myDNA Merges With FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene

2021 is starting out with an exciting announcement in the genetic genealogy world. A marriage!

Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of Australian company, myDNA, has announced a merger with well-known genetic genealogy company, FamilyTreeDNA along with the parent company that owns their DNA processing lab, Gene by Gene.

click to enlarge images

Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, founders of both Houston-based companies, FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene, will retain board seats in the merged organization, while Rauchberger will be the CEO of the organization.

Here’s the full press release.

I spoke with Bennett, and he assured me that myDNA has every intention of maintaining and investing in the genealogy side of the house. He indicated that both companies felt that this was a very compatible marriage.

I didn’t know anything about myDNA previously, but like any genealogist, I’ve done some research.

Who is myDNA?

According to their website, myDNA, founded in 2007, is focused on personal health management.

Their approach seems to be a bit different than health and wellness tests I’ve seen before.

The myDNA test is a functional pathology test that reports on how genetic factors may influence the ways in which medications affect individuals. Different people metabolize and eliminate medications differently, and at various speeds.

myDNA testing provides customers with the ability to work with their physicians to tailor their medications to maximize benefits and minimize side effects.

I’m not surprised that FamilyTreeDNA has, one way or another, added a health component to the menu. As I mentioned in my Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years article earlier this week, all three of the other major players have a health/medical aspect of their products.

You can take a look at what myDNA offers, here, and here, for yourself, and at an example report, here.

The myDNA products also offer ways to make sustainable lifestyle changes, DNA based meal plans and workouts customized for your goals.

I don’t have any personal experience with myDNA, but I will as soon as I order a test.

Benefits and Opportunities

I see several potential benefits to the genetic genealogy community, including:

  • myDNA customers may provide a pool of new customers (and matches) who might possibly be interested in genealogy, aka, YDNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal testing.

I would presume that these tests will soon be offered as options to myDNA customers. Australia, in addition to its aboriginal population, consists of immigrants from the British Isles and elsewhere. I actually discovered the DNA match down under who broke through my decades-old Speak family brick wall in Lancashire.

  • myDNA customers, even if they aren’t interested in genealogy, per se, may be interested in more general “where did I come from,” personal history type of information.

This might include interesting Y and mitochondrial DNA migration map “journeys,” along with ethnicity. I’m thinking along the lines of “myY,” “myMito” and the already existing  “myOrigins,” Perhaps something similar to the less in-depth, but still quite interesting (now-defunct) Genographic product test results.

Adding FamilyTreeDNA tools for myDNA customers would benefit both sides of the equation. Every additional person who tests helps the scientific research aspect, meaning building both the Y and mitochondrial trees, which in turn helps traditional genealogy customers.

Conversely, FamilyTreeDNA customers may want to easily add some of the myDNA products and have them available through one single customer portal.

I’m extremely hopeful about opportunities for the genetic genealogy side of the house. Specifically, my fingers are crossed that myDNA will invest in:

  • Website infrastructure which will improve performance.
  • Enhancing current and adding new advanced genealogy tools and products that aren’t just pieces, but provide us with innovative solutions.

And yes, I have suggestions. Like a kid in the toy store, I have a long wish list of features I’d love to see😊.

I’d like to hear your (positively constructed) wish list as well.

I’m excited about this new opportunity!

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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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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

Bryan Sykes Finally Meets Eve’s 7 Daughters

Professor Bryan Sykes who studied Otzi the Iceman in 1994 and would go on to author the first genetics book written for public consumption, The Seven Daughters of Eve, passed away on December 10 at age 73. You can read his obituary here.

In 1994, Dr. Bryan Sykes worked on the frozen mummy in the Otztal Alps on the Austrian/Swiss border who would become affectionately known as Otzi.

Sykes initially identified Otzi’s mitochondrial DNA as a member of base haplogroup K. Sykes then identified a living Irish lady with the same sequence. Now we know that while base haplogroup K isn’t terribly common, it’s also not rare and millions of people share haplogroup K, upstream of Otzi.

At that time, however, Sykes suggested Otzi might have been a wayward Irishman. Science has advanced substantially since then and we’ve learned an incredible amount.

Eventually, scientists would determine that Otzi was actually haplogroup K1o, where the “o” stands for Otzi, whose line appears to now be extinct. You can read more, here.

Sykes’ first book, The Seven Daughters of Eve, published in 2001 was followed by other books, none of which garnered the mass appeal of The Seven Daughters book which captured our imaginations. Sykes described 7 European haplogroups and wrote a fictional storyline about how each one exited Africa, what they experienced, and how they migrated to Europe.

This was ground-breaking work at the time.

Ironically, Sykes never named or described haplogroup L or subclades, the true mother lineages in Africa, nor haplogroups M or N, daughters of haplogroup L3 from which all other non-L haplogroups spring.

He initially described and named:

  • Ursula – haplogroup U
  • Xenia – haplogroup X
  • Helena – haplogroup H
  • Velda – haplogroup V
  • Tara – haplogroup T
  • Katrine – haplogroup K
  • Jasmine – haplogroup J

We were captivated by not only their stories, but the fact that they had names and our ancestors seemed to come alive. At that point in time, Sykes believed that these 7 haplogroups were the foundation from which all other haplogroups sprang.

click to enlarge

Phylotree Build 17 published in 2016 shows just how far science has progressed since that time. The Million Mito Project is working to update the tree today.

Although eventually, many of Bryan’s early theories were disproven, his work provided a foundation on which future discoveries were built and the field evolved. All scientists, especially early innovators have to be willing to be “wrong” and have their work improved upon. It’s part of the deal and doesn’t take away from Bryan’s legacy of innovation and inspiration.

My Introduction to Consumer Genetics

I studied genetics in college as part of a science curriculum, but never really connected the dots to either genealogy or ever thought of testing myself for fun. Consumer genetics had not yet been born, and even medical genetics was in its infancy.

Eve’s 7 daughters hadn’t yet been defined or named, and genetics was disconnected from me or anyone I knew, except for peas, cats’ and dogs’ coat and eye color, and humans that had a mutation that caused a significant issue.

In 2001, I lay in bed one night reading the ads in the back of Science News, a weekly news magazine, when I saw the ad for Sykes book that promised to reveal the paths of Eve’s daughters out of Africa. I ordered the book right away and stayed up all night reading when it arrived. It was that good!

I was hooked.

The Seven Daughters of Eve

The Seven Daughters of Eve merged science, my family, and storytelling. All three of which were my loves and manifested themselves in genealogy. Not only was I hooked, but I desperately wanted to know to which clan I belonged. This was genealogy on steroids!

So, apparently, did a lot of other people, because that narrative was something every single person reading the book could relate to.

At the back of each of the Seven Daughters books, readers could tear out a page and send a check for roughly $800 US with the promise of receiving an envelope a few weeks later with a genetic map identifying your clan – meaning which of Eve’s daughters was your “mother.”

I ripped that page out of the back and wrote a check – only to have my husband inform me that he, too, wanted to know his clan. I couldn’t then, and still can’t believe I spent that much money on a “frivolous” DNA test. Little did I know that was just the beginning😊.

Just before the launch of his book, Sykes founded Oxford Ancestors, one of the first companies to test the mitochondrial, and some years later the Y DNA of consumers who could then see who they matched. Oxford Ancestors still exists but has struggled over the years. (I do not recommend them today.)

About 3 months later, I received a single sheet of paper in an envelope, signed by Dr. Sykes at the University of Oxford, and I was THRILLED to learn that I was in Jasmine’s clan. I opened the book and read that section again – because now that was MY story. Of course, today I know it wasn’t exactly accurate but no one knew that then.

I called my Mom. It was her story too. She called my brother. It’s his story too. I told both of my children, who didn’t care one iota – but it’s their story too and hope springs eternal.

Today, I can purchase about 6 full-sequence mitochondrial DNA tests that test 16,569 locations for the cost of a test that at that time only revealed my base haplogroup, “J,” by testing 400 locations.

Still, I was overjoyed and connected to the past across the bridge of time in a place and time that genealogy could never reach. Or so I thought. Clearly, genetic testing has improved immensely and genetics doesn’t just reach across that bridge today, genetics and genealogy are completely intertwined.

Bryan’s book was my initial inspiration – he lured many of the early genealogists and science buffs into the genetics spiderweb where we have gratefully been living ever since. Genetics has done more to unveil my ancestors and their past than any other tool. Bryan turned that tap on with a tiny drip-drip, which, by comparison, today is a tsunami of millions of testers across several major testing companies taking autosomal tests in addition to mitochondrial and Y DNA.

While paper-trail evidence reaches back a few hundred years, assuming the records still exist, DNA in its various forms reaches back hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of years – connecting us to the rest of humanity by following a breadcrumb trail of mutations back in time.

Sykes’ Later Years

In 2013 and 2014, Sykes analyzed residue from creatures purported to be the Yeti and Bigfoot in his Oxford lab. He attributed the samples to bears and other primates on BBC News. Other researchers disagreed with his analysis, and with each other, and the topic became controversial.

Bryan relished publicity and was never afraid of leading and sometimes bleeding-edge research. In order to succeed, one must be willing to take risks, and Dr. Sykes clearly did. It was his vivre la vie and contagious excitement that inspired others to begin their own journeys of discovery.

While many people don’t know of or about Bryan Sykes today, in the early days, few people didn’t feel strongly about Bryan’s work, one way or the other. Bryan was simply glad that people were talking about genetics. Lots of consumers became enamored and curious and the earliest seeds of the direct-to-consumer genetics industry were planted.

