September 24, 2017

REGISTER NOW – Free Webinar “Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA and Family History”

free webinar

What to reveal more about your family’s unique story through DNA and genealogy? Grab your seat in our upcoming free webinar:

Date: Sat. Sept. 23, 2017
Time: 11:00 AM Eastern
Length: 90 minutes including Live Q&A

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Your DNA Guide will dispel the myth that there’s just one DNA test
There are more options, and possible outcomes, than you might think! Diahan will walk you through the choices.

Creative ideas for filling in the gaps in your family’s story
Lisa will show you online tools that go well beyond names and dates. Then we’ll expand your story in unexpected ways by finding DNA connections.

Share the story you’ve uncovered through awesome video
Lisa & Beth will show you how easy it is to tell your story like a pro!

Please share this free webinar with your friends

Please share this free webinar with your friends and genealogy society. Here’s the link to the registration page to share on social media:

https://events.genndi.com/register/169105139238464863/a65a2c57c6 

 

Time to Check Your DNA Matches Again? Why You Should Review Them Regularly

Has it been awhile since you have perused your DNA matches? Here’s how reviewing your DNA test results regularly can help your family history.

It's time to check DNA

By now, many (if not most) of the genealogists I meet at conferences have had their DNA tested. Good for you! But how often are you checking on your DNA matches? It’s easy to forget about them after that first exciting look at your match list and the flurry of emails that you received. You should be checking in regularly! Here are two great reasons why:

1. You may have new DNA matches.

More and more people are flocking to these companies to have their own DNA tested. Why just this month, AncestryDNA announced they have tested 5 million people. It was only in January of 2017 that they announced they’d hit 3 million, so they’ve added more than two million people so far this year.

What this means is that just as new records are constantly being added online (we cover millions of new additions every Friday on this blog), so are new DNA test profiles. That means you will keep discovering new DNA matches in your list over time. That elusive cousin you’ve been hoping would test may do so tomorrow. A key relative on your dad’s side–maybe on a line with unknown parentage–may have tested three weeks ago, with results now pending. (Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton told me she has had two ground-breaking DNA matches in the past two months alone. Lucky her!)

In AncestryDNA, you can actually sort to view new matches. From your AncestryDNA home page, click View all DNA matches. Then select the filter New by clicking on it.

AncestryDNA will now just show you, in order of degree of relation, any matches you haven’t yet clicked on to review more closely. This can be quite a time-saver. And it can also help remind you of any matches you may have already seen in passing but haven’t closely reviewed.

Another tip: under each of your AncestryDNA matches, you can also see how long it’s been since that person logged in, as shown here.

Perhaps you emailed someone a while back but never heard anything (or didn’t notice a response). If you can see that a person is actively using the site now, it may be worth reaching out again.

2. New tools to review your DNA matches may be available.

While you’ve been busy recently tracking down census records and virtually visiting the courthouses, your DNA testing companies have been busily adding to their offerings. Just recently, MyHeritage revealed a beautiful, streamlined way to review each of your DNA matches. (Remember, it’s free to upload your DNA there. Click here to see how. You can also purchase a test from MyHeritageDNA.)

At MyHeritage, your list of DNA matches shows your genetic relatives who have tested, how much DNA you share, and your possible relationship. The new DNA Match Review page helps you navigate that information and decide what to do with it. This is what the new MyHeritage DNA Match Review experience looks like:

In the past, I’ve talked on this blog about several excellent (and still-evolving) tools on AncestryDNA, such as:

Competition in the DNA market space means that every company continues to add new and improved features to their site and testing experience. It’s worth checking back to explore what new information and tools might be available.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that your testing company is always working to improve your DNA testing experience. So you should regularly return to your lists of DNA matches at the website of every company where you have tested. If you’re not sure how to use the site, please read some of my DNA posts on this blog and consult my quick reference DNA guides about these testing companies:

Keep checking back on those DNA matches. You never know what discovery might be just a click away.

Disclosure: This post 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!

