YDNA Test Q&A for Genealogy

Here’s a YDNA test Q&A with questions from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard has answers: where to test, on joining a family DNA project, and those conflicting DNA ethnicity percentages.

Recently Lisa Louise Cooke received a voicemail from Genealogy Gems Podcast listener Ken. He’s been doing genealogy for more than five years and he’s listening to the entire podcast series (he’s up to episode 180 already!). He says, “I’ve made amazing discoveries and listening to you give all of these tips is fantastic! I listen to you on the way to work; I listen on the way home.” (Love it!) Then he asked some DNA questions that Lisa forwarded to me:

“My last name is Maloney. There’s so many of them, it’s crazy. My dad told me that my grandfather got into a fight with his brothers over a piece of land, so they never talked after that. Well, I found out that I have a second cousin with my exact same name who lives three miles from me. I’ve lived here my whole life and I never knew him. I saw him in the phone book, but I never dreamed that he had anything to do with me. I finally met him about two months ago.

Anyway, I want to take the YDNA test and the only one I know about doing it with is Family Tree DNA. Is that a good company to deal with? And, one more real quick thing: AncestryDNA says I’m 69% Great Britain. These other places say I’m like 30-some percent Scandinavian. So who’s right?”

Maloney is a common surname in the United States. In the 2000 census, it ranked #1049 in popularity (click here to see how we know that). There are also a lot of Maloneys in Ireland. This 1906 photo of the Maloney family of Newtown, Waterford, Ireland is at the National Library of Ireland (we found this digitized image at Wikipedia).

On taking YDNA tests

Thanks so much for your question, Ken. I wish everyone had your enthusiasm about YDNA testing! You are absolutely right in thinking that the YDNA test can help you answer questions about your direct paternal line. Because of the way YDNA is inherited, other Maloneys who share your YDNA also share a common ancestor with you.

Yes, the best place to start with YDNA testing is to first test at least 37 markers at Family Tree DNA. 67 is more ideal, but you can always test more later.

Take your YDNA test results a step further

The next thing to do is to join a family project. You can search for family projects right from the homepage at www.ftdna.com. Just put in any surname of interest, and you can see how many people with that surname have been tested, and if there are any family projects associated with that surname. Clicking on the name of a project will take you to that project page where you can join the project and contact the project coordinator with your questions. (Learn more about family or surname projects below.)

Now, while it is of great benefit to see others matching your YDNA and sharing an ancestor with you, an often overlooked benefit of the family project is your ability to see all of the people who are sharing your surname, but do NOT share a direct paternal line with you. This list can be a goldmine, as it can save you hours of wasted research barking up the wrong tree. Any ancestor represented in the surname project who does not share YDNA with you is not your ancestor! It doesn’t matter if their name is spelled just like yours, or that they named all of their eldest sons Solomon, or that they lived in the same county as your family. THEY ARE NOT YOUR FAMILY. So you can move on, and find other, more valuable leads.

DNA ethnicity: Conflicting results

As for your questions about ethnicity, you may want to check out a couple of blog posts here at genealogy gems to point you in the right direction:

Keep up the good genetic genealogy testing, Ken! It is bound to help you and your Maloneys.

More on YDNA tests in Premium eLearning

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member, you have access to a quick-and-easy video tutorial series on YDNA testing from Diahan Southard (Premium eLearning now has more than 20 DNA video tutorials). You also have access to the recent Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 160, in which Diahan compares her current ethnicity percentages at major testing sites and gives tips for better understanding them. Click here if you’d like to learn more about Premium eLearning.

About the Author: Diahan Southard 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 a full series of DNA guides for genealogists.

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!

Get a Second Opinion on Your DNA Test

A second opinion on your DNA test can help your genetic genealogy research in several ways. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard proposes several scenarios that can help you look at your DNA test results in a new way. (Retesting may not even be necessary!)

Second Opinions on a DNA Test

“Get a second opinion.” That’s the advice we hear about our healthcare and the tactic my kids use when one parent says, “No.” But it should also be a strategy employed in our genetic genealogy pursuits.