Now that Bryan has progressed to the other side, I’m sure that he is quizzing all of the daughters of Eve about how they are related to each other, where they lived, when they moved, to where, who they married, and is asking everyone to DNA test. Bryan, I have a few requests if you meet up with my ancestors…

Go with the flow Bryan, and thank you.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

GEDmatch Introduces Automated Tree Matching

GEDmatch has just introduced a great new tool – automated tree matching. You’ll find it under the “Find common ancestors (MRCA) from DNA matches” on the application menu under Tier 1 tools which are available for a $10 monthly subscription. (Yes, you can subscribe month by month.)

gedmatch mrca.png

Of course, you’ll need to have your tree uploaded so that GEDmatch can match ancestors in your tree against ancestors in other people’s trees.

I wrote about how to upload a GEDCOM file, which holds your family tree information, in the article, Download Your Ancestry Tree and Upload It Elsewhere for Added Benefit. Step-by-step instructions for uploading both DNA files and a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch are included in this article.

MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestors) Search Tool

Clicking on the “Find common ancestors (MRCA) from DNA matches” link takes you to a screen where you’ll enter your kit number.

gedmatch mrca search

The default settings work fine. 10,000 is the maximum number of kits it will compare.

Next, you’ll see the processing screen.

gedmatch mrca results.png

click to enlarge

In my case, of my highest 10,000 matches, only 1036 had associated GEDCOM files. That’s only about 10%. Imagine how much information would be available if everyone uploaded a GEDCOM file.

Of those, I had 136 hits of people where potential common ancestors could be identified in our trees.

When processing is complete, you’ll see a list of your matches complete with your common ancestors. How cool is this!!!

gedmatch mrca matches

click to enlarge

I’ve obscured private information. Looking at this information, column by column:

  • I can click through to my match’s tree by clicking on the green tree icon.
  • The cM column shows the total matching cMs over the threshold of 7. In the case of my first match, that 52.5 cMs is broken into 2 segments of 19.6 and 32.9.
  • The Common Ancestor in Primary GEDCOM is my ancestor.
  • The Descent Path to Primary Kit is how I am descended from that ancestor.
gedmatch descendants.png

click to enlarge

For example, clicking on the 5G in the first row shows me that I’m 7 generations removed, so Agnes Muncy is my 5th great-grandmother.

  • The next column, Common Ancestor in Row GEDCOM shows the relationship of my match to the person shown in their GEDCOM file. In this case, the names are spelled exactly the same, but that’s not always the case.
  • The Up/Down Path shows how the two of us are related to each other and descended from our potential common ancestor.

gedmatch up down path

  • The Compare GEDCOM link provides information about all of the common individuals in our trees. I don’t think the GEDCOM IDs are any type of security risk, but I’ve obscured those numbers anyway. At GEDmatch, you can request to compare by GEDCOM ID.

gedmatch gedcom compare.png

  • Finally, the Score column ranks the matches from 1 to 10, with 10 being highest.

The Up/Down Path information illustrates the challenges in making computer comparisons. The information in our trees is similar, but not exact. I’ve spelled Samuel’s name Claxton and my match has spelled it Clarkson. Both are accurate. There was no consistency and descendants spell it differently. Even his military papers were elusive for decades when his widow filed a claim because the name was spelled both ways.

What Else Can I Do?

For those of us using DNAPainter to paint our segment matches, this new tool is a goldmine of ancestral segment information that can be attributed to specific ancestors, especially for matches who tested at Ancestry where segment information is not available.

I wrote about DNAPainter, here.

I know what I’m going to be doing for the rest of the day!

Enjoy

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

DNA Day 2020: 9 Great Ways to Celebrate an Amazing 20-Year Journey

DNA Day 2020.jpg

DNA Day 2020, celebrated officially on April 25th, is a “big deal” anniversary for genetic genealogy.

In the Beginning – Family Tree DNA 

It was 20 years ago that Family Tree DNA was born and began doing business – in collaboration with Dr. Michael Hammer whose lab ran the DNA samples at the University of Arizona.

Bennett Greenspan, a genealogist and entrepreneur teamed up with his business partner, Max Blankfeld, and launched Family Tree DNA, never no idea, of course, what their startup would one day become. That would have required a crystal ball.

Bennett just wanted to solve his own genealogy brick wall and knew that Y DNA had been used to prove, or disprove, a patrilineal genetic relationship between 2 men with the same or similar surnames.

Dr. Hammer, who was weary of calls from genealogists asking for exactly that, said to Bennett, “You know, someone should start a company doing DNA testing for genealogy.” What fateful words those turned out to be.

Family Tree DNA went from being a business run from a cellphone out of the spare bedroom to a multi-national company, now one of four subsidiary businesses under the Gene by Gene umbrella. Gene by Gene owns a 10-story building that includes a world-class genetics lab, the Genomics Research Center, in Houston, Texas.

FTDNA sign crop

Never doubt the ability of passion and persistence.

And never, ever, doubt a genealogist.

That First 12-Marker Test

In March 2000, Family Tree DNA began offering the then-revolutionary 12-marker Y DNA test, the genesis of what would progress to 25, then 37, 67, 111 and now the Big Y-700 test. The Big Y-700 offers more 700+ STR markers along with a research-grade SNP test providing testers with the very latest haplogroup information. This level of sophistication and testing wasn’t even dreamed-of 20 years ago. The human genome hadn’t even been fully sequenced, and wouldn’t be until April 2003. DNA Day is celebrated in April to commemorate that event.

That 12-marker Y DNA test was revolutionary, even though it was a but a baby-step by today’s standards. Consumer Y DNA testing had never been done before, and was the first step in a journey I could never have imagined. The butterfly effect in action.

I didn’t know I had embarked when I pushed off from that shore.😊

That journey of 10,000 miles and 20 years had to start someplace.

The Journey Begins

Twenty years ago, I heard a rumor about a company testing the Y chromosome of men for genealogy. Suspecting that it was a scam, I called Family Tree DNA and spoke with Bennett, expecting something quite different than what transpired.

I discovered a genealogist who understood my problem, explained how the technology had solved the same quandary for him, and how Y DNA testing worked for genealogy. Y DNA could help me solve my problem too, even though I didn’t have a Y chromosome. Bennett even offered to help me if I needed assistance.

An hour later, I had ordered five tests for Estes men who I knew would jump at this opportunity to prove they all descended from a common progenitor.

Along with Bennett, and other genealogists with similar quests, I now had permission to dream – and to push the limits.

I Had a Dream

I dreamed that one day I could prove even more.

Where did my Estes ancestors come from?

Did all of the Estes men in the US descend from one line? Were they from the Eastes line in Kent, England? We would discover that both of the Estes immigrant lines, indeed, did hail from the same ancestor in Deal, England.

Were those much-loved and oft-repeated rumors true?

Before arriving as fishermen on coastal England, did the Estes family actually descend from an illegitimate son of the wealthy House of Este, hailing from Padua, Italy?

The family had spent decades chasing rumors and speculating, even visiting Italy. Finally, science would answer those questions – or at least that potential existed. At long last, we had an amazing opportunity!

Bennett explained that surname projects existed in order to group men who shared a common surname, and hopefully a common ancestor too, together. I formed the Estes DNA Project and mailed those fateful DNA kits to 5 of my male Estes cousins who were genealogists and chomping at the bit to answer those questions.

I began educating myself, adding genetics to my genealogical arsenal.

In future years, I would push, or perhaps “encourage” Bennett to expand testing, harder and faster than he sometimes wanted to be pushed.

I had fallen in love with discovery.

Dr. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza

While we were able to confirm that the Estes men descended from a common ancestor in England, we could not find anyone to test from the d’Este line out of Italy.

I knew that Dr. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, hailed as the father of population genetics, had done a significant amount of testing in Italy where he had begun his career, before retiring from Stanford in 1992. I had read his books – all of them.

Frustrated, I was hopeful that if I contacted Dr. Cavalli-Sforza, he might be able to compare the Estes DNA to Y DNA samples in his lab that he might have from earlier genetics studies.

If Bennett Greenspan could ask Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona, I could ask Dr. Luigi Cavalli-Sforza. Made perfect sense to me. The worst that could happen was that he might ignore me or say no. But he didn’t.

Dr. Cavalli-Sforza was very kind and engaged in discussion, explaining that no, he did not know of any males descended from the d’Este line, and no, he did not have a representative sample of Y DNA from that region of Italy. He indicated that I needed far more than he had.

We discussed what level of sampling would be required to create a survey of the Y DNA from the region to see if the Estes Y DNA was even of the type that might be found in Italy. If we were incredibly lucky, he opined, we might, just might, find a match.

In his early 80s at the time, Dr. Cavalli-Sforza was interested, engaging and sharp as a tack.

After several back-and-forth emails, we determined that I didn’t have the resources to recruit and fund the research which would have been significantly more expensive than consumer testing at Family Tree DNA. I had hoped for academic funding.

We both wondered aloud how long it would take, if ever, for there to be enough testing to reasonably compare the Estes Y DNA to other males from Italy in a meaningful way. Neither of us anticipated the DNA testing explosion that would follow.

I didn’t appreciate at the time how fortunate I was to be having these discussions with Dr. Cavalli-Sforza – an iconic giant in this field. We all stand upon his shoulders. Luigi was willing to speculate and be proven wrong, a great academic risk, because he understood that push-and-pull process was the only way to refine our knowledge and discover the truth. He will never know how much our conversations inspired and encouraged me to forge ahead into uncharted waters as well.

Dr. Cavalli-Sforza passed away in 2018 at the age of 96. He altered the trajectory of my life, and if you’re reading this, he changed yours too.

Estes Answers

The answers didn’t arrive all at once. In fact they dribbled in little by little – but they did arrive – which would never have happened if the necessary people hadn’t tested.