How to Upgrade Your DNA Test with Your DNA Guide

When it comes to chocolate my general rule of thumb is that more is usually better! The same is true with DNA testing. With this big DNA test upgrade sale, now is the perfect time to get MORE! I love being Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, and today I’ll walk you through how to get the best deal and the right tests. Take my hand, and let’s get upgrading!

more is better with dna

Diahan SouthardThis month, Family Tree DNA is running this Family Tree DNA’s Friends & Family sale, which means that all of the kits and upgrades are on sale! This sale is the perfect time to upgrade your DNA tests. (By clicking our link above you are supporting the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and we will receive compensation from the affiliate link. Thank you!)

Once in your account, click the Upgrade button. In very basic terms, to Upgrade means that they are going to go back to your DNA sample that they have on file, and do more testing.

upgrade your DNA test

Depending on the tests you have already had completed at Family Tree DNA, you will see several different options in the Upgrade menu. Most of you will see this box, listing the option to do more advanced testing, find gene variants, or order certificates.

upgrade your DNA test 02

If you’re testing for general genealogy purposes, you can most likely ignore all of those options. The advanced testing is aptly named as it is only for very specific, very, advanced problems. The gene variant report can be interesting, but you can get a similar report for only $5 from Promethease.com. As for the certificates, that is up to you. It is a printed report of your DNA values for either your YDNA or your mtDNA test. These are nice to give to relatives that have tested for you that might want something tangible to hold as evidence of their participation in your genetic genealogy efforts.

The last option in this box is to have a personalized report written. This will be several pages of information about the DNA testing you have had completed, but don’t expect them to find your ancestors or do much interpretation of the results.

Beyond those options, if you have not had mitochondrial DNA testing completed, or if you have only had the lower mtDNAPlus test completed, you will see options to evaluate your mtDNA. If you are going to try to do family history with your mtDNA test, you need to have the Full Sequence test completed. For the most part, using mtDNA in your family history won’t get you very far, but it is a good record of your direct maternal line.

ftdna tests

If you are a man with the YDNA test, you will also see options to upgrade your YDNA test to a higher number of markers. You will want to upgrade from 37 to 67 or 111 if you have other matches on your match page who have also tested at those higher levels and you would like to get a better comparison. You can check to see if they have tested at a higher level by looking at your match page under their name. In general, the 67 marker test will help you better decide if you are or are not related to someone, while the 111 marker test will help you better determine how you are related to known connections on your match list.

upgrade your DNA test04

If you have not yet taken the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA, that option will present itself as well. If the person tested is still available for testing, you should actually start their autosomal DNA testing experience with AncestryDNA, then transfer for free into their FTDNA account. If your family member is deceased, then you can get permission from their closest living relative, or whoever is administrating their account, to have them tested on the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA.

So remember my general rule of thumb when it comes to chocolate and DNA testing, more is usually better. Click here to shop the Family Tree DNA Friends & Family Sale! *Sale ends 8/31/17. Standard shipping rates apply.

Get more help with my quick guide: Understanding Family Tree DNA.

AncestryDNA Privacy Policy Update: Why This Change Is Good

An update to AncestryDNA’s privacy policy requires us to take to take one more step when managing someone else’s DNA test. Here’s why Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard thinks that’s a good thing.

Like many teenagers, my 14-year old sees every situation only from her own point of view. I call it myopic-itis. This is, of course, how most of us react to every new situation. The difference between those suffering from this condition and the rest of us is that fairly quickly, perhaps once the shock has subsided, we can see things from the point of view of others, and can therefore be more understanding about the whole situation.

AncestryDNA recently caused an attack of myopic-itis when they announced a change to their policy on how DNA tests are registered. Previously, you could register anyone’s test under your own account. Say you were gathering the test for an aged aunt or disinterested cousin. You handle everything from the order to the test registration to managing all correspondence. Your aunt or cousin merely needed to spit in the tube.

However, effective today, July 18, 2017, that has changed. Each person who takes an AncestryDNA test must have their very own account at AncestryDNA.

