DNA ethnicity estimates are fun conversation-starters. But the “pie charts” become more meaningful genealogically when you can assign timelines to the places your ancestors were from. Here’s an update to our ongoing conversation about what DNA ethnicity results really mean.
Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates
Where did I come from? This is a fundamental human question, and it is driving millions of individuals all over the world to have their DNA tested. Now, we genealogists would like to think that they are being tested to aid their family history efforts, or to connect with us, their cousins. But they aren’t. They are after that pretty pie chart that tells them what percentage of themselves came from where.
Now, I know you have heard me say that these kinds of results are just for fun, and don’t hold much genealogical value. But due to some interesting developments in the world of DNA, my previous assertions of these ethnic origins results being somehow second class to our match list might be changing.
Living DNA and DNA Ethnicity Results
A U.K. company called Living DNA launched their DNA product in the fall of 2016. Right now, all they are focusing on is reporting ethnic origins information. But they are doing it in a manner that changes the way we look at our DNA ethnicity results.
In addition to the standard map that you will see at any genetic genealogy company, Living DNA also offers a tool they call “Through History.” It literally takes you step-by-step back in time to show you how similar your DNA is to others on earth during 11 time periods ranging from 1,000 years ago to 80,000 years ago! In the images shown below, we see a glimpse into my earliest time period, a peek at the middle, and a view of the last. The intensity of the blue on the chart tells you how genetically similar I am to the people in that area.
In the first chart shown here, you can see that since I am 100% European, I share DNA with, well, people from Europe:
But, if we go back not very far, I am sharing DNA with people in the Middle East and Russia, as shown in the second map:
As my DNA marches further back in time I can see that I am sharing that DNA with people in a variety of locations, until we get back to the beginning of man, and I am sharing DNA with literally everyone in the world.
DNA Ethnicity Estimates Over Time
So, how does this work from a DNA standpoint? Well, the fact is, not all DNA markers are created equally. Some markers have developed relatively recently in on our timeline making them helpful for determining recent relationships and modern populations. Others have been around longer, linking us to early settlers of Europe or even Asia. Still others link us together as a human race and help to track our origins back to a single time and place.
Part of the struggle that these DNA testing companies have is trying to figure out the time and place for each of the markers they test. Certainly part of the puzzle is the ability to look not just at modern day populations, but ancient populations.
You may have heard of some recent reports that scientists have completed DNA testing on ancient remains. One example came from Ireland where they were able to determine that one body tested had ancestry in the Middle East, and another had roots in Russia. It is the combined efforts of both ancient DNA testing and your own modern samples that unite to help us improve our understanding of our own personal origins, as well help us understand how humankind developed and evolved.
3 Ways to Better Understand Your DNA Ethnicity Estimates
To get the most out of your genetic genealogy populations report, you may want to:
View your results in the context of a more historical timeline, as opposed to your own genealogical timeline.
Try testing at multiple companies (you can transfer into Family Tree DNA from23andMe or AncestryDNA for only $19). Click here to see recent updates to Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity categories.
Give the multiple population tools at Gedmatch a try, just to get a better feel for how different companies and tools can provide us a different look at the populations we are carrying around in our DNA. My quick guide for using Gedmatch, shown here, is available as a printed guide or digital download.
The Author: Diahan Southard
Your DNA Guide
Diahan Southard is Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems. She been in the genetic genealogy industry since it has been an industry, having worked with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. 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 popular DNA guide series, which includes Getting Started: Genetics for Genealogists and Y Chromosome DNA for Genealogists (find the full series in the Genealogy Gems Store).
I love Google Books research tips for genealogists–and this researcher sent me a fabulous one! Here’s what she did when Google Books didn’t give her everything she’d hoped for. And here’s where she finally found the full text of a book that wasn’t on Google Books.
