indicates overlap on the same chromosome, not triangulation, meaning all three people do not necessarily match each other.
  • DNA Overlap status of “yes” MAY mean the three people triangulate, but further comparisons are needed.
  • DNA Overlap status of “yes” may refer to overlap smaller than 6 shared cM which is not reflected in individual one-to-one matches.
  • The DNA Overlap status of “yes” may therefore not be technically accurate in terms of genealogical matching and triangulation.
  • A DNA Overlap status of “no” means you do not overlap which means you cannot triangulate.
  • To determine triangulation, meaning if you and two other people all match each other if you share an overlapping segment of DNA on the same chromosome, compare each pair of people one-to-one in the chromosome browser.
  • If you do not find overlapping DNA when comparing three people one-to-one, try the same comparison to the other two people from the perspective of one of the other people in the group, as I did with Everett. This may reveal a small overlapping segment, as illustrated in this article on chromosome 18 when I showed me and Stacy on Everett’s chromosomes.

It’s worth noting here that every segment is different. Triangulation on any individual segment should not be extrapolated to mean triangulation on every common segment, even between the same three people, is valid for all overlapping segments. Evaluate each overlap separately.

This fundamental change makes triangulation at 23andMe much more difficult for the genealogist. Fortunately, there is a work-around.

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who may have tested at 23andMe and is using their tools for genealogical purposes.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

RootsTech Connect 2021: Comprehensive DNA Session List

I wondered exactly how many DNA sessions were at RootsTech this year and which ones are the most popular.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t easily view a list of all the sessions, so I made my own. I wanted to be sure to include every session, including Tips and Tricks and vendor sessions that might only be available in their booths. I sifted through every menu and group and just kept finding more and more buried DNA treasures in different places.

I’m sharing this treasure chest with you below. And by the way, this took an entire day, because I’ve listed the YouTube direct link AND how many views each session had amassed today.

Two things first.

RootsTech Sessions

As you know, RootsTech was shooting for TED talk format this year. Roughly 20-minute sessions. When everything was said and done, there were five categories of sessions:

  • Curated sessions are approximately 20-minute style presentations curated by RootsTech meaning that speakers had to submit. People whose sessions were accepted were encouraged to break longer sessions into a series of two or three 20-minute sessions.
  • Vendor booth videos could be loaded to their virtual boots without being curated by RootsTech, but curated videos by their employees could also be loaded in the vendor booths.
  • DNA Learning Center sessions were by invitation and provided by volunteers. They last generally between 10-20 minutes.
  • Tips and Tricks are also produced by volunteers and last from 1 to 15 minutes. They can be sponsored by a company and in some cases, smaller vendors and service providers utilized these to draw attention to their products and services.
  • 1-hour sessions tend to be advanced and not topics could be easily broken apart into a series.

Look at this amazing list of 129 DNA or DNA-related sessions that you can watch for free for the next year. Be sure to bookmark this article so you can refer back easily.

Please note that I started compiling this list for myself and I’ve shortened some of the session names. Then I realized that if I needed this, so do you.

Top 10 Most-Viewed Sessions

I didn’t know whether I should list these sessions by speaker name, or by the most views, so I’m doing a bit of both.

Drum roll please…

The top 10 most viewed sessions as of today are:

Speaker/Vendor Session Title Type Link Views
Libby Copeland How Home DNA Testing Has Redefined Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/LsOEuvEcI4A 13,554
Nicole Dyer Organize Your DNA Matches in a Diagram Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/UugdM8ATTVo 6175
Roberta Estes DNA Triangulation: What, Why, and How 1 hour https://youtu.be/nIb1zpNQspY 6106
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/bB7VJeCR6Bs 5866
Amy Williams Ancestor Reconstruction: Why, How, Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/0D6lAIyY_Nk 5637
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/wKhMRLpefDI 5079
Nicole Dyer How to Interpret a DNA Cluster Chart Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/FI4DaWGX8bQ 4982
Nicole Dyer How to Evaluate a ThruLines Hypothesis Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/ao2K6wBip7w 4823
Kimberly Brown Why Don’t I Match my Match’s Matches DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/A8k31nRzKpc 4593
Rhett Dabling, Diahan Southard Understanding DNA Ethnicity Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/oEt7iQBPfyM 4287

Libby Copeland must be absolutely thrilled. I noticed that her session was featured over the weekend in a highly prominent location on the RootsTech website.

