September 23, 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)

Where Did I Come From? Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

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. 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 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:

  1. View your results in the context of a more historical timeline, as opposed to your own genealogical timeline.
  2. Try testing at multiple companies (you can transfer into Family Tree DNA from 23andMe or AncestryDNA for only $19. Click here to see recent updates to Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity categories.)
  3. 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.

Keep Reading about DNA Ethnicity Estimates

“Results May Vary:” One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages

Gedmatch: A Free Tool for Your DNA Results and Genealogy

New DNA Ethnicity Charts: Display Your Heritage

Why Do DNA Testing for Family History If You Already “Know” Your Tree

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history: my pedigree is full!” I still hear this occasionally. But here’s why everyone doing their family history should take at least one DNA test.

Full tree You still need DNA testing

Teenagers (including my own) are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” for change in human behavior. For my kids, it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11-year-old).

In DNA testing for family history in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed.

Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it. But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!

“I don’t need DNA testing for family history.” Really?

This got me thinking though: who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test is those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.”

To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP anyway to your invitation to DNA test.

1. To create and preserve a unique record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.

2. Because you have second cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.

Genetic vs Genealogcial Cousins3. To verify what’s on your tree. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart to a story and a life worth preserving.

Verifying what’s on your tree brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, it’s true. In fact, in the process of verifying your tree, you may discover new genetic truths about it. You may find that some who you thought biologically related actually aren’t, and you may discover new biological relatives you didn’t know about. Not everyone is prepared for this, especially if they’re pretty sure they know everything about their ancestry. But increasingly, I’m finding, people do want to know about a second cousin who was adopted out of the family or their grandpa’s secret half-sibling–and these connections may never emerge unless you participate in DNA testing for family history.

Remember, your genealogical pedigree is not the same as your genetic pedigree! Click here to read about different things you may learn from each one.

4. To help someone else build their tree. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.

So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!

Test DNA for Family HistoryClick here to get started with DNA testing for family history. You’ll learn who to test, why to test, what tests you can take and where to purchase them. You can watch a short video about getting started and see additional resources that will help you get the most out of your testing experience all along the way.

 

Time to Check Your DNA Matches Again? Why You Should Review Them Regularly

Has it been awhile since you have perused your DNA matches? Here’s how reviewing your DNA test results regularly can help your family history.

It's time to check DNA

By now, many (if not most) of the genealogists I meet at conferences have had their DNA tested. Good for you! But how often are you checking on your DNA matches? It’s easy to forget about them after that first exciting look at your match list and the flurry of emails that you received. You should be checking in regularly! Here are two great reasons why:

1. You may have new DNA matches.

More and more people are flocking to these companies to have their own DNA tested. Why just this month, AncestryDNA announced they have tested 5 million people. It was only in January of 2017 that they announced they’d hit 3 million, so they’ve added more than two million people so far this year.

What this means is that just as new records are constantly being added online (we cover millions of new additions every Friday on this blog), so are new DNA test profiles. That means you will keep discovering new DNA matches in your list over time. That elusive cousin you’ve been hoping would test may do so tomorrow. A key relative on your dad’s side–maybe on a line with unknown parentage–may have tested three weeks ago, with results now pending. (Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton told me she has had two ground-breaking DNA matches in the past two months alone. Lucky her!)

In AncestryDNA, you can actually sort to view new matches. From your AncestryDNA home page, click View all DNA matches. Then select the filter New by clicking on it.

AncestryDNA will now just show you, in order of degree of relation, any matches you haven’t yet clicked on to review more closely. This can be quite a time-saver. And it can also help remind you of any matches you may have already seen in passing but haven’t closely reviewed.

Another tip: under each of your AncestryDNA matches, you can also see how long it’s been since that person logged in, as shown here.

Perhaps you emailed someone a while back but never heard anything (or didn’t notice a response). If you can see that a person is actively using the site now, it may be worth reaching out again.

2. New tools to review your DNA matches may be available.

While you’ve been busy recently tracking down census records and virtually visiting the courthouses, your DNA testing companies have been busily adding to their offerings. Just recently, MyHeritage revealed a beautiful, streamlined way to review each of your DNA matches. (Remember, it’s free to upload your DNA there. Click here to see how. You can also purchase a test from MyHeritageDNA.)