The Italy DNA Project didn’t exist twenty years ago. Looking at the results today, it’s evident that the majority of the results are haplogroups J and E, with a smattering of R.

My Estes cousins’ Y DNA doesn’t match anyone remotely connected with Italy, either utilizing STR markers for genealogical matches nor the Big Y-700 matches for deeper haplogroup matching.

That, combined with the fact that the wealthy illegitimate d’Este son in question “disappeared” into Europe, leaving a gap in time before our poor mariner Estes family emerged in the records in England made it extremely unlikely that there is any shred of truth in that rumor.

However, the d’Este male line does still exist in the European Royal House of Hanover, in the person of Ernst August, Prince of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco. Ernst is a direct descendant of Albert Azzo I d’Este, born about 970, so there’s actually hope that eventually, we will actually know what the real d’Este Y DNA looks like, assuming no biological break in the line. As of 2017, the Hanover line has not been tested.

While Ernst is in poor health today, he does have two sons to carry on the Y DNA genetic line.

9 Great Ways to Celebrate DNA Day

We have so very much to celebrate today. DNA testing for genealogy has become a juggernaut. Twenty years ago, we had to recruit people of the same surname to test or realize our wait might be forever – that’s not the case today.

Today, upwards of 30 million people have tested – and probably significantly more.

The Big Y test, born two decades ago of that 12 marker test, now scans millions of DNA locations and provides testing and matching in both the genealogical and historical timeframes, as does the mitochondrial full sequence test. In February, The Million Mito Project was launched, a science initiative to rewrite the tree of womankind.

We’ve made incredible, undreamed-of strides. We haven’t just “moved the ball,” we kicked it out of the ballpark and around the world.

Here are some fun and beneficial ways you can celebrate DNA Day!

  • If you’ve already tested, or you manage kits for others who have – check your results. You never know what might be waiting for you. Be sure to click on trees, look at locations and do the genealogy work yourself to extend trees back in time if necessary.
  • Upload your tree to DNA testing sites to help others connect to your genealogy. If we all upload trees, everyone has a better and more productive experience. If a match doesn’t have a tree, contact them, ask and explain why it’s beneficial.
  • Join relevant projects at Family Tree DNA (click myProjects on top of your dashboard page), such as surname projects, haplogroup projects, geographic projects (like Italy), and special interest projects (like American Indian.)
  • Purchase a mitochondrial DNA upgrade to the full sequence level for only $79 if you’re already tested at the HVR1 or HVR2 level. Not only does the full sequence test provide you with your full haplogroup and more refined matching, it helps advance science too through The Million Mito Project. Click here to sign in and upgrade by clicking on the shopping cart or the mtFull icon.

dna day 2020 mtdna.png

  • Test your mitochondrial DNA, your mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line for only $139 for the full sequence test. Should I tell you that this test cost $900 when I first ordered mine? $139 is an absolutely amazing price. I wrote step-by-step instructions for how to use your mitochondrial results, here. Click here to order your test.

dna day 70 off.png

Today, we have the opportunity to document history in ways never before possible.

Celebrate DNA Day by finding your ancestors!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

News: Nebula Genomics Whole Genome, MyHeritage Photos Go Viral & Upcoming Publication Schedule

“It never rains but it pours.”

Let’s just say I’m a tad bit overwhelmed right now for numerous reasons. Never, ever even whisper to yourself, “what else could go wrong?” Because you know what happens next, right!

Right now, I need to focus on what needs to be done for RootsTech and on some unexpected matters.

Translated, this means that my blog article publication schedule is slipping, and here’s what to expect.

There won’t be any 52 Ancestors articles for at least two weeks, and perhaps a tad longer. There’s a lot of research and prep that goes into each one, and I just don’t have the cycles right now.

I will *try* to get my regular technical article out this week. I did have a couple queued before RootsTech, but they aren’t finalized. Fingers crossed.

I will try to get at least a short RootsTech article out next week while I’m there. If I manage to do that, the photos will be uncropped and it will be “rough” and brief compared to my normal articles. Think of it as embedded reporting – I’m your correspondent on the ground:)

I do have a couple very interesting newsy items to share with you today.

Nebula Genomics Introduces 30X Whole Genome Sequence, Partners with Family Tree DNA

Nebula.png

I just received an e-mail from Nebula Genomics announcing that they are offering a whole genome 30X (30 scan coverage) sequence (WGS) for $299, plus a subscription to maintain access to updates in their research library. The idea is to sequence once and update your data forever, meaning that medical and other information will be at your fingertips as it becomes available. You can read their FAQ, here and the announcement here.

For this price, the DNA is sequenced in Hong Kong, not mainland China (a situation you can read about here,) but by BGI, renamed from Bejing Genomics Institute, a Chinese government-owned firm. This gives me significant pause due to the Chinese political regime and oppression of the Uighur population using genetic data. Nebula states that they are looking to move their processing onshore in the near future. I will be much more comfortable as soon as that happens.

However, there’s more news. Nebula has partnered with Family Tree DNA.

Hey, Family Tree DNA has a world-class lab, GenebyGene. Perhaps Nebula can move their processing there. I would even pay more to *NOT* send my DNA to a Chinese firm.

Nebula FTDNA.png

Beginning in Q2, you’ll be able to transfer at least some of your information from Nebula Genomics to Family Tree DNA’s Y and mitochondrial databases. This appears to be a direct company to company transfer, much easier than a download/upload, assures accuracy and provides enhanced security.

I don’t see details, and it’s not Q2 yet of course, but I would expect this transfer to function similar to others where the transfer and perhaps some basic tools are free, but for advanced tools, an unlock fee at Family Tree DNA would probably be required. I also don’t know if all data would be transferred, or what happens if you’ve already taken a lower level test, or if coverage isn’t sufficient. Lots to work out moving forward.

Unlike the other WGS products that I’ve considered, Nebula provides a genomic browser and available files for download. In other words, you don’t just receive your sequenced file on a disc and wonder what to do next, and how.

I do have questions about this new offering, but for the $299 price, anyone thinking about whole genome sequencing and is OK with BGI should consider Nebula, especially with the possibility of transferring Y and mitochondrial DNA directly.

As far as I’m concerned, whole genome sequencing become a viable option when:

  • It’s reasonably priced
  • The coverage is adequate, at least 30X
  • My data is secure (meaning not BGI or China)
  • I can easily transfer portions elsewhere (without having to use third party tools to extract the data) and utilize the Y, mitochondrial and autosomal files as uploads in other locations
  • The vendor provides tools or a subscription so I can reap continuing value

When Nebula processing moves onshore, or at least to a western-world lab, I’ll be all in!

My Heritage Colorized Photos Go Viral

I’m pleased to tell you that MyHeritage reports that people have colorized more than a million photos in the first 5 days since they first announced their new photo colorization tool. That means sharing with family and other people getting excited about genealogy.

I’m observing family members on social media realizing they have “long lost” pictures and sharing them when they see the new colorized photos posted. As genealogists, this is EXACTLY what we want to see.

Look at some of these amazing photos in the MyHeritage blog article, here.

Remember, if you’re not a MyHeritage subscriber, you can colorize 10 photos for free and then you can set up a free trial subscription account. When you colorize the photos, MyHeritage saves them beside the original in your MyHeritage account for you. I love this service.

If you’re having problems with older photos, try rescanning the original at the highest scan resolution possible.

I’ve also discovered that this tool doesn’t just colorize photos of people – but of buildings, landscapes and pets too. I’ve found the best results are with something that has a natural green, like leaves, because the software seems to calibrate itself by finding something it can identify.

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You’ll forgive me if I go and have a good cry now.

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Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons

If you’re involved in genetic genealogy, you’ve probably noticed the recent announcements by both 23andMe and Ancestry relative to workforce layoffs as a result of declining sales.

Layoffs

In January, 23andMe announced that it was laying off 100 people which equated to 14% of its staff.

Following suit, Ancestry this week announced that they are laying off 100 people, 6% of their work force. They discuss their way forward, here.

One shift of this type can be a blip, but two tends to attract attention because it *could* indicate a trend. Accordingly, several articles have been written about possible reasons why this might be occurring. You can read what TechCrunch says here, Business Insider here, and The Verge, here.

Depending on who you talk to and that person’s perspective, the downturn is being attributed to:

  • Market Saturation
  • No Repeat Sales
  • Privacy Concerns
  • FAD Over

Ok, So What’s Happening?

Between Ancestry and 23andMe alone, more than 26 million DNA tests have been sold, without counting the original DNA testing company, FamilyTreeDNA along with MyHeritage who probably have another 4 or 5 million between them.

Let’s say that’s a total of 30 million people in DNA databases that offer matching. The total population of the US is estimated to be about 329 million, including children, which means that one person in 10 or 11 people in the US has now tested. Of course, DNA testing reaches worldwide, but it’s an interesting comparison indicating how widespread DNA testing has become overall.

This slowing of new sales shouldn’t really surprise anyone. In July 2019, Illumina, the chip maker who supplies equipment and supplies to the majority of the consumer DNA testing industry said that the market was softening after a drop in their 2019 second quarter revenue.

Also last year, Ancestry and MyHeritage both announced health products, a move which would potentially generate a repeat sale from someone who has already tested their DNA for genealogy purposes. I suspected at the time this might be either a pre-emptive strike, or in response to slowed sales.

In November 2019, Family Tree DNA announced an extensive high-end health test through Tovana which tests the entire Exome, the portion of our DNA useful for medical and health analysis.

In a sense, this health focus too is trendy, but moves away from genealogy into an untapped area.

