March 26, 2017

About Diahan Southard

Diahan Southard is Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems! She has worked with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, and has been in the genetic genealogy industry since it has been an industry. She holds a degree in Microbiology and her creative side helps her break the science up into delicious bite-sized pieces for you. She's the author of our DNA guides Getting Started: Genetics for Genealogists, and Y Chromosome DNA for Genealogists (click STORE in the menu above)

Raw DNA Data: A Missing Piece to Your DNA Puzzle

Your DNA test results come with raw DNA data. This raw data is the next piece in your DNA puzzle. Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, shares some interesting facts about raw DNA data and its use. Dig in and learn why!

Raw DNA Data how-to

What is Raw DNA Data?

Raw DNA data is the actual output file created by the DNA testing company. You can access your raw data at each testing company, and I strongly encourage you do. You will need to download and save your raw data results to your computer. For instructions on how to do this, head on over to this page on my Your DNA Guide website.

This file contains your little DNA values at over 700,000 locations tested by your testing company. Any company with the right set-up and analysis tools can help you find matches with other people, and make additional genealogical discoveries. They may also be able to tell you if you like cilantro and are likely to have high blood sugar!

Raw DNA Data Research Projects and Destinations

Raw DNA data has to have a place to go. There are several research projects underway that utilize your data from any of the big four testing companies (Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA, and AncestryDNA) for various genealogical or genetic purposes.

Raw DNA data at DNA Land

Home page of the DNA Land website

Let’s look at four examples of places you might upload your raw DNA data.

1. Family Tree DNA. If you have tested at 23andMe or AncestryDNA, you can transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA for free! You can access all of your matches and use the matching tools. For an additional $19, you can get access to the ethnicity features and other tools.

2. DNA Land. The not-for-profit DNA Land has over 26,000 individuals who have voluntarily uploaded their autosomal DNA test results into their website to be used for research purposes. Their self-stated goal is to “make genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity.”

3. MyHeritage. MyHeritage also accepts your your raw DNA data for incorporation into their genealogical database. You can learn how to do that, here.

4. Geni.com. Geni.com (a family tree collaboration tool) jumped on the DNA bandwagon and announced they too would be integrating DNA into their family tree tool. Utilizing a partnership with Family Tree DNA, Geni.com is utilizing all three kinds of DNA (autosomal, YDNA, and mDNA) in their offering. The interface looks much like what you would see at your testing company: a list of matches with some family tree information.

The biggest take-away from the recent influx of destinations for your raw DNA data shows us that the integration of DNA into genealogy is in full swing. I estimate every genealogy company and every major genealogy software will offer some kind of DNA integration within the next five years. DNA has certainly earned a permanent spot as a genealogical record type!

A Word of Caution

With all of these options available, and surely more to come, you will want to be careful about who you are giving your raw data to. Make sure you are comfortable with the company and its goals. Be sure you understand what role your DNA will be playing in their research, as well. These are exciting times in the world of genealogy.

Take the Next Steps in Your DNA Journey

DNA guide for Raw DNA DataWherever you are in your DNA journey, we can help!

Take your very first steps and learn how to get started using DNA testing for family history.

If you have already taken the plunge, learn how to harness the power of DNA matching.

For the most help in understanding DNA for family history, take a look at the ten different DNA guides in both print and digital form from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.

Family Migration Patterns Just Got a Big Bump with DNA!

Do you need help solving your family migration patterns? A groundbreaking new scientific study uses DNA and family trees to map migration routes across North America.

Family Migration Patterns Revealed in Genomes

A new study published in Nature Communications represents a ground-breaking development in using DNA for genealogy. The article from the AncestryDNA Scientific Team is titled Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America. Or, in more understandable terms, “Your DNA can tell us where you came from in America in the last 500 years.”

Wow, right? So, how did they do this?

The power really is in the numbers. In this particular paper, they started with using their autosomal DNA test on 770,000 people. Some of them were AncestryDNA customers who had consented to be part of the research. From these 770,000, they learned quite a bit about the migration patterns of early Americans. As Ancestry analyzes more individuals using these same principles of correlating genetics and genealogy, this data will improve and be able to tell us even more about our heritage. Even though it takes a large data set to figure out the relationship between our DNA and migration patterns, it really comes down to the relationship of two people.