Second opinions come in multiple varieties. You can move your DNA test results between companies. For example, while you can’t transfer into 23andMe or AncestryDNA, you can transfer your autosomal DNA results out of all companies and into Family Tree DNAMyHeritage, and now Living DNA. (Click here for step-by-step instructions.) This transfer gives you a second opinion on your ethnicity results. We have talked about how those numbers can differ between companies and your “real” values may be somewhere in between.

However, you may also want to get a second opinion for your match page. Because of different analysis methods at the various testing companies, the same match might be reported to share a different amount of DNA. Those differences should be slight, and shouldn’t influence your relationship. Remember that the amount of DNA you share is measured in centimorgans (cMs), and generally speaking, the more cMs you share, the closer your relationship. (Click here to read more about centimorgans.)

That total amount of shared DNA can help us with another kind of second opinion. Because DNA inheritance is a random event, the amount of DNA two cousins receive from their shared 2X great grandparents can be very different. For example, according to data collected form the Shared cM Project (SCP) individuals who are documented third cousins vary widely in the amount of DNA they share. They may share as much as 253 cM but as little as 6 cM!

A Second Opinion Case Study

Let’s look at an example to see how a second opinion might be helpful in solving a genealogical mystery. In the image we see:

  • you
  • your sister
  • your matches Isaac and Allen

Your match Allen believes that his ancestor Mark is actually the eldest child of Jacob and Jillian. If this is the case, Allen would be your third cousin.

However, when you look at the total amount of shared DNA, you and Allen share only 48 cMs, which is below the 74 cM average for third cousins and fits better in the range of fourth cousins. Your sister is sharing slightly more, at 54 cM. So along with Allen, you begin forming a hypothesis that his ancestor Mark is actually a nephew to Jacob and Jillian, making your common ancestor either Jacob or Jillian’s parents.

However, you then get a new match in Isaac, who is a known third cousin, also a descendant of Jacob and Jillian, and you are sharing 86 cM. You then ask Isaac to tell you how many cMs he is sharing with Allen and he reports a whopping 92 cM! If we find the average amount of shared cMs between you, your sister, and Isaac and Allen, we get 65 cMs, which is much closer to the 74 cMs we would expect if you were truly 3rd cousins. In this case we could say that the genetics supports a connection between these individuals at Jacob and Jillian.

While you could still be 4th cousins instead of 3rd, having a second opinion in your sister, and then a third opinion in your known cousin can be very helpful in determining your actual relationship to Allen. Of course, the only way to know for sure if Mark is the child of Jacob and Jillian will be to find the genealogical paper trail. But in the meantime, you can continue to look for more descendants of this couple who have been DNA tested, and get a more complete picture of your genetic relationship.

More Help with Your DNA Results

MyHeritage DNA matching update and a new chromosome browser

Why do DNA testing for family history if you already “know” your tree

Organizing Your DNA Matches Premium video (Exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning members–membership now includes over 20 DNA videos from Diahan Southard! Click here to learn more)

About the Author: Diahan Southard 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 a full series of DNA guides for genealogists.

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!

DNA Ethnicity Accuracy: How It’s Getting More Specific

When it comes to the accuracy of DNA ethnicity results, there’s some good news: they’re getting more specific. Your initial results that said “Irish” may now point specifically to Ulster. Here, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard talks about this promising progress.

One of the questions I get asked most often is to predict the future of genetic genealogy. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I am certain that the future of genetic genealogy holds two things: automation and specificity. We will save the automation discussion for another day (it was hinted at in RootsTech announcements by both MyHeritage and Living DNA) and focus here on the exciting topic of specificity.

DNA ethnicity accuracy: Specificity on the rise

Since the launch of the autosomal DNA test, we have seen an incredible increase in the specificity of our origins reports. In 2007, 23andMe was breaking down your heritage into three main categories: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Now, 11 years later, after several revisions, they have released a new update expanding their origins product from 31 categories to 150! That’s an increase in specificity of 4,900%!!!! All companies are moving in this same direction, with AncestryDNA releasing a small update in April of 2018, to try to provide more detail to the story of your ancestral heritage.