23andMe who, according to their website, has obtained $791 million in venture capital or equity funding has always been focused on medical research. In July of 2018 GlaxoSmithKline infused $300 million into 23andMe in exchange for access to DNA results of their 5 million customers who have opted-in to medical research, according to Genengnews. If you divide the 300 million investment by 5 million opted-in customers, 23andMe received $60 per DNA kit.

That 5 million number is low though, based on other statements by 23andMe which suggests they have 10 million total customers, 80% of which opt-in for medical research. That would be a total of 8 million DNA results available to investors.

Divide $791 million by 8 million kits and 23andMe, over the years, has received roughly $99 for each customer who has opted in to research.

We know who Ancestry has partnered with for research, but not how much Ancestry has received.

There’s very big money, huge money, in collaborating with Big Pharma and others. Given the revenue potential, it’s amazing that the other two vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage, haven’t followed suit, but they haven’t.

Additionally, in January, 23andMe sold the rights to a new drug it developed in-house as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases for a reported (but unconfirmed by 23andMe) $5 million.

It’s ironic that two companies who just announced layoffs are the two who have partnered to sell access to their opted-in customers’ DNA results.

My Thoughts

I’ve been asked several times about my thoughts on this shift within the industry. I have refrained from saying much, because I think there has been way too much “hair on fire” clickbait reporting that is fanning the flames of fear, not only in the customer base, but in general.

I am sharing my thoughts, and while they are not entirely positive, in that there is clearly room for improvement, I want to emphasize that I am very upbeat about this industry as a whole, and this article ends very positively with suggestions for exactly that – so please read through.

Regardless of why, fewer new people are testing which of course results in fewer sales, and fewer new matches for us.

My suspicion is that each of the 4 reasons given above is accurate to some extent, and the cumulative effect plus a couple of other factors is the reason we’re seeing the downturn.

Let’s take a look at each one.

Market Saturation

Indeed, we’ve come a very long way from the time when DNA was a verboten topic on the old RootsWeb mailing lists and boards.

Early DNA adopters back then were accused of “cheating,” and worse. Our posts were deleted immediately. How times have changed!

As the technology matured, 23andMe began offering autosomal testing accompanied by cousin matching.

Ancestry initially stepped into the market with Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, but ultimately destroyed that database which included Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Relative Genetics, a company they had previously acquired. People in those databases, as well as who had irreplaceable samples in Sorenson, which Ancestry also purchased and subsequently took offline permanently have never forgotten.

Those genealogists have probably since tested at Ancestry, but they may be more inclined to test the rest of their family at places like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage who have chromosome browsers and tools that support more serious researchers.

I think a contributing factor is that fewer “serious genealogists” are coming up in the ranks. The perception that all you need to do is enter a couple of generations and click on a few leaves, and you’re “done” misleads people as to the complexity and work involved in genealogical research. Not to mention how many of those hints are inaccurate and require analysis.

Having said that, I view each one of these people who are encouraged for the first time by an ad, even if it is misleading in its simplicity, as a potential candidate. We were all baby genealogists once, and some of us stayed for reasons known only to us. Maybe we have the genealogy gene😊

But yes, I would agree that the majority, by far, of serious genealogists have already tested someplace. What they have not done universally is transferred from 23andMe and Ancestry to the other companies that can help them, such as MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch. If they had, the customer numbers at those companies would be higher. We all need to fish in every pond.

Advertising and Ethnicity

The DNA ads over the last few years have focused almost exclusively on ethnicity – the least reliable aspect of genetic genealogy – but also the “easiest” to understand if a customer takes their ethnicity percentages at face value. And of course, every consumer that purchases a test as a result of one of these ads does exactly that – spits or swabs, mails and opens their results to see what they “are” – full of excited anticipation.

Many people have absolutely no idea there’s more, like cousin matching – and many probably wouldn’t care.

The buying public who purchases due to these ads are clearly not early adopters, and most likely are not genealogists. One can hope that at least a few of them get hooked as a result, or at least enter a minimal tree.

Unfortunately, of the two companies experiencing layoffs, only Ancestry supports trees. Genealogy revolves around trees, pure and simple.

23andMe has literally had years to do so and has refused to natively support trees. Their FamilySearch link is not the same as supporting trees and tree matching. Their attempt at creating a genetic tree is laudable and has potential, but it’s not something that can be translated into a genealogical benefit for most people. I’m guessing that there aren’t any genealogists working for 23andMe, or they aren’t “heard” amid the vervre surrounding medical research.

All told, I’m not surprised that the two companies who are experiencing the layoffs are the two companies whose ads we saw most often focused on ethnicity, especially Ancestry. Who can forget the infamous kilt/leiderhosen ad that Ancestry ran? I still cringe.

Many people who test for ethnicity never sign on again – especially if they are unhappy with the results.

Ancestry and 23andMe spent a lot on ad campaigns, ramped up for the resulting sales, but now the ads are less effective, so not being run as much or at all. Sales are down. Who’s to say which came first, the chicken (fewer ads) or the egg (lower sales.)

This leads us to the next topic, add on sales.

No Repeat Sales

DNA testing, unless you have something else to offer customers is being positioned as a “one and done” sale, meaning that it’s a single purchase with no potential for additional revenue. While that’s offered as a reason for the downturn, it’s not exactly true for DNA test sales.

Ancestry clearly encourages customers to subscribe to their records database by withholding access to some DNA features without a subscription. For Ancestry, DNA is the bait for a yearly repeat sale of a subscription. Genealogists subscribe, of course, but people who aren’t genealogists don’t see the benefit.

Ancestry does not allow transfers into their database, which would provide for additional revenue opportunity. I suspect the reason is twofold. First, they want the direct testing revenue, but perhaps more importantly, in order to sell their customer’s DNA who have agreed to participate in research, or partner with research firms, those customers need to have tested on Ancestry’s custom chip. This holds true for 23andMe as well.

Through the 23andMe financial information in the earlier section, it’s clear that while the consumer only pays a one time fee to test, multiple research companies will pay over and over for access to that compiled consumer information.

Ancestry and 23andMe have the product, your opted-in DNA test that you paid for, and they can sell it over and over again. Hopefully, this revenue stream helps to fund development of genetic genealogical tools.

MyHeritage also provides access to advanced DNA tools by selling a subscription to their records database after a free trial. MyHeritage has integrated their DNA testing with genealogical records to provide their advanced Theories of Family Relativity tool, a huge boon to genealogists.

While Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a genealogical records database like Ancestry and MyHeritage, they provide Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing, in addition to the autosomal Family Finder test. If more people tested Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, more genealogical walls would fall due to the unique inheritance path and the fact that neither Y nor mitochondrial DNA is admixed with DNA from the other parent.

Generally, only genealogists know about and are going to order Y DNA and mtDNA tests, or sponsor others to take them to learn more about their ancestral lines. These tests don’t provide yearly revenue like an ongoing subscription, but at least the fact that Family Tree DNA offers three different tests does provide the potential for at least some additional sales.

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA encourage uploads, and neither sell, lease or share your DNA for medical testing. You can find upload instructions, here.

In summary of this section, all of the DNA testing companies do have some sort of additional (potential) revenue stream from DNA testing, so it’s not exactly “one and done.”

Health Testing Products

As for health testing, 23andMe has always offered some level of health information for their customers. Health and research has always been their primary focus. Health and genealogy was originally bundled into one test. Today, DNA ancestry tests with the health option at 23andMe cost more than a genealogy-only test and are two separate products.

MyHeritage also offers a genealogy only DNA test and a genealogy plus health DNA test.

In 2019, both Ancestry and MyHeritage added health testing to their menu as upgrades for existing customers.

In November 2019, FamilyTreeDNA announced an alliance with Tovana for their customers to order a full exome grade medical test and accompanying report. I recently received mine and am still reviewing the results – they are extensive.

It’s clear that all four companies see at least some level of consumer interest in health and traits as a lucrative next step.

Medical Research and DNA Sales

Both Ancestry and 23andMe are pursuing and have invested in relationships with research institutions or Big Pharma. I have concerns with how this is handled. You may not.

I’m supportive of medical research, but I’m concerned that most people have no idea of the magnitude and scope of the contracts between Ancestry and 23andMe with Big Pharma and others, in part, because the details are not public. Customers may also not be aware of exactly what they are opting in to, what it means or where their DNA/DNA results are going.

As a consumer, I want to know where my DNA is, who is using it, and for what purpose. I don’t want my DNA to wind up being used for a nefarious purpose or something I don’t approve of. Think Uighurs in China by way of example. BGI Genetics, headquartered in China but with an Americas division and facilities in Silicon Valley has been a major research institute for years. I want to know what my DNA is being used for, and by whom. The fact that the companies won’t provide their customers with that information makes me makes me immediately wonder why not.

I would like to be able to opt-in for specific studies, not blindly for every use that is profitable to the company involved, all without my knowledge. No blank checks. For example, I opted out of 23andMe research when they patented the technology for designer babies.

Furthermore, I feel that if someone is going to profit from my DNA, it should be me since I paid for the sequencing. At minimum, a person whose DNA is used in these studies should receive some guarantee that they will be provided with any drug in which their DNA is used for development, in particular if their insurance doesn’t pay and they cannot afford the drug.

Drug prices have risen exponentially in the US recently, with many people no longer able to afford their medications. For example, the price of insulin has tripled over the last decade, causing people to ration or cut back on their insulin, if not go without altogether. It would be the greatest of ironies if the very people whose DNA was sold and used to create a drug had no access to it.

Of course, Ancestry and 23andMe are not required to inform consumers of which studies their DNA or DNA results are used for, so we don’t know. Always read all of the terms and conditions, and all links when authorizing anything.