To start, Ancestry determines how just two people are genetically related. Then, they find how those two are related to a third person, again, looking only at pairs of people. This goes on and on until everyone in the group as been compared. They use a graph to plot those relationships, with those more closely related clustering around each other.  And then it happens. The point where we see the marriage of genetics and genealogy suddenly appear by adding in the family history information for each of these individuals in the cluster.

What they found was astounding. They have displayed the data in Figure 3 shown below. It is a map of the United States with colored dots scattered across the landscape. The location of the dots corresponds to the genealogy of those tested, while the color of the dots relates to their genetic clustering. Those who cluster closest together are the same color. The result is a nearly perfect rainbow, with each color holding its respective spot on the map, with very little overlap between groups.

Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America. Summary map from Nature Communications; click to see article with full explanation of map data. Image used with permission of Ancestry.com.

We might be tempted when looking at the map to think, oh, well, of course there is a large population of European Jews in New York, everyone knows that. But this isn’t their family history, their accent, or their culture telling us this – it is their genetics!

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the scientists describe how we can trace family migration patterns of different groups over just a few generations. They specifically mention French Canadians and Cajuns/Acadians, but the same principle can theoretically be applied to dozens of other groups.

Family Migration Patterns and Applying these Findings

So what does this mean for you as a genealogist?

It means we are getting closer than ever to being able to tell who you are and where you came from using your DNA.

For example, let’s say you have an ancestor in Texas about 4 generations ago, but you aren’t sure where she came from. Your DNA could tell you that you fit into the Lower South group, meaning that your ancestor likely hails from the south. Or, maybe your genetics identify with the Upland South, which means you need to explore records from Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

This is just a glimpse into the advances that genetics are bringing to your genealogy toolbox these days. So it’s high time to go “all in” to learn about genetic genealogy! We recommend The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine Bettinger. You’ll love this book if:

  • You’ve got brick walls that traditional research methods haven’t been able to break down
  • You want to take advantage of the hottest tool in genealogy
  • You’ve already taken a DNA test and want to know what comes next

Use our GEMS17 coupon code when you click on the book title or image and get 10% off (even if it’s on sale already!) The code is valid through 12/31/17.

Exploring Family Health History: DNA and Your Health

Exploring our family health history is just another reason to look forward to the future of DNA testing. As science advances and we find out more regarding the specific genetic code responsible for various nefarious outcomes in our health, we learn there is more in play than just our genetics.

family health history chart

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a family who has been plagued with sudden deaths, ten in recent generations. Without warning, their hearts were stopping and no one knew why. That is until Daniel Wiggins died suddenly at the age of 29 and his family sought out a molecular autopsy. Becoming more accessible to researchers as the cost of running these tests drop, molecular autopsies allow a scientific team to analyze the DNA of the deceased, looking for genetic clues to the cause of death. In this case, the genetic sleuthing was able to turn up the perpetrator: a mutation that alters the electrical signals in the heart, causing it to stop. [Read more about this here.]

While this case was clear-cut and the gene was acting seemingly alone without an accomplice, researchers of this disorder say it only happens in 20% of cases. Which means, this devious genetic criminal has other methods we still haven’t tracked.

But for Daniel’s family, they can pursue genetic testing to determine if this specific culprit is lurking in their own genes. If found, they can take precautionary measures, like having a defibrillator installed.

Doing Our Part

Similarly, a family from Pennsylvania used their family reunion as a format for gathering family history and genetic information in order to arm its members with an action plan against a plague of cancer that is sweeping through their family. [See an article on this family here.]

Several members of the Shaffer-Peterson family have discovered a genetic test can alert them to possible pancreatic or skin cancer. Again, a gene affecting a very small number of melanoma patients was identified as the perpetrator of the Shaffer-Peterson family  and has been given a 67% crime rate. This means that the chance of developing cancer if you have this particular gene is elevated by 67%.

Thankfully, melanoma is a particularly curable kind of cancer when caught early. This family has done their part in informing the family as a whole. And, they now have a sort of insurance plan that may protect the lives of their loved ones.

For both the Shaffer-Petersons and the family of Daniel Wiggins, genetic tests produce actionable results to those testing positive. There is something they can do to positively impact their health once they are aware of the presence or absence of these genes in themselves.

Environment or DNA?

Not all diseases or conditions can be attributed to our DNA. This past fall, after talking with my mother about kids and schedules, she added almost in passing, “Oh, by the way, they found another spot on my back, I am going to have it removed next week.” This is the third melanoma spot she has had removed in the past 5 years.

