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!

DNA and Privacy: No Man is a Genetic Island

The recent identification of the Golden State Killer through a DNA database for genealogy is just one way your DNA may be used in unexpected ways. Lisa Louise Cooke shares 5 key principles to keep in mind when considering your online DNA presence.

Golden State killer case and others prompts important question

Recently, Paula in Canada emailed me about the Golden State Killer case, which I talked about in a special episode of the Genealogy Gems Podcast earlier this month. For those who haven’t heard, a serial criminal from decades ago, known popularly as the Golden State Killer, was recently identified in part after investigators submitted DNA evidence left at the scene to a genetic genealogy database. Paula asked how that case—and specifically the investigators’ use of a genealogy DNA database for a non-genealogy purpose—affects the genealogy community.

In the face of all the enthusiasm over DNA testing, the downsides of DNA testing for genealogy isn’t a popular topic. However, the lid is off of pandoras box  when it comes to DNA and there’s no putting it back on. Following the success of the Golden State Killer case, DNA evidence from over 100 crime scenes has recently been uploaded to GEDmatch (a website that provides free DNA and genealogical analysis tools for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists.), under the guidance of a new company (Parabon NanoLabs) that helps criminal investigators use genetic genealogy methods to identify genetic samples. Since DNA is here to stay, let’s talk about the varieties of ways that genealogical DNA testing results are being used may affect the genealogy community and the future of genetic genealogy.

DNA privacy for genealogists

In Genealogy Gems podcast episode #217 and here in this companion article, I share my own personal opinions. I invite you to listen to that episode and do your own homework before making your own decisions. Here, I summarize 5 principles to consider when it comes to sharing your DNA online:

1. Your data = dollars.

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member and you’ve watched the Premium video Take Control of Your Family Tree, then you know your DNA data is already being shared within and beyond the genetic genealogy world. AncestryDNA and 23andMe have both discovered a lucrative market for the DNA data that their customers have paid them to process: the pharmaceutical industry. Read the Wired.com article on one partnership Ancestry has with the Google-owned biotech company called Calico. I’m not saying that this is bad or good. But it is happening. In the end we are each responsible for doing our own homework and making an informed and conscious decision about whether and how to share our DNA.

2. Look in the mirror: How are YOU using DNA databases?

Thousands of genealogists are already using genetic genealogy databases for purposes beyond privately building their family trees. Often, they want to connect with relatives they don’t know or with whom they aren’t in touch, and DNA becomes the “cousin bait.” For example:

  • Adopted children and birth parents trying to find each other
  • Locating estranged family members
  • Orphans trying to find long lost siblings and relatives

Individuals and agencies other than genealogists also use DNA databases to identify unknown human remains, such as John or Jane Doe cases and prisoners of war. All of these uses of DNA may be well within the parameters of how a genealogist would expect to see their samples used. But all of these uses can lead to tremendous consequences in the lives of those whose DNA is involved, not all of those consequences intended or positive.

3. Hang on to your restaurant napkin!

On a daily basis, in public places, we discard items that have our DNA on them. Many folks are concerned that the police may not be the only ones interested in picking them up. That’s very possible. In fact, waiters and waitresses pick up some of the best DNA samples on a daily basis: anything with saliva on it.

Why would anyone want your DNA? Well, we’ve all seen cases of accident victims being under surveillance to determine if they really are injured. DNA could reveal health issues of those seeking large insurance policies. Of course, it takes a bit of doing because the genealogy testing companies want you to submit the sample on the swab of their kit. In the podcast episode, I shared with you from my personal experience that it’s possible to work around that requirement.

We’re in the early wild west days of DNA. Who in the future might be incentivised to obtain your DNA?

4. We’re not the only ones interested in our DNA.

Those who may potentially be interested in your DNA go beyond even genealogists, crime fighters, and those who identify bodies. The list includes insurance companies, employers, governments, educators, and many more. A news article at news.com.au states that “In Australia, life insurers are allowed to ask if an applicant is considering having genetic testing, and can then use the results to determine their coverage — a decision not everybody thinks is fair.” It goes on to say that “in China, by comparison, authorities have reportedly collected DNA samples from millions of residents for the purpose of surveillance.”

5. No one is a genetic island.

Be aware that when you test, you are also making a decision on behalf of your parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and future descendants. Your DNA (and accompanying tree data) could be used to identify them in the future in ways that help or harm them. 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. The water isn’t always crystal clear when it comes to DNA testing.

Resources

If you’ve already made the decision and have tested your DNA for genealogy, or you plan to, here are resources to help you navigate the process with greater awareness and success:

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.

Finding a Birth Father Using DNA: “How We Did It”

Finding a birth father using DNA is possible but can be hit-or-miss with DNA alone. Read this story about how the experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists combined DNA testing results with historical research and family knowledge to help one woman find the answers–and relatives–she desperately wanted.