Both companies indicate that your DNA results are anonymized before being shared, but we now know that’s not really possible anymore, because it’s relatively easy to re-identify someone. This is exactly how adoptees identify their biological parents through genetic matches. Dr. Yaniv Erlich reported in the journal Science November 2018 that more than 60% of Europeans could be reidentified through a genealogy database of only 1.28 million individuals.

I think greater transparency and a change in policy favoring the consumer would go a long way to instilling more confidence in the outside research relationships that both Ancestry and 23andMe pursue and maintain. It would probably increase their participation level as well if people could select the research initiatives to which they want to contribute their DNA.

Privacy Concerns

The news has been full of articles about genetic privacy, especially in the months since the Golden State Killer case was solved. That was only April 2018, but it seems like eons ago.

Unfortunately, much of what has been widely reported is inaccurate. For example, no company has ever thrown the data base open for the FBI or anyone to rummage through like a closet full of clothes. However, headlines and commentary like that attract outrage and hundreds of thousands of clicks. In the news and media industry, “it’s all about eyeballs.”

In one case, an article I interviewed for extensively in an educational capacity was written accurately, but the headline was awful. The journalist in question replied that the editors write the headlines, not the reporters.

One instance of this type of issue would be pretty insignificant, but the news in this vein hasn’t abated, always simmering just below the surface waiting for something to fan the flames. Outrage sells.

For the most part, those within the genealogy community at least attempt to sort out what is accurate reporting and what is not, but those people are the ones who have already tested.

People outside the genealogy community just know that they’ve now seen repeated headlines reporting that their genetic privacy either has been, could be or might be breached, and they are suspicious and leery. I would be too. They have no idea what that actually means, what is actually occurring, where, or that they are probably far more at risk on social media sites.

These people are not genealogists, and now they look at ads and think to themselves, “yes, I’d like to do that, but…”

And they never go any further.

People are frightened and simply disconnect from the topic – without testing.

If, as a consumer, you see several articles or posts saying that <fill in car model> is really bad, when you consider a purchase, even if you initially like that model, you’ll remember all of those negative messages. You may never realize that the source was the competition which would cause you to interpret those negative comments in a completely different light.

I think that some of the well-intentioned statements made by companies to reassure their existing and potential customers have actually done more harm than good by reinforcing that there’s a widespread issue. “You’re safe with us” can easily be interpreted as, “there’s something to be afraid of.”

Added to that is the sensitive topic of adoptee and unknown parent searches.

Reunion stories are wonderfully touching, and we all love them, but you seldom see the other side of the coin. Not every story has a happy ending, and many don’t. Not every parent wants to be found for a variety of reasons. If you’re the child and don’t want to find your parents, don’t test, but it doesn’t work the other way around. A parent can often be identified by their relatives’ DNA matches to their child.

While most news coverage reflects positive adoptee reunion outcomes, that’s not universal, and almost every family has a few lurking skeletons. People know that. Some people are fearful of what they might discover about themselves or family members and are correspondingly resistant to DNA testing. Realizing you might discover that your father isn’t your biological father if you DNA test gives people pause. It’s a devastating discovery and some folks decide they’d rather not take that chance, even though they believe it’s not possible.

The genealogical search techniques for identifying unknown parents or close relatives and the technique used by law enforcement to identify unknown people, either bodies or perpetrators is exactly the same. If you are in one of the databases, who you match can provide a very big hint to someone hunting for the identify of an unknown person.

People who are not genealogists, adoptees or parents seeking to find children placed for adoption may be becoming less comfortable with this idea in general.

Of course, the ability for law enforcement to upload kits to GedMatch/Verogen and Family Tree DNA, under specific controlled conditions, has itself been an explosive and divisive topic within and outside of the genealogy community since April 2018.

These law enforcement kits are either cold case remains of victims, known as “Does,” or body fluids from the scenes of violent crimes, such as rape, murder and potentially child abduction and aggravated assault. To date, since the Golden State Killer identification, numerous cases have produced a “solve.” ISOGG, a volunteer organization, maintains a page of known cases solved, here.

GEDmatch encourages people to opt-in for law-enforcement matching, meaning that their kit can be seen as a match to kits uploaded by law enforcement agencies or companies working on behalf of law enforcement agencies. If a customer doesn’t opt-in, their kit can’t be seen as a match to a law enforcement kit.

Family Tree DNA initially opted-out all EU kits from law enforcement matching, due to GDPR, and provides the option for their customers to opt-out of law-enforcement matching.

Neither MyHeritage, Ancestry nor 23andMe cooperate with law enforcment under any circumstances and have stated that they will actively resist all subpoenaes in court.

ISOGG provides a FAQ on Investigative Genetic Genealogy, here.

The two sides of the argument have rather publicly waged war on each other in an ongoing battle to convince people of the merits of their side of the equation, including working with news organizations.

Unfortunately, this topic is akin to arguing over politics. No one changes their mind, and everyone winds up mad.

Notice I’m not linking any articles here, not even my own. I do not want to fan these flames, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the topic of law enforcement usage itself, the on-going public genetic genealogy community war and resulting media coverage together have very probably contributed to the lagging sales. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that while a great division of opinion exists, and many people are opposed, there are also many people who are extremely supportive.

All of this, combined, intentionally or not, has introduced FUD, fear, uncertainty and doubt – a very old disinformation “sales technique.”

In a sense, for consumers, this has been like watching pigs mud-wrestle.

As my dad used to say, “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys it, you get muddy and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” The spectators in this case vote with their lack of spending and no one is a winner.

DNA Testing Was A FAD

Another theory is that genealogy DNA testing was just a FAD whose time has come and gone. I think the FAD was ethnicity testing, and that chicken has come home to roost.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry clearly geared up for testers attracted by their very successful ads. I was just recently on a cruise, and multiple times I heard people at another table discussing their ethnicity results from some unnamed company. They introduced the topic by saying, “I did my DNA.”

The discussion was almost always the same. Someone said that they thought their ethnicity was pretty accurate, someone else said theirs was awful, and the discussion went from there. Not one time did anyone ever mention a company name, DNA matching or any other functionality. I’m not even sure they understood there are different DNA testing companies.

If I was a novice listening-in, based on that discussion, I would have learned to doubt the accuracy of “doing my DNA.”

If most of the people who purchased ethnicity tests understood in advance that ethnicity testing truly is “just an estimate,” they probably wouldn’t have purchased in the first place. If they understood the limitations and had properly set expectations, perhaps they would not have been as unhappy and disenchanted with their results. I realize that’s not very good marketing, but I think that chicken coming home to roost is a very big part of what we’re seeing now.

The media has played this up too, with stories about how the ethnicity of identical twins doesn’t match. If people bother to read more than the headline, and IF it’s a reasonably accurate article, they’ll come to understand why and how that might occur. If not, what they’ll take away is that DNA testing is wrong and unreliable. So don’t bother.

Furthermore, most people don’t understand that ethnicity testing and cousin matching are two entirely different aspects of a DNA test. The “accuracy” of ethnicity is not related to the accuracy of cousin matching, but once someone questions the credibility of DNA testing – their lack of confidence is universal.

I would agree, the FAD is over – meaning lots of people testing primarily for ethnicity. I think the marketing challenge going forward is to show people that DNA testing can be useful for other things – and to make that easy.

Ethnicity was the low hanging fruit and it’s been picked.

Slowed Growth – Not Dead in the Water

The rate of growth has slowed. This does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that genetic genealogy or DNA testing is dead in the water. DNA fishes for us 365x24x7.

For example, just today, I received a message from 23andMe that 75 new relatives have joined 23andMe. I also received match notifications from Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.  Hey – calorie-free treats!!!

These new matches are nothing to sneeze at. I remember when I was thrilled over ONE new match.

I have well over 100,000 matches if you combine my matches at the four vendors.

Without advanced tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity, ThruLines, DNAPainter, DNAgedcom and Genetic Affairs, I’d have absolutely no prayer of grouping and processing this number of matches for genealogy.

Even if I received no new matches for the next year, I’d still not be finished analyzing the autosomal matches I already have.

This Too Shall Pass

At least I hope it will.

I think people will still test, but the market has corrected. This level of testing is probably the “new normal.”

Neither Ancestry or 23andMe are spending the big ad dollars – or at least not as big.

In order for DNA testing companies to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions or add-on products, tools need to be developed or enhanced that encourage customers to return to the site over and over. This could come in the form of additional results or functionality calculated on their behalf.

That “on their behalf” point is important. Vendors need to focus on making DNA fun, and productive, not work. New tools, especially in the last year or two, have taken a big step in that direction. Make the customer wonder every day what gift is waiting for him or her that wasn’t there yesterday. Make DNA useful and fun!

I would call this “DNA crack.” 😊

Cooking Up DNA Crack!

In order to assist the vendors, I’ve compiled one general suggestion plus what I would consider to be the “Big 3 Wish List” for each of their DNA products in term of features or improvements that would encourage customers to either use or return to their sites. (You’re welcome.)

I don’t want this to appear negative, so I’ve also included the things I like most about each vendor.

If you have something to add, please feel free to comment in a positive fashion.