While my mom’s melanoma is less likely to be the result of a genetic abnormality and more likely linked to spending hours lifeguarding at the local pool, the fact she had melanoma was the sole reason I went to the dermatologist. My spot wasn’t cancer. I was just getting older. But, I am glad I went and I feel like knowing my health history has made me more aware of the measures I can take to improve it.

Tracking Your Family Health History

YourDNAGuide Diahan Southard

Diahan offers Genealogy Gems fans a discount on access to her series of videos on understanding DNA testing for genealogy. Click here to learn more.

For most people, molecular autopsies and DNA health tests are not easily available. Not yet. For those that are, there are hundreds of questions surrounding the kinds of genetic tests and the implications for both health and legal issues.

One thing is certain. In these cases, the common thread is family history. We need to know not only the dates and places of our ancestors lives and deaths, but also the stories behind them. Whenever possible, we need to track our health history, so we can identify any trends that our DNA might be trying to tell us.

If you want to start tracking your own health history there are plenty of free and subscription online tools to get you started. In particular, TapGenes was the winner of the 2016 Innovator Showdown at RootsTech. This online and app tool is designed specifically for your family health management.

You can also create your own alternate family tree. In this unique way, you can visually look at age-at-death, diseases, or other factors pertaining to your health. Read our article titled, “How and Why to Create an Alternate Family Tree.”

 

Learn More About Genetics and Genealogy

This special bundle features the 3 new advanced DNA guides by Diahan Southard!
Digital download also available.

Gedmatch: A Next Step for Your Autosomal DNA Test
Gedmatch is a third‐party tool for use by genetic genealogists seeking to advance their knowledge of their autosomal DNA test. This guide will navigate through the myriad of options and point out only the best tools for your genetic genealogy research.

Organzing Your DNA Matches
With over 2.5 million people in the possession of a DNA test, and most with match lists in the thousands, many are wondering how to keep track of all this data and apply it to their family history. This guide provides the foundation for managing DNA matches and correspondence, and for working with forms, spreadsheets, and 3rd party tools.

Next Steps: Working With Your Autosomal DNA Matches
This guide outlines what to do next to maximize the power of DNA testing in genealogy. With this guide in hand, genealogists will be prepared to take their DNA testing experience to the next level and make new discoveries about their ancestors and heritage.

DNA Testing for Kids Sparks Interest in Family History

DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.

DNA testing for kids

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.

Why Try DNA Testing for Kids

Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

Kit for DNA testing for kids

If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.

A Warning and Caution

As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.

An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.

An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.

More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids

Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.

GEDmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

 

The genetic genealogy community has a crush. A big one. Everyone is talking about it. “It has such great features,” says one. “It has a chromosome browser!” exclaims another. “It’s FREE!” they all shout. What’s all the hype about? GEDmatch.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch is a mostly free online tool where anyone with autosomal DNA test results from 23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA can meet and share information. All you need to do is download your data from your testing company and upload it into your newly created GEDmatch account.

GEDmatch Set-up

gedmatch-find-matchesGEDmatch is set up just like your testing company and provides two kinds of reports: ethnicity results and a match list. Remember, ethnicity results, meaning those pie charts that report you are 15% Italian and 32% Irish, are based on two factors: a reference population and fancy math. GEDmatch has gathered data from multiple academic sources to provide you with several different iterations of ethnicity reports. This is like getting a second (and third and fourth, etc) opinion on a science that is still emerging. It is a fun exercise, but will likely not impact your genealogy research very much.

The more important match list does allow you to see genetic cousins who have tested at other companies. Of course, only those who have downloaded their results and entered them into GEDmatch will show up on your list. This means GEDmatch has the potential to expand your pool of genetic cousins, increasing your chances of finding someone to help you track down that missing ancestor.

Many also flock to GEDmatch because they were tested at AncestryDNA and so do not have access to a chromosome browser. A chromosome browser allows you to visualize the physical locations that you share with someone else (see below). Some find this a helpful tool when analyzing their DNA matches, though in my opinion, it is not essential.

dna3GEDmatch also has some great genealogy features that let you analyze your pedigree against someone else’s, as well as the ability to search all the pedigree charts in their system so you can look specifically for a descendant of a particular relative. However, even with all of these great features, GEDmatch is still yet another website you have to navigate. With that, there will be a learning curve and certainly some frustration.

