Develop Your DNA Testing Plan for Genealogy

Developing a DNA testing plan can help ensure that your genetic genealogy testing has targeted goals and maximized results. Follow these tips from Legacy Tree Genealogists to create your own DNA testing plan. Already taken a test? It’s not too late to develop a real plan to get the most out of your results.

Your DNA testing plan

You have taken your DNA test, and you have your ethnicity estimate, but how does genetic genealogy testing actually help you with your genealogy? Where do you even begin? By developing a DNA testing plan you can ensure that you pursue your research with a focused goal in mind, which will help determine how best to proceed.

Thank you to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing us with this guest blog post.

Moving beyond ethnicity estimates

Even though ethnicity estimates get a great deal of attention, the most genealogically valuable element of your DNA test results is the match list which connects you to others based on your shared DNA inheritance. As you begin working with your DNA test results within the context of your genealogy, we recommend sharing and collaborating with your genetic cousins. The main goal of your correspondence with genetic cousins might be to determine the nature of your relationship, but could also include sharing information regarding your shared heritage and ancestors, or requesting their help in recruiting additional relatives to test.

However, your match list may sometimes present problems of its own. If it includes several thousand individuals it might seem overwhelming. If you only have a handful of matches, it might be discouraging. In either case, there is no need to worry. Genetic genealogy tests are constantly changing as more people test. If you have too many matches, just focus on the closest ones. If you don’t have enough, the genetic cousins you need to make genealogical breakthroughs may not have tested yet. Waiting for the right cousins to test need not be a passive pursuit. Consider target testing your known relatives (or the known relatives of your matches) to better achieve your research goals.

Creating a DNA testing plan

In order to create a robust testing plan, you first need to have a specific research subject and a clear objective. Focus on a single ancestor. Make a goal of what you hope to discover through DNA testing. DNA testing is ideal for addressing questions regarding kinship, but is not as good for exploring motivations, biographical detail or uncovering ancestral stories. Once you have a research subject and objective, then you can evaluate which relatives will be the best candidates to test to thoroughly address your research problem.

In this post we will create an example DNA testing plan for John Martin who was adopted by a shopkeeper and his wife in the mid-1800s. We have few clues as to who his biological parents may have been. Our research subject is John Martin, and our stated objective is to determine the identities of his biological parents.

Understanding shared DNA

Because of the unique inheritance pattern of autosomal DNA, testing multiple relatives of a specific research subject can be extremely beneficial. Each individual inherits half of their autosomal DNA from each of their parents. Beyond that, the amount of DNA shared in common is only approximate due to a random process – called recombination – which shuffles the DNA each generation. Each individual will inherit about 25% from each grandparent, 12.5% from each great-grandparent and approximately half the previous amount for each subsequent generation. Although two first cousins will have both inherited 25% of their DNA from each of their common grandparents (50% in total) they will have inherited a different 25%. Therefore, first cousins will typically only share about 12.5% of their DNA in common. Because descendants along distinct lines inherit different portions of their common ancestors’ DNA, it is important to test as many people from distinct family lines as possible.

Tip: Right click and ‘Save Image’ to your computer, then print this free, quick reference chart:

Don’t overlook the importance of traditional genealogy research!

Since it can be extremely beneficial to test multiple descendants of a research subject, before pursuing a detailed testing plan we recommend documenting as many descendants of an ancestor of interest as possible through traditional research. Though this process can be time consuming, it is often worth the effort. By tracing all descendants, you can accurately evaluate which genetic cousins will be best to invite to perform DNA testing. Additionally, tracing the descendants of ancestors can frequently lead to additional clues for extending ancestry. Just as different descendants inherit different DNA, they also inherit different information and historical documents regarding their ancestors. Some of that information could include clues regarding the very relationships you are trying to clarify. While searching for descendants of your ancestor of interest, consider utilizing compiled family histories, obituaries, city directories, family organizations and public records to identify living descendants.

In tracing the descendants of John Martin, we found that he had three children who lived to adulthood. We traced each of their descendants through traditional research and identified 10 living relatives (shown in gray, below). Now that we know the identities of all his living descendants we can prioritize which relatives to test.

Who you decide to test as part of your research problem can be considered within the context of coverage. Coverage is the amount of an ancestor’s DNA that is represented in a DNA among all of their tested descendants. Coverage can be estimated by determining the amount of DNA that one descendant shares with a common ancestor, plus the DNA that another descendant shares with that same ancestor, minus the DNA that both descendants share in common with that ancestor. When two full siblings perform DNA testing, they obtain a coverage of about 75% of their parents’ DNA. Testing three full siblings results in about 87.5% coverage of their parents’ DNA.