A natural reaction is to immediately reject this as a terrible idea that will certainly slow–if not halt–your efforts to gather the needed genetic information from your less-than-enthusiastic relatives. Your myopic-itis flares up and threatens to cause you to throw up your hands in frustration and just forget the whole thing.

But don’t! Really, all that is changed is that you have to take one more step when administering DNA tests for your friends or relatives: create AncestryDNA accounts for them. Then, they can assign you as the Manager of their DNA kits. Doing so allows their DNA results to show up in your Ancestry account, just as if you yourself had registered the test under your account. Viola! (Well, if your relative doesn’t have an email account, you may have to create one, so that would be one more step.)

Now, why would Ancestry decide to so inconvenience your life with another step or two? Well, to protect the rights of the cousin and the aunt that you are asking to take the test. It is that simple. Not that you would, but if the results are in your account, you can delete them, you can limit their access to them. In short, you have ultimate control. Causing each test to have its own account tries to put that control back in the hands of the test taker.

One of the criticisms of this announcement is that Ancestry is doing this just to make more people buy subscriptions to Ancestry. I don’t think this is their primary motivation. In fact, a blogger in the UK, Debbie Kennett, suggested that it may be partially in reaction to a new law in the UK that, starting next year, will require this personal access inr order for Ancestry to continue selling tests there.

But even if getting more subscribers was their primary motivation for the change, how is encouraging interest in genealogy a bad thing?! Think of it this way: let’s say you tell your cousins, “I got this. Don’t worry about anything. I will do it all.” Then they will let you, and they won’t take any ownership of the process or the results.

Instead, now you can say, “I have created a login for you at Ancestry so you can view your own results. I will also be able to see them in my account. I would love to go over them with you, if you are interested. But you can go in anytime and look around.” Then wouldn’t it be great if they really did that? Maybe they’d even get so interested that they’d decide to help you research?!

DNA is one of the biggest hooks we have to get our friends and family interested in family history. I think this change is just one more way that we can spread our love of family history with our family–not to mention protect their privacy and their rights.

In addition to Debbie Kennett’s post I mentioned above, make sure to read the official announcement by Ancestry, and these two blog posts about questions you may have: Reality Check–Changes at AncestryDNA and Managing Multiple Kits and the New AncestryDNA Change.

Ready to test some relatives? Click here for tips on talking about DNA at your next family gathering (like, this summer’s reunion?). Then sign up for the free weekly Genealogy Gems e-newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook to learn about the fantastic DNA sales we’ve been spotting lately.

What do you think about Ancestry’s new privacy policy? Join the conversation and leave a comment below.

 

Adoption Research Success: “I Continued His Quest to Find His Birth Mother:”

Searching for birth parents? This adoption research success story involved several proven techniques: mapping DNA matches, research legwork–and years of patient determination.

Adoption Research Inspiration

This inspiring letter about adoption research came to me from Liz:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your part in a major milestone of my genealogy research! You motivated me, educated me, and shared many wonderful resources throughout hours and hours of your podcasts. After listening to you talk with Diahan Southard a few times, it finally dawned on me that I should contact her to help me better understand DNA and its impact on my research.

Here’s the “story” as it unfolded for me.

During much of the last 30+ years my brother-in-law, Chuck, searched constantly for his birth mother. Chuck maintained hope that information he requested from the state of Michigan or newly available electronic adoption records might give him enough clues to help him find his mother. Six or seven years ago, Chuck was disabled by a stroke and a few years following the stroke vascular dementia robbed him of his ability to continue the search for his mother. In January 2015, we were able to get Chuck (despite the dementia) to spit in the test tube and provide a DNA sample. Little did we know he would be dead by Thanksgiving. As I wrote Chuck’s obituary, I realized I could offer one other piece of assistance to Chuck’s widow and children. I offered to continue his quest to find his birth mother.”

Then Liz outlined the steps she took to carry on the search:

“After gathering the limited detail we had (birth date, location, possible mother’s name and age) I began my research in earnest. Ultimately I:

  • created a “proposed” family tree for Chuck based on Chuck’s birth mother’s surname and his birth location,
  • reviewed Chuck’s DNA matches and
  • began to narrow down the family tree.