This trend toward increasing specificity also appears in reports from academia. For example, in December of 2017, there was a study released by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland working with the Genealogical Society of Ireland. The study details a component that is especially important to genealogists: time. While it might be interesting to know that you had an ancestor who once walked the moors, it would be even more valuable to know when he was there.

In this study, they can see both the current genetic clusters in Ireland (they report 10) but also measure how genetically similar those clusters are to other places. That means we can not only tell you where you are from in Ireland, but also where you were before that. It’s a bit like the sticker you see on the fruit at the grocery store. Right now it is in your store, but the sticker tells you where it was before that.

AncestryDNA origins reports

This same kind of research is reflected in AncestryDNA’s Migrations, which are a feature of their origins report. Migration communities, like Lower Midwest Settlers, identify your ancestral locations hundreds of years ago, as opposed to the Regions, like Europe West, which identify your ancestral locations thousands of years ago.

Sticking with the Irish theme, we see that AncestryDNA places Ireland in a region with Scotland and Wales. This large region is then broken up into four subregions, each with its own subregions, for a total of 24 different Irish categories. (You can view this image by clicking on See all 150+ regions at the bottom of the ethnicity window.)

Much like the study from academia in Ireland, we can track these Irish groups through time using the tools at AncestryDNA. Essentially, if you find yourself in any of the subregions, then you know that your connection to that particular place was likely within a genealogical timeframe (the last 300 years). What if you do not yet find yourself in a subgroup, but as shown in the example here, you see simply no connection to these subregions? It either means your connection to Ireland is farther back than 300ish years, or that the subregion you are from has not yet been defined.

Living DNA ethnicity categories in UK

Currently Living DNA has the most specificity in the UK as they can distinguish between 42 regions in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland (map shown here). Living DNA has announced similar regional projects in other countries, including Germany.

But even with this specificity, it can still be tricky to make genealogical connections between your maps and your family tree. In the coming months and years, even that will change. As the databases get bigger, it will be the connections between people who are tested that will add to the layer of genealogy specificity that we are missing. In other words, it will be less about whether you have a specific piece of DNA tagging you as from Cork, Ireland, and more about the fact that your DNA connects to you to an entire group of people who have documented ancestors from Cork. This may seem like a small distinction, but it makes all the difference, and is the driving principle behind AncestryDNA’s Migrations tool, and what Living DNA is hinting at as well.

So, what will the future hold? Nobody has all the answers, and that is part of the fun of it. But one thing I am certain of: the future does hold more specific answers to our genetic genealogy questions.

Did you hear?

We have added 21 of Diahan Southard’s DNA tutorial videos to our Premium Membership, which is now Premium eLearning! DNA is a gateway to genealogical discoveries, so it pays to know all you can about using DNA in your family history research plan. We’ve organized Diahan’s comprehensive DNA tutorial series into four categories: General DNA (including beginner), Autosomal DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, and YDNA. Watch all of them or start with what you most want to learn now. And remember, as fantastic as this DNA series is, it’s only one of the many Premium video topics you’ll have exclusive access to with your Premium eLearning. Click here to learn more. 

The Author: Diahan Southard

The Author: Diahan Southard

Your DNA Guide

Diahan is Your DNA Guide 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 a full series of DNA guides for genealogists.

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!

How to Use the NEW MyHeritage DNA Chromosome Browser

The new MyHeritage DNA chromosome browser offers two different kinds of browsing–and a triangulation tool. Here’s what these tools are and how to work with them.

Just last year, if you had asked me if I thought anyone could catch AncestryDNA in their race to own the genetic genealogy market, I would have been skeptical. However, it is clear that MyHeritage intends to be a contender, and they are quickly ramping up their efforts to gain market share–and your confidence.

MyHeritage began 2018 by making a much needed change to their DNA matching algorithm, which had some errors in it. They were able to adjust it, and now it is humming right along, telling our second cousins from our fourth. Another development, launched in February, is the addition of a Chromosome Browser.

