The ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.
The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.
I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.
For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.
With one exception.
AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product. They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.
So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?
This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies. I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party. As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.
After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.
Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.
In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”
Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.
But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?
“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.
“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.
And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.
What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.
Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.
Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.
With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who mightbe on your pedigree chart.
Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?
As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.
In coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”
And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.
Welcome to Elevenses with Lisa, our weekly little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!
My special guest in this episode is Ran Snir, Director of Product Management for DNA at MyHeritage. If you listen to my Genealogy Gems Podcast then you’ve heard him on that show, and Premium Members can enjoy his terrific Premium Video called How to get the most from your MyHeritage DNA test results.
Today we’ll be expanding on that topic and talking specifically about Genetic Groups. Ran covers:
What MyHeritage had regarding Ethnicity Estimates up until this release
how they built Genetic Groups
the User Interface to show some cool examples of Genetic Groups in action
About MyHeritage Genetic Groups
Genetic Groups is MyHeritage’s long-awaited DNA feature that they describe as “accurately identifies ancestral origins with an incredibly high resolution of 2100+ geographic regions, more than any other DNA test on the market.
Genetic Groups provide greater granularity than standard ethnicity breakdowns by segmenting larger ethnic groups into smaller ones that share a common historical background. For example, beyond learning that they have Scandinavian origins, a user can now find out that they are Danish, and they may now learn where exactly in Denmark their ancestors came from.”
Here’s the announcement about Genetic Groups from MyHeritage:
The outstanding resolution of Genetic Groups and the innovative technology that powers this feature mean that MyHeritage is now able to identify many populations that have never before been detected by any consumer DNA test.
Examples of the Power of Genetic Groups
For example, descendants of the ancient Jewish communities of Aleppo in Syria, or Tripoli in Libya, can now trace their origins among 55 different Jewish groups supported by MyHeritage.
Another population with fascinating history is the Volga Germans — this group is composed of descendants of German settlers who migrated to the Volga River region of Russia and whose descendants later moved to Ellis County in Kansas and other locations. MyHeritage can identify 9 distinct Genetic Groups of Volga Germans.
More examples of groups that are unique to MyHeritage include Norwegians from Kvam and Bergen and their descendants in Minnesota, Italians from Potenza and Basilicata and their descendants in the United States, and hundreds more.
Ran Snir of MyHeritage demonstrates the Timeline Player.
Genetic Groups include detailed genealogical insights about each group. Users can view a group’s migration patterns and drill down to view its precise whereabouts during different time periods from the 17th century until today. For each Genetic Group, users can view common ancestral surnames and common given names, the most prevalent ethnicities among the group’s members, a list of other groups that have high affinity to the current one, and more.
This special animation we prepared for a specific Genetic Group of Mormons tells the story of Mormon settlement in the USA over 400 years, providing enlightening information about the group’s migration history.
How to Get Access to Genetic Groups
Genetic Groups are available for free to anyone who has already taken a MyHeritage DNA test, as an enhancement to the ethnicity estimate.
Users who have previously uploaded DNA results to MyHeritage from another service and have access to advanced DNA features (including those who uploaded before December 16, 2018 and have been grandfathered in), or who have an active subscription, will likewise be able to access Genetic Groups at no added cost.
Users who have uploaded DNA results from another service and do not currently have access to advanced DNA features may pay a one-time unlock fee of $29 per kit to view their Genetic Groups and much more. Users who have taken a DNA test with another service are welcome to upload their results to MyHeritage and unlock access to their Genetic Groups, which will be calculated for them overnight. Click here to upload your DNA results to MyHeritage. (Disclosure: These are affiliate links that will compensate us if you make a purchase. Thank you for supporting this free show.)
Answers to Live Chat Questions
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
Question from Doug H: How is it that I have Ashkenazi on My Heritage but Sephardic on another site? Answer from Ran Snir: Different companies use different algorithms for identifying Ethnicity Estimates and it is also strongly affected by the reference population data sets. Meaning, how was the model built and which data was used to validate it. So, it could be that because the data used to “identify” Ashkenazi Jewish and Sephardic Jewish
Question from C. Davis: Caribbean ethnic groups? How can you tell which groups still need to be built up? Thanks Answer from Ran Snir: We were able to come up with a variety of real cool Genetic Groups in the Caribbean in different places such as Jamaica, Cuba, Dominican Republic and others. Same as for other areas around the world, we are able to form new Genetic Groups and fine tune the existing ones based on the information we have. As more people build their trees on MyHeritage and add ancestral events (such as birth and death facts) to the trees, we might be able to come up with more Genetic Groups in this area (and others).
