DNAPainter has introduced a new feature, Ancestral Trees.
You can create a tree by hand or upload a GEDCOM file from your own software or one of the online vendors who support a tree export to a GEDCOM file, such as Ancestry or MyHeritage.
As a longtime genealogist, I wanted to upload my GEDCOM file, because there’s absolutely no reason to recreate the wheel, or the fan, pardon the pun.
I’ve been building my file for decades, so it’s rather large, with over 35,000 people. Not all are ancestors of course.
If the upload process was going to choke on a large file, mine is a good candidate. DNAPainter indicates that files of 50,000 people or less shouldn’t be a problem. My file upload worked fine and took all of a couple minutes.
It’s worth noting that your GEDCOM file itself is not uploaded and retained. Only your direct line ancestors are extracted and uploaded to your DNAPainter account. You can read about options here.
A pedigree version of my direct ancestral tree appeared as soon as the upload completed.
By hovering over any person, you can perform a several functions.
You can delete the person, edit their information, add parents or mark them as a genetic ancestor by clicking on that box.
What, exactly, is a genetic ancestor?
Genetic ancestors are people in your tree that are confirmed, genetically, to be your ancestors. For example, if you match a full first cousin on your mother’s side, that confirms your maternal grandparents as your grandparents.
Two pieces of independent data confirm that – your paper trail plus the fact that the first cousin matches you in the first cousin range.
Confirming ancestral segments, and therefore ancestors, is what DNAPainter does. DNAPainter creates a visualization of your chromosomes with the DNA segments you inherited from your ancestors painted on the appropriate maternal or paternal chromosomes.
Here’s an example.
All of the grey matches on my chromosome 22, above, descend from cousins who share ancestors Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy with me. In addition, there are other matches painted as well who descend from other ancestors, such as their son, in addition to my painted ethnicity segments.
In the blue, grey and red match trio, we can see that the exact segment was passed from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel to their son Joel Vannoy who married Phoebe Crumley whose daughter Elizabeth Vannoy married Lazarus Estes. We can track that segment back three generations with just this one example, plus the two generations between me and my great-grandparents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy – for a total of 5 ancestral generations. Pretty cool, huh!
Use the Legend
When you paint chromosomes, you define ancestors to a color as you paint segments attributed to them.
You can view the legend of the ancestors you’ve painted – either all of them or divided into maternal or paternal.
Utilize this legend to mark the appropriate people on your Ancestral Tree as genetic ancestors.
Couple or Person?
You’ll need to make a decision.
Are you going to mark both people of a couple as your genetic ancestors when someone else that you match descends from this same couple, or are you only going to mark your descendant child of that couple?
Using the same example as the grey/blue/red trio on my painted chromosomes, I can see the pedigree descent, below.
If my initial match was to a cousin who descended through Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, I wouldn’t know which of those two ancestors actually passed the matching segment to my grandfather, William George Estes, then to my father and me.
I know for sure I inherited the segment though William George Estes, but I don’t know if he received it from his father, Lazarus Estes, his mother Elizabeth Vannoy, or parts from both of his parents.
However, given that we are talking about only one segment at a time, it’s likely that the segment actually came from either Lazarus or Elizabeth, not a combination of both. But it’s not certain.
If I match someone on multiple segments, each segment has its own independent history. Multiple segments could have and probably did originate with different ancestors on up the tree.
Do I mark only William George Estes as the confirmed ancestor, or do I mark both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy as the confirmed couple?
Eventually, after I match more people, as shown in the chromosome painting, I’ll have evidence that this segment descends through Elizabeth Vannoy and her father Joel Vannoy.
Now I know that the segment descends from Elijah Vannoy and Lois McNiel, but until someone from either the McNiel line or the Vannoy line upstream match me on that same segment, or part of the segment, I won’t know whether that segment descends from Elijah or Lois or maybe a partial contribution from each.
Until then, I need to decide how I’m going to handle the designation of Genetic Ancestor – the couple or their child who is my ancestor. As long as you are consistent in your methodoloy and you understand your strategy, I don’t think there is any specific right or wrong answer.
Displaying Genetic Ancestors
After designating a person in your tree as a genetic ancestor, you’ll be able to select “Show genetic ancestors” from the DNA filters.