Google Books is a vast and free virtual library that’s literally available at our fingertips–but it’s greatly underused. So I love teaching Google Books research tips for family history, and then hearing success stories from listeners and readers. Here’s one I think you’ll love, with a great message about following through after “partial” discoveries.
Google Books vs. a genealogy brick wall
Was Jesse Purdy a longtime Loyalist or Revolutionary War veteran? Marci wrote in about a mysterious ancestor whose political loyalties seemed conflicted. She’d found a man by his name who was a Revolutionary War soldier and then another who appears in records as a Loyalist (a British subject who remained loyal to the Crown when the American colonies rebelled).
“I knew my Jesse also went by Justus and I found his Revolutionary War pension records, learned he died in 1840 in Bovina, New York and was a patriot,” she wrote. She had identified him as the son of Thomas Purdy and Rachael Odgen, but that particular Jesse “was listed as a Loyalist and…died in Ontario in 1819….It never made sense that he lived out his life (and all his children were born) in New York state.”
When she looked on Google Books for ‘Justus Purdy,’ she found a tantalizing “snippet view” of a book called The Purdy Family in New Brunswick and Elizabethtown, Ontario:
She thought the book might go on to mention his parents, but in this case, the full text of the book is not available on Google Books, so she could only see the snippet.
Google Books research tip: Follow all leads!
As you can imagine, Marci really wanted to see this book. She says, “I am retired, living in Mexico, so I don’t have InterLibrary Loan (click here to read more about using this with WorldCat). I was about to email a…cousin to see it they would order it when I thought, “NO, Lisa would look for other sources on Google search first. So I did, and found the full text on FamilySearch. And (drum roll please) here it is! Lots on Jesse the Loyalist (nothing more on Justus the Patriot):”
“So it goes,” she concludes. “I have another source and I’m still looking for parents.”
Good for her for persevering until she found the full text of the book! I love how she widened her search past Google Books to a more universal Google search (click here to learn free Google search tips). That led her to another vast, free online library, FamilySearch.org’s free Family History Books search page, a search portal for more than 350,000 digitized family history-related books. Here’s the Purdy family history book on that site:
More Google Books research tips
Click here to read another inspiring success story with several Google Books research tips. Genealogy Gems Premium subscribers can take their Google Books searches to the next level after watching my full-length tutorial video, “Google Books for Genealogy.” Discover the best techniques for finding fully digitized books FAST, and search secrets for locating genealogical data. Learn to translate foreign language volumes from your ancestor’s homeland and even track down maps, images, photos and more.
About the Author
Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.
Kick off 2018 with a diverse group of new genealogy records to explore online this week! Included are historical and vital records for British genealogy, Irish newspapers, Scottish records, and Palestine naturalization applications.
British Historical & Vital Records
Lots of new genealogy records are available for England this week at Findmypast! Start with Britain, Histories & Reference Guides, which contains more than 65 volumes about genealogy, heraldry, paleography, geography, and more. These volumes will expand your knowledge about your ancestor’s life and how your ancestors lived through the centuries.
Finally, Northamptonshire Memorial Inscriptions may reveal your ancestor’s death date, burial place, as well as the names of other family members for your family tree. This collection includes 17 cemeteries, churchyards, and other places, and the records span from 1422 to 2015.
The Church of Ireland’s record repository, Representative Church Body Library (RCBL), has announced that all 19th-century editions of the Church of Ireland Gazette have been added to the online archive of the weekly newspaper. The full archive is free to the public and covers years 1856 – 1923.
The British Newspaper Archive has added the Dublin Evening Telegraph to their collection of historic newspapers recently. This paper spanned 1871-1924, and this collection has over 12,000 issues available online.
Recently added to Ancestry.com are Carnegie Music Institution Registers, 1910-1920 from Dunfermline, Fife. This school was founded through a trust set up by Andrew Carnegie, and school records include names, year and term of attendance, resident, and subject studied.
Additional news for Scottish research comes from the University of Virginia School of Law.
