Recalibrating DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Genealogy testing companies have been hard at work recalibrating your ethnicity calculations based on new and better data. Here’s the latest from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard. 

Family History DNA Pie Charts and Percentages

Remember that the pretty pie charts and percentages are based on fancy math and reference populations. The initial reference populations released by our testing companies were a great start, but many categories lacked sufficiently high numbers of people to represent all of the facets of a population. In the 10+ years since their release, many updates have been made. But the fancy math that is used to produce our percentages can only be as fancy as the numbers you give it. The numbers have been hard at work at Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in the past couple of months with the result being a major overhaul in the way our ethnicity results are reported.

23andMe chart ethnicity updates

Image 1

23andMe

We recently reported about the update at 23andMe and their increase from 31 reference populations to 150. However, for me, the totally 100% European me, there wasn’t much excitement. As you can see in the 23andMe chart, I had a couple of numbers move up or down slightly, but not anything to write home about. However, I am certain those with South American, or Eastern European ancestry have a much different story. 23andMe added many new reference populations to better represent these underrepresented areas of the world, a move which has likely made a big difference for the ever diversifying pool of individuals who have taken a DNA test.

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA also released their latest Ethnicity update in September, boasting an additional 13,000 reference samples to their database. They not only upgraded their numbers, but also shifted some of their categories around based on this new data. They seem to not be quite sure what to do with Ireland, as in early 2017 it was its own category, later moving in with Wales and Scotland, and now appears in this latest update as simply Ireland and Scotland. My previous numbers from AncestryDNA seemed to at least loosely reflect my heritage (meaning that I do actually have people in my genealogy chart from a few of these places).

Image 2

But the new DNA numbers? Big Changes.

I have one set of great grandparents from Germany, but it looks like nearly all my German was sucked into England, but miraculously, they seemed to have precisely found my Swedish 2X great grandmother, with the 7% that I should have from that area.

With the new update, though I am sad to see my German go, AncestryDNA is now more fully in line with the results I have received from 23andMe, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage, all of which put my England/British Isles count up around 90%. If I compare my results from various companies and combine any subcategories into one England/British Isles category, indicate Scandinavian, and then lump everything else together, the results from the four companies are actually quite similar (I don’t have my own results at Family Tree DNA, only my parents).

My Family History DNA Results

Company DNA Ethnicity Comparison 2018

Image 3

Here’s how my results currently stack up at each of these websites. (Image 3)

Which DNA Testing Company to Choose

So which company is the best at all of this? Well, I usually say that if you test everywhere, your “true” answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But really, you can determine which company is best for you by examining their reference populations, and determining which company is most likely able to meet your goals.

In the end, it is always good to remember two things:

  1. Your DNA does not fully represent your family history, so your ethnicity results can’t possibly tell you everything about your heritage.
  2. This technology is purposefully titled as an estimate. So be sure you treat it that way.

Learn More about Genetic Genealogy

Recommended reading at Genealogy Gems: Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Get Diahan’s quick reference guides including Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist at the Genealogy Gems store.

How to Find and Decipher Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Passenger Lists Records:
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 34

Video & Show Notes
Original air date: 11/19/20

If you’ve ever struggled to find a passenger list or figure out what it’s telling you about your family history, you’re in the right place. In this episode I’ll show you where to look, and how to interpret what you find. Click to watch the video and follow along with the notes below:

A Question About Passenger Lists

Genealogy Gems Premium Member and Elevenses with Lisa viewer Deborah Huber wrote in about some challenges she was having with passenger lists. 

“Hi  Lisa,  I have a few questions about the passenger records I have found for my mother and grandparents.  They are all from Ancestry.com.” Let’s go through Deborah’s questions  step-by-step.

Deborah is looking for the Felberg Family:

  • Otto age 33 (Grandfather) b. 1894
  • Marta age 23 (Grandmother) b. 1904
  • Ruth age 3 (Mother) b. 1924
  • They Sailed March 25, 1927 from Hamburg Germany to New York

“My mother was born in Heinrichshoff on “Stork Day,”  a day celebrating the return of the storks in the spring and welcoming them to their nests on top of the chimneys.”   