At MyHeritage, your list of DNA matches shows your genetic relatives who have tested, how much DNA you share, and your possible relationship. The new DNA Match Review page helps you navigate that information and decide what to do with it. This is what the new MyHeritage DNA Match Review experience looks like:

In the past, I’ve talked on this blog about several excellent (and still-evolving) tools on AncestryDNA, such as:

Competition in the DNA market space means that every company continues to add new and improved features to their site and testing experience. It’s worth checking back to explore what new information and tools might be available.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that your testing company is always working to improve your DNA testing experience. So you should regularly return to your lists of DNA matches at the website of every company where you have tested. If you’re not sure how to use the site, please read some of my DNA posts on this blog and consult my quick reference DNA guides about these testing companies:

Keep checking back on those DNA matches. You never know what discovery might be just a click away.

Disclosure: This post 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!

AncestryDNA Privacy Policy Update: Why This Change Is Good

An update to AncestryDNA’s privacy policy requires us to take to take one more step when managing someone else’s DNA test. Here’s why Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard thinks that’s a good thing.

Like many teenagers, my 14-year old sees every situation only from her own point of view. I call it myopic-itis. This is, of course, how most of us react to every new situation. The difference between those suffering from this condition and the rest of us is that fairly quickly, perhaps once the shock has subsided, we can see things from the point of view of others, and can therefore be more understanding about the whole situation.

AncestryDNA recently caused an attack of myopic-itis when they announced a change to their policy on how DNA tests are registered. Previously, you could register anyone’s test under your own account. Say you were gathering the test for an aged aunt or disinterested cousin. You handle everything from the order to the test registration to managing all correspondence. Your aunt or cousin merely needed to spit in the tube.

However, effective today, July 18, 2017, that has changed. Each person who takes an AncestryDNA test must have their very own account at AncestryDNA.

A natural reaction is to immediately reject this as a terrible idea that will certainly slow–if not halt–your efforts to gather the needed genetic information from your less-than-enthusiastic relatives. Your myopic-itis flares up and threatens to cause you to throw up your hands in frustration and just forget the whole thing.

But don’t! Really, all that is changed is that you have to take one more step when administering DNA tests for your friends or relatives: create AncestryDNA accounts for them. Then, they can assign you as the Manager of their DNA kits. Doing so allows their DNA results to show up in your Ancestry account, just as if you yourself had registered the test under your account. Viola! (Well, if your relative doesn’t have an email account, you may have to create one, so that would be one more step.)

Now, why would Ancestry decide to so inconvenience your life with another step or two? Well, to protect the rights of the cousin and the aunt that you are asking to take the test. It is that simple. Not that you would, but if the results are in your account, you can delete them, you can limit their access to them. In short, you have ultimate control. Causing each test to have its own account tries to put that control back in the hands of the test taker.

One of the criticisms of this announcement is that Ancestry is doing this just to make more people buy subscriptions to Ancestry. I don’t think this is their primary motivation. In fact, a blogger in the UK, Debbie Kennett, suggested that it may be partially in reaction to a new law in the UK that, starting next year, will require this personal access inr order for Ancestry to continue selling tests there.

But even if getting more subscribers was their primary motivation for the change, how is encouraging interest in genealogy a bad thing?! Think of it this way: let’s say you tell your cousins, “I got this. Don’t worry about anything. I will do it all.” Then they will let you, and they won’t take any ownership of the process or the results.

Instead, now you can say, “I have created a login for you at Ancestry so you can view your own results. I will also be able to see them in my account. I would love to go over them with you, if you are interested. But you can go in anytime and look around.” Then wouldn’t it be great if they really did that? Maybe they’d even get so interested that they’d decide to help you research?!

DNA is one of the biggest hooks we have to get our friends and family interested in family history. I think this change is just one more way that we can spread our love of family history with our family–not to mention protect their privacy and their rights.

In addition to Debbie Kennett’s post I mentioned above, make sure to read the official announcement by Ancestry, and these two blog posts about questions you may have: Reality Check–Changes at AncestryDNA and Managing Multiple Kits and the New AncestryDNA Change.

Ready to test some relatives? Click here for tips on talking about DNA at your next family gathering (like, this summer’s reunion?). Then sign up for the free weekly Genealogy Gems e-newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook to learn about the fantastic DNA sales we’ve been spotting lately.