Sessions by Speaker

The list below includes the English language sessions by speaker. I apologize for not being able to discern which non-English sessions are about DNA.

Don’t let a smaller number of views discourage you. I’ve watched a few of these already and they are great. I suspect that sessions by more widely-known speakers or ones whose sessions were listed in the prime-real estate areas have more views, but what you need might be waiting just for you in another session. You don’t have to pick and choose and they are all here for you in one place.

Speaker/Vendor Session Title Type Link Views
Alison Wilde SCREEN Method: A DNA Match Note System that Really Helps DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/WaNnh_v1rwE 791
Amber Brown Genealogist-on-Demand: The Help You Need on a Budget You Can Afford Curated Session https://youtu.be/9KjlD6GxiYs 256
Ammon Knaupp Pattern of Genetic Inheritance DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Opr7-uUad3o 824
Amy Williams Ancestor Reconstruction: Why, How, Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/0D6lAIyY_Nk 5637
Amy Williams Reconstructing Parent DNA and Analyzing Relatives at HAPI-DNA, Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/MZ9L6uPkKbo 1021
Amy Williams Reconstructing Parent DNA and Analyzing Relatives at HAPI-DNA, Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/jZBVVvJmnaU 536
Ancestry DNA Matches Curated Session https://youtu.be/uk8EKXLQYzs 743
Ancestry ThruLines Curated Session https://youtu.be/RAwimOgNgUE 1240
Ancestry Ancestry DNA Communities: Bringing New Discoveries to Your Family History Research Curated Session https://youtu.be/depeGW7QUzU 422
Andre Kearns Helping African Americans Trace Slaveholding Ancestors Using DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/mlnSU5UM-nQ 2211
Barb Groth I Found You: Methods for Finding Hidden Family Members Curated Session https://youtu.be/J93hxOe_KC8 1285
Beth Taylor DNA and Genealogy Basics DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/-LKgkIqFhL4 967
Beth Taylor What Do I Do With Cousin Matches? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/LyGT9B6Mh00 1349
Beth Taylor Using DNA to Find Unknown Relatives DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/WGJ8IfuTETY 2166
David Ouimette I Am Adopted – How Do I Use DNA to Find My Parents? Curated Session https://youtu.be/-jpKgKMLg_M 365
Debbie Kennett Secrets and Surprises: Uncovering Family History Mysteries through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/nDnrIWKmIuA 2899
Debbie Kennett Genetic Genealogy Meets CSI Curated Session https://youtu.be/sc-Y-RtpEAw 589
Diahan Southard What is a Centimorgan Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/uQcfhPU5QhI 2923
Diahan Southard Using the Shared cM Project DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/b66zfgnzL0U 3172
Diahan Southard Understanding Ethnicity Results DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/8nCMrf-yJq0 1587
Diahan Southard Problems with Shared Centimorgans DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/k7j-1yWwGcY 2494
Diahan Southard 4 Next Steps for Your DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/poRyCaTXvNg 3378
Diahan Southard Your DNA Questions Answered Curated Session https://youtu.be/uUlZh_VYt7k 3454
Diahan Southard You Can Do the DNA – We Can Help Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/V5VwNzcVGNM 763
Diahan Southard What is a DNA Match? Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Yt_GeffWhC0 314
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips for DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/WokgGVRjwvk 3348
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips for Y DNA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/QyH69tk-Yiw 620
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about mtDNA testing Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/6d-FNY1gcmw 2142