Your pedigree chart will show the black DNA icon for every ancestor that you’ve identified as a genetic ancestor.
Next, you can view your Genetic fan chart.
Your Genetic Fan Chart
By switching from tree to fan, you’ll be able to view your genetic tree in fan format.
The darkened ancestral “squares” show the people you’ve indicated as genetic ancestors. The lighter colors are people in my tree, but not yet genetically confirmed.
My particularly problematic quadrant is the dark red one that also happens to include my mitochondrial DNA. Why is this line so lacking as compared to the others?
By flying my cursor over the ancestor on the tree that I want to see, DNAPainter tells me that the end of line ancestor in the outer band is Elisabeth Schlicht, born in 1698. I know immediately what the problem is, and why I only have a few generations confirmed.
Barbara Mehlheimer was the immigrant in the 1850s. None of the rest of her family came to America. Few if any of the family in Germany have tested. If they have, I don’t know it because either I don’t match them or they don’t have a tree.
That entire red quadrant beyond the 4th generation is partially identified in the German church records, but not (yet) genetically confirmed.
X and Mitochondrial DNA Paths
Another feature that you can select is to see the X and mitochondrial DNA paths.
The X inheritance path is shown above, and mitochondrial DNA below.
I discussed X matching here.
X DNA and mitochondrial DNA is NOT the same thing, although they both have a unique inheritance path. I wrote about X matching and mitochondrial DNA and their differences, here.
DNAPainter only shows that inheritance path. The genetic ancestor designation does NOT MEAN that the genetic ancestors on the X path are confirmed by the X chromosome, only that those ancestors are somehow confirmed – by you.
The mitochondrial path does NOT necessarily mean that that line is mitochondrially DNA confirmed – just that the line is autosomally confirmed, or not – depending on whether you checked genetic ancestor.
I, personally, am only using the genetic ancestor designation as autosomal, meaning chromosomes 1-22 AND the X chromosome. When I indicate that Edith Barbara Lore, who is my mitochondrial ancestor, is a genetic ancestor, I’m referring to autosomal confirmation, not mitochondrial.
I’d actually love to see separate Y and mitochondrial DNA confirmations – although I’m afraid it might be confusing to people. On the other hand, it might be a great teaching opportunity about Y and mito.
Another useful feature of DNAPainter is tree completeness.
At the upper right, you’ll see the option for tree completeness.
By clicking, a new box opens with a list of ancestors that appear more than once in your tree – known as pedigree collapse.
This was quite interesting. Fifteen are Acadians and 19 are Germans from multiple lines. the commonality is that all of these people hail from villages or geographically isolated regions where there isn’t a lot of population being added during the timeframe in question.
Not one repeat ancestor hails from colonial America, although I’d bet they exist in areas where these families lived in close proximity. Many records have been destroyed and I have lots of brick walls in those lines.
Scrolling on down the page, we see a report by generation of how many ancestors are identified per generation. I have identified all of my 4th great-grandparents, but only about 3/4th of the next generation. After that, the percentage drops roughly in half every generation.
Of the 4th great-grandparents, who lived 6 generations ago, (counting my parents as generation 1,) born in the mid-1700s, three women don’t have surnames and one is known only by her mitochondrial DNA results. I’m hopeful that one day, those results will lead me to her identity.
Jonny Perl has indicated that he’s working to integrate the genetic ancestor designation with the chromosome painting function, including colors. That will require more decision-making on the part of the user though, because sometimes the source of the segment isn’t clear, especially when families lived close and there are multiple possible paths of descend from multiple ancestors. And of course, there’s always the possibility of an unexpected parent or adoption thrown into the mix.
What does the user do when they have 10 cousins who match on a segment but conflicting information as to the ancestral source? When that occurs in my tree, I evaluate the evidence of each match on that segment and make an individual decision. Automating this process might be challenging, especially considering the situations of partial segment matches and endogamy.
While I wait, I’ll just revel in the nice dark colors on my ancestry fan tree and see what I can do to darken a few more of those areas by painting more matches.
Have you uploaded your tree and claimed your genetic ancestors? How are you doing?
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