Passenger List records to look for:

  • German Passenger list (the outbound record)
  • New York Passenger lists (the incoming record)

Searching for the New York Passenger List

How to search for passenger lists at Ancestry: Search > Immigration & Travel > Search by name and birthdate. If you don’t see both expected passenger lists (ex. Hamburg and New York) check the Card Catalog. Example search: Hamburg passenger or Germany passenger. From the results page you might have the opportunity to click through and see a photo of the ship. You may also find a link to additional passenger lists (in this case, the Hamburg Passenger List).

passenger list results page

Results page for Otto Felberg

Question: “Also, my mother always said that they didn’t go through Ellis Island but did land in NY City.  I think Castle Gardens was already closed in 1927 so I’m trying to figure out where they did land.”
Answer: The record collection title alerts us to what is included in the passenger list collection: New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

A quick Google search will tell us the dates that Castle Garden was in operation: “From August 3, 1855 to April 18, 1890, Castle Garden was America’s first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City.”

Tip: Search Multiple Sources for Passenger Lists
You may find the quality of the digitized image varies from one genealogy website to the next.

Top Free Resources for searching for Ellis Island passenger lists:

Tip: Finding Passengers When Names are Hard to Read
When names are difficult to read, focus on other information that is easier to spot such as the person’s age. In the Felberg family’s case, Ruth was 3 years old. Looking for a “3” in the age column proved much easier than reading the names.

Identifying the Location Named in a Passenger List

Question: On the screenshot from the Hamburg list is says the destination was “Greenlake”.  Is that a port?  All I could find on the internet about Greenlake is that it is a NY state park.  
Answer: The “Greenlake” mentioned in the indexed passenger list record refers to the final destination, not the port of arrival. Carefully review both original passenger list records.

Tip: Don’t Miss Page 2
Like many genealogical records, passenger lists records may be more than one page. If the index refers to something that you do not see when you click through to the original record, it is a strong indication that there is another page. Always look at the pages before and after any digitized record. In this case, we find Greenlake, WI on page 2!

  • 1820 – 1907: Ship manifests are 1 page in length
  • After 1907: Manifests are 2 pages with additional information provided.

Source: The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

Now that we know that Greenlake is Greenlake, Wisconsin, we can run a quick Google search to find the correct name and county: Green Lake, Wisconsin. Then continue your googling to find more historical information such as old maps and postcards. Click “Images” on the results page to quickly review the results.

Here are a few of the resources we found for Green Lake, WI:

 

Deciphering the Passenger List

There is a wealth of information on the Felberg’s passenger list, starting with the name of Otto’s father and the town where he lived: 

Nearest relative listed on a passenger list

Nearest relative listed on a passenger list

 

how to decipher a passenger list form

How to decipher an Ellis Island passenger list form.

Hamburg Passenger Lists

Question: “I can’t read the actual document which is the Hamburg Passenger List.”
Answer: The Hamburg passenger list can be found in the Card Catalog. Card Catalog > Search Title (Hamburg Passenger Lists)
2 results: the passenger lists and the index.

We discovered that not only was the passenger list extremely difficult to read due to the ink copying over the page, but also the link did not go to the correct page. This is where the Index, found through the Card Catalog, because indispensable.

Index: Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934

  • 1925-1934 (The Felberg’s arrived in 1927)
  • Band 161 (1927 F-J) (The year of their arrival and “F” for Felberg)
  • F (for Felberg)

Search the Index to locate the page number for the passenger’s record. Then go back to the original record and find the handwritten page number in the upper corner.

Tip: Quickly Navigate the Ancestry Record

Simply press the appropriate key on your computer keyboard to quickly navigate the pages.
“N” = Next page
“P” = Previous page
Visit Elevenses with Lisa Episode 17 for more Ancestry search tips and tricks.

We found the Felberg family on page 117, exactly where the index said they would be. It’s a good idea to search all the passengers for others with the same last name. In this case, Otto’s brother Rudolph Felberg was also on the ship. This aligned with the family lore that Rudolph may have sponsored the family’s move.

Resources:

Premium Member Bonus Downloads (Membership required – learn more here):

Get the Most out of DNA Testing with 23andMe with a New Guide

Over a million people have done DNA testing with 23andMe, many lured by that company’s health information tools. Learn to use their genetic genealogy tools to get the most out of testing there! (and keep reading for a special limited time sale!)

I am one of the million+ people who have tested my DNA with 23andMe. Early on in my days as a 23andMe customer, I spotted a match who listed ancestry from Washington state, where I grew up. Because I have had both of my parents tested, 23andMe told me that this match was on my dad’s side. I sent an inquiry out to the match and named a few of my paternal surnames as possible connections between us.

