Category - DNA

about using DNA results for genealogy research

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Following DNA-generated Leads
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DNA Test is In!
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DNA for Genealogy Research

Following DNA-generated Leads

The wonder of DNA testing is clearly exciting with all it can tell us about ourselves, but as with everything pertaining to genealogy, a little bit of knowledge always seems to lead to a thirst for more information. And while DNA can give us hints about who we could be related to, it is frustratingly non-specific when it comes to figuring out exactly how we connect to our cousins. That’s where paper genealogy comes in.

Right now I’m working with a person who matches my DNA closer than anyone else I’ve encountered through the various tools available (who isn’t a member of my immediate family). In fact, we are each other’s closest matches on GEDmatch.com. The only catch is that neither of us recognizes any known relatives of the other! So we are digging deeper.

GEDmatch ToolsAs I mentioned in a previous post, there are several tools at GEDmatch.com for helping to locate matches to your DNA. One of these tools, called “People who match 2 or more kits”, helps narrow the field somewhat by returning a list of just those kits that match both me and my cousin, with information about how close they estimate the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is for each match. From that list, I picked the top four matches, and since I have been doing genealogy research for longer, I went through my files to see if I could find any of these close matches in previous correspondence. There was one name I think I recognize, so that gave me an idea of which family we might share. But we need to follow up by contacting each of these people and try to find the commonalities in our family trees if we can. This is where the paper, or traditional, genealogy comes in.

By narrowing down the possible matches to one or two families, it is much easier to see if we share relatives with all those whose kits showed a match to both of ours. In this case, my (potential) cousin has turned up someone’s info on AncestryDNA, where she was tested, whose family tree happens to have a lot of names that match my maiden name. This is exciting, since my GGG grandfather, Charles M. Watson (1838-1889), is one of our brick walls. He just appeared in Alabama in the 1870 & 1880 census, saying he was a carpenter from Georgia, then he died and his widow and children went to Texas. We have looked for his birth family for years, with no luck until now, and this connection is still in the “potential” category until we can get more information that can help prove that he is somehow connected to the Watson family that my cousin had found on Ancestry.

Just to complicate matters, though, I have a hunch that we may share so much DNA because we actually are double cousins — that is, we share ancestry in two family lines instead of just one. Remember the person whose email I thought I recognized? She is from a different family from my paternal Watson line. Instead, if she is the person I’m thinking of, we are related through my father’s mother instead of his father. Both families, incidentally, spent at least one generation in Georgia, and my “potential” cousin who is working on this with me knows her family lived in Tennessee, which of course is just the next state over. If this is the case, it could explain how we have so much overlapping DNA in spite of any possible links being at least 4 generations ago.

So, our next step is to try contacting the people identified by GEDmatch. Depending on whether they can confirm belonging to one or the other family in question, we may have something to go on, and then it is just a matter of researching records until we find the MRCA. Stay tuned!

DNA Test is In!

So, now that we know how much Neanderthal genetics I’ve inherited, what does it mean? Here’s a good article from the BBC that helps fill in the gaps.

My 23andMe report says I have 291 Neanderthal “variants”, which is more than 72% of other 23andMe customers. The highest number they’ve seen up till now in any one person is 387 variants. However, apparently I can’t blame my straight hair on the cavemen. I don’t have the variant for that identified as being Neanderthal. In fact, of the 5 variants mentioned in the report that are known to contribute to specific traits, I had none of them. So I don’t know exactly what having 291 variants from this source actually means. Maybe they’ll publish some more definitive interpretations as time goes on. I hope so. Meanwhile, I’ve been Web surfing to see what I can find out elsewhere.

However, while it says nothing about Neanderthal heritage, I’ve already found confirmation that my cousin and I had correctly identified the family of our GGG-grandfather. My DNA matched some descendants of his parents’ other children. Alisanne and I had decided that Sylvester Hutchinson‘s parents were probably Benjamin and Laura (Ticknor) Hutchinson, but we really weren’t positive, since there was no direct documentation. It is rather thrilling to see we were correct! Thank you, 23andMe, WikiTree and GEDmatch.