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about Ethnicity Results Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/nZFj3zCucXA 1597
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about Which DNA Test to Take Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/t–4R8H8q0U 2043
Diahan Southard Diahan’s Tips about When Your Matches Don’s Respond Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/LgHtM3nS60o 3009
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Using Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/z1SVq8ME42A 118
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: MRCA/DNA and the Paper Trail Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/JB0cVyk-Y4Q 80
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Start With Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/BSNhaQCNtAo 68
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Additional Tools Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/PqNPBLQSBGY 140
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Ancestry ThruLines Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/KWayyAO8p_c 335
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: MyHeritage Theory of Relativity Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Et2TVholbAE 80
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Who to Test Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/GyWOO1XDh6M 111
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Genetics vs Genealogy Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/Vf0DC5eW_vA 294
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Centimorgan Definition Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/nQF935V08AQ 201
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Shared Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/AYcR_pB6xgA 233
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Case Study – Finding an MRCA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/YnlA9goeF7w 256
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Why Use DNA Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/v-o4nhPn8ww 266
Diahan Southard Three Next Steps: Finding Known Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/n3N9CnAPr18 688
Diana Elder Using DNA Ethnicity Estimates in Your Research Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/aJgUK3TJqtA 1659
Diane Elder Using DNA in a Client Research Project to Solve a Family Mystery 1 hour https://youtu.be/ysGYV6SXxR8 1261
Donna Rutherford DNA and the Settlers of Taranaki, New Zealand Curated Session https://youtu.be/HQxFwie4774 214
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/wKhMRLpefDI 5079
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/Dopx04UHDpo 2769
Drew Smith Before You Test Basics Part 3 Curated Session https://youtu.be/XRd2IdtA-Ng 2360
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – It’s Complicated (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/6XTPMzVnUd8 470
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – FamilyTreeDNA (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/fM85tt5ad3A 269
Elena Fowler Whakawhanaungatanga Using DNA – Ancestry (Māori heritage) Curated Session https://youtu.be/-byO6FOfaH0 191
Esmee Mortimer-Taylor Living DNA: Anathea Ring – Her Story Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/MTE4UFKyLRs 189
Esmee Mortimer-Taylor Living DNA: Coretta Scott King Academy – DNA Results Reveal Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/CK1EYcuhqmc 82
Fonte Felipe Ethnic Filters and DNA Matches: The Way Forward to Finding Your Lineage Curated Session https://youtu.be/mt2Rv2lpj7o 553
FTDNA – Janine Cloud Big Y: What is it? Why Do I Need It? Curated Session https://youtu.be/jiDcjWk4cVI 2013
FTDNA – Sherman McRae Using DNA to Find Ancestors Lost in Slavery Curated Session https://youtu.be/i3VKwpmttBI 738
Jerome Spears Elusive Distant African Cousins: Using DNA, They Can Be Found Curated Session https://youtu.be/fAr-Z78f_SM 335
Karen Stanbary Ruling Out Instead of Ruling In: DNA and the GPS in Action 1 hour https://youtu.be/-WLhIHlSyLE 548