Family Tree DNA

I Love: Y and Mitochondrial DNA, Phased Family Matching, and DNA projects

General Suggestion – Fix chronic site loading issues which discourage customers

  • Tree Matching – fix the current issues with trees and implement tree matching for DNA matches
  • Triangulation – including by match group and segment
  • Clustering – some form of genetic networks

MyHeritage

I Love: Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation, wide variety of filters, SmartMatches and Record Matches

General – Clarify confusing subscription options in comparative grid format

  • Triangulation by group and segment
  • View DNA matches by ancestor
  • Improved Ethnicity

Ancestry

I Love: Database size, ThruLines, record and DNA hints (green leaves)

General – Focus on the customers’ needs and repeated requests

  • Accept uploads
  • Chromosome Browser (yes, I know this is a dead horse, but that doesn’t change the need)
  • Triangulation (dead horse’s brother)

23andMe

I Love: Triangulation, Ethnicity quality, ethnicity segments identified, painted and available for download

General – Focus on genealogy tools if you’re going to sell a genealogy test

  • Implement individual customer trees – not Family Search
  • Remove 2000 match limit (which is functionally less after 23andMe hides the people not opted into matching)
  • DNA + Tree Matching

Summary

In summary, we, as consumers need to maintain our composure, assuring others that no one’s hair is on fire and the sky really is not falling. We need to calmly educate as opposed to frighten.

Just the facts.

Other approaches don’t serve us in the end. Frightening people away may “win” the argumentative battle of the day, but we all lose the war if people are no longer willing to test.

This is much like a lifeboat – we all succeed together, or we all lose.

Everybody row!

As genealogists, we need to:

  • Focus on verifying ancestors and solving genealogy challenges
  • Sharing those victories with others, including family members
  • Encourage our relatives to test, and transfer so that their testing investment provides as much benefit as possible
  • Offer to help relatives with the various options on each vendor’s platform
  • Share the joy

People share exciting good news with others, especially on Facebook and social media platforms, and feel personally invested when you share new results with them. Collaboration bonds people.

A positive attitude, balanced perspective and excitement about common ancestors goes a very, very long was in terms of encouraging others.

We have more matches now than ever before, along with more and better tools. Matches are still rolling in, every single day.

New announcements are expected at Rootstech in a couple short weeks.

There’s so much opportunity and work to do.

The sky is not falling. It rained a bit.

The seas may have been stormy, but as a genealogist, the sun is out and a rising tide lifts us all.

Rising tide

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

2019: The Year and Decade of Change

2019 ends both a year and a decade. In the genealogy and genetic genealogy world, the overwhelmingly appropriate word to define both is “change.”

Everything has changed.

Millions more records are online now than ever before, both through the Big 3, being FamilySearch, MyHeritage and Ancestry, but also through multitudes of other sites preserving our history. Everyplace from National Archives to individual blogs celebrating history and ancestors.

All you need to do is google to find more than ever before.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more progress in the past decade that in all of the previous ones combined.

Just Beginning?

If you’re just beginning with genetic genealogy, welcome! I wrote this article just for you to see what to expect when your DNA results are returned.

If you’ve been working with genetic genealogy results for some time, or would like a great review of the landscape, let’s take this opportunity to take a look at how far we’ve come in the past year and decade.

It’s been quite a ride!

What Has Changed?

EVERYTHING

Literally.

A decade ago, we had Y and mitochondrial DNA, but just the beginning of the autosomal revolution in the genetic genealogy space.

In 2010, Family Tree DNA had been in business for a decade and offered both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing.

Ancestry offered a similar Y and mtDNA product, but not entirely the same markers, nor full sequence mitochondrial. Ancestry subsequently discontinued that testing and destroyed the matching database. Ancestry bought the Sorenson database that included Y, mitochondrial and autosomal, then destroyed that data base too.

23andMe was founded in 2006 and began autosomal testing in 2007 for health and genealogy. Genealogists piled on that bandwagon.

Family Tree DNA added autosomal to their menu in 2010, but Ancestry didn’t offer an autosomal product until 2012 and MyHeritage not until 2016. Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have launched massive marketing and ad campaigns to help people figure out “who they are,” and who their ancestors were too.

Family Tree DNA

2019 FTDNA

Family Tree DNA had a banner year with the Big Y-700 product, adding over 211,000 Y DNA SNPs in 2019 alone to total more than 438,000 by year end, many of which became newly defined haplogroups. You can read more here. Additionally, Family Tree DNA introduced the Block Tree and public Y and public mitochondrial DNA trees.

Anyone who ignores Y DNA testing does so at their own peril. Information produced by Y DNA testing (and for that matter, mitochondrial too) cannot be obtained any other way. I wrote about utilizing mitochondrial DNA here and a series about how to utilize Y DNA begins in a few days.

Family Tree DNA remains the premier commercial testing company to offer high resolution and full sequence testing and matching, which of course is the key to finding genealogy solutions.

In the autosomal space, Family Tree DNA is the only testing company to provide Phased Family Matching which uses your matches on both sides of your tree, assuming you link 3rd cousins or closer, to assign other testers to specific parental sides of your tree.

Family Tree DNA accepts free uploads from other testing companies with the unlock for advanced features only $19. You can read about that here and here.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage, the DNA testing dark horse, has come from behind from their late entry into the field in 2016 with focused Europeans ads and the purchase of Promethease in 2019. Their database stands at 3.7 million, not as many as either Ancestry or 23andMe, but for many people, including me – MyHeritage is much more useful, especially for my European lines. Not only is MyHeritage a genealogy company, piloted by Gilad Japhet, a passionate genealogist, but they have introduced easy-to-use advanced tools for consumers during 2019 to take the functionality lead in autosomal DNA.

2019 MyHeritage.png

You can read more about MyHeritage and their 2019 accomplishments, here.

As far as I’m concerned, the MyHeritage bases-loaded 4-product “Home Run” makes MyHeritage the best solution for genetic genealogy via either testing or transfer:

  • Triangulation – shows testers where 3 or more people match each other. You can read more, here.
  • Tree Matching – SmartMatching for both DNA testers and those who have not DNA tested
  • Theories of Family Relativity – a wonderful new tool introduced in February. You can read more here.
  • AutoClusters – Integrated cluster technology helps you to visualize which groups of people match each other.

One of their best features, Theories of Family Relativity connects the dots between people you DNA match with disparate trees and other documents, such as census. This helps you and others break down long-standing brick walls. You can read more, here.

MyHeritage encourages uploads from other testing companies with basic functions such as matching for free. Advanced features cost either a one-time unlock fee of $29 or are included with a full subscription which you can try for free, here. You can read about what is free and what isn’t, here.

You can develop a testing and upload strategy along with finding instructions for how to upload here and here.

23andMe

Today, 23andMe is best known for health, having recovered after having had their wings clipped a few years back by the FDA. They were the first to offer Health results, leveraging the genealogy marketspace to attract testers, but have recently been eclipsed by both Family Tree DNA with their high end full Exome Tovana test and MyHeritage with their Health upgrade which provides more information than 23andMe along with free genetic counseling if appropriate. Both the Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage tests are medically supervised, so can deliver more results.

23andMe has never fully embraced genetic genealogy by adding the ability to upload and compare trees. In 2019, they introduced a beta function to attempt to create a genetic tree on your behalf based on how your matches match you and each other.

2019 23andMe.png

These trees aren’t accurate today, nor are they deep, but they are a beginning – especially considering that they are not based on existing trees. You can read more here.

The best 23andMe feature for genealogy, as far as I’m concerned, is their ethnicity along with the fact that they actually provide testers with the locations of their ethnicity segments which can help testers immensely, especially with minority ancestry matching. You can read about how to do this for yourself, here.

23andMe generally does not allow uploads, probably because they need people to test on their custom-designed medical chip. Very rarely, once that I know of in 2018, they do allow uploads – but in the past, uploaders do not receive all of the genealogy features and benefits of testing.

You can however, download your DNA file from 23andMe and upload elsewhere, with instructions here.

Ancestry

Ancestry is widely known for their ethnicity ads which are extremely effective in recruiting new testers. That’s the great news. The results are frustrating to seasoned genealogists who get to deal with the fallout of confused people trying to figure out why their results don’t match their expectations and family stories. That’s the not-so-great news.

However, with more than 15 million testers, many of whom DO have genealogy trees, a serious genealogist can’t *NOT* test at Ancestry. Testers do need to be aware that not all features are available to DNA testers who don’t also subscribe to Ancestry’s genealogy subscriptions. For example, you can’t see your matches’ trees beyond a 5 generation preview without a subscription. You can read more about what you do and don’t receive, here.

Ancestry is the only one of the major companies that doesn’t provide a chromosome browser, despite pleas for years to do so, but they do provide ThruLines that show you other testers who match your DNA and show a common ancestor with you in their trees.

2019 Ancestry.png

ThruLines will also link partial trees – showing you ancestral descendants from the perspective of the ancestor in question, shown above. You can read about ThruLines, here.

Of course, without a chromosome browser, this match is only as good as the associated trees, and there is no way to prove the genealogical connection. It’s possible to all be wrong together, or to be related to some people through a completely different ancestor. Third party tools like Genetic Affairs and cluster technology help resolve these types of issues. You can read more, here.

You can’t upload DNA files from other testing companies to Ancestry, probably due to their custom medical chip. You can download your file from Ancestry and upload to other locations, with instructions here.

Selling Customers’ DNA

Neither Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage nor Gedmatch sell, lease or otherwise share their customers’ DNA, and all three state (minimally) they will not in the future without prior authorization.

All companies utilize their customers’ DNA internally to enhance and improve their products. That’s perfectly normal.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe sell consumers DNA to both known and unknown partners if customers opt-in to additional research. That’s the purpose of all those questions.

If you do agree or opt-in, and for those who tested prior to when the opt-in began, consumers don’t know who their DNA has been sold to, where it is or for what purposes it’s being utilized. Although anonymized (pseudonymized) before sale, autosomal results can easily be identified to the originating tester (if someone were inclined to do so) as demonstrated by adoptees identifying parents and law enforcement identifying both long deceased remains and criminal perpetrators of violent crimes. You can read more about re-identification here, although keep in mind that the re-identification frequency (%) would be much higher now than it was in 2018.