What do you think about Ancestry’s new privacy policy? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

DNA Testing for Adoptees: Searching for Biological Roots

DNA testing for adoptees (and others with unknown parentage) isn’t a last resort–use it along with other strategies to discover biological roots. Genetic genealogists CeCe Moore and Diahan Southard share five tips for getting started.

DNA testing for adoptees

Not long ago, I chatted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of The DNA Detectives about using DNA testing for adoptees. Here I summarize some tips she shared, along with some perspectives of my own and resources that can help your search for biological relatives.

Click here to listen to our chat:

DNA testing for adoptees: 5 tips

1. Start with available records. A lot of people of people are coming straight to DNA testing now without looking at any available records first. Adoptees should start by looking at state laws and seeing if they can get access to original birth certificates. Click here to read about access to adoption records (U.S.).

DNA testing for adoptees2. Take an autosomal DNA test. This test looks at both sides of a person’s biological family, mom and dad. Most people start by testing at AncestryDNA because it has the largest database of potential matches (over 4 million now!). If you don’t find a close match (at least a second cousin),  you will want to transfer to both Family Tree DNA and and MyHeritage for FREE to expand your search radius. Males with unknown paternity should also take a YDNA test (at least at the 37-marker level) from Family Tree DNA.

3. Do your own adoption search. Sure, you can hire someone to help. But you should be invested in your own search when possible. You’ll likely get a much greater satisfaction out of it.

As with any kind of search you are doing for people who may still be living, proceed with care and try to keep your search as private as possible. Try first to contact the people hwo are most likely to know about you already, including your parents and grandparents. If you do discover a biological family member who may not know about you, please carefully consider the impact you may have on their lives by revealing information you have learned.

4. Become educated. Learn all the strategies you can for researching your biological roots. Read and read! Keep learning! The DNA Detectives Facebook group is about self-education, with members helping members work their own cases without a professional having to work each one. (You can also check out The DNA Detectives website.)

5. Keep your expectations flexible. CeCe Moore says, “The end result of an adoption search is positive most of the time. There are some stories where contact has been rejected by a birth relative, but they are in the minority. A positive outcome doesn’t necessarily mean a connection or loving relationship with a birth parent, but perhaps with a birth sibling or cousin.”

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 178

CeCe Moore

Finally, I want to share this powerful statement from CeCe Moore on adoptee rights:

“I believe everyone has an equal right to learn about their heritage. There’s a whole class of people denied the joyful experience of building their biological family trees. Everyone deserves that knowledge. That doesn’t mean the birth family has to have a relationship. There’s a difference between knowing your heritage and having a relationship with the birth family. The adoptee deserves the knowledge of their origins. But you can’t legislate a person to have a relationship with another person!”

Get the most from your DNA testing experience with my series of DNA quick guides! Topics include:

BEST VALUE: You get a serious discount–and my “Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy video class–when you grab the whole bundle!

 

 

 

Why Your Genetic Family Tree Is Not the Same as Your Family Tree

Your genetic family tree is not the same as your genealogical pedigree–and not just because of non-paternity events and adoption. Here’s how.

Genetic vs Genealogcial CousinsYour genealogical pedigree, if you are diligent or lucky (or both!) can contain hundreds, even thousands of names and can go back countless generations. You can include as many collateral lines as you want. You can add several sources to your findings, and these days you can even add media, including pictures and copies of the actual documents. Every time someone gets married or welcomes a new baby, you can add that to your chart. In short, there is no end to the amount of information that can make up your pedigree chart.

Not so for your genetic pedigree.

Your genetic pedigree contains only those ancestors for whom you have received some of their DNA. You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

You do not have DNA from all of your ancestors.

Using some fancy math we can calculate that the average generation in which you start to see that you have inherited zero blocks of DNA from an ancestor is about seven. But of course, most of us aren’t trying to figure out how much of our DNA we received from great great great grandma Sarah. Most of us just have a list of DNA matches and we are trying to figure out if we are all related to 3X great grandma Sarah. So how does that work?

Well, the first thing we need to recognize is that living descendants of Sarah’s would generally be our fourth cousins. Again, bring in the fancy math and we can learn that living, documented fourth cousins who have this autosomal DNA test completed will only share DNA with each other 50% of the time.

Yes, only half.

Only half of the time your DNA will tell you what your paper trail might have already figured out: that you and cousin Jim are fourth cousins, related through sweet 3X great grandma Sarah.