Katherine Borges DNA and Lineage Societies Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/TBYGyLHHAOI 451
Kimberly Brown Why Don’t I Match my Match’s Matches DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/A8k31nRzKpc 4593
Kitty Munson Cooper Basics of Unknown Parentage Research Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/2f3c7fJ74Ig 2931
Kitty Munson Cooper Basics of Unknown Parentage Research Using DNA Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/G7h-LJPCywA 1222
Lauren Vasylyev Finding Cousins through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/UN7WocQzq78 1979
Lauren Vasylyev, Camille Andrus Finding Ancestors Through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/4rbYrRICzrQ 3919
Leah Larkin Untangling Endogamy Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/0jtVghokdbg 2291
Leah Larkin Untangling Endogamy Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/-rXLIZ0Ol-A 1441
Liba Casson-Budell Shining a Light on Jewish Genealogy Curated Session https://youtu.be/pHyVz94024Y 162
Libby Copeland How Home DNA Testing Has Redefined Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/LsOEuvEcI4A 13,554
Linda Farrell Jumpstart your South African research Curated Session https://youtu.be/So7y9_PBRKc 339
Living DNA How to do a Living DNA Swab Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/QkbxhqCw7Mo 50
Lynn Broderick Ethical Considerations Using DNA Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/WMcRiDxPy2k 249
Mags Gaulden Importance and Benefits of Y DNA Testing DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/MVIiv0H7imI 1032
Maurice Gleeson Using Y -DNA to Research Your Surname Curated Session https://youtu.be/Ir4NeFH_aJs 1140
Melanie McComb Georgetown Memory Project: Preserving the Stories of the GU272 Curated Session https://youtu.be/Fv0gHzTHwPk 320
Michael Kennedy What Can You Do with Your DNA Test? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rKOjvkqYBAM 616
Michelle Leonard Understanding X-Chromosome DNA Matching Curated Session https://youtu.be/n784kt-Xnqg 775
MyHeritage How to Analyze DNA Matches on MH Curated Session https://youtu.be/gHRvyQYrNds 1192
MyHeritage DNA – an Overview Curated Session https://youtu.be/AIRGjEOg_xo 389
MyHeritage Advanced DNA Tools Curated Session https://youtu.be/xfZUAjI5G_I 762
MyHeritage How to Get Started with Your DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/rU_dq1vt6z4 1901
MyHeritage How to Filter and Sort Your DNA Matches Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/aJ7dRwMTt90 1008
Nicole Dyer How to Interpret a DNA Cluster Chart Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/FI4DaWGX8bQ 4982
Nicole Dyer How to Evaluate a ThruLines Hypothesis Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/ao2K6wBip7w 4823
Nicole Dyer Organize Your DNA Matches in a Diagram Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/UugdM8ATTVo 6175
Nicole Dyer Research in the Southern States Curated Session https://youtu.be/Pouw_yPrVSg 871
Olivia Fordiani Understanding Basic Genetic Genealogy DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/-kbGOFiwH2s 810
Pamela Bailey Information Wanted: Reuniting an American Family Separated by Slavery Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/DPCJ4K8_PZw 105
Patricia Coleman Getting Started with DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Yh_Bzj6Atck 1775
Patricia Coleman Adding MyHeritage Data to DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rP9yoCGjkLc 458
Patricia Coleman Adding 23andMe Data to DNA Painter DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/pJBAwe6s0z0 365
Penny Walters Mixing DNA with Paper Trail DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/PP4SjdKuiLQ 2693
Penny Walters Collaborating with DNA Matches When You’re Adopted DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/9ioeCS22HlQ 1222
Penny Walters Differences in Ethnicity Between My 6 Children DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/RsrXLcXRNfs 400