People are widely split on this issue. Whatever you decide, to opt-in or not, just be sure to do your homework first.

Always read the terms and conditions fully and carefully of anything having to do with genetics.

Genealogy

The bottom line to genetic genealogy is the genealogy aspect. Genealogists want to confirm ancestors and discover more about those ancestors. Some information can only be discovered via DNA testing today, distant Native heritage, for example, breaking through brick walls.

This technology, as it has advanced and more people have tested, has been a godsend for genealogists. The same techniques have allowed other people to locate unknown parents, grandparents and close relatives.

Adoptees

Not only are genealogists identifying people long in the past that are their ancestors, but adoptees and those seeking unknown parents are making discoveries much closer to home. MyHeritage has twice provided thousands of free DNA tests via their DNAQuest program to adoptees seeking their biological family with some amazing results.

The difference between genealogy, which looks back in time several generations, and parent or grand-parent searches is that unknown-parent searches use matches to come forward in time to identify parents, not backwards in time to identify distant ancestors in common.

Adoptee matching is about identifying descendants in common. According to Erlich et al in an October 2018 paper, here, about 60% of people with European ancestry could be identified. With the database growth since that time, that percentage has risen, I’m sure.

You can read more about the adoption search technique and how it is used, here.

Adoptee searches have spawned their own subculture of sorts, with researchers and search angels that specialize in making these connections. Do be aware that while many reunions are joyful, not all discoveries are positively received and the revelations can be traumatic for all parties involved.

There’s ying and yang involved, of course, and the exact same techniques used for identifying biological parents are also used to identify cold-case deceased victims of crime as well as violent criminals, meaning rapists and murderers.

Crimes Solved

The use of genetic genealogy and adoptee search techniques for identifying skeletal remains of crime victims, as well as identifying criminals in order that they can be arrested and removed from the population has resulted in a huge chasm and division in the genetic genealogy community.

These same issues have become popular topics in the press, often authored by people who have no experience in this field, don’t understand how these techniques are applied or function and/or are more interested in a sensational story than in the truth. The word click-bait springs to mind although certainly doesn’t apply equally to all.

Some testers are adamantly pro-usage of their DNA in order to identify victims and apprehend violent criminals. Other testers, not so much and some, on the other end of the spectrum are vehemently opposed. This is a highly personal topic with extremely strong emotions on both sides.

The first such case was the Golden State Killer, which has been followed in the past 18 months or so by another 100+ solved cases.

Regardless of whether or not people want their own DNA to be utilized to identify these criminals and victims, providing closure for families, I suspect the one thing we can all agree on is that we are grateful that these violent criminals no longer live among us and are no longer preying on innocent victims.

I wrote about the Golden State Killer, here, as well as other articles here, here, here and here.

In the genealogy community, various vendors have adopted quite different strategies relating to these kinds of searches, as follows:

  • Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage – have committed to fight all access attempts by law enforcement, including court ordered subpoenas.
  • MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch allow uploads, so forensic kits, meaning kits from deceased remains or rape kits could be uploaded to search for matches, the same as any other kit. Law Enforcement uploads violate the MyHeritage terms of service. Both Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch have special law enforcement procedures in place. All three companies have measures in place to attempt to detect unauthorized forensic uploads.
  • Family Tree DNA has provided a specific Law Enforcement protocol and guidelines for forensic uploads, here. All EU customers were opted out earlier in 2019, but all new or existing non-EU customers need to opt out if they do not want their DNA results available for matching to law enforcement kits.
  • GEDmatch was recently sold to Verogen, a DNA forensics company, with information, here. Currently GEDMatch customers are opted-out of matching for law enforcement kits, but can opt-in. Verogen, upon purchase of GEDmatch, required all users to read the terms and conditions and either accept the terms or delete their kits. Users can also delete their kits or turn off/on law enforcement matching at any time.

New Concerns

Concerns in late 2019 have focused on the potential misuse of genetic matching to potentially target subsets of individuals by despotic regimes such as has been done by China to the Uighurs.

You can read about potential risks here, here and here, along with a recent DoD memo here.

Some issues spelled out in the papers can be resolved by vendors agreeing to cryptographically sign their files when customers download. Of course, this would require that everyone, meaning all vendors, play nice in the sandbox. So far, that hasn’t happened although I would expect that the vendors accepting uploads would welcome cryptographic signatures. That pretty much leaves Ancestry and 23andMe. I hope they will step up to the plate for the good of the industry as a whole.

Relative to the concerns voiced in the papers and by the DoD, I do not wish to understate any risks. There ARE certainly risks of family members being identified via DNA testing, which is, after all, the initial purpose even though the current (and future) uses were not foreseen initially.

In most cases, the cow has already left that barn. Even if someone new chooses not to test, the critical threshold is now past to prevent identification of individuals, at least within the US and/or European diaspora communities.

I do have concerns:

  • Websites where the owners are not known in the genealogical community could be collecting uploads for clandestine purposes. “Free” sites are extremely attractive to novices who tend to forget that if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Please be very cognizant and leery. Actually, just say no unless you’re positive.
  • Fearmongering and click-bait articles in general will prevent and are already causing knee-jerk reactions, causing potential testers to reject DNA testing outright, without doing any research or reading terms and conditions.
  • That Ancestry and 23andMe, the two major vendors who don’t accept uploads will refuse to add crypto-signatures to protect their customers who download files.

Every person needs to carefully make their own decisions about DNA testing and participating in sharing through third party sites.

Health

Not surprisingly, the DNA testing market space has cooled a bit this past year. This slowdown is likely due to a number of factors such as negative press and the fact that perhaps the genealogical market is becoming somewhat saturated. Although, I suspect that when vendors announce major new tools, their DNA kit sales spike accordingly.

Look at it this way, do you know any serious genealogists who haven’t DNA tested? Most are in all of the major databases, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch.

All of the testing companies mentioned above (except GEDmatch who is not a testing company) now have a Health offering, designed to offer existing and new customers additional value for their DNA testing dollar.

23andMe separated their genealogy and health offering years ago. Ancestry and MyHeritage now offer a Health upgrade. For existing customers, FamilyTreeDNA offers the Cadillac of health tests through Tovana.

I would guess it goes without saying here that if you really don’t want to know about potential health issues, don’t purchase these tests. The flip side is, of course, that most of the time, a genetic predisposition is nothing more and not a death sentence.

From my own perspective, I found the health tests to be informative, actionable and in some cases, they have been lifesaving for friends.

Whoever knew genealogy might save your life.

Innovative Third-Party Tools

Tools, and fads, come and go.

In the genetic genealogy space, over the years, tools have burst on the scene to disappear a few months later. However, the last few years have been won by third party tools developed by well-known and respected community members who have created tools to assist other genealogists.

As we close this decade, these are my picks of the tools that I use almost daily, have proven to be the most useful genealogically and that I feel I just “couldn’t live without.”

And yes, before you ask, some of these have a bit of a learning curve, but if you are serious about genealogy, these are all well worthwhile:

  • GedMatch – offers a wife variety of tools including triangulation, half versus fully identical segments and the ability to see who your matches also match. One of the tools I utilize regularly is segment search to see who else matches me on a specific segment, attached to an ancestor I’m researching. GedMatch, started by genealogists, has lasted more than a decade prior to the sale in December 2019.
  • Genetic Affairs – a barn-burning newcomer developed by Evert-Jan Blom in 2018 wins this years’ “Best” award from me, titled appropriately, the “SNiPPY.”.

Genetic Affairs 2019 SNiPPY Award.png

Genetic Affairs offers clustering, tree building between your matches even when YOU don’t have a tree. You can read more here.

2019 genetic affairs.png

Just today, Genetic Affairs released a new cluster interface with DNAPainter, example shown above.

  • DNAPainter – THE chromosome painter created by Jonny Perl just gets better and better, having added pedigree tree construction this year and other abilities. I wrote a composite instructional article, here.
  • DNAGedcom.com and Genetic.Families, affiliated with DNAAdoption.org – Rob Warthen in collaboration with others provides tools like clustering combined with triangulation. My favorite feature is the gathering of all direct ancestors of my matches’ trees at the various vendors where I’ve DNA tested which allows me to search for common surnames and locations, providing invaluable hints not otherwise available.

Promising Newcomer

  • MitoYDNA – a non-profit newcomer by folks affiliated with DNAAdoption and DNAGedcom is designed to replace YSearch and MitoSearch, both felled by the GDPR ax in 2018. This website allows people to upload their Y and mitochondrial DNA results and compare the values to each other, not just for matching, which you can do at Family Tree DNA, but also to see the values that do and don’t match and how they differ. I’ll be taking MitoYDNA for a test drive after the first of the year and will share the results with you.

The Future

What does the future hold? I almost hesitate to guess.

  • Artificial Intelligence Pedigree Chart – I think that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the ability to provide testers with a “one and done” pedigree chart. In other words, you will test and receive at least some portion of your genealogy all tidily presented, red ribbon untied and scroll rolled out in front of you like you’re the guest on one of those genealogy TV shows.

Except it’s not a show and is a result of DNA testing, segment triangulation, trees and other tools which narrow your ancestors to only a few select possibilities.

Notice I said, “the ability to.” Just because we have the ability doesn’t mean a vendor will implement this functionality. In fact, just think about the massive businesses built upon the fact that we, as genealogists, have to SEARCH incessantly for these elusive answers. Would it be in the best interest of these companies to just GIVE you those answers when you test?

If not, then these types of answers will rest with third parties. However, there’s a hitch. Vendors generally don’t welcome third parties offering advanced tools and therefore block those tools, even though they are being used BY the customer or with their explicit authorization to massage their own data.