I haven’t mentioned GEDmatch before, because I just found out about it, when I tried to upload my genome to WikiTree. Rather than uploading a file with the whole 610545 markers, they prefer for people to use GEDmatch, which links directly to 23andMe to get a “clean” list of markers that filters out those that are not useful for genealogy, and may have sensitive medical implications. GEDmatch also has the ability to take genomes from different labs, and share them with various websites like WikiTree and MyHeritage, etc., so it is a very good idea to use them as the go-between.

So, this whole DNA testing thing is definitely worthwhile for me. If you’ve been wavering over getting tested, my opinion is to go for it. At the moment I’m even thinking of asking my dad to be retested at 23andMe, to get the auDNA markers that he didn’t get from his test 10 years ago. And I’d like to have my mother’s brother tested, and other cousins who share my mtDNA, and so on. This could get expensive….

DNA for Genealogy Research

About ten years ago I persuaded my dad to have his DNA tested. We used Family Tree DNA, which was the best-known company available for genealogy DNA at that time, and which continues to be prominent in the field. Being an adventurous sort of guy, Dad went ahead and got the maximum number of markers tested for both his Y-DNA and mtDNA offered then. It was early days for that kind of thing, and the results were a bit disconcerting for my dad, so he didn’t pursue it. Basically, he didn’t match anyone with his surname at that time, and even falls into a different haplogroup than most of the participants in our one-name study. Now, 10 years later, many more people have been tested and there are some closer matches, but he has lost interest. I’m not sure I can get him to even update his account so we can follow up. It may be necessary to get my brother to have a test if we are going to learn any more.

my mtDNA brick wall

my mtDNA brick wall

Now, however, I’ve been given a DNA kit from 23 and Me by one of my sons, so we will have another go at it. Of course, since I’m female I don’t have any Y-DNA to test, but I’m eager to see the information about my mtDNA. My maternal line peters out in terms of genealogical knowledge with my great-great-great grandmother, who immigrated from somewhere in the British Isles in the early 1800s. Since she answered the “place of birth” question differently on several different censuses, exactly where she came from has been a mystery. While it may not be possible to determine that exactly, I hope to at least get some clue about her ethnicity; was she Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Scottish, or Welsh? Viking, Norman or Huguenot? Or maybe something else? And what does that mean, anyway? Her maiden name was Starling, and she said at various times that she was from Ireland or England, so it could be any of those. Great Britian is such a hodge-podge of people from everywhere, it may require DNA testing to determine one’s deep origins, after all.

Where to get DNA tests

If you are interested in obtaining a DNA testing kit, refer to the list of companies offering them for genealogical purposes on our wiki.

What is Y-DNA or mtDNA?

At this point, it may be a good idea to review exactly what the terms Y-DNA and mtDNA refer to. If you already know this, just skip ahead, but for those who aren’t sure, here’s a brief explanation. Essentially, Y-DNA is that passed down from father to son, while mtDNA is passed from mother to daughter. So, while we have many possible admixtures of chromosomes from all our ancestors, it is easiest to trace those on our direct paternal or maternal lines.

What DNA test results can tell us is another question. We can use them to determine whether we are closely related to someone else, or as implied earlier, to find out where our ancestors came from in the world, or their ethnicities. DNA obviously determines some of our personal traits, such as eye and skin color, and even potential temperament and intelligence (whatever those are). In some cases DNA tests can be used for medical diagnostic purposes, too, but that is outside the scope of this website. In general, if you plan to have your DNA tested, first determine what questions you want to have answered, and find a testing company who offer analysis that might provide the insights you seek. They are all slightly different in that regard, but examining their websites (listed in our wiki) should let you know what each outfit emphasizes.

I’ll be writing more about this topic when I get my own test results. Have you had your DNA tested? Were the results what you expected? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

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