Penny Walters Differences in DNA Results Between My 6 Children DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/drnzW3FXScI 815
Penny Walters Ethical Dilemmas in DNA Testing DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/PRPoc0nB4Cs 437
Penny Walters Adoption – Background Context Curated Session https://youtu.be/qC1_Ln8WCNg 1054
Penny Walters Adoption – Utilizing DNA Testing to Construct a Bio Family Tree Curated Session https://youtu.be/zwJ5QofaGTE 941
Penny Walters Adoption – Ethical Dilemmas and Varied Consequences of Looking for Bio Family Curated Session https://youtu.be/ZLcHHTSfCIE 576
Penny Walters I Want My Mummy: Ancient and Modern Egypt Curated Session https://youtu.be/_HRO50RtzFk 311
Rebecca Whitman Koford BCG: Brief Step-by-Step Tour of the BCG Website Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/YpV9bKG6sXk 317
Renate Yarborough Sanders DNA Understanding the Basics DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/bX_flUQkBEA 2713
Renate Yarborough Sanders To Test or Not to Test DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/58-qzvN4InU 1048
Rhett Dabling Finding Ancestral Homelands Through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/k9zixg4uL1I 505
Rhett Dabling, Diahan Southard Understanding DNA Ethnicity Results Curated Session https://youtu.be/oEt7iQBPfyM 4287
Richard Price Finding Biological Family Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/L9C-SGVRZLM 101
Robert Kehrer Will They Share My DNA (Consent, policies, etc.) DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/SUo-jpTaR1M 480
Robert Kehrer What is a Centimorgan? DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/dopniLw8Fho 1194
Roberta Estes DNA Triangulation: What, Why and How 1 hour https://youtu.be/nIb1zpNQspY 6106
Roberta Estes Mother’s Ancestors DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/uUh6WrVjUdQ 3074
Robin Olsen Wirthlin How Can DNA Help Me Find My Ancestors? Curated Session https://youtu.be/ZINiyKsw0io 1331
Robin Olsen Wirthlin DNA Tools Bell Curve Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/SYorGgzY8VQ 1207
Robin Olsen Wirthlin DNA Process Trees Guide You in Using DNA in Family History Research Tips and Tricks https://youtu.be/vMOQA3dAm4k 1708
Shannon Combs-Bennett DNA Basics Made Easy DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/4JcLJ66b0l4 1560
Shannon Combs-Bennett DNA Brick Walls DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/vtFkT_PSHV0 450
Shannon Combs-Bennett Basics of Genetic Genealogy Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/xEMbirtlBZo 2263
Shannon Combs-Bennett Basics of Genetic Genealogy Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/zWMPja1haHg 1424
Steven Micheleti, Joanna Mountain Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/xP90WuJpD9Q 2284
Steven Micheleti, Joanna Mountain Genetic Consequences of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/McMNDs5sDaY 742
Thom Reed How Can Connecting with Ancestors Complete Us? Curated Session https://youtu.be/gCxr6W-tkoY 392
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 1 Curated Session https://youtu.be/bB7VJeCR6Bs 5866
Tim Janzen Tracing Ancestral Lines in the 1700s Using DNA Part 2 Curated Session https://youtu.be/scOtMyFULGI 3008
Ugo Perego Strengths and Limitations of Genetic Testing for Family History DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/XkBK1y-LVaE 480
Ugo Perego A Personal Genetic Journey DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/Lv9CSU50xCc 844
Ugo Perego Discovering Native American Ancestry through DNA Curated Session https://youtu.be/L1cs748ctx0 884
Ugo Perego Mitochondrial DNA: Our Maternally-Inherited Family History Curated Session https://youtu.be/Z5bPTUzewKU 599
Vivs Laliberte Introduction to Y DNA DNA Learning Center https://youtu.be/rURyECV5j6U 752
Yetunde Moronke Abiola 6% Nigerian: Tracing my Missing Nigerian Ancestor Curated Session https://youtu.be/YNQt60xKgyg 494

