Category Archives: Social Media

DNA Testing Advice

A friend who is also a client was asked some questions about DNA by her friend. She referred that friend to me who didn’t have time for a telephone conversation for a brief consult as we had mutually conflicting schedules.  She asked for a simple email to help her make some decisions. Well, that’s not so easy when her motivations to test are unknown and there is simply so much to discuss! Which test; which company; what results can be expected. I had to approach my response blind. No problem! Below is the text of the note I sent her. It may contain a few errors here and there but I don’t believe there is any misinformation.

Any thoughts on what else I should have included?

Hello Elizabeth,

The first point I’d like to make is that in general, DNA testing does not replace basic genealogical research. Other than an adoptee tracing parents or the parents of an adopted ancestor, that rule would apply. The testing can prove or disprove your research but doesn’t generally do the research for you.

So the question I ask anyone contemplating a DNA test is the motive. In other words, what are you trying to find out? That will help determine which company and which test. What follows is a “brief” discussion that hopefully will help.

There are essentially 3 types of DNA tests:

  1. Autosomal or atDNA examines 22 of the 23 chromosomes in the nucleus. It is often referred to as “Cousin Finder” or “Family Finder.”  These are the pairs of chromosomes that form the familiar “double helix” which are comprised of approximately 50% from each of the parents. Because of this ratio and the fact that is never exactly 50%, any individual will have roughly 25% of each grandparent (4 individuals), 12.5% of each great-grandparent (8 individuals), 6.25% of each 2nd great grandparent (16 individuals), 3.13% of each 3rd great-grandparents (32 individuals) and so on, melting by half as you go back each generation. Because the percentages are never perfect and get quite small at the 6th or 7th generation and beyond, it is possible that an individual may have none of a 3rd or 4th great grandparent’s DNA and thus making a match difficult if not impossible the farther back you go. All the current DNA testing companies do this test with AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and MyHeritage doing atDNA exclusively.
  2. Y-DNA examines the 23rd chromosome in the nucleus. That chromosome can be a combination of the X from the mother (as females do not carry a Y, otherwise they’d be male) and an X from the father (X/X) or the X from the mother and a Y from the father (X/Y). If the 23rd chromosome is an X/X, the result is a female. If that chromosome is and X/Y, the result is a male. Since the Y comes exclusively from the father and mutates very slowly, it is the Y chromosome that can be very useful in tracing paternal lines. Barring an adoption or “non-paternal events,” it can be a matter of following a line by way of the surname.
  3. Mitochondrial or mtDNA is the found inside each cell but outside the nucleus. Rather than a linear double-helix configuration, mtDNA is circular. It is transferred exclusively by the female to all her children. Everyone has it but the way it is transmitted, mtDNA will follow the maternal line.

FamilyTreeDNA and LivingDNA currently do all types of testing. FamilyTreeDNA has been testing DNA for longer than the other services while LivingDNA is, perhaps, the latest to enter the market. FamilyTreeDNA has a wide variety of combinations of tests with a variety of prices. LivingDNA, a British company, does one level of test by testing all types of DNA. They call atDNA “Familyline,” Y-DNA “Fatherline,” and mtDNA “Motherline.”

Will the results of atDNA testing be the same at all companies? Not necessarily as they all have developed different their own unique databases but there is a great deal of overlap from one company to the other. Should you test at more than one company? That all depends on your motivation for testing.

Here are the websites and there are many sales running this holiday season between all these very competitive companies:

www.familytreedna.com

www.dna.ancestry.com

www.23andme.com

www.myheritage.com/dna

www.livingdna.com

Some companies accept the “raw data” from other companies. For example, you can upload a raw data file of your results from 23andMe to MyHeritage. The only 2 that I know of that do not accept an upload are AncestryDNA and LivingDNA. There are also websites where you can upload your raw data in order to broaden your ability to compare your results to the results of other testers. GedMatch is one such company. They can be found at www.gedmatch.com.

Blogs to which you can subscribe:

www.legalgenealogist.com by Judy G. Russell who blogs on DNA at least once a week.

www.dna-explained.com  by Roberta Estes. Roberta can get a bit overwhelming but still worth a look.

www.thegeneticgenealogist.com by Blaine Bettinger, a nationally renowned expert.

www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com by CeCe Moore who has done analyses for “Who Do You Think You Are” as well as other programs.

Facebook has dozens of pages where you can read the questions and answers that others have posted or join and post your own questions. If you go to Facebook (where there are more than 14,000 genealogically oriented pages), search for ISOGG, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists; DNA Detectives;  GEDmatch.com User Group: and many, many others.