30 years after they acquired a trove of legal documents from Scotland’s Court of Session, the supreme legal court there, the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library is building a digital archive and reaching out to partners “across the pond” to open these legal history materials to scholars and the public. According to the press release, the library is planning to release the first batch of documents online soon. When completed, users will be able to search through a single document or the entire collection, peruse the rich data provided for each case, and download documents for free.
Palestine Naturalization Applications
A fascinating new collection at MyHeritage is the Mandatory Palestine Naturalization Applications, 1937-1947. From the collection description: “This collection is a unique and rich compilation of records documenting the efforts of individuals, mostly Jews, and sometimes their entire families, to establish citizenship in Mandatory Palestine, which was under British administration at the time. The collection contains photos, histories, passports, and other various forms providing details for each applicant.”
Let 2018 be your year to break down brick walls!
Has your family history research hit a brick wall? Marsha Hoffman Rising’s best-selling and recently updated book The Family Tree Problem Solver has the solutions to help you find the answers you seek. Get tips on finding vital records before civil registration, finding “missing” ancestors on censuses, advanced court records, workarounds for lost or destroyed records, common names, case studies, and more! This revised edition also includes new information about online research techniques and a look at the role of DNA research. Get it right now as an e-book for just $15.79 (reg. $24.99).
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Plenty of DNA testing news crossed our desks in 2017! Advances in genetic genealogy include an AncestryDNA database that doubled in size, new options for participants, more health-related information and a new global genetic tree. Catch up on these developments before 2018 brings us even more DNA news!
DNA Testing News in 2017
The genetic genealogy industry is growing at a break-neck pace. Ancestry.com has amassed the largest DNA database by doubling its testing pool in 2017. Over 6 million people have now tested there. This is great news for those seeking genetic connections. As these databases grow larger, it’s also clear that genetic data–correlated with genealogical data–has tremendous ability to provide us with other answers about ourselves.
In November, MyHeritage announced an effort by their scientific team to “study the relationship between genetics and behavior, personal characteristics, and culture.” These studies are not new, as 23andMe is in open hot pursuit of the connections between genetics and our health, and always has been.
Increased options for your DNA testing experience
All of our genetic genealogy companies are involved in research on one level or another and every person who swabs or spits has the opportunity to participate in other research projects (click here to read up on the consent policies at each company). At the time of testing, you have the option to opt in or out of this research, and the ability to alter that decision at any time after you test, by accessing your settings. According to an article in Fast Company, it seems we as a community are very interested in helping with research: 23andMe reports an over 80% opt-in-to-research rate among their customers. And I’ve got some breaking news for you: Family Tree DNA recently ran a consumer awareness campaign to reinforce the message that they will never sell your genetic data.
Health data and research
All our genetic genealogy companies realize that you might want to do more with your data than just look for your ancestors. This year Family Tree DNA has partnered with Vitagene in an effort to provide insight into your health via your genetic genealogy test results. Of course 23andMe is the leader in health testing when we look at our top genetic genealogy companies. This year 23andMe finally succeeded in passing several of their health tests through the FDA, a huge leap forward in their efforts to provide health testing directly to consumers.
While health testing has certainly seen an explosion of interest this year, it is not the only way that our companies are using the data they have amassed. AncestryDNA took the DNA and pedigree charts of two million customers who consented to research and, using some really fancy science, were able to provide amazing insight into our recent ancestral past with the creation of their genetic communities. These genetic communities enhance our understanding of our heritage by showing us where our ancestors may have been between 1750 and 1850, the genealogical “sweet spot” that most of us are trying to fill in.
A global genetic family tree
Living DNA, a relative newcomer to the genetic genealogy arena, announced in October of 2017 their intention to use their database to help create a One World Family Tree. To do so, they are collecting DNA samples from all over the world, specifically those who four grandparents lived in close proximity to each other. Along with this announcement, Living DNA is allowing individuals who have results from other companies and want to help with this project, to transfer into their database.