I used Diahan Southard’s website tutorials as the foundation for my analysis, put together a PowerPoint presentation with my research and theory and presented the information to her in a video conference. She found no fault in my logic and helped me plan my next steps: the search for Chuck’s birth father.”

Eventually, the paper trail and the genetic research came together to tell a story:

“Last week my niece finally received the adoption records from the state of Michigan, eighty-six years after Chuck was born, over twenty years after Chuck first requested them and almost a year after his daughter requested the records. I am impatiently awaiting my copy! What I do know so far:

  • Postcard of Harper Hospital, MI, posted on RootsWeb (click to view).

    My research (thanks to you and Diahan and DNA) accurately determined the identity of Chuck’s mother.

  • She had a very difficult young life and died of TB—tuberculosis – when she was just 25 years old in 1939.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant with Chuck while a ward of the state and an Inmate at a girls school.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant during a time when the school “farmed out” Inmates to Harper Hospital to work as nurses’ aides.
  • Both Chuck’s mother and her sister checked on Chuck after turning him over to the state, both in an attempt to get him back and to learn how he was doing.

It was heartwarming to learn that Chuck actually had a birth family who cared about him! I wish he had known!”

WOW, what an incredible story! Congratulations to Liz on such thorough and persistent research. I feel very sure that Chuck knows that not only did he have a birth family that cared, but also a wonderful sister-in-law (although I would guess he well aware of that even before he passed.)

I’m also thrilled that Genealogy Gems was able to play some part in Chuck and Liz’s story.

Get Ready for Adoption Research Success

Are you looking for someone’s birth parents? Get started with the DNA strategies Liz used:

  • Take a DNA test from a company such as AncestryDNA, which has an enormous database of testers and family trees. Click here to learn more about your DNA testing options.
  • Map your DNA test results using Google Earth and/or, if you test with AncestryDNA, the site’s tool within an individual DNA match view for identifying locations you have in common on your tree. Click here to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free full-length video class on using Google Earth for genealogy.
  • Share your DNA results on other websites (such as Gedmatch) to increase your chances of finding matches.

To access Diahan’s great video tutorials on her site that Liz used, click here— as a Genealogy Gems reader you’ll get a great discount on them.

Along with DNA evidence, create the best paper trail possible, as Liz did. Scour all available records and follow up on all possible leads for any information about the birth parents. In this instance, Liz needed to rely on records created by or about institutions, such as the hospital and state girls’ school. Genealogy Gems Premium members will find tips for finding and using these records in my newest Premium video tutorial, Institutional Records. (If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more. )

Sources in our cover image for this post include this photograph of a pregnant woman and a postcard found on the Harper Hospital (Detroit, MI) hospital webpage at RootsWeb. Click to view full citation information.

Family Migration Patterns Just Got a Big Bump with DNA!

Do you need help solving your family migration patterns? A groundbreaking new scientific study uses DNA and family trees to map migration routes across North America.

Family Migration Patterns Revealed in Genomes

A new study published in Nature Communications represents a ground-breaking development in using DNA for genealogy. The article from the AncestryDNA Scientific Team is titled Clustering of 770,000 genomes reveals post-colonial population structure of North America. Or, in more understandable terms, “Your DNA can tell us where you came from in America in the last 500 years.”

Wow, right? So, how did they do this?

The power really is in the numbers. In this particular paper, they started with using their autosomal DNA test on 770,000 people. Some of them were AncestryDNA customers who had consented to be part of the research. From these 770,000, they learned quite a bit about the migration patterns of early Americans. As Ancestry analyzes more individuals using these same principles of correlating genetics and genealogy, this data will improve and be able to tell us even more about our heritage. Even though it takes a large data set to figure out the relationship between our DNA and migration patterns, it really comes down to the relationship of two people.

To start, Ancestry determines how just two people are genetically related. Then, they find how those two are related to a third person, again, looking only at pairs of people. This goes on and on until everyone in the group as been compared. They use a graph to plot those relationships, with those more closely related clustering around each other.  And then it happens. The point where we see the marriage of genetics and genealogy suddenly appear by adding in the family history information for each of these individuals in the cluster.