The website www.familytreewebinars.com offers webinars on a weekly basis, often on DNA as a subject. Anyone can register for and view current programs. The site has a tab for “Upcoming Webinars” where you can keep an eye out for DNA related programs and register to view. These webinars are open to the public on the day of the broadcast and remain open for about a week or 10 days. Membership is very reasonable and allows full access to their entire 600+ webinars on a broad spectrum of subjects beyond DNA.

There is a great deal more to the subject such as the concept of “Haplogroups,” genetic distances, chromosome browsers and so on. But this should be enough to digest for now.

I hope this helps without confusing the issue.

Facebook Genealogy

Train Station, Evergreen, ALIn nearly every class or lecture I conduct on genealogy research techniques and strategies, I ask the group, “Who here is on Facebook?” The reaction ranges from a raised hand to snickers to an adamant “NO” here and there. Then I explain that there’s more to Facebook than reporting the BLT you may have had for lunch or whatever mundane activity  you’re involved with.

And here’s why I encourage everyone with an interest in family history research to take a long hard look at Facebook (FB) and where it can take you. If you want to tell your friends that you just saw a great movie or your favorite TV show, I have no problem with that at all. All I’m pointing out here is that there’s more to on-line research than Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org.

I’m here to tell you that there are 10,029 genealogically and historically oriented FB pages in the United States listed on 288 pages with an index. That, according to Katherine R. Willson, is a list that grows constantly! Her website at SocialMediaGenealogy.com contains a link to a PDF file that you   are welcome to download and keep. The direct link to that file is here. But I urge you to take a look at her site and take in all of the information you can that she provides.

So that takes care of the US. But many of us do a significant amount of research in Canada. For that list, we turn to Gail Dever and her site, Genealogy à la Carte. This link will take you to the page where she talks about her work on the list. I encourage you to surf around her site, click on some of the links under “Archives.” The direct link to the page with the PDF is here. Scroll down a bit to find the link to the “Facebook for Canadian Genealogy which was last updated June 2016. She doesn’t list the FB links by number, but there are 26 pages of them!

In either of these files, just pick a subject, perhaps a surname or a hometown. Use CTL+F to open a box where you type in “Smith” without the quotation marks, for example. In the US list, “Smith” gets 48 hits. In other words, there are 48 FB pages that have something to do with Smith. Or just use Katherine’s index.

The same strategy of using CTL+F can be used in the Canadian document. For that matter, CTL+F works in just about any document or web page. Gail’s Canadian list has large groups of page sorted by Province. So you can scroll through or use the CTL+ strategy.

Double Helix - Red and Blue with BandsHere’s how FB has worked for me. I have relatives all over the country. My paternal ancestor arrived in the early 1700’s, a Scots-Irish immigrant. The Scots-Irish element is proven through Y-DNA matches with folks still in Europe. My maternal ancestors include at least one Mayflower ancestor (John Howland) and dozens of post-Mayflower arrivals. In 1621, William Bassett arrived and began the line that includes me, his 9th great grandson.  Many “Great Migration” ancestors arrived after that including Deacon Samuel Chapin, my 8th great grandfather, who first established himself in Roxbury, Massachusetts, then followed William Pynchon to help settle what would become Springfield, Massachusetts. I opened an FB page titled “Descendants of Deacon Samuel Chapin (1598-1675)” expecting a couple of dozen people asking to join. We now have a little over 125 descendants who have all contributed their specific line from the Deacon to themselves. This has provided me with enough data to complete, or nearly complete, a one-name study of the Chapin line. Since the information began to flow, I have confirmed my relationship to Amelia Earhart, President William Howard Taft, Johnny Appleseed, Harry Chapin, Marion Morrison a/k/a John Wayne and dozens of other individuals who have been in the public eye.

One of the other  FB pages is titled “Find-A-Grave Genealogy Discussion” for which I had moderate expectations. Today there are nearly 7,000 members who ask and answer questions, tell their Find-A-Grave stories and in general, provide a great deal of help to other researchers. On that site, I have 4 co-administrators to keep up with it all!

I have a few more pages, most involving genealogical or historical research. And I belong to about 40 others. Nearly all of these pages have proven helpful. They provide information I’m looking for and information I’d like to share while allowing me the opportunity to meet hundreds of like-minded people with whom I collaborate.

Facebook isn’t the only game in town. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others can be effective tools to assist you in your hunt for those elusive relatives.

So, are you on Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? Twitter? If you are, that’s great but follow all the privacy and security recommendations. If you’re not, this could be a great time to get started.

Don’t forget to stop in at my Old Bones Genealogy of New England website. Background, services, lists of classes/lectures and a curious link called “Useful Documents.” Click it then scroll down a bit to the link that will take you to my DropBox folder where there are hundreds of forms, documents, and other useful things.

Use the QR code to the right to get to Old Bones Genealogy of New England:

Old Bones Genealogy of New England

Old Bones Genealogy of New England