GEDMatch or Not?

So, is it worth it? If you are fairly comfortable with the website where you were tested, and you are feeling both curious and patient, I say go for it!

It’s too much to tell you right this minute how to download your data from your testing site and upload it to GEDmatch, but you’re in luck! I’ve put step-by-step instructions for getting started in a free tutorial on my website at www.yourDNAguide.com/transferring.

After you’ve done the upload, you may need a little bit more help to navigate the GEDmatch site because there are so many great tools on it. I recently published a GEDmatch Quick Guide, where I have condensed into four pages the most essential features of GEDmatch to get you started and help you make use of this tool for genetic genealogy. Using my guide is an inexpensive and easy way to get a lot more out of a free online resource. I will also be adding more GEDmatch tutorials to my online tutorial series later this fall. Genealogy Gems fans get a nice discount on these! (Click here for that discount).

By the way, have you tried GEDmatch? I would love to hear about your experiences. You can email me at guide@yourDNAguide.com.

DNA QUICK GUIDE BUNDLES

Advanced DNA Quick Guide Bundle by Diahan Southard which includes:

  • GEDmatch: A Next Step for your Autosomal DNA Test
  • Organizing Your DNA Matches: A Companion Guide
  • Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches

SUPER DNA Quick Guide Bundle by Diahan Southard with ALL 10 Guides

  • Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogist
  • Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Mitochondrial DNA for the Genealogist
  • Y Chromosome DNA for the Genealogist

and Testing Companies:

  • Understanding Ancestry: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Understanding Family Tree DNA: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist
  • Understanding 23 and Me: A Companion Guide to Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist

and Advanced Tools

  • Next Steps: Working With Your Autosomal DNA Matches
  • Organzing Your DNA Matches
  • GEDmatch: A Next Step for Your Autosomal DNA Test

mtDNA Testing for Genealogy: A Study on Ancient Ponytails

Sometimes history provides us with a situation that is just too outlandish to be false, like this one on mDNA testing for genealogy by using ancient ponytails! In these lucky, true-to-life conditions, clues to help us unravel genealogical mysteries and tell our own crazy stories might just be found.

mDNA testing on ancient ponytails

English Mutineers Create Endogamous Population

mDNA testing for mutineers

By Trailer screenshot (Mutiny on the Bounty trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you know the story of the mutineers of the British HMS Bounty? Rewind back to the year 1789, three weeks into the 10-month journey to deliver their cargo from Tahiti to Jamaica. Twenty-five crew members, led by first mate Fletcher Christian, ousted their captain and loyalists. Then, they turned back toward the Tahitian paradise where they had spent the previous 5 months. For their crime of mutiny, they were hunted down. While 16 were later captured in Tahiti and returned to England, 9, including Christian, hid on the tiny island of Pitcairn.

And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. 1.75 square miles tiny.

But considering that 9 English mutineers, their Tahitian brides, and a couple Tahitian men were the founding population for this island, it provides an amazing genetic and genealogical view into endogamous populations.

The Proof is in the Pigtails

This fascinating tale is about to get richer, as ten pigtails of hair claiming to be from some of the original mutineers and their wives, have recently been acquired by the Pacific Union College’s (PUC) Pitcairn Islands Study Center in California. The King’s College London has contracted them to perform DNA testing.

Pay close attention to this next part: Researchers are going to conduct DNA testing on the hair samples. But this does not mean you are going to be able to test the locks of hair stowed away from one of your ancestors!

Why, you ask?

First barrier: Cost. This process of trying to extract DNA from a hair sample, especially a very, very old hair sample is meticulous work. It will cost the average consumer a pretty penny. And, you may not be able to find a DNA testing company who wants to do it for you. All major genetic genealogy companies will just flat out tell you “no.” Most paternity testing companies will require your hair has the root attached. In fact, in my quick search, I can’t even find one DNA testing company that will attempt to get DNA from your lock of hair.

Second barrier: Results. Even if you could get a lab to extract the DNA for you, the only available DNA type retrieved from a cut piece of hair is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The mtDNA will trace a direct maternal line. This is opposed to the YDNA that traces a direct paternal line and the autosomal DNA which traces both sides of your family tree. Even if they do get mtDNA from your sample, it is likely to be damaged and incomplete. Therefore, the best you will likely get is an assessment of your deep ancestral origins.