What they found was astounding. They have displayed the data in Figure 3 shown below. It is a map of the United States with colored dots scattered across the landscape. The location of the dots corresponds to the genealogy of those tested, while the color of the dots relates to their genetic clustering. Those who cluster closest together are the same color. The result is a nearly perfect rainbow, with each color holding its respective spot on the map, with very little overlap between groups.

Distribution of ancestral birth locations in North America. Summary map from Nature Communications; click to see article with full explanation of map data. Image used with permission of Ancestry.com.

We might be tempted when looking at the map to think, oh, well, of course there is a large population of European Jews in New York, everyone knows that. But this isn’t their family history, their accent, or their culture telling us this – it is their genetics!

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the scientists describe how we can trace family migration patterns of different groups over just a few generations. They specifically mention French Canadians and Cajuns/Acadians, but the same principle can theoretically be applied to dozens of other groups.

Family Migration Patterns and Applying these Findings

So what does this mean for you as a genealogist?

It means we are getting closer than ever to being able to tell who you are and where you came from using your DNA.

For example, let’s say you have an ancestor in Texas about 4 generations ago, but you aren’t sure where she came from. Your DNA could tell you that you fit into the Lower South group, meaning that your ancestor likely hails from the south. Or, maybe your genetics identify with the Upland South, which means you need to explore records from Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

This is just a glimpse into the advances that genetics are bringing to your genealogy toolbox these days. So it’s high time to go “all in” to learn about genetic genealogy! We recommend The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine Bettinger. You’ll love this book if:

  • You’ve got brick walls that traditional research methods haven’t been able to break down
  • You want to take advantage of the hottest tool in genealogy
  • You’ve already taken a DNA test and want to know what comes next

Use our GEMS17 coupon code when you click on the book title or image and get 10% off (even if it’s on sale already!) The code is valid through 12/31/17.

DNA Testing for Kids Sparks Interest in Family History

DNA testing for kids is a great way to spark their interest in their heritage, while teaching science, math, geography, and more. Consider these reasons and start with the budget-friendly option of an autosomal test.

DNA testing for kids

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported, “Children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But let’s explore how DNA testing might be able to help you share your love of family history with your children and grandchildren.

Why Try DNA Testing for Kids

Since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. There is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results. Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who-got-what-from-who. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great-grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

Kit for DNA testing for kids

If there are parts of the ethnicity report you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or Southeast Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page, you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, or a discussion on identity. DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children.

A Warning and Caution

As with all DNA testing pursuits, this one should not be taken lightly, even with all of its benefits.

An important word to parents: Be sure to keep unintentional consequences in the forefront of your mind. This includes the possibility of revealing family secrets. Talk with your spouse and make sure you are both on the same page. In the end, this is your decision.

An important word to grandparents and other relatives: DNA testing is a parent’s decision. Even though you’re passionate about preserving the family’s history and the benefits of including children are numerous, you must obtain parental consent if you are not the parent.

More About Autosomal DNA Testing for Kids

Click here to learn more about my series of how-to videos (available to Gems fans for a special price) or start your kids’ or grandkids’ DNA journey with two of my genetic genealogy quick guides. The first is a great overview and the second talks about autosomal testing which is a good test for genetic genealogy beginners.

How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History

Test DNA for Family History

 Anyone can Test DNA for Family History

DiahanSouthard genetic genealogyFrom Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems: DNA testing is one of the most personal ways to get involved in your family history. You have DNA from your parents, who have DNA from their parents, and so it goes, back into your greats and great-greats. The technology of genetic genealogy is all about tapping into that DNA record and pulling out information that might be useful in your family history. DNA can do this for you in two ways:

  • First, it connects you to places. These are places where your ancestors came from a hundred, a thousand, or tens of thousands of years ago.
  • Second, it connects you to people. These people are your genetic cousins, other living people who have taken the same DNA test that you took. The similarities in your DNA tell you that you share a common ancestor. You can then examine the pedigree of your match and work with them to help verify your family history, or give you new ideas about who your ancestors might be.