Prioritize testing to achieve the highest level of coverage

To achieve the highest coverage of a research subject’s DNA, prioritize testing the closest generational descendants. A living granddaughter of a research subject will have inherited much more DNA from the ancestor of interest than a second great grandson. You can often find the closest generational descendants of a research subject by searching for the youngest child of the youngest child of each generation of their descendants. These individuals will typically have the longest generation times, and therefore have a greater likelihood of having close living descendants.

Keep in mind that any DNA inherited from a common ancestor has to come through an individual’s immediate ancestors. If a granddaughter of a research subject is still living, and she in turn has descendants, any of the DNA that her children or grandchildren inherited from the research subject had to have come through her, and will be a subset of her own DNA. Therefore, if the granddaughter is tested, there is no need to test her descendants as well within the context of the research objective.

For example, in the case of John Martin, his granddaughter Maria is the closest living generational descendant. She will share much more DNA with John Martin than any of his other descendants. Also, any DNA that Maria’s descendants (Jennifer Jones or Matthew Williams) inherited from John Martin would be a subset of the DNA that Maria inherited from John. Therefore, if we were able to test Maria, we would not need to test Jennifer or Matthew.

Also, to achieve the highest coverage of DNA, we recommend testing descendants from unique lines. If a research subject had three children who lived to adulthood, rather than testing descendants of a single child consider testing descendants from each of the children. Testing only descendants of a single child limits the maximum coverage we can achieve, while testing descendants from each line enables maximum coverage. In this case, testing Maria, George, and Isaac or Julia would result in slightly higher coverage than testing Maria, Isaac, and Julia.

Other benefits of creating a DNA testing plan

So far, our discussion on testing plans has focused on the descendants of a research subject. However, it can also be beneficial to test other individuals as part of a research plan. Testing known relatives from other family lines can help to filter DNA test results. Any matches shared between a test subject and a known relative can be assigned to that side of the family. If there are proposed candidates who might be among the ancestors of the research subject, their descendants might be tested to prove or disprove hypotheses regarding their relationship. If, after testing, there are still very few genetic cousins, consider collaborating with those cousins to test their older relatives or representative family members from their various ancestral lines.

In this case, it has been proposed that John Martin was the son of a woman named Jessie Brown. Traditional research revealed that Jessie Brown had other living descendants who might be tested. Their test results could be used to confirm or refute the hypothesis of John’s relationship to Jessie. If their results confirm John and Jessie’s relationship, they could also be used to isolate which genetic cousins of the descendants of John Martin are likely related through the ancestry of John’s father. Finally, testing close known relatives from the other ancestral lines of each testing candidate could help to filter which genetic cousins are related through the ancestry of John Martin.

Since most researchers work within a limited research budget, developing a DNA testing plan can help prioritize which DNA test(s) should be performed first, and can help maximize the chances of successful resolution of research problems. Choose a research subject, define a clear objective, research their living descendants, prioritize DNA testing, and maximize your chances for genealogical discovery.

Creating a DNA testing plan can mean the difference between DNA results that solve genealogy mysteries and a few less-meaningful slices of ethnicity pie chart. It takes a bit of extra time, but it’s worth it.

And don’t worry: if you feel a little lost when working with DNA, Legacy Tree Genealogists has expert professionals (like today’s author) who can help you with your DNA testing plan AND help you integrate DNA discoveries and your traditional research finds for more powerful, confident answers to your family history mysteries. It’s easy to request a free consultation, and we have even arranged an exclusive offer just for our readers: $100 off a 20-hour+ research project with code GGP100.

Success! Finding Home Movies on YouTube

This genealogy researcher searched for home movies on YouTube after hearing Lisa Louise Cooke talk about the kinds of footage you can find for your family history. Check out this eye-popping discovery of a video showing her daredevil great-uncle in action…at age 82!

Awhile back, I gave a seminar at the Houston Genealogy Forum. I covered one of my favorite topics: how to find old home movies on YouTube that may feature your family’s history or even include a family member. Over the years of teaching this topic, some genealogists have responded with open skepticism to the idea–that is of course until they try it. Well, a woman named Carolyn attended that seminar and later kindly wrote me and said how much she enjoyed it. She explained how she applied what she learned with fantastic results.