For you, that might not be quite enough to determine and document your family history. But for those interested in verifying this story of mutineers settling in the Pitcairn islands, it might be.

Will it Work?

If they do get mtDNA from the 10 pigtails, they will get 10 mtDNA lineages represented. Those stemming from the mutineers should have their deep origins in Europe, while their Tahitian brides will have a very different mtDNA signature. Likewise, if an mtDNA signature can be obtained, then the mtDNA of those still living in Pitcairn and nearby Norfolk (where many went in 1857) should match these pigtails. If it does, they can measure how many of the current residents are directly maternally related. Of course, in order to truly verify the claims, some serious genealogy work must be completed.

I will be watching this story closely over the next few months as research progresses. If successful, this will be another victory for the rarely celebrated mtDNA. This study shows that if your goals are understanding deep heritage, or testing out a particular hypothesis on your maternal line, mtDNA can be a useful option.

While the DNA studies you read about in the paper won’t always be something you can learn from, others are. Take for example the stories I shared several months ago on the Genealogy Gems podcast and blog about DNA confirming the love affair of President Warren G. Harding and the story of how experts proved it was King Richard III buried under that parking lot. You can definitely learn about using DNA for genealogy from these very public examples!

More on mDNA Testing for Genealogy

When to Do an mDNA Test for Genealogy

mDNA Quick Guide for Genealogists by Diahan Southard

 

Organize DNA Matches in Your DNA “Drawer”

Organize DNA matches with this innovative approach. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your DNA results, you are not alone. Learning to organize your DNA matches in an effective way will not only keep your head from spinning, but will help you hone in on possible matches that will break down brick walls. Here’s the scoop from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.

organize your DNA matches

I can tell whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11,) the forks are haphazardly in a jumble, the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are nowhere to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8,) everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.

Organize Your Imaginary DNA Drawer

Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction to effective organize DNA matches. It entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. To organize DNA matches, you really need to make a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals and help determine your next steps.

Step 1: Download your raw data. The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. See these instructions on my website if you need help.

Step 2: Identify and organize DNA matches. Now, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, is that you may have ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants. These descendants may have caught the DNA testing vision and this can be like your overflowing spoon stack! All these matches may be obscuring some valuable matches. Identifying and putting those known matches in their proper context can help you identify the valuable matches that may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple.

In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet, I outline a process for identifying and drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections. Then, it is easier to verify your genetic connection is aligned with your genealogy paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.

This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down brick walls in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. The key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other.

Step 3: See the relationship between genetics, surnames, and locations. Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke–that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your genetic genealogy? Remember, the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connect you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they show up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. By plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.

So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks! Your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of measuring spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.

More on Working with DNA Matches

How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History

Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This PostOrganize DNA matches quickguide

New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!

The Power of DNA Matching

As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story in our family’s oral history, or at least from the records they left behind. Record research is critical, but now we have an amazing new tool…DNA matching.

DNA matching results

Genealogists constantly check family stories against the information on records, searching for what sounds plausible and what doesn’t. Even when we have total agreement in our records, more information often comes along…like DNA testing. In fact, DNA matching may shed light on even more apparent discrepancies.

Family Lore vs. DNA Findings

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who shared finding that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” He makes the point, “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States).” This could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to invent a new legacy, not just re-invent it. His assessments were certainly interesting and worth reviewing. It helps us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at our family stories and traditional research results.

McWhirter may be like some folks today who have never set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfilm, but instead relies heavily on internet research. Some of these modern genealogists never gave their family history a second thought until, like McWhirter, the death of parents started to inspire them to dig deeper. Due to the large volume of information online, the budding genealogist is “quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.”

DNA matching ethnicity

Example of an ethnicity report from Ancestry.com.

McWhirter’s personal story was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA matching revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”

McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way that flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity.

However, the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists.

He has the opportunity to more powerfully transform his sense of family identity by taking a look at his match list. Here, he may see an actual living cousin who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.

The Real Goal: DNA Connections to Living Family

Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. We multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us—literally—who are descended from the same people. As long as they are as diligent in their research as we are, we can make these connections that could finally bust through those genealogy brick walls and more.

At a recent conference, I met a fifth-cousin. Even with a connection that distant, it was exciting and it encouraged us to want to look again at our connecting ancestors. To me, that is the bigger picture and the real goal—when the paper trail comes together with the DNA results and turns into real live cousins.