Types of DNA Tests for Family History

You have three choices of DNA tests, each with its own unique purpose.

YDNA – Essentially, if you want to know about a male ancestor, you need to find a direct male descendant to be tested. So if I want to know about my 3X great grandfather Morris Mitchell, I need to find Morris’s son’s son’s son, etc. until I find a living male with the Mitchell surname who can be tested on the Y chromosome DNA (mtDNA) test at Family Tree DNA.

mtDNA – If I want to know about a female ancestor, let’s say Mary West, I need to find Mary’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s etc. child (male or female) to take the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Family Tree DNA.

Autosomal DNA – For any ancestor, male or female, who is fewer than 5 generations from you, you can take the autosomal DNA test at either Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage to find out more about that individual. Remember with the autosomal DNA that you always want to test the oldest generation first. So anyone who does not have both of their parents living should take the autosomal DNA test.

Companies that can Test DNA for Family History

There are several companies that test DNA for family history including:

Each of these companies is offering a very similar kind of test, but each has their own unique tools and databases. Decide which company you want to test with by evaluating things like:

  • their website accessibility
  • their company goals
  • and especially the size of their database

You can see a table comparing these companies here. The MyHeritage test is new, and is not on the chart yet, but will be soon.

Great (DNA) Expectations

The best thing you can do when setting out on your genetic genealogy journey is set good expectations. You can expect that the test will document the personal genetics of the person who takes it. By so doing, you are creating another genealogy record that will last for generations. This test will link you to your ancestors via your cousins. That means that you may take the test looking for ancestors, but what you get are cousins. It will take traditional genealogy work to turn those cousin connections into ancestral connections. Above all, expect that this is a growing industry, and what we know today is different than what we will know tomorrow, so enjoy the journey!

DNA Resources

There are several comprehensive books on Genetic Genealogy out there. However, for the layman who just wants to understand their DNA test results and get some additional value from them, an entire book full of scientific explanations can  be overwhelming and daunting. The following email is one we receive regularly:

Could you direct me to an understandable publication which explains DNA results in layman’ terms?

Thank you
Anne B.

Genetic Genealogy for the Layman

Lisa Louise Cooke Genealogy Gems Family History PodcastFrom Lisa Louise Cooke, host of The Genealogy Gems Podcast: I put myself in the category of “layman” when it comes to understanding DNA test results. And that’s why when I met DNA expert Diahan Southard at a genealogy conference, I immediately invited her to join Genealogy Gems. Diahan’s enthusiasm is contagious, and her ability to explain genetic genealogy to the layman is second to none!

I encouraged Diahan to immediately get to work putting her easy-to-follow explanations into a new series of quick reference guides. Genealogy Gems Publications is proud to publish her wonderful series of DNA quick reference guides for understanding your DNA results in plain language, and helping you get the most out of the investment you made in testing.

Start Here to Jump into Using DNA for Genealogy

Here’s a link to our DNA videos on YouTube with the author of the guides, Diahan Southard. As you will see, she has a ton of enthusiasm for helping the layman understand and get the most out of their DNA!

Diahan has a regular segment on my free Genealogy Gems Podcast where she answers your questions and provides invaluable insights into the latest in genetic genealogy. You can also find the complete archive of DNA articles at Genealogy Gems by clicking here. The most recent will appear first and then scroll down to read through the past articles.

For those who have tested with Ancestry DNA

If you took the Ancestry test, I would definitely recommend the following guides:

The beauty of the DNA quick reference guide series is that you can mix and match the guides to perfectly suit the testing you have done. We’ve published Diahan’s guides that delve into the testing companies FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe, as well as the other tests available such as Mitochondrial (for your maternal line – both men and women can take this test) and YDNA (for your paternal line – only men take this test.)

Take Your DNA Test Results to the Next Level

If you’ve already tested and feel like you have a good foundation, then I highly recommend Diahan’s Advanced DNA Bundle. It will take your DNA test results to the next level by instructing you on the heart of what matters in plain English.