The new MyHeritage DNA Chromsome Browser

Much like you would browse the library shelves for the perfect book, or browse through the sale rack for a great bargain, you can use a Chromosome Browser to look through your chromosomes for the pieces of DNA you share with your genetic cousins. Chromosome Browsers can be everything from a fun way to review your genetic genealogy results, to a tool to assist in determining how you are related to someone else. Let’s go over three tips to help you make use of this new tool:

Navigating to the Chromosome Browser

There are actually two different kinds of Chromosome Browsers in MyHeritage: one to view only the segments you share with one match (the One-to-One Browser), and a browser where you can see the segments shared with multiple matches (the One-to-Many Browser).

To get to the One-to-One Browser, head over to your match page and find a cousin for whom you would like to see your shared DNA segments. Click on Review DNA Match, then scroll down past all the individual match information, past the Shared Matches and Shared Ethnicities until you see the Chromosome Browser.

Using the One-to-Many Chromosome Browser

To find the One-to-Many Chromosome Browser, you can use the main DNA navigation menu at the top of the MyHeritage homepage. Click on DNA, then on Chromosome Browser, as shown below.

In the One-to-Many Chromosome Browser you can compare yourself, or any account you manage, to anyone else in your match page. To choose a match to evaluate, just click on their name and they will be added to the queue at the top:

Clicking on Compare will then allow you to see the actual segments you share with each person:

In this One-To-Many view, each individual match gets their own line for each chromosome. Since we have added 7 people to the Chromosome Browser, there are seven lines next to each chromosome number. Each match not only gets their own line, but also their own color. So you can easily match up the lines on the chromosome to the match that shares that piece of DNA with you. For the majority of people the majority of the time, these Chromosome Browsers are just another fun way to visualize the connection you have with your DNA match. In the end, it doesn’t matter where you are sharing on the chromosome, just how much DNA you are sharing. You can obtain that information from your main match page and never look at this Chromosome Browser image, and still make fantastic genetic genealogy discoveries.

The Triangulation Tool

Another feature of the Chromosome Browser on MyHeritage is the Triangulation tool. To understand how this works, you first need to understand that you actually have two copies of each chromosome. Two copies of chromosome 1, two copies of chromosome 2, etc. One copy is from mom, and the other from dad. However, in the Chromosome Browser image, you see only one line for yourself (in grey). Therefore, when you see someone matching you on chromosome 14, for example, you don’t know if that person is matching you on the chromosome 14 you got from your mom, or the chromosome 14 you got from your dad.

Likewise, if you see two people whose shared piece with you looks to be in the same location on the same chromosome, you can’t tell if they are both sharing on the same copy of that chromosome, or if one match is related to your dad’s family, and the other match is related to your mom’s family. However, this is what the Triangulation tool does for us. It tells us if two (or three or four, etc.) matches are sharing on the same copy of the same chromosome. Be careful when you use this tool, though. Many erroneously assume that when they see a segment shared between multiple people, that indicates the presence of a recent common ancestor for all of those people. However, that is not always the case.

Start Using the MyHeritage DNA Chromsome Browser

Ready to start exploring what the MyHeritage DNA chromosome browser may tell you about your family history? You have two options. Click here to upload your autosomal DNA test results from another company to MyHeritage for FREE. Or click here to order a MyHeritage DNA test kit. Either way, you can start using all the great tools at MyHeritage DNA!

The Author: Diahan Southard

The Author: Diahan Southard

Your DNA Guide

Diahan is Your DNA Guide 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 a full series of DNA guides for genealogists.

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!

MyHeritage DNA Matching Update AND a New Chromosome Browser!

We have a MyHeritage DNA matching update! Not only has MyHeritage DNA released a much better matching algorithm, the company that lets you upload your DNA for free has also introduced a chromosome browser. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares the good news—and a quick introduction to her favorite matching tools on MyHeritage DNA.

In my first job as a grocery store clerk, I learned that most customer service issues can be solved if you listen carefully to the customer and do all you can to make it right. This is what MyHeritage has done.

For months after the launch of their in-house DNA testing product in the fall of 2016, their DNA matching algorithm had problems. Even a year later, there were concerning reports of discrepancies between the match lists of parents and children. And yet, the genetic genealogy community was patient—because MyHeritage had so far delivered on every promise they had made to the community. They had delivered a competitive origins (ethnicity) product, adopted a stringent privacy policy, and let everyone upload their DNA for free.