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for contributing this guest article. Learn more about them below!

Father’s Day in the United States is celebrated on the third Sunday in June—a day filled with honoring and cherishing the special men in our lives. However, for those who feel the aching emptiness of never having known their biological father, it can be a difficult 24-hours cognizant of the void felt far too often throughout the year—a painful reminder of the ever-present absence in their lives.

At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we are often contacted by individuals seeking assistance in finding information regarding biological family members. Utilizing advancements in genetic genealogy and thorough genealogical research, we have helped many clients find closure. Recently we helped client Lisa McArthur (not her real name, but her story is shared with permission) to locate her biological father, and so for the first time in her life, this Father’s Day is a momentous occasion she looks forward to—the first celebrated with her biological father.

Lisa McArthur of Fort Worth, Texas, USA, hired us to help her find her Jamaican biological father and half-brother. She knew only their names and did not know their whereabouts or even whether they were still living. She hoped we could use DNA to identify her father’s Clarke ancestors in Jamaica and then trace their descendants until we found someone who could tell us more about him.

Lisa had already taken autosomal DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and Ancestry.com. She had corresponded with several genetic cousins at Ancestry.com and 23andMe who are likely related to her through the Clarke family, but she had not been able to figure out how.

Finding a birth father: How we did it

We reviewed Lisa’s ethnicity admixture results at 23andMe. Through this review, we determined that both of her parents had predominantly African ancestry and that her biological father was likely Afro-Caribbean, just as she reported.

We then reviewed Lisa’s closest genetic cousins at the various testing companies, paying particular attention to those genetic cousins from Jamaica. One of them, a confirmed second cousin [Cousin 1], the client already knew was the grandson of Elmer Clarke. We searched for information on Elmer Clarke and soon found his birth record showing he was the son of Leslie George Clarke and Anne Dixon.

finding a birth father with DNA birth record FamilySearch

Birth record [name removed for privacy]. Obtained from FamilySearch.org.

By carefully evaluating the shared centiMorgans between Lisa and Cousin 1, we determined that her biological father may have been a grandson of Leslie George Clarke and Anne Dixon.

We found another close match at 23andMe [Cousin 2] who was likely a third cousin to Lisa. Based on her previous correspondence with him, we knew that Cousin 2’s great-grandparents were Roland Lee, Hermina Murry, Obadiah Brown, Juliet Higgins, Henry/William Dennis, Ida Thomas, Basil Hamilton, and Ira Thomas/Barrett, all predominantly from Jamaica.

We reviewed the DNA that Cousin 2 shares in common with Lisa and discovered that two of the three segments where he overlaps with her are also shared in common with another match [Cousin 3], creating triangulated segments. When two individuals match a test subject and each other on the same segments of DNA, the segments are considered to be triangulated. This means that the common ancestor between Cousin 2 and Cousin 3 is also one of Lisa’s ancestors.

Adding traditional research to DNA results

Through standard genealogical research, we found that Juliet Higgins (the great-grandmother of Cousin 2), from Saint Andrew, Jamaica, was allegedly the daughter of John Higgins, although we could not find a birth record to prove it. We also confirmed that Cousin 3 was the granddaughter of John Higgins and Charlotte V. Graham of Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Additional research yielded convincing evidence that the great-grandfather of Cousin 2 was the same John Higgins as the grandfather of Cousin 3. Correspondence with the son of Cousin 3 indicated that John Higgins was “a ladies’ man who had many children” with multiple women.

Since Cousins 2 and 3 both reported a common ancestor with the Higgins surname from Saint Andrew, Jamaica, we expected that Lisa also had a Higgins ancestor from the same place, perhaps even the same John Higgins.

We hypothesized that Lisa’s biological father was a nephew of Elmer Clarke, the grandfather of Cousin 1. Through previous research, Lisa had already identified four brothers of Elmer: Geoff Adolphus Clarke, Neil Clarke, Douglas Alexander Clarke, and Lane George Clarke. Through careful genealogical research, we were able to eliminate all but Douglas Alexander Clarke as Lisa’s likely grandfather. Douglas married Angeline Higgins on 21 August 1935 in Holy Cross Church, Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Angeline Higgins was reported to be the 20-year-old daughter of Samuel Higgins and was a resident of Story Hill, Cavaliers, Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Based on the amount of DNA that Lisa shares in common with Cousins 2 and 3, we might expect that Angeline’s father, Samuel, may have been another son of John Higgins with an unidentified mother.

finding birth father DNA marriage record LTG image

Marriage record [names removed for privacy]. Obtained from FamilySearch.org.

Given that the marriage of Douglas Alexander Clarke and Angeline Higgins represents a union between the Clarke family and the Higgins family, both of Saint Andrew, Jamaica, we proposed that they were the most likely grandparents of Lisa.