DNA cousinsBut here’s where the numbers are in our favor. You have, on average, 940 fourth cousins. So if you are only sharing DNA with 470 of them, that’s not quite so bad, is it? And it only takes one or two of them to be tested and show up on your match list. Their presence there, and their documentation back to sweet Sarah, helps to verify the genealogy you have completed. It also allows you to gather others who might share this connection so you can learn even more about Sarah and her family. Plus, if you find Jim, then Jim will have 470 4th cousins as well, some of which will not be on your list, giving you access to even more of the 940.

This genetic family tree not matching up exactly with your traditional family tree also manifests itself in your ethnicity results, though there are other reasons for discrepancies there as well. Read this article to learn more about why ethnicity results may not match.

In short, this DNA stuff is not a stand alone tool, but if you combine it with your traditional resources, it can be a very powerful tool for verifying and extending your family history. Remember, just because a cousin doesn’t show a match in DNA, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a genealogical connection! Genealogical research and primary sources can still prove connections even if DNA doesn’t show it.

Ready to learn more?

Read your dna guide at Genealogy GemsMy goals as Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems is to help you get the most from your DNA testing efforts, and to make it fun and easy-to-understand along the way. I’ve got more DNA articles for you. Check these out:

23andMe blog post: “How Many Relatives Do You Have?”

“How Much of Your Genome Do You Inherit from a Particular Ancestor?”

Listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball, on how your DNA and pedigree chart can work together to reveal your family’s migration story:

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 202.

 

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Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Report Gets an Update

The Family Tree DNA ethnicity report has been updated, and this means more details about ethnic and geographic origins for both autosomal and mtDNA DNA testers.

Family Tree DNA myOrigins screen shot lead image

Family Tree DNA recently announced a round of updates to myOrigins, its mapping tool for ethnic and geographic ancestry. New are more detailed breakdowns of their population clusters and in-depth descriptions of them. (Visit Family Tree DNA’s website here.)

It is so exciting to see new or updated reports from our genetic genealogy testing companies! It is a good reminder of two things: First, that the results we currently have, especially in the arena of our ethnicity results, will continually be improving. Second, that once you test with any company, these improvements are added to your account and your results are updated automatically.

Family Tree DNA is the only company offering a complete look at your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), the one that traces your direct maternal line. They recently updated the deep ancestral assignments for these mtDNA tests. The updates were based on scientific advances in the world of mtDNA and can sometimes give you a more specific idea of where your ancestral line came from.

In addition to the mtDNA updates, FTDNA has also updated their MyOrigins results as part of your autosomal DNA test. Previously your MyOrigins results broke up the world into 18 different pieces and you were told your affiliation with each. Now with 6 new populations added, there are a total of 24. The changes include splitting three categories into smaller parts, like they are now reporting Finland separate from Siberia, as well as adding three new categories in South America, West Middle East, and Oceania.

Your MyOrigins results will now also include trace amounts, which are those percentages that are very low and therefore do not carry a high confidence. But many genetic genealogists wanted to see any area that may have been detected, and so FTDNA responded.

How to Review Your Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Report

1. Log in to your Family Tree DNA account. From your dashboard, select myOrigins.

2. On the myOrigins page, click View all to see your full ethnic percentages, as defined by Family Tree DNA. You can also click View myOrigins map to see your results mapped out. (The map looks like the one at the beginning of this post.)

3. When you click to view all your ethnicity results, you’ll see a more detailed breakdown of your population groups. Click View all population descriptions to read more about each one.

The Impact of Updated Family Tree DNA Ethnicity Reports

On the whole, are these updated results going to significantly impact your family history research if you have tested at Family Tree DNA? Likely not. The greater impact is just in the idea that these things can be improved, updated, and changed, which means our experience will continue to improve, and more people are likely to test. More people in the database means more possible cousins. More possible cousins means more genealogy breakthroughs, and a more complete picture of our heritage, and that is what we are really all after.

Learn More About DNA Testing for Genealogy

Click here to see individual guides for topics I talked about above, such as testing at Family Tree DNA, testing your autosomal or mitochondrial DNA and getting started (in which I explain ethnicity results). Or click here for the ultimate Genetic Genealogy Jumbo Pack: ALL 10 of my guides PLUS my video class, “Getting Started with Genetic Genealogy.”