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

How Can YOU Get Theories of Family Relativity at MyHeritage?

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and we have a gift from MyHeritage – two gifts actually.

First, MyHeritage is offering free access for everyone to all marriage records, including international records, through February 16th, here.

New Theories of Family Relativity

However, from a genetic genealogy perspective, MyHeritage‘s new Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) results are a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift.

The email that I received indicates that the total theories produced for everyone in the database has increased by 19%, from 33,373,070 to 39,845,078 in just 5 months, and the number of DNA testers who have at least one TOFR has increased by 20%.

If you didn’t have Theories before, you may now. If you did have Theories before, you will want to check for new ones.

What Generates New Theories?

Of course, some of this increase is due to the holiday tests that are now available for matching in the system.

Some new Theories are a result of people who have uploaded or constructed trees who didn’t have trees before.

Some new Theories are because people have linked their DNA to a tree where it was not previously linked. If your DNA kit is not associated with “you” on a tree, the system has no way of knowing “who” you are in your tree, and therefore can’t generate theories about how you are related to other testers.

If you don’t have TOFRs, check and make sure that your kit is assigned to “you” on your tree. Under the DNA tab, select “Manage DNA Kits” and check to be sure all of the kits that you manage are properly assigned.

click on images to enlarge

What’s New?

I’m anxious to see what’s new for me.

MyHeritage completed the previous TOFR run in September 2020, so just shy of 5 months ago. At that time, I had a total of 67 matches with Theories. Today, I have a total of 73 for an increase of 8%.

You can check to see how many Theories you have by clicking on the DNA Match “Filters” then the “Theories of Family Relativity” option which displays only matches that have associated Theories. Follow the red arrows.

You can also review each Theory by clicking on Review DNA Match, which includes other information about that match.

I can quickly see which theories are new and I haven’t worked with before because I make notes when I have a new theory. When you have recorded a note, the little “conversation” icon is purple. You can see that with the green arrow, above.

Enabling Theories to Form

Like everyone else, I want more Theories to form, so I’ve intentionally been fleshing out the branches of my tree to encourage TOFR formation.

Theories are formed for people with whom you are a DNA match if one or more of the following conditions occur:

  • Your tree and their tree can be connected directly.

For example, let’s say our common ancestor is three generations back in time meaning we share great-grandparents, but my match has only their grandparents entered – nothing more. I have entered our common ancestor and all of their children in my tree, including the grandparents of my match.

My Heritage connects-the-dots between our trees through the grandparents of my match who appear in both trees.

  • Your tree and your match’s tree can be connected through other people’s trees.

Using this same example, let’s say that my match and I both have only entered our individual grandparents in our trees. A third person in the system has a tree that includes our common ancestor, our great-grandparents. The third person’s tree includes my match’s grandparent and my grandparent too.

Again, MyHeritage connects-the-dots between the three trees, making multiple “hops.”

Here’s one of my new Theories that connects me and the other tester through two separate tree connection “hops” with very high confidence, 100%, that the identical people are being connected.

MyHeritage generated 5 possible paths of connection for this match using different trees, so be sure to take a look at all different theories for each match. You’ll see those on the upper left-hand corner of the TOFR page.

  • Your tree and your match’s tree can be connected using some combination of trees and documents.

Let’s say that my match has only entered their grandparents. I have our common ancestors, our great-grandparents in my tree, but I don’t have their grandparent listed as the child of my (our) great-grandparents. MyHeritage may find a census record, for example, that connects those dots.

Multiple theories through different pathways may be suggested for the same match – and it’s important to evaluate every piece of data. They are called Theories for a reason. They aren’t always accurate, but they make great hints and, for me, they are generally either correct or close. Close enough that I can figure out the rest.

Priming the Pump

What can you do to help Theories form, aside from testing, uploading or creating a tree, and linking your DNA kit to “you” in your tree?

  • Add descendant generations to your tree with as much information as you have for each person including spouse, birth and death dates and locations, in addition to children. The further down the branches you populate your tree, the more information there is for MyHeritage to use to connect the branches.

MyHeritage generates both Smart Matches and Record Matches for every person in your tree. MyHeritage will notify you via email when Smart or Record matches are generated. That’s how I found over 800 newspaper records for my grandfather’s family containing juicy information I never knew – and there’s no other way to find out today.

You can view each category on the person’s profile card. Hmmm, looks like I need to get busy😊

Additional ways to help Theories form include:

  • Accept SmartMatches when appropriate. SmartMatches are tree matches generated to confirm that the person in question is the same person. That doesn’t mean the information has to match exactly. Accepting a SmartMatch doesn’t mean that information will be automatically imported into your tree. You will be able to select each individual field, or no fields at all. Confirmation simply means you agree that this IS the same person, and you are then given the option to import information if you wish.
  • Reject SmartMatches if the suggestion is actually the wrong person. This helps the system “learn.”
  • Confirm Record Matches if they are accurate. Record matches are generated when physical records or records from other databases are generated for an individual in your tree. Like Smart Matches, you can import data from Record Matches after confirming the match.
  • Reject Record Matches if they are not for the same person in your tree.