Through additional family collaboration, Lisa was able to learn that her father is still living, just eight hours away from where she lives, and that she has five other siblings, including the half-brother she had heard about. Furthermore, Lisa was able to confirm that our DNA research was exactly right, since her father’s mother, Angeline Higgins, is still living at the age of 102!

Let Legacy Tree Genealogists Help You

If you have hit a frustrating DNA brick wall in your research like Lisa did, join forces with the pros at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Their team of experts has the skills to help you combine DNA results with traditional research to help with challenging questions, such as finding your birth relatives. Learn more at www.legacytree.com. Even better, use our exclusive coupon code GGP100 to receive $100 off a 20-hour (or more) research project.

Forensic Genealogy: Beyond the Golden State Killer Case

The Golden State killer DNA-credited arrest was just the beginning. Another cold case—a double murder—has new answers thanks to forensic genealogy research techniques and a company that helps criminal investigators use them. Though legal and privacy questions still remain, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard points out a technology crime-fighters are refining that may prove beneficial to family historians.

Lisa recently shared with us in the Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 217 her thoughts on the ramifications of the Golden State Killer case, in which a murderer and rapist was arrested nearly 40 years after the crimes were committed, thanks to some excellent genetic genealogy work.

Just three weeks after that discovery made headlines, a police department in Snohomish, WA, announced that they too had employed genetic genealogy to solve a cold case from 1987, when two high-school sweethearts were found murdered. This police department indicated they had assistance from a company called Parabon Nanolabs, a genetics company based in Virginia.

According to their website, Parabon deals in both pharmaceuticals and something they call Snapshot, where they reconstruct the facial features of an individual based on their DNA. While they do have a press release on their website regarding the aforementioned case, they do not have a specific product on their website indicating they can take genetic material and make a DNA profile compatible with genetic genealogy databases (they do mention using “biological evidence” on the Forensics page, shown below). But that is exactly what they must have done in order to solve this case.

Forensic genealogy: Beyond the Golden State Killer

According to an article in The Star, a Toronto newspaper, the police department in Toronto has DNA on the perpetrators for 30 cold cases. It is very likely that every police department is harboring similar evidence. Up until now, either in the US or Canada, investigators have generally only matched DNA profiles from crime scenes to genetic databases of known criminals. These are people who have already been caught and convicted. If no match is found, investigators are back to square one.

In both the Washington state and Golden State Killer case, these men had never been caught, and therefore their DNA was not part of these national databases. The way the DNA evidence was made useful was to compare it with samples from the general population, or in this case, a bunch of genetic genealogists who had uploaded their DNA results to the open-source website, GEDmatch. (Click here to learn more about GEDmatch.)

In the podcast episode, Lisa discussed many of the ethical and moral issues that we need to address as more and more different kinds of uses for our DNA are found, employed, and even commercialized. These are conversations we need to have as a community, and certainly that you need to consider personally.

But like most technology, there are good sides and bad sides to advancements. One of the best upsides I can see out of this is the feat of technology that took a small amount of DNA found at a crime scene 40 years ago and turned it into a DNA profile that can be useful in genetic genealogy databases. For years I have disappointed many genetic genealogists that have letters and stamps and hats from their loved ones who have passed on, and they want a way to obtain their DNA. Well, now we have evidence that it can be done. You can take some genetic material (licked stamps or envelopes, hair with a root, razors, teeth), and use it to create a viable profile that can be used to search genetic genealogy databases!

In fact, LivingDNA is currently openly accepting these kinds of samples, albeit at a hefty price tag, starting at $1,000 or so per sample. (This service is new enough that they don’t even have a landing page for it yet; submit your inquiries through their contact form.)

Now, whether or not the DNA from that stamp, or that stray piece of hair in the hat will be able to produce enough DNA to provide a complete enough DNA profile, still remains to be seen. But I would watch closely companies like Parabon and LivingDNA as they work to develop robust laboratory techniques that will provide answers for all of the genealogists whose parents and grandparents didn’t ever have a chance to spit to record their family history.

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.

Keep up with what DNA can tell you

Stay at the cutting edge of what your DNA (or your relatives’ DNA) can tell you about your family history with Diahan’s Advanced DNA Bundle of quick reference guides, with try-it-now techniques for your DNA test results (click on individual titles to buy them separately or click here to save by bundling them together):

  • Gedmatch: A Next Step for Your Autosomal DNA Test. GEDmatch is a third‐party tool for use by genetic genealogists seeking to advance their knowledge of their autosomal DNA test. This guide will navigate through the myriad of options and point out only the best tools for your genetic genealogy research.
  • Breaking Down Brick Walls with DNA. 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. Learn how to leverage the power of known relatives who have tested, explore chromosome browsers, employ a methodology for finding a family tree for a DNA match that does not have a tree, and more.
  • Organizing Your DNA Matches. With millions of people in 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.

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.

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!

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