The Next Step: Using Your DNA Results to Find Living Family

Advanced DNA Bundle by Diahan SouthardMaybe you are like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued or disappointed by the ethnicity results, but haven’t fully explored your matches on your list. You may be seriously missing some opportunities! If that is you, I have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have been tested. You will get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process and access to a free bonus template for evaluating genealogical relationship of a match to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting unknown relatives on your match list into known relatives.

So check it out, either by itself or as part of my Advanced DNA bundle, which comes along with my new Gedmatch guide and a guide expressly for organizing your DNA matches.

 

DNA Testing: 3 Tips Before You Ask Your Relatives to Spit

Here’s what you need to know before you encourage your relatives to join you on your genetic genealogy journey. There are a few things to think about before they spit in that tube and our DNA Guide, Diahan Southard, is here to help!

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Did you see those holiday price wars on DNA testing over the holidays? I’m guessing we haven’t seen the end of these now that it’s becoming so trendy! Genealogists are seeing the research payoffs of DNA testing and now another major genealogy website (MyHeritage) is offering testing services, as well.

As the prices and sales generally become more attractive, more of you will want to expand your personal genetic database to include aunts, uncles, and cousins. But what is the best way to proceed? How exactly do you ask someone for his or her DNA? You may just have one shot at this. If so, which test? Which company? Here are three tips to consider before spitting into the tube!

Tip One: Test the Eldest Generation First

You likely have a limited amount of funds with which to populate your family genetic database, so you’ll want to use them wisely. Anyone who does not have both parents living should be tested first. Here’s what I suggest:

  • ordering an autosomal DNA test for everyone
  • ordering a YDNA for one male delegate for each surname you want represented

As for the testing company, you now have four choices:

1. FTDNA
2. 23andMe
3. AncestryDNA
4. MyHeritage

While there are several factors to consider when choosing a company, database size is probably the number one factor. Currently, AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database. The reason this is important is because your DNA will be matched and compared to others who have taken a DNA test. By testing with a company that has done lots of tests, your chance of finding matches goes up tremendously. You can also go to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy’s wiki for a full list of characteristics of each company.

Tip Two: Take Care of Everything for the Person Being Tested

Depending on the needs and interest of your relative, you can handle everything from ordering, payment, to even correspondence. All they have to do is spit or swab! This will often alleviate feelings of trepidation on part of the person being tested, especially if they aren’t really into this genealogy craze in the first place. Here are my recommendations:

If testing at Family Tree DNA: You will need to keep track of the log-in credentials for each relative.

If testing at AncestryDNA: Make sure all kits are registered under your account. The easiest way to do this is to have the family member take a photo of the activation code on the sample collection tube and send it to you so you can register it after you have logged into your Ancestry account. Hint: Register everyone’s DNA test results under the family member who has a subscription to Ancestry!

If testing at MyHeritage: Make sure that all kits are registered under your account. To the best of my knowledge, you order the kit under your account.

If your relative does want to be involved, all the better! You can have them share their Family Tree DNA or 23andMe login with you, or they can share their AncestryDNA results with you. To share their AncestryDNA results with you, visit my website at https://www.yourdnaguide.com/sharing-ancestrydna.

If you haven’t tested with a particular company yourself, familiarize yourself with the sample collection so you can be helpful when they have questions:

FTDNA: https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/using-the-kit/use-swabs/

AncestryDNA: https://www.ancestry.com/dna/activationinstructions

23andMe: https://customercare.23andme.com/hc/en-us/articles/202904700-Registering-your-kit

MyHeritage: Not available online (yet)

Tip Three: Share Your Own Experience

First of all, nothing speaks louder than your own experience. Before asking your relative to take a test, consider starting with a short summary of your own DNA journey. Keep in mind what might interest them – do they like deep history? If yes, you could share the ethnicity results of your own test. Did they have a special connection to Great-grandpa Joe? In this case, you could show how your DNA connected to a 2nd cousin who was also a descendant of Joe. Maybe you could bust out the photo album. Remind them that while Joe is gone, there are threads of DNA that can speak for him and we need as many of his descendants as possible to be tested in order to preserve his genetic legacy and unravel the mystery of his past.