MyHeritage DNA matching update

Now in January of 2018, all that patience has paid off. MyHeritage has updated its matching algorithm and recalibrated all the DNA matches in their system. The result is a much more robust depiction of our relationships with others in the database. Most users are seeing a dramatic increase in the total number of matches, and a significant decrease in the number of false positives, or matches that are on your match list but shouldn’t be.

Additionally, to the delight of many genetic genealogists, MyHeritage has launched a chromosome browser. This tool allows you to see the locations on the DNA that are shared with your match. Many genetic genealogists like to use this tool to help them visualize the shared DNA, and group their DNA matches.

Now that the matching algorithm has improved, I’d like to recommend three great tools you should be using at MyHeritage to help you identify your genetic matches. Yes, one of them is the chromosome browser–but take a look at these others, too. And take note: you won’t find these exact tools at AncestryDNA.

Tool #1: List of possible relationships for your genetic matches

In a recent blog post, I described how you can narrow down your possible relationships to your genetic matches by comparing your total shared DNA to a table developed by genetic genealogy experts. MyHeritage DNA simplifies that process for you with a customized chart for each of your genetic matches. Each chart visually shows you all possible relationships, even taking into account factors like your age and gender.

To access the chart, log in to your MyHeritage account. Under the DNA tab, select “Genetic Matches.” Then click on the little question mark icon next to the relationship suggestions:

Then you’ll see a chart that’s been customized for this relationship by highlighting all your possible relationships to this genetic match:

Tool #2: Longest piece of shared DNA with your genetic matches

In addition to the range of possibilities above, you can also be misled by the total amount of DNA you share with your genetic matches. Yes, you might actually be third cousins. But if your ancestors lived in a community that intermarried a lot because they were isolated geographically or culturally, you might also just share a lot of common DNA. You might be sixth cousins three times over.

The size of the biggest piece of DNA you share with a genetic match is really important for puzzling this out. Let’s say two of your genetic matches each share 30 centimorgans of DNA with you. Both are predicted to be your fourth cousins, but one person’s longest shared piece of DNA is 18 centimorgans long, and the other’s is 9 centimorgans long. The closer match–the one you should pursue first–is the one that shares the longest piece of DNA.

At MyHeritage DNA, you can sort your list of genetic matches by longest shared segment. At the top of your list, under the “All” drop-down menu, select “Largest Segment.” You may see your match list rearrange itself (this is a clue that the total shared DNA doesn’t tell you the whole story about genetic relatedness):

Then, click on your top genetic matches to see more detail about that longest segment:

Tool #3: NEW Chromosome browser

The new chromosome browser at MyHeritage is what they’re calling an “initial release” or first draft that “will be enhanced further soon.” It’s currently embedded in each of your individual match pages. That way, you can compare what areas of genetic material you and each of your matches have in common.

“It’s a free feature that can be used by all users on MyHeritage who have taken the DNA test or uploaded DNA data,” says a company press release. “It shows the shared segments between you and a DNA Match in purple. When you hover your mouse over any shared segment you can see the genomic position of the shared segment, the size of the segment, and the number of SNPs there. Grey segments are not shared with the DNA Match and crisscrossed sections were not analyzed due to the lack of SNPs in those regions.”

I’ll be back soon with more tips and tutorials on getting the most out of the new MyHeritage chromosome browser. I just wanted to alert you that it’s there—one more valuable tool in the MyHeritage DNA matching toolbox.

Advanced DNA tools for family history research

If you’re ready to get more genealogy information out of your DNA testing experience, consider whether Diahan’s Advanced DNA Bundle might be a good investment for you. These laminated guides are available singly (click on individual titles below) or as a value-priced bundle and can help you with very specific “next steps:”

  • 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 navigates you through the myriad of options and point out only the best tools for your genetic genealogy research.
  • Organizing Your DNA Matches. With millions of people now 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.

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!

The Author: Diahan Southard

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)

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