Test or Transfer, Either One

Of course, you’ll only have TOFRs at MyHeritage if you’ve tested or transferred your DNA.

You can order a test now for only $59 during the Valentine’s Day Sale, here, or you can transfer your DNA to MyHeritage from either Ancestry, 23andMe or FamilyTreeDNA which includes matching and basic tools at MyHeritage for free. The advanced tools including Theories of Family Relativity cost $29 per test to unlock unless you are a paid MyHeritage subscriber – in which case, advanced DNA features are free for any upload and there is no unlock fee. You can try a free MyHeritage trial subscription, here.

After you take a DNA test at MyHeritage or transfer, you’ll need to wait for the next TOFR run to have Theories, but if you test or transfer now and create or upload a tree, you’ll be the recipient of Theories the next time they are generated. You’ll also have time to work on fleshing out your tree and working with Smart Matches and Record Matches to learn more about your ancestors and to increase the odds of obtaining Theories.

You can order a DNA test, here, and you can transfer to MyHeritage, here. If you need assistance, I’ve written step-by-step transfer instructions, here.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Free Webinar: Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

I want to personally invite everyone to “save the date” for the free presentation I’ve created for the RootsTech DNA Basics Learning Center.

Those of you who have attended RootsTech in person in Salt Lake City over the past couple of years may have noticed the DNA Center sponsored by FamilySearch that provides non-vendor-specific DNA education for everyone.

You probably remember their DNA beans explaining the concept of random autosomal inheritance.

That tidy little package is “you.” The genealogical goal, of course, is to work backwards and figure out who, in your tree, those jellybean colors represent.

This year we won’t be gathering together in Salt Lake City, so it will be a bring-your-own-jellybeans event. However, the DNA Learning Center will be available virtually – which is actually a great benefit.

I know, I want to see everyone too – but in this case, the sessions are recorded and will be available for everyone worldwide so we can educate far more people than on the show floor.

Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

In addition to my regular session, which I’ll write about as soon as the schedule is finalized, I volunteered to create a basic presentation for the DNA Learning Center. DNA is critically important to genealogy and I want everyone to enjoy that benefit.

As everyone knows, maternal ancestors are often challenging for a variety of reasons. Because surnames change with marriage, at least in most western cultures, females’ birth surnames are more prone to be missing. Fortunately, DNA has provided genealogists with two different tools to help overcome those challenges.

Mitochondrial DNA is focused only on your direct matrilineal (your mother’s mother’s mother’s) line, and autosomal DNA can be inherited from any ancestor. However, there are tools and techniques that allow us to hone autosomal results and use them selectively.

I’ll be covering inheritance and how to utilize both autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, including haplogroups, for your genealogy. Both separately, and together.

We’ll discuss how a cousin and I collaborated, using both types of DNA in addition to traditional genealogical records to break through one of those “no surname” brick walls six generations in the past. That breakthrough then revealed several MORE generations, like dominoes falling in quick succession.

Those pesky ancestors had moved from Long Island to New Jersey to Virginia leaving no backward trail. Cleary, not your normal migration pattern. This mystery absolutely could NOT have been solved without mitochondrial DNA pointing the way.

When and Where?

The where is easy – on your computer or device, of course.

Currently, this free session is scheduled to air twice, so mark your calendar:

  • February 25 – 3 PM EST – captioned in English
  • February 27 – 1 PM EST – captioned in Spanish

FamilySearch is providing volunteers to answer questions entered into the online chat during all of the DNA Learning Center sessions, including mine. I plan to “be there” to answer questions too, as will several other volunteers. Some volunteers will speak Spanish on the 27th. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, so I’ll be restricted to answering questions in English.

When the entire 3-day DNA Learning Center schedule is finalized, I’ll post and give a huge shout-out to the other volunteer speakers too.

While we wait for Rootstech to arrive, you still have time to order mitochondrial or autosomal DNA tests, below.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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