Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) has some of my very favorite genetic tools to help you make connections with your DNA matches when you can’t immediately find a genealogical connection, but it’s no secret that their genealogy tools leave much to be desired. However, their latest genealogy tool has promise: if certain conditions are met, you will be able to see whether any descendant of one of your ancestors has taken a DNA test!
For quite some time now FTDNA has allowed you to enter your genealogical surnames and locations into your account and list your earliest known paternal and maternal line ancestors. The latter is displayed for your YDNA and mtDNA matches to see and the former for your autosomal DNA matches to see. As a bonus, if one of your autosomal matches shares an inputted surname, FTDNA will bold that surname (or location) for you in the “Ancestral Surnames” column of your match page.
A few months ago they upgraded their pedigree tool for uploading a GEDCOM into your account. This GEDCOM does not in any way interact with your DNA match list or results; it is just provided as a resource to your matches. The pedigree tool itself is clumsy at best, but at least it is searchable and can give you a head start when looking for matches. It would be really nice if FTDNA could scrape all the surnames and locations from your GEDCOM and use that to populate your Ancestral Surnames field, but it does not.
The latest addition to FTDNA’s mediocre genealogy offerings is the ability to search all of the uploaded pedigree information in the FTDNA database. The best part about this feature is that it is not limited to searching just your DNA matches. This means you can see if any descendant of one of your ancestors has taken a DNA test! This is great news!
Of course, you see the immediate problem: if the cousin of interest hasn’t uploaded a GEDCOM, you still won’t be able to find them. And, of course, the usefulness of the information is completely dependent on other people’s genealogical sleuthing skills. But still, this can be a useful tool.
I tried using this tool to find out if there were other descendants of my ancestors Julia Pond and Austin Tilton who had tested. I have one DNA match who descends from this couple and I am fairly certain this is our connection. I wanted to see if there were others out there who were also descendants of this couple. I started with just a search for “Julia Pond” and got 37 results. I then used the advanced search feature to add her birth year “1821” and “Ohio.”
There were two matches. My family tree, and another belonging to Katie. It was frustrating that I couldn’t see right away if Katie was also a DNA match. But in the Advanced search I can ask to see only DNA matches, and repeat the search. Katie disappeared. By doing this I learned that Katie is descendant of Julia and Austin, but she and I don’t share enough DNA to be considered related. This makes sense, since descendants of this couple would be my 4th cousins at best, and I know that I will only genetically match about half of my fourth cousins. I can now contact my DNA match that lists Julia and Austin on his pedigree and ask him if Katie shows up on his match list. Perhaps they share some DNA that I do not.
Speaking of that DNA match of mine: why wasn’t he listed in my search results for Julia Pond? Well, it turns out that in his pedigree she is listed as born in 1821 from OH, and my search said Ohio. Ah. The search function is not catching those kinds of differences. So be careful.
When implemented properly, this tool can help you collect all of the descendants of a particular ancestor so you can learn more about what DNA you inherited from whom, and further your genealogical efforts.
Are you ready to get started? If you’re new to genetic genealogy, the first thing to do is acknowledge you may face some unexpected discoveries. If you’re not willing to chance some surprises on your family tree, don’t pursue it yet. Next, evaluate FTDNA (or other DNA companies) for yourself. If you decide to get started, your first step should be to upload your own GEDCOM, and make it public. Don’t feel like you have to put everything you know in this GEDCOM, just what you are certain of and feel confident sharing. To make it public, go into your Account Settings, and agree to share your Basic Profile.
You can also hire me for an individual consultation to make sure you’re doing the right DNA tests with the right relatives to answer your burning genealogy questions. (Testing the wrong people or DNA type can be a very expensive mistake!)
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 8: Best Genealogy Websites, Part 2
In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success.
In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Now for some updates on these sites and MORE since the show first aired:
FamilySearch.org is still free and growing exponentially. It captures records from all over the world, not just North America and the U.K. It is now home to over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, with over 35 million new records added every month. In addition, they’ve added over 60,000 digital books to the site. The layout of the website has changed dramatically since I described it in the original show. Click on Search to get to their databases, then enter an ancestor’s name and, if you can, a life event (birth, marriage, residence or death). A significant portion of new online records are browsable but not yet indexed. So now, after you search for individuals in their databases, scroll down to the Browse section below the search fields. There you’ll be able to see what records you can browse for a locale (choose the international region, then you can choose more specific locations). You can still order microfilmed records at the Family History Library to a satellite FamilySearch library near you. From the Search screen, choose Catalog, and you can search for and order available records by location.
The National Archives (U.S.), also known as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) also offers more on its website now. The portal for genealogists looks a little different now but still helps you see how to search and use the site for genealogy. There’s a direct link to the 1940 census, with images, maps and descriptions. Remember that Footnote, the subscription site I mentioned that’s digitizing military records, is now Fold3, which we talked about in Episode 7.
EllisIsland.org still offers free access to the passenger records of those who landed at Ellis Island. In addition, you can still look at ship information (click on Ships from the home page). The Immigrant Experience and timeline I mention can be found by clicking on the Ellis Island tab.
The National Archives (U.K.) links from the home page to resources for ordering birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Read about updating order information, including costs, at these sites. There is still a portal for genealogists from which you can learn all about the various record groups I mention in the podcast and more.
Library and Archives Canada continues to add more valuable genealogical data to its site, including census data! Start from its Genealogy and Family History page. In addition to the features I mention in the show, they’ve improved their online indexes: scroll down on the above page and you’ll find the Ancestors Search (Databases) link to a main search engine and individual databases for vital records, censuses, immigration, land, military and several directories.
It may not help with genealogy, but Google Maps just got a lot more fun!
Yep, it’s PAC-Maps, and with this latest update you can find where NOT to go! Google has added imagery of “dangerous virtual beings, starting with Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde. When navigating fruit-filled streets, determine at a glance which turns to pass to evade ghosts and get where you’re going safely. When you’re feeling a bit peckish, you can simply gobble up a few pac-dots or a cherry and keep on nommin’.”
I’m a little embarrassed to say how many hours I spent playing PAC-MAN in high school. Back then we had to hunch over a machine located next to the bathrooms at the local pizza parlor. Now you can take a break from your brick walls and walka walka walka around the world from the comfort of your desk. With PAC-Maps you can navigate select locations using the left, right, up or down arrows on your keyboard. Below is a screen shot from the desktop version:
Actually, PAC-MAN isn’t new to Googlers. Back on May 21, 2010 (yep, it’s official, I’m a Google geek) Google’s home page featured a desktop version that you can still play here.