Adoption DNA Match Strategy: Combine DNA Test Types

Combining DNA test types can give you a better picture of your overall genealogical relationship to someone else. Combine your autosomal test results with the results of your mitochondrial DNA or YDNA test to make some amazing connections today!

combining DNA test types

My family recently visited the Jelly Belly Factory in northern California. Of course at the end of the tour, they funneled us into their gift shop where we felt compelled to buy jelly beans and other sundry treats. My favorite part of the big box we bought were the recipes on the side. We could turn the already delicious variety of flavors into even more pallet-pleasing options. Who knew!

This got me thinking about DNA, of course!

Combining DNA Test Types

Specifically, I was thinking about the power of combining multiple test types to get a better picture of our overall genealogical relationship to someone else.

If you recall, there are three kinds of DNA tests available for genealogists: autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y chromosome DNA (YDNA). Much of the focus these days is on how to use the autosomal DNA in our family history research. This may be because the autosomal DNA covers both sides of your family tree, so it is seen as a catchall for our family history. While it is a very powerful tool for our research, it can also be a bit overwhelming to try to determine how you are related to someone else.

Let’s look at an example from my own family history. My mom matched with Tom at 23andMe. Their predicted genealogical relationship, based on how much DNA they shared, was second cousins. To begin, we need to understand which ancestor could be shared by people who are genetic second cousins. To figure it out, you can count backwards like this: people who share parents are siblings, sharing grandparents makes you first cousins, and sharing great-grandparents makes you second cousins.

matches for combining DNA test types

Image credit: Diahan Southard.

So, if my mom and Tom are true second cousins (meaning there aren’t any of those once-removed situations going on, but that’s a subject for another time), then we should be able to find their common ancestor among their great-grandparents.

Each of us has eight great-grandparents. Because we can’t usually narrow down shared DNA to a single person, but rather to an ancestral couple, we are really just looking at four possible ancestral couple connections between my mom and Tom. My mom doesn’t have any known ancestors, as she was adopted, so we can only evaluate Tom’s line. Tom was kind enough to share his pedigree chart with us, and he had all four of his couples listed. But how do we know which one is the shared couple with my mom?

Narrowing Down the Results

Now, for those of you without an adoption, you will have some other clues to help you figure out which of the four (or eight, if you are looking at a third cousin, or 16 if you are looking at a fourth cousin) ancestral couples is shared between you and your match. Start by looking for shared surnames. If that comes up short, evaluate each couple by location. If you see an ancestral couple who is in a similar location to your line, then that couple becomes your most likely connecting point. What then? Do genealogy!! Find out everything you can about that couple and their descendants to see if you can connect that line to your own.

However in my mom’s case, we didn’t have any surnames or locations to narrow down which ancestral couple was the connection point between our line and Tom’s. But even if we had locations, that may not have helped as Tom is very homogenous! All of his ancestors were from the same place! But, we did have one very important clue: the mitochondrial DNA. Remember mtDNA traces a direct maternal line. So my mom’s mtDNA is the same as her mom’s, which is the same as her mom’s etc.

At 23andMe they don’t test the full mitochondrial DNA sequence (FMS) like they do at Family Tree DNA. For family history purposes, you really want the FMS to help you narrow down your maternal line connection to others. But 23andMe does provide your haplogroup, or deep ancestral group. These groups are named with a letter/number combination. My mom is W1 and we noticed that Tom is also W1.

combining DNA test types on pedigreeThis meant that my mom and Tom share a direct maternal line – or put another way, Tom’s mother’s mother’s mother was the same as my mom’s mother’s mother’s mother. That means there is only one couple out of the four possible couples that could connect my mom to Tom: his direct maternal line ancestor Marianna Huck, and her husband Michael Wetzstien.

Now you can only perform this wondrous feat if you and your match have both tested at 23andMe, or have both taken the mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA.

Just as a Popcorn Jelly Belly plus two Blueberry Jelly Bellies makes a blueberry muffin, combining your autosomal DNA test results with your mtDNA test results (or YDNA for that matter) can yield some interesting connections that just might break down that family history brick wall.

combing DNA test resultsLearn more about DNA test types with these helpful guides:

Don’t go it alone with DNA. My quick reference guides will guide you through the process in easy to understand language. You’ll get more out of your DNA test results with these guides:

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.