 

Thumbs-Up: AncestryDNA Improves Genetic Matching Technology

ancestrydna matches improvedDouble good news: AncestryDNA has made some improvements to the way they calculate your genetic matches, but they haven’t messed with the site format or layout. There is one downside–so keep reading.

Change is afoot at AncestryDNA. Again.

While stability and predictability seem like honorable qualities in a company or product, when it comes to tech tools, in the ears of tech companies, those words sound more like dated and old. Of course, we are used to this by now. I had a client tell me recently that he wanted to be in touch sooner, but his grandson “upgraded” his computer to Windows 10 and then promptly left for college the next day, leaving him fighting with a new interface and operating system.

The good news is, you won’t have this problem with Ancestry’s new update. There aren’t any changes to the interface or the layout of the information. In fact, many of you will not even notice at first that your match list has changed. You’ll just see this notification when you log in:

AncestryDNA match improvement announcement

But in fact, there likely have been some adjustments made to your match results:

  • Some of your third cousins have been demoted to fourth cousins.
  • Some of your fourth cousins have been demoted to 5th-8th cousins.
  • Some of your Distant Cousins have disappeared off your match list
  • You have new cousins on your Distant Cousin match list.

In general, from what Ancestry has showed us, you gain more than you lose.

Changes in the dregs of your match list may not seem like that big of a deal. But Ancestry has made some big changes in the way that they are calculating matches. They are getting better at it. Which means you match list is now more representative of your ancestral connections, even at the very distant level.

There are two big pieces to this matching puzzle that Ancestry has tinkered with in this latest update: phasing and matching.

You will remember our discussion on DNA phasing and how it can impact your matching. Ancestry has developed a robust reference database of phased DNA in order to better phase our samples. Basically, they have looked through their database at parent-child duos and trios and noted that certain strings of DNA values often travel together. It’s like they have noticed that our DNA says “A black cat scared the mouse” instead of  “The brown cat ate the mouse” and they can then recognize that phrase in our DNA, which in turn helps our DNA tell the true story of our heritage.

In addition to updating the phasing, Ancestry has revamped their matching method. In the past they viewed our DNA in small windows of information, and then stitched those windows together to try to get a better picture of what our DNA looked like. Now instead they have turned to a point-by-point analysis of our DNA. Again to use a sentence example, with the window analysis we may have the following sentence windows:

ack and J

ill went t

he hill t

etch a pai

l of water.

AncestryDNA match comparisonOf those windows, you may share the “etch a pai” with another individual in the database, earning that cousin a spot on your match page. However, the truth is, that bit could say “sketch a painting” or “stretch a painful leg” or “fetch a pail.” With Ancestry’s new method, they are able to see farther on either side of the matching segment, making this clearly “fetch a pail.” That means better matching, which means more confidence in your cousin matches.

The downside to this update is going to come in the reorganization of some of your relationships. Ancestry has tightened their genetic definition of your third and fourth cousins. Basically, that means that some of your true 3rd cousins are going to show up as 4th cousins, and some of your true 4th cousins are going to be shifted down into the abyss of 5th-8th cousins.

This brings us to the downside of this AncestryDNA update: changes to the Shared Matches tool. The shared matches tool allows you to gather matches in the database that are related to you and one other person, provided you are all related at the 4th cousin level or higher. This tightening of the belt on 4th cousins means that some of them are going to drop through the cracks of that tool, really limiting its ability. Grr. Hopefully Ancestry will fix that, and expand this tool to include all of your matches. They have their fairly good reasons for this, but still….

So, as the winds of change blow yet another iteration of the AncestryDNA match page, I think we can see this as an overall win for doing genealogy with our genetics at Ancestry.

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“Results May Vary:” One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages

DNA ethnicity results may varyFour members of a family–mom, dad, daughter and son–tested with AncestryDNA. Their DNA ethnicity percentages vary. Why?

We talked recently about the limitations of the ethnicity results delivered by the DNA testing companies. We concluded that for the most part, these admixture results are like that short film before the actual feature presentation. That feature presentation in this case is your genealogical match list.