On the other hand, as a genealogist, I would welcome this feature with open arms – because as far as I’m concerned, the identification of that ancestor is just the first step. I get to know them by fleshing out their bones by utilizing those research records.

In fact, I’m willing to pony up to the table and I promise, oh-so-faithfully, to maintain my subscription lifelong if one of those vendors will just test me. Please, please, oh pretty-please put me to the test!

I guess you know what my New Year’s Wish is for this and upcoming years now too😊

What About You?

What do you think the high points of 2019 have been?

How about the decade?

What do you think the future holds?

Do you care to make any predictions?

Are you planning to focus on any particular goal or genealogy problem in 2020?

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

Big Y News and Stats + Sale

I must admit – this past January when FamilyTreeDNA announced the Big Y-700, an upgrade from the Big Y-500 product, I was skeptical. I wondered how much benefit testers would really see – but I was game to purchase a couple upgrades – and I did. Then, when the results came back, I purchased more!

I’m very pleased to announce that I’m no longer skeptical. I’m a believer.

The Big Y-700 has produced amazing results – and now FamilyTreeDNA has decoupled the price of the BAM file in addition to announcing substantial sale prices for their Thanksgiving Sale.

I’m going to discuss sale pricing for products other than the Big Y in a separate article because I’d like to focus on the progress that has been made on the phylogenetic tree (and in my own family history) as a result of the Big Y-700 this year.

Big Y Pricing Structure Change

FamilyTreeDNA recently anounced some product structure changes.

The Big Y-700 price has been permanently dropped by $100 by decoupling the BAM file download from the price of the test itself. This accomplishes multiple things:

  • The majority of testers don’t want or need the BAM file, so the price of the test has been dropped by $100 permanently in order to be able to price the Big Y-700 more attractively to encourage more testers. That’s good for all of us!!!
  • For people who ordered the Big Y-700 since November 1, 2019 (when the sale prices began) who do want the BAM file, they can purchase the BAM file separately through the “Add Ons and Upgrades” page, via the “Upgrades” tab for $100 after their test results are returned. There will also be a link on the Big Y-700 results page. The total net price for those testers is exactly the same, but it represents a $100 permanent price drop for everyone else.
  • This BAM file decoupling reduces the initial cost of the Big Y-700 test itself, and everyone still has the option of purchasing the BAM file later, which will make the Big Y-700 test more affordable. Additionally, it allows the tester who wants the BAM file to divide the purchase into two pieces, which will help as well.
  • The current sale price for the Big Y-700 for the tester who has taken NO PREVIOUS Y DNA testing is now just $399, formerly $649. That’s an amazing price drop, about 40%, in the 9 months since the Big Y-700 was introduced!
  • Upgrade pricing is available too, further down in this article.
  • If you order an upgrade from any earlier Big Y to the Big Y-700, you receive an upgraded BAM file because you already paid for the BAM file when you ordered your initial Big Y test.
  • The VCF file is still available for download at no additional cost with any Big Y test.
  • There is no change in the BAM file availability for current customers. Everyone who ordered before November 1, 2019 will be able to download their BAM file as always.

The above changes are permanent, except for the sale price.

2019 has been a Banner Year

I know how successful the Big Y-700 has been for kits and projects that I manage, but how successful has it been overall, in a scientific sense?

I asked FamilyTreeDNA for some stats about the number of SNPs discovered and the number of branches added to the Y phylotree.

Drum roll please…

Branches Added This Year Total Tree Branches Variants Added to Tree This Year Total Variants Added to Tree
2018 6,259 17,958 60,468 132.634
2019 4,394 22.352 32,193 164,827

The tests completed in 2019 are only representative for 10 months, through October, and not the entire year.

Haplotree Branches

Not every SNP discovered results in a new branch being added to the haplotree, but many do. This chart shows the number of actual branches added in 2018 and 2019 to date.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches.png

These stats, provided by FamilyTreeDNA, show the totals in the bottom row, which is a cumulative branch number total, not a monthly total. At the end of October 2019, the total number of individual branches were 22,352.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches small.png

This chart, above, shows some of the smaller haplogroups.

Big Y 700 haplotree branches large.png

This chart shows the larger haplogroups, including massive haplogroup R.

Haplotree Variants

The number of variants listed below is the number of SNPs that have been discovered, named and placed on the tree. You’ll notice that these numbers are a lot larger than the number of branches, above. That’s because roughly 168,000 of these are equivalent SNPs, meaning they don’t further branch the tree – at least not yet. These 168K variants are the candidates to be new branches as more people test and the tree can be further split.

Big Y 700 variants.png

These numbers also don’t include Private Variants, meaning SNPs that have not yet been named.

If you see Private Variants listed in your Big Y results, when enough people have tested positive for the same variant, and it makes sense, the variants will be given a SNP name and placed on the tree.

Big Y 700 variants small.png

The smaller haplogroups variants again, above, followed by the larger, below.

Big Y 700 variants large.png

Upgrades from the Big Y, or Big Y-500 to Big Y-700

Based on what I see in projects, roughly one third of the Big Y and Big Y-500 tests have upgraded to the Big Y-700.

For my Estes line, I wondered how much value the Big Y-700 upgrade would convey, if any, but I’m extremely glad I upgraded several kits. As a result of the Big Y-700, we’ve further divided the sons of Abraham, born in 1747. This granularity wasn’t accomplished by STR testing and wasn’t accomplished by the Big Y or Big Y-500 testing alone – although all of these together are building blocks. I’m ECSTATIC since it’s my own ancestral line that has the new lineage defining SNP.

Big Y 700 Estes.png

Every Estes man descended from Robert born in 1555 has R-BY482.

The sons of the immigrant, Abraham, through his father, Silvester, all have BY490, but the descendants of Silvester’s brother, Robert, do not.

Moses, son of Abraham has ZS3700, but the rest of Abraham’s sons don’t.

Then, someplace in the line of kit 831469, between Moses born in 1711 and the present-day tester, we find a new SNP, BY154784.

Big Y 700 Estes block tree.png

Looking at the block tree, we see the various SNPs that are entirely Estes, except for one gentleman who does not carry the Estes surname. I wrote about the Block Tree, here.

Without Big Y testing, none of these SNPs would have been found, meaning we could never have split these lines genealogically.

Every kit I’ve reviewed carries SNPs that the Big Y-700 has been able to discern that weren’t discovered previously.

Every. Single. One.

Now, even someone who hasn’t tested Y DNA before can get the whole enchilada – meaning 700+ STRs, testing for all previously discovered SNPs, and new branch defining SNPs, like my Estes men – for $399.

If a new Estes tester takes this test, without knowing anything about his genealogy, I can tell him a great deal about where to look for his lineage in the Estes tree.

Reduced Prices

FamilyTreeDNA has made purchasing the Big Y-700 outright, or upgrading, EXTREMELY attractive.

Test Price
Big Y-700 purchase with no previous Y DNA test

 

$399
Y-12 upgrade to Big Y-700 $359
Y-25 upgrade to Big Y-700 $349
Y-37 upgrade to Big Y-700 $319
Y-67 upgrade to Big Y-700 $259
Y-111 upgrade to Big Y-700 $229
Big Y or Big Y-500 upgrade to Big Y-700 $189

Note that the upgrades include all of the STR markers as yet untested. For example, the 12-marker to Big Y-700 includes all of the STRs between 25 and 111, in addition to the Big Y-700 itself. The Big Y-700 includes:

  • All of the already discovered SNPs, called Named Variants, extending your haplogroup all the way to the leaf at the end of your branch
  • Personal and previously undiscovered SNPs called Private Variants
  • All of the untested STR markers inclusive through 111 markers
  • A minimum of a total of 700 STR markers, including markers above 111 that are only available through Big Y-700 testing

With the refinements in the Big Y test over the past few years, and months, the Big Y is increasingly important to genealogy – equally or more so than traditional STR testing. In part, because SNPs are not prone to back mutations, and are therefore more stable than STR markers. Taken together, STRs and SNPs are extremely informative, helping to break down ancestral brick walls for people whose genealogy may not reach far back in time – and even those who do.

If you are a male and have not Y DNA tested, there’s never been a better opportunity. If you are a female, find a male on a brick wall line and sponsor a scholarship.

Click here to order or upgrade!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Science Behind the Golden State Killer – Insitome Podcast

Please join Spencer Wells, Founder and CEO of Insitome, former Director of the Genographic Project and Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, Razib Khan, Director of Scientific Content at Insitome and yours truly as we discuss the science behind the Golden State Killer case.

I would like to thank Spencer and Razib for inviting me to join them today. It was fun discussing the case itself and the possible ramifications to this entire industry. I was going to add, “in the future,” but the future is here.

The Golden State Killer case is remarkable because of the combined techniques used to solve the crime which include DNA, genealogy and associated data bases in addition to traditional investigative work.

As Spencer Wells says in the podcast, this case is “Sherlock Holmesian.” What a movie this will make one day!

I wrote about this topic a few days ago in the article, The Golden State Killer and DNA.

How did all of these techniques work together to identify a suspect? How does the actual science work? Is it accurate? Are there issues? What about privacy concerns with more than 17 million people having already participated in direct to consumer testing?

Yes, more than 17 million at the end of 2017 – probably more than 20 million now and maybe 30 million by year end. Razib weighs in on how many is enough for forensic testing.

Learn about the underlying science and hear what Spencer and Razib, both geneticists, have to say.

Please join us at any of the following links:

For those who might not be aware, Spencer’s company, Insitome, doesn’t offer DNA testing for matching, so can’t be used for law enforcement purposes.

Insitome does offer Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism DNA testing.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research