So it seems that with growing databases come growing options, whether to opt-in to research, to pursue health information from your DNA test results, or to help build global databases for health or genealogy purposes. Recognizing the growing appeal to non-genealogists as well, AncestryDNA added to their list of options the ability to opt-out of the match page, and there are rumors that Living DNA will soon be adding the option to opt-in to matching (they do not currently have a cousin-matching feature as part of their offering).
Keep up with DNA testing news
It can be tricky to keep up with the seemingly relentless flood of DNA advances, so follow us here at Genealogy Gems, where I report on the most important DNA testing news for your genealogy research. You can stay up-to-date by following us on Facebook, subscribing to our free weekly e-mail newsletter and tuning in to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast.
The Author: Diahan Southard
Your DNA Guide
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)
I started creating family history books a decade ago. These 6 strategies helped me share my genealogy research findings in books that made fascinating, affordable and easy-to-mail gifts.
My dilemma: How to share my family history
Several years ago, I began sharing my family history research with my relatives. We don’t live close to them, so I had to mail whatever I shared. Initially, I sent CDs full of digitized photos and documents, but they just didn’t get looked at like I had hoped. Individual items on CDs didn’t easily or smoothly tell a story. Also, I think some of my relatives found the technology a bit intimidating back then. And many people just don’t care for viewing photos, documents or stories on a computer screen.
I found that the solution to sharing with all family members was a good old fashioned book! Books are still hard to beat for telling a story in words and pictures in an extremely easy to use way. Self-publishing little hardbound family history books helped me break up my research sharing into digestible chunks. And the best part? My family actually opened and read them them cover to cover.
But where to begin the family story, and where to end it? It’s tempting to tell the story of one generation in each book. But even this can become an overwhelming project, with an end product that is not as meaningful for your readers (lots of dates and names, without a lot of room for stories or photos). I wanted my family to get to know our ancestors intimately. For me, that meant focusing on one person or one event instead of entire generations or families.
Where to start
I started with my favorite ancestor: my grandmother. I’ve transcribed many years of her diaries, which are full of her stories about years spent in nurse’s training. Those journal entries taught me so much and led me to some great discoveries about her life. They also dovetail beautifully with my collection of photos from that period. So I decided that my starting point would be her graduation from high school and her decision to enter the nursing field. By the time I had pulled everything together from 1930 to 1933, I had more than enough for a nice size book: “A Nurse in Training.”
Tips to create family history books
It’s really important to create your book with your “customer” in mind: your family member who will be reading the book. So here are my top tips for making your book fascinating to your reader:
#1. Convey an overall theme. Review all the available material that you have. That will give you a sense of what stories you can tell and, hopefully, a sense of your ancestors’ goals, experiences and emotions.
In the case of “A Nurse In Training,” I wanted to communicate my grandmother as a young woman, taking on a new adventure away from home. Both funny times and deeply challenging times formed the foundation of this warm, caring woman’s successful career. And she just happened to meet her husband at the same time!
You don’t need every scrap of research and every photo to get this theme across. It’s your job to be a sharp editor to pick out the critical pieces.
#2. Make it readable in one sitting. Like it or not, if the book takes too long read, your relatives won’t. Strive to create a book that doesn’t look intimidating. I create books that are 20 double-sided pages. People will be willing to pick up a thinner book off the coffee table. And if it’s well done, they’ll find that they’ve suddenly finished the entire book without once thinking of putting it down! Hopefully they’ll walk away with a real sense of having gotten to know that ancestor.
#3. Fill it with the best of what you have. This goes back to conveying the theme and being a tough editor. My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them. I picked only the best of the best. Anyone who reads the book should hopefully come away with the fact that my grandma had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself. I made sure some of the most compelling stories were at the beginning: if you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them hooked for the entire book.