Question from C. Davis: 0% ethnicity with 1,344 matches means what? Answer from Ran Snir: Need to keep in mind that people are from mixed ethnicities. For example, I could be 100% Iberian and I have a match who is 50% Iberian and 50% Ashkenazi Jewish. That means I have 1 match with Ashkenazi Jewish in his results.
Question from Carn B: I do not see sub groups in any of my dna results. Does that mean i have none or does it mean it hasn’t refreshed my results? Answer from Ran Snir: We have completed releasing Genetic Groups for all of our users. Please make sure you check the Genetic Groups section below the Ethnicity Estimate results. Sometimes Genetic Groups will be nested below a specific Ethnicity in your results and sometimes in the Genetic Groups section at the bottom of the list.
Question from Jennifer F: I have 79.4% English, but my 5 groups are all in America. Will future versions of genetic groups be able to tell me where in England? Answer from Ran Snir: Please note that sometimes, even if the group is in America, it does tell the story of where these people came from. Also note that sometimes you will have more Genetic Groups in lower confidence levels so please make sure you have moved the Genetic Groups confidence level slider all the way to the “low” so that you can see all the Genetic Groups you have. As for the question, yes, we do plan to keep on adding more Genetic Groups and break existing ones in the future to smaller groups and it is likely we will be able to “break” England to smaller portions.
Question from Laura B: My grandfather is, supposedly, pure Ukrainian since his parents and grandparents etc. grew up there. However my DNA test picked up Baltic traits and not eastern European traits. What does this mean? Answer from Ran Snir: DNA goes back much more than 3 generations. It is possible that a bit further back, there are ancestors who are from Baltic origins, who later moved to Ukraine.
Question from Steve. S: If you add to your family tree online, can that change your ethnicity and genetic groups immediately or is that changed at a later time? Answer from Ran Snir: When we calculate your Ethnicity Estimate and Genetic Groups, we are not taking into account the information that exist in your family tree. We do use this information when we are working and developing our algorithms and coming up with the features we have. So, the answer is no – your results won’t change, but it might help us in differentiating between ethnicities and coming up with new ones in future models we will build.
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Like I said, there is more than one web-browser out there. Maybe you are a fan of Firefox or Internet Explorer, but I want you to head on over to Google Chrome to see this really slick feature.
Why Google Chrome Image Search Works
Google Chrome can do a lot of amazing tech things. By learning how to use Google Images, you may be able to finally identify some of those old pictures you have stuffed around the house! This technique works especially well for identifying locations, maps, and high profile buildings. Why does this work? Google has a stellar process for surfing the web (they call it “crawling”) and indexing everything it finds. This effort builds an incredible wealth of information, including information on all of the photos and images it comes across. Google Chrome, Google’s web-browser, can use this data to quickly match your image to other images Google has crawled on the web. Not only can it find the image, but it can bring along with it any other information (such as details about the image) that is attached to the image. And that can all mean big answers for you!
Take It Further: Identify Original Locations of Images and Photos
In my video, I share with you how I used Google Chrome to identify an old family postcard. In this blog post today, I want to share another tip for using Google Chrome to identify old photos. It never fails.
If you’re like me, you get pretty excited as you make family history discoveries. You might find yourself saving documents and pictures to your computer without accurately sourcing from whence they came. Six months later you find yourself wondering, “Where in the world did that image come from?”
Google Chrome can help. Just use the step-by-step instructions found in the video to upload the image to Google Images, and click the Search by Image button. Voila! Google finds the match and you uncover the website where the image came from! This saves valuable time (and I think we can all use more of that) and provides the information you need to properly cite your image source.
Sharing is Caring
Thanks for watching and reading, friends. Did you share this tech-tip video with your genie buddies? I hope you did. For more tech-tips and savvy tricks, be sure to subscribe to our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.