I’m not surprised that she had such success. Just think of all the old film footage that people have shot over the years at parades, festivals, grand openings, school concerts or plays, races, sporting events, parties, graduations, weddings, company picnics and more. Thousands of hours of old films like these have been digitized and uploaded to YouTube! 

Here’s Carolyn’s story:

“Today I decided to try YouTube, which I have never gone to before. The first thing I put in was my Great Uncle Will Ivy Baldwin, the tightrope walker. Immediately I found a video of him walking the high wire across a canyon in Colorado at age 82 in 1948! I actually saw him perform this dare devil feat! I am still filled with the thrill of it!”

Carolyn finished by saying, “Thank you so much for all we learned from you. The only problem is that I am going to have to live to be 200 to take advantage of everything you pointed out to us. I will tell all of my friends and other societies about your wonderful speech and hope to see you again.”

Can you believe how her great-uncle walked a tightrope on his 82nd birthday with no net and no harness? Incredible! Carolyn’s got some great genes to perform fantastic feats, which we hope includes more amazing family history discoveries.

While you’re on YouTube anyway searching for old home movies, why not check out the free family history video tutorials on the Genealogy Gems You Tube channel? Click the red Subscribe button while you’re there so you won’t miss a single new genealogy video we publish. 

How-to: Finding old home movies on YouTube

Are you curious and ready to find old home movies on YouTube? Click here to read my 4 terrific tips to get you started.

For the ultimate guide to searching the hundreds of thousands–possibly millions–of old film footage clips on YouTube, consider reading my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. This book has an entire chapter devoted to searching YouTube (which is owned by Google), with examples, screenshots and step-by-step instructions. It may help you discover some family history video treasures of your own on YouTube!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa 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.

Happy Mother’s Day

Wishing all you *mommy gems* out there a very happy Mother’s Day!

(Image: Introducing my oldest daughter Vienna to her new baby sister, Lacey)

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.

Episode 217 – The Golden State Killer and Your Genealogy and DNA

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode #217
with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this special episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke takes a look at the Golden State killer, one of the most notorious crime sprees in recent memory. She’ll talk about the role that DNA testing played in an ultimate arrest, and the impact that these events are having on genealogists and the use of DNA in genealogy.

The Golden State Killer

Golden State Killer: It’s Not Overdocuseries. (As an Amazon Associate, Genealogy Gems earns from qualifying purchases)
“The Golden State Killer,” 48 Hours episode on CBSNews.com (44-minute episode)

Between 1974 and 1986, activities attributed to the Golden State Killer include at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 through 1986.
The criminal’s methods led some investigators to believe that these differently-labeled criminals were very likely one in the same.
In 2001, DNA definitively linked several rapes in Contra Costa County believed to have been part of the East Area Rapist series, a series of murders in Southern California.
In 2011, DNA evidence proved that the Domingo?Sanchez murders were committed by the same man, known as the Golden State Killer.

BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, don’t forget to check out your bonus content for this episode! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homelandClick here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.

StoryWorth makes it easy and fun for Mom to share stories with loved ones every week. At the end of the year, she’ll get them all bound in a beautiful hardcover book. Strengthen your bond as you get to know her in a whole new way! Go to http://www.storyworth.com/lisa for $20 off when you subscribe. Give a gift for Mother’s Day that is actually a gift for you, too!

Help solve DNA mysteries with these resources:

Caution: In this episode, Lisa shares her personal opinions on the use of technology for crime fighting and the implications for DNA testing for genealogy. She encourages everyone to do their own homework and make informed decisions in line with their own values, opinions and objectives.

Reality check: “The only way to ensure privacy is to never put anything of any kind online. Just like the only way to ensure you will never be in a car accident is to never?under any circumstances?get in a car.”

Read more about DNA testing company partnerships:
Another personal genetics company is sharing client data,” Wired.com article by Katie M. Palmer, published 21 July 2015, on Ancestry.com’s partnership with Google-owned Calico biotech firm
23andMe teams with Big Pharma to find treatments hidden in our DNA,” Wired.com article by Davey Alba, published 12 January 2015, on 23andMe’s partnership with Pfizer

Several ways we already use DNA matches:

  • Genealogists use to build family trees
  • Adoptees use to identify birth parents (or other biological relatives)
  • Orphans trying to find long lost siblings and relatives
  • Anyone looking for estranged family members
  • Researchers identifying unidentified human remains, including POW/MIAs

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com.