#4. Pack it with photos and graphics. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. And since words in a small book will be limited, photographs will be your best friend. If you’re lacking in family photos, consult my podcast episodes for countless ideas for finding appropriate images. In A Nurse In Training, I included scanned images of skating rink tickets, programs and announcements from my grandma’s scrapbook and journal pages in my grandmother’s own hand. These types of items really add texture and interest to a book, and help the reader to see that you’ve really done your homework.
#5. Keep it in chronological order. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to get side-tracked and start going back and forth in time. Believe me, for the reader’s sake, use dates and keep things in chronological order. You as the researcher know this information backwards and forwards, but this is probably your reader’s first exposure to it. Be gentle with them and keep it straightforward and simple. Your reader will thank you.
#6. Choose quality! High-quality glossy pages, good image quality and a hard cover binding all shout to the reader, “I’m worth your time! Read me!” For example, I found a drawing of Dameron Hospital, which was part of my grandma’s story, but it was a low quality image and didn’t look good in the book. As much as I wanted to include it, I ended up leaving it out, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t critical to my theme, and there were other ways to illustrate the hospital setting for the reader.
From book to movie: Create your own family history videos
My “Nurse in Training” book eventually became the basis for my very first family history videos. Watch them here–and see how I turned her own words into an illustrated narrative:
Next Step: Turn your family history book into a movie
I created these before do-it-yourself video services like Animoto made it so easy. (And I think that’s why I appreciate them so much!) If you’d like to put an ancestor’s story into video format but you’re not sure how, try writing it up as a short book first. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have an excellent start on your “screenplay.” You’ll also have a great little book to send loved ones as a gift. (If you do eventually turn that story into a short video, they’ll love it even more, because they’ll already know the story that they will see come alive on the screen.) Click here to learn step-by-step how to create your own family history video.
RootsWeb is down! This important free genealogy platform hosts millions of names on hundreds of genealogy-related websites for locales, societies, and even individual family trees. Here’s what you should know about the situation–and how you may be able to access older versions of RootsWeb or other sites that are not currently available.
RootsWeb had a security issue
On December 23, 2017, Ancestry.com reported receiving a tip that thousands of RootsWeb usernames and passwords were publicly exposed. Affected accounts were users of the RootsWeb surname list, which Ancestry discontinued earlier in the year.
For those of you not familiar with RootsWeb, it’s a long-time free web platform where individuals and organizations can host their own genealogy-related websites. I often find sites there with information about counties I’m researching in and sites run by local genealogy societies. More than 11 million names are indexed or transcribed on RootsWeb sites–that’s in addition to the wealth of information you’ll find on local history, sources, and societies. Ancestry.com has been hosting RootsWeb since 2000.
Even if this particular security concern doesn’t affect you directly, I encourage you to keep reading. This scenario provides a perfect example of the kinds of data security, privacy, and loss issues we need to be aware of as genealogists. Even if you don’t have a site yourself on RootsWeb, it’s a common resource you will likely come across as you research your family tree. So here are a few take-home points for everyone, including advice on how to look at archived versions of any website that is temporarily down or no longer in service.
The extent of the problem
Ancestry did some quick reconnaissance and reported the following:
No sensitive personal information such as credit card or Social Security numbers were exposed since RootsWeb doesn’t collect it.
That said, about 55,000 customers have the same account info for both RootsWeb and an Ancestry.com site, which means that these Ancestry.com customers’ login data was potentially compromised. Most affected accounts are free trial accounts or they’re not currently in use. But Ancestry says, “We are currently contacting these customers. Any user whose account had its associated email/username and password included on the file has had their accounts locked and will need to create a new password the next time they visit…We have no reason to believe that any Ancestry systems were compromised. Further, we have not seen any activity indicating the compromise of any individual Ancestry accounts.”
Ancestry found other RootsWeb login information that could have been potentially exposed, and they’re letting these account-holders know.
They have temporarily taken RootsWeb offline to do a “deep analysis” of the site’s design. Ancestry says they “are working to ensure that all data is saved and preserved to the best of our ability. As RootsWeb is a free and open community that has been largely built by its users, we may not be able to salvage everything as we work to resolve this issue and enhance the RootsWeb infrastructure.”