As it turns out, this match was my dad’s half first cousin! They are about the same age and had played together all the time as boys, but their families had lost touch over the years. What was even more exciting for me, is that using the tools at 23andMe I was able to see the actual physical locations on the DNA that I shared with this cousin.

Knowing that our common ancestor was Lucy J. Claunch, I knew that these actual physical, tangible pieces of me were once pieces of her. All at once I felt a discernible shift in myself and the way I viewed my connection to her. She was no longer a name on a genealogical record, she was my ancestor, and I wanted to know more. For me, it took the DNA connection to give me that added oomph to turn my genealogy into family history. As it happened, that DNA connection came through 23andMe.

How to Focus on Genealogy DNA testing with 23andMe

23andMe is primarily focused on empowering personal health. They recently announced the restored ability to provide limited health information to their customers. The wide variety of content on their website can easily distract you from the genetic genealogy tools they are offering. To help you focus on these tools and use them to verify and extend your family tree, I’ve just released a NEW laminated quick guide, Understanding 23andMe.

Understanding 23andMe addresses the most pressing genetic genealogy questions for those doing DNA testing with 23andMe, like:

  • How can I control how much information is being shared with others?
  • How can I enter my genealogical information?
  • How do I know when I have a good match?
  • Is the YDNA and mtDNA information they give the same as what I see at other places?
  • What is the best way to use the ethnicity results presented?

Purchase this guide NOW in the Genealogy Gems store and you’ll SAVE BIG! It’s only $5.95 right now–regularly $8.95! You’ll also save if you buy it with a super bundle of my entire series of DNA quick guides–7 of them now to help you “do your DNA” right from start to finish!

More DNA at Genealogy Gems

 

A family and its female slave house servants in Brazil, c.1860. Wikimedia Commons image. Click to view full source citation.

We’re Cousins? DNA for Genealogy Reveals Surprising Relationship

DNA Confirms Presidential Love Affair 90 Years Later

Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This Post

 

 

 

 

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.

The Power of DNA Matching

As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story in our family’s oral history, or at least from the records they left behind. Record research is critical, but now we have an amazing new tool…DNA matching.

DNA matching results

Genealogists constantly check family stories against the information on records, searching for what sounds plausible and what doesn’t. Even when we have total agreement in our records, more information often comes along…like DNA testing. In fact, DNA matching may shed light on even more apparent discrepancies.

Family Lore vs. DNA Findings

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who shared finding that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” He makes the point, “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States).” This could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to invent a new legacy, not just re-invent it. His assessments were certainly interesting and worth reviewing. It helps us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at our family stories and traditional research results.

McWhirter may be like some folks today who have never set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfilm, but instead relies heavily on internet research. Some of these modern genealogists never gave their family history a second thought until, like McWhirter, the death of parents started to inspire them to dig deeper. Due to the large volume of information online, the budding genealogist is “quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.”

DNA matching ethnicity

Example of an ethnicity report from Ancestry.com.

McWhirter’s personal story was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA matching revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”

McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way that flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity.

However, the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists.

He has the opportunity to more powerfully transform his sense of family identity by taking a look at his match list. Here, he may see an actual living cousin who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.

The Real Goal: DNA Connections to Living Family

Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. We multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us—literally—who are descended from the same people. As long as they are as diligent in their research as we are, we can make these connections that could finally bust through those genealogy brick walls and more.

At a recent conference, I met a fifth-cousin. Even with a connection that distant, it was exciting and it encouraged us to want to look again at our connecting ancestors. To me, that is the bigger picture and the real goal—when the paper trail comes together with the DNA results and turns into real live cousins.

The Next Step: Using Your DNA Results to Find Living Family

Advanced DNA Bundle by Diahan SouthardMaybe you are like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued or disappointed by the ethnicity results, but haven’t fully explored your matches on your list. You may be seriously missing some opportunities! If that is you, I have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have been tested. You will get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process and access to a free bonus template for evaluating genealogical relationship of a match to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting unknown relatives on your match list into known relatives.

So check it out, either by itself or as part of my Advanced DNA bundle, which comes along with my new Gedmatch guide and a guide expressly for organizing your DNA matches.

 

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