A Few Last Thoughts on DNA Testing

MyHeritage DNA test savingsOf course, your family is likely going to have questions; questions that you might not be able to answer. My Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogists quick sheet might be just the thing you need to help them understand exactly what this DNA testing thing is all about and to prepare them for the results they are going to receive. You can also send them over to my website, Your DNA Guide, where I have a bit of information for them to look over. As always, anyone can contact me directly and I will answer any and every question they might have. Well, you know, at least questions about genetic genealogy!

Do you want to try out the new MyHeritage DNA test? Now, you can click on the image to the right for a $20 savings!

 

 

MyHeritage DNA Matching – What I Like About It

MyHeritage DNA is new on the scene of genetic genealogy. With the recent launch of their DNA Matching, I decided to give it a test drive for you. I have now uploaded my test results from another company. Follow along as I share what I like about the MyHeritage DNA site…maybe it is just what you’ve been looking for!

MyHeritage DNA matching

By James Tourtellotte, photo editor of CBP Today[1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

There is no question that the launch of MyHeritage DNA fully into the genetic genealogy market is exciting news. We absolutely need someone to challenge AncestryDNA. Competition is good.

In September, MyHeritage began to provide matching results for individuals who had uploaded their test results from another company to their site. As of today, uploading your DNA test results to MyHeritage DNA is still free, so if you have been thinking about it, you may want to take advantage sooner rather than later. As expected, the matches are only as good as the depth of the database, and it is early in the game. Their DNA database is small, but even now we can get an idea of what to expect from MyHeritage as they take their first steps into genetic genealogy.

One of the most exciting elements of their November 7, 2016 announcement is their development of a Founder Population project where they have hand-picked individuals to represent their reference population for calculating ethnicity. They plan to launch with 25 population groups, but will likely increase to 100 in a fairly short amount of time. This is a far more advanced ethnicity report than is currently offered anywhere else.

Transferring Your DNA Results to MyHeritage DNA

After you have figured out how to download your raw data from your testing company (see my instructions here: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring), and add it to MyHeritage (you have to add a family tree to MyHeritage to do this), you will need to wait the requisite time to process.  Then, you will receive an email notice that you have new DNA matches:

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Email notice from MyHeritage regarding DNA matches.

You can access DNA matches when you log on to the site: under Discoveries, click DNA Matches (as shown below).

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My Favorite Features of MyHeritage DNA

As for my favorite features, I like how they list all the possible relationships that make sense between you and your match, taking into account multiple factors like your age, gender, and your genetics instead of a simple, generic range like 2nd-4th cousins. The accompanying chart, which visually shows you all possible relationships, is also very helpful. You can access the chart by clicking on the little question mark icon next to the relationship suggestions.

I like that these suggestions remind us that our genetic relationships have different genealogical interpretations. Meaning that genetically, a 2nd-cousin-once-removed, a first-cousin-twice-removed, and a second-cousin, all fall within a similar genetic range and it is impossible to determine your exact relationship based on the genetics alone.

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I also like how MyHeritage offers all three genetic descriptors of your relationship:

  • total amount of shared DNA
  • how many segments are shared
  • the size of the longest piece of shared DNA.

While this is more of an intermediate to advanced piece to your results, it can be important as your relationship analysis becomes more involved.

Addressing a Concern of Genetic Genealogists

MyHeritage makes a unique claim in their press release about their matching feature addressing a main concern genetic genealogists have: the lack of pedigree information provided by their matches. MyHeritage claims that 95% of their DNA samples have pedigrees attached. That is remarkable! However, from my own quick calculation of my matches, the number with pedigrees is more like 60%.

They also indicated that they will soon be doing a bit of pedigree-analysis for you by providing a list of shared surnames and locations between you and your match. This will be based on the pedigrees you have both submitted and will certainly be a welcome addition.

According to their November 9th Q and A, MyHeritage hasn’t decided yet if the ethnicity features will be available to those who only transfer, and they hint at many more features they have in the works that may only be offered to those who purchase their test.

In short, the MyHeritage DNA site is currently functioning much like the top three genetic genealogy sites (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) and like the free tool Gedmatch: it offers a meeting place for those who have been tested at one company to meet those who have tested at another.

More on DNA Testing and Genealogy

Super DNA quick guide bundleDNA testing is an incredible tool for genealogists. With several different types of tests and testing companies, hundreds of matches, and lots of technical jargon, it can be challenging to make sense of it all. My DNA Quick Guides to help you pick the right test, understand your results, and take the next steps with your matches. These guides can be purchased in printed format or digital downloads.