But, the short film is entertaining, and certainly keeps your attention for a while. It can be especially interesting when you have several members of the same family tested so you can compare their ethnicity results. Let’s consider the real AncestryDNA test results of a family we’ll call the “Reese family:”

DNA ethnicity results Reese

The Reese family has something to their great advantage: their family history indicates that they are mostly from Western Europe. This is a big advantage in the climate of today’s ethnicity results as all of the testing companies have far more data in their reference populations pouring out of western Europe than from anywhere else. That means that in general, they are going to be better at telling you about your heritage from Ireland or England than they are at discovering that you are from China or India.

Looking at the ethnicity results for the Reese family, we are tempted to start applying our knowledge of DNA inheritance to the numbers we see. We know that each child should get half of their DNA from their mom, and half from their dad. So our initial reaction might be to look at the dad’s 40% Scandinavian and mom’s 39% Scandinavian and assume that the child would also be about 40% (20% form dad, 20% from mom). You can see that the daughter did in fact measure up to that expectation with 37% Scandinavian. But the son, with only 25%, seems to have fallen short. The temptation to consider the daughter as the far better example of familial inheritance is strong (especially for us daughters, who are so often exceeding expectations!), but of course inaccurate. It is actually very difficult to look at the parent’s numbers alone and estimate the percentages that a child will receive.

Remember that these numbers are tied to actual small pieces of DNA we call SNPs (snips). Of the near 800,000 SNPs evaluated by your testing company, less than half of them are considered valuable for determining your ethnicity. The majority of the SNPs tested are working to estimate how closely you are related to your genealogical cousin. A good SNP for ethnicity purposes has to be ubiquitous enough to show up in many individuals from a given population, but unique enough to only show up in that population, but not any others. It is a difficult balance to strike.

But even when good SNPs are used, it is still difficult for the computer at your testing company to make accurate determinations about your ancestry. Take the Great Britain line in the Reese family data, for example. The dad has 21%, the mom 7%, so it would follow that the largest amount any child could have would be 28%.  We see the daughter (of course!) falling well within that range at 10%, but the son is seven points above at 35%. How does THAT happen?!

Let’s go back to some basic biology. Remember that you have two copies of each chromosome, one from mom and one from dad. These chromosomes are made up of strings of letters denoting the DNA code. That means that at each SNP location you report two letters- one from mom and one from dad. As the testing company is lining these letters up for comparison, they have to decide which letters go together- which are from the same chromosome- which set came from one single source. To illustrate how this works, let’s say we are trying to write two sentences: “The brown dog ate the bone” and “A black cat scared a mouse” where each word in each sentence represents a SNP. However, all the computer sees are two words, it doesn’t know which word goes in which sentence. You can see in this example that it would be fairly easy to get it wrong. Mixing up a couple of the words creates entirely new sentences with very different meanings. The process of determining which set of values goes on which line is called phasing. Often the inconsistencies you see in your DNA test results, weather it be in the matching or in the ethnicity, are because of problems the company has with this very difficult process:

Phasing correct:

DNA phasing correct

Phasing incorrect:

DNA phasing incorrect

While it is not valuable genealogically (for research purposes) to have children tested when both parents are tested, it is fun to compare notes to see who got what. And it can be an excellent way to involve members of the family who are curious about his genetics but not interested in genealogy, per se (like the “Reese” family’s son). We can also very tangibly see the fleeting nature of this DNA stuff. We can see that in one single generation this family has lost all traces of ancestry to several world regions. This really highlights the value of having the oldest generation of family members tested, to try to capture all that they have to offer in their DNA code.

DNA quick guides super bundle of 7Get more genetic genealogy help from one or more of my DNA Quick Guides. Try the “Getting Started” guide or the AncestryDNA guide (for autosomal tests like the Reese’s). Or save a bundle on the bundle pack: all 10 guides!

Come visit me at YourDNAGuide.com if you’re ready for a one-on-one consultation: consider me your travel guide for your DNA journey.