Tag Archives: familytreeDNA

Strawberry DNA

Here’s a neat article I found in my Feedly posts today. Click “Imagination Station” for a simple explanation of the DNA extraction process. They’re using strawberries in the video, but, as you’ll see, you could try it on just about any living matter…including yourself.

The problem, of course, is other than having a dish of cloudy material as in the video, actually seeing the DNA you extract is a completely different story!

Have you done any DNA testing? Three major companies are in the DNA business: FamilyTreeDNA,  23andMe and AncestryDNA. Which test you take will be driven by the purpose of taking the test in the first place.  The short story is this: The most popular test today is the Autosomal DNA test or atDNA test. All three companies do this test. Keep in mind that there are 23 chromosomes in every nucleus of every cell in your body. One of those chromosomes is the sex chromosome which is either X-X or X-Y. This chromosome determines whether your are female (X-X) or males (X-Y).DNA_animationThat leaves 22 that are made up of a recombination of the DNA from your father (roughly 50%) and your mother (roughly 50%). It’s the recombination process that determines which of your father’s traits you will inherit and which of your mother’s. That’s also why siblings can either vary a great deal in their appearance or, if their appearances seem quite similar, one may have red hair and the other brown.

Logically, if you’ve got 50% of your mother’s atDNA and she received 50% from each of her parents, you can only have 25% from each of her parents. The same holds true with your father’s atDNA and that what makes up the 50% you inherited from him, 25% of which is from his father and 25% from his mother. The farther back you go up your family tree while applying the fact that the 50% gets halved at each generation. You’ll have 12.5% from each of your 8 great-grandparents, 6.75% from each of your 16 2nd great-grandparents.  Then take into account the billions of possible ways that each recombination can produce, it gets a little tricky to go very far beyond 5 or 6 generations. We refer to it as a “cousin finder.” Ethnicity can be inferred to some degree and in broad generalities: Northern European, Sub-Saharan African,  Ashkenazi Jew and so forth.

The second and third types of tests will take you deep into the genetic histories of your direct maternal or paternal lines. Only men have and thus can pass along Y-DNA. A man gets his from his father who got his from his father and so on. So to trace a paternal line, the Y test is quite useful for 2 reasons. It’s biologically impossible to get a Y chromosome from a male ancestor other than from your direct line. And it mutates at a very slow rate meaning that it stays relatively intact for thousands of years, unlike atDNA which “melts” in each generation.

The third test is for mitochondrial DNA, the mother’s unique contribution to the equation. Unlike the Y, mitochondrial or mtDNA is in everyone’s cells. For the lack of a more scientific answer, it is what powers the cells, allowing them to live, divide and recombine so that life can go on.  But, only the mother passes the mtDNA even though both she and the father have it.

Here’s the reason. Mom has her Mom’s mtDNA and Dad has his Mom’s mtDNA. At the point of conception, the ovum contains mom’s mtDNA as she supplied the ovum containing it. Dad supplied the sperm but the mtDNA is in the tail. Picture your science books where the sperm wiggles its way to its destination. At the moment of conception, the tail falls off and thus the mtDNA from the father is no longer a factor. It’s a lot like a space rocket. Once the rocket clears earth’s atmosphere, the boosters fall away. They’ve done their job!

The mtDNA will take you backwards to your mother, her  mother and her mother’s mother and so on.

Both Y and mtDNA can give you reasonably accurate description of your genetic background. But it is important to say that as far as family research is concerned, DNA tests do not replace standard research practices. It will only help to prove or disprove what you’ve discovered.

For a more detailed explanation of DNA and the various types and tests, there are some excellent bloggers whose backgrounds in the science is much deeper than my own:

That should be more than enough to get you started! Good luck!

Visit Old Bones Genealogy of New England at www.oldbones.info

AncestryDNA versus “AncestrybyDNA”

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hard to notice the difference in the name, isn’t it. Considering that one of the services is selling their test for $69, our eyes seem to glaze over when it comes to the name. AncestryDNA has certainly had its ups and downs, but for the last several months or even a couple of years, they’ve improved their testing techniques, modified the “algorithms” that produce the results and can now be highly recommended. And to be sure, I’m not talking about “AncestrybyDNA.” Be careful to notice the differences in the name!