In the Comments section of the Ancestry.com announcement, Anne Gillespie Mitchell stated, “We do not have a specific timeline at this point. We hope it will take no more than a few weeks to resolve these issues. RootsWeb mailing lists will, however, remain active.”
Bottom line: Anyone whose account was potentially affected is receiving an email notice to change their password. For everyone else, Ancestry.com says, “There is nothing you need to do as a result of this incident. However, we always recommend that you take the time to evaluate your own security settings. Please, never use the same username and password for multiple services or sites. And it’s generally good practice to use longer passwords and to change them regularly.”
RootsWeb is down: Why it matters and what to do
Contributing Editor Sunny Morton shared an email that was forwarded to her by her mother, a genealogy librarian at a public library in Northeast Ohio. I’m sharing it here with the permission of the author Cynthia, who helps manage several RootsWeb sites. Cynthia says:
“I put a couple of items on my websites the morning of the twenty-third. By that afternoon, RootsWeb was shut down. Almost the entire RootsWeb is down, probably for several weeks while they fix a security breach. This involves the Cleveland District Roundtable site, Cuyahoga GenWeb, Lake County GenWeb, and Lake County and East Cuyahoga County Genealogical Society sites. This feels even scarier than the last major outage. Fortunately, I have copies on my computer of my entire sites, so no panic for lost data. But [the data] is now not very accessible for most folks.”
Cynthia followed her message with this tip: “A workaround would be the WayBack Machine on Archive.org. You put in the URL and it shows you the dates they downloaded. You may need to look at several of them to find a more complete copy. Some are just a few front pages.”
I talked more extensively about the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (along with Google’s own backup copies, called caches) in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 145. Here’s how to use the Wayback Machine to find one of the downed websites Cynthia mentioned: the Cleveland District Roundtable, which is a fantastic collaborative directory and group calendar for all genealogical organizations in greater Cleveland, Ohio. If you run a Google search for that site now, you will find the site. But if you click on it, you’ll see a message that RootsWeb is currently unavailable:
When this happens, you can copy the URL from the top of the browser page and paste it into the Wayback Machine search box. You’ll then see a timeline showing that the Roundtable site has been captured (or archived) by the Wayback Machine 73 times since 2008, most recently (as shown by the arrow) on April 17, 2017:
Scroll down on the page a little to see a calendar, shown here, and you can click on highlighted dates on which updated captures were taken. Click on the most recent highlighted date.
Tips for everyone on avoiding genealogy data loss
A huge hat-tip to Cynthia for the work she does in her local genealogy community–and for sending out advice to those she knew would be affected by the temporary loss of RootsWeb. In addition to her tip on using the Wayback Machine, she says something else absolutely critical:
“Fortunately, I have copies on my computer of my entire sites, so no panic for lost data.”
The true and deep loss is when there is no backup copy of painstakingly-collected genealogy data, whether it’s a family tree, research files, or over 11 million names in RootsWeb’s online indexes and transcriptions. I’m not implying that RootsWeb is permanently lost: Ancestry.com does mention its plan to “resolve this issue and enhance the RootsWeb infrastructure.” But if they don’t bring all of RootsWeb back (they admit it’s possible there will be some loss), or if your genealogy data is lost from any website or computer, you always want to have a backup plan in place.
In this companion post, you’ll find a strategy for backing up your tree at Ancestry.com. It’s actually a template for something near and dear to my heart: a master plan for your genealogy data security. Things to think about in your master plan are:
Keeping your master family tree in software on your own computer rather than online.Click here to read why. I recommend RootsMagic software.
Backing up everything on your computer with a reliable cloud-based backup service. Click here to read about the features you should look for in cloud-based backup; I myself use and recommend Backblaze.
Organize and secure your genealogy data once and for all