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

More information on DNA testing

How to download, transfer and upload your DNA with various testing companies by Diahan Southard
How DIY genetic testing kits can be used against you,” News.com.au article by Gavin Fernando, published 3 May, 2018.

“When you test, you are also making a decision on behalf of your parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and future descendants. Regardless of good intentions or stated ethics codes in the genealogy community, it isn’t possible to write and get the express permission of everyone who could be affected by you having your DNA tested.” ?Lisa Louise Cooke

Genealogy Gems can help you whether you test or not!

Keep listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast for genealogy news, tips, inspiration and strategies (DNA is one of many tools talked about!)

Read free online articles at GenealogyGems.com. Click here to read dozens of articles on DNA.

Click here to view our complete line of DNA quick reference guides

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member, to get access to all the Premium video classes and the entire Premium Podcast: new monthly episodes plus the full archive of more than 150 previous ones.

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, DNA Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Disclosure: This document 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 this free podcast and blog!

Check out this new episode!

How to Be a Good Mother-in-Law: A Steamer Letter from 1940

This 1940 “steamer letter” is essentially a lesson in how to be a good mother-in-law: Tell your daughter-in-law or son-in-law what you like about them. Express confidence in them. Respect the privacy of the couple’s relationship. That’s what I see in these words of wisdom and affection from a wise mother nearly 80 years ago.

In 1940, a young newlywed couple married and embarked on a new life together in Alaska. They took with them some “steamer letters” from the man’s mother, Laura Lu Copenhaver. (See below for a definition of steamer letters.)

Later this week, Margaret Linford will share more from Laura Lu in another post. But this letter to a new daughter-in-law seemed worth sharing separately. Full of love, confidence, and respect, it completely defies all those stereotypes about mothers-in-law. This missal is a timeless example of the loving support mothers-in-law often show behind the scenes.

How to be a good mother-in-law: A 1940 example

“Lois, this is your steamer letter, as well as your mother-in-law letter. Perhaps, I have not known you long enough to be sure that my son has made a wise choice, but I feel that he has.

It might make you self-conscious if I tried to mention the things I particularly like about you. They are the important things, as I see it. I love the warmth in you, the going out to other people of affection and interest. I like your sincerity, the absence of snobbishness. Your poise which means that you are not always thinking of yourself and how you affect other people. I like your intellectual eagerness, your real interests in finding and reading the best books.

But, an analysis of your good points is probably the last thing I should be giving you now. I ought to be praising my son to you and showing his good points. But another thing I like about you is that you seem to appreciate them without any help from me. Perhaps you see him more clearly and love him more deeply than I do. That is possible. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave only unto his wife so long as they both shall live.’ Yours is a more unselfish love than mine, perhaps. I do not know.

We mothers are the medium, the vessels through which life grows and passes…and such a long, long line of mothers and fathers back of us.

We used to read sentimental novels which talked of the nine months of pregnancy and the pains of birth, as if that bound our children to us for life. Since my own children have been born, I have not felt that way. We mothers are the medium, the vessels through which life grows and passes…and such a long, long line of mothers and fathers back of us.

“It is the mystery, the adventure that I once thought thrilling and I still think so. Shall I wish you both the deepest, most lasting happiness? That, but more than that—in marriage you have parted the veil of one mystery, but not of all. I hope you will both always have reverence for the mystery of life, of God, of man in this world and for the hope of a new heaven and a new earth.

“All my love, Mother.”

Thanks to Margaret for sharing this gem with us!

P.S. What’s a steamer letter?

The phrase “steamer letter” intrigued me, so I ran a quick search for that phrase in Google Books. Here’s a charming description in the 1916 edition of Dame Curtsey’s Book of Entertainments for Every Day in the Year by Ellye Howell Glover:

The e-book is available for free on Google Books, and appears to be one in a series of many popular domestic advice books written at the time. (Click here to learn more about using Google Books to find family history answers you’re looking for.)

Stay tuned for the next installment of Laura Lu’s letters: a Mother’s Day special post by Genealogy Gems blog contributor Margaret Linford. She’ll share Laura Lu’s fantastic advice to the newlywed couple on how to have a great marriage—and her own memories of becoming a mother.

Meanwhile, will you help us spread this supportive message by sharing it via social media? Thanks! You’re a gem.

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa 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.

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