As a matter of fact, AncestryDNA tests over 700,000 markers to arrive at their results. That fact, combined with the extraordinarily large database of family trees, they are able to make some dramatic “cousin matches.” They are not without their faults as none of the companies are. But their batting average has improved exponentially

AncestrybyDNA, on the other hand is a horse of a different color. In case you didn’t notice, the name is ANCESTRY BY DNA. Where did that “by” come from? It seems that AncestrybyDNA feels that the hidden “by” is enough to distinguish it from the vastly more effective tool for genealogists, AncestryDNA, the one with no “by” in their name.

Groupon is a company that sells products and services such as restaurant deals, clothing deals, vacation deals and lately, DNA testing deals. Keep you eye on the by!

AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe are the 3 companies that should be at the top of your list. Check them out. AncestryDNA tests ONLY autosomal DNA, often referred to as the “cousin finder.” FamilyTreeDNA offers a whole spectrum of tests with a variety of packages and prices. Very reputable. Then there’s 23andMe which has also had it’s ups and downs, but that’s another story. Let’s just say that there’s nothing to worry about with the legitimacy  or integrity of 23andMe or any of these three.

To read a bit more about this from someone who is vastly more experienced than I am, check out Judy G. Russell’s incredibly informative blog,  The Legal Genealogist. You may even consider following her. It’ll be worth it!

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

DNA Testing – Sales From the “BIG 3”

DNA_animationWhen the subject of DNA comes up, I like to give people the simplest answers so that their eyes don’t glaze over: The three types (Y-DNA, mtDNA, and atDNA) what each can do and what each CANNOT do.  It’s important to have at least a basic understanding of your reasons to test so that you don’t waste your money or test with the wrong company.

Here are the “holiday sale” prices from the 3 companies that I generally recommend. Each name is hyperlinked to their website:

FamilyTreeDNA currently has an autosomal DNA (atDNA) test on sale for $89. That’s the DNA that comes to you from both parents. You have ABOUT 50% from Mom and ABOUT 50% from Dad. Having said that, each of your parents received ABOUT the same percentage from each of their parents. Thus, you have ABOUT 25% from each of your 4 grandparents, ABOUT 12.5% from each of your 8 great grandparents and so on until the percentage of the atDNA from a distant ancestor is too minimal to detect. These test are normally called “Cousin Finders” or “Family Finders.” Don’t expect to learn the ancient origins of your ancestors, it can’t be done with this test.

23andME has had its ups and downs but has come back strong after a few unfortunate “misunderstandings” with the FDA. They now advertise that they are the only testing company that meets FDA standards for being clinically and scientifically valid.  Truly a great opportunity to use the “cousin finder” aspect

My kids gave this to me about 25 years ago for Father's Day!

My kids gave this to me about 25 years ago for Father’s Day!

with atDNA, maternal and paternal ancestors with mtDNA and Y-DNA respectively, and, believe it or not, determine your possible ancient connection to Neanderthal, the proto-typical “caveman!” The “caveman” term is really quite misleading as we learn more about that branch of our collective tree. Currently, a single test is $199 if you order by December 13, 2015. Then if you order more tests for a family member by January 4, 2016, you’ll get a 10% discount on each.  This company will give you some very interesting health information. It’s best to check this page of the website to learn more.

Ancestry.com, the most promoted genealogical service, now has a division called AncestryDNA and their test is usually $99, it’s also on sale for $69 for Black Friday.  That’s a GREAT deal! Although they heavily promote their services, they are certainly not the “only game in town.” When they first began offering tests, Y-DNA, mtDNA and atDNA were all a part of their menu. Right from the start, they stumbled. Most of the ancestry reports they delivered showed nearly everyone with 98% Scandinavian DNA. Well, no. That was a little off. They then refined their testing algorithms, purchased other valid DNA databases and limited their services to atDNA. It makes sense since atDNA is the “cousin finder” and they have a phenomenally large collection of family trees which can theoretically be matched up with the atDNA results. First caveat is that of the millions of trees at Ancestry.com a relatively low percentage have been thoroughly researched; the data often lacks proper genealogical research meaning public records (sources) and other citations. Much of their data is from people harvesting undocumented data from other trees containing undocumented data. Their latest testing process is up to par and their matching strategies are reasonably accurate. But proceed with care!

Happy Thanksgiving and good luck in your DNA adventures!