The dawn of the 21st century has brought the amazing gift of DNA testing to genealogy. Now we can validate (or disprove) the paper trails that are so often flawed by the lack of records, the illegibility of records and sometimes the wishful thinking of former genealogists. Now, combined with the internet and the almost universal use of computers, we can reach out to distant cousins long lost in our family histories. We can reunite our families, uncover the lives our ancestors led, share their joys and sorrows. A cheek swab or saliva sample can reveal where we came from and who our ancestors were. But it takes work to tie DNA evidence to a family history. The need for diligent research and sharing of information has never been greater.
How our DNA is reflected in a family tree is shown here (courtesy of ISOGG.org via Creative Commons License):
To view DNA-confirmed pedigree charts for selected families, please click on the Charts tab on the main menu bar (above), then scroll down to the DNA charts. The chart, At-Proven Worden Line, shows the results of a long-term, carefully constructed Y-DNA/autosomal DNA project. To visit the DNA projects that I founded and/or manage for selected families, click on the DNA links at the bottom of any page.
This page contains:
- An overview of the kinds of DNA tests you can choose.
- How to evaluate autosomal DNA matches.
- How to use your autosomal test results, especially the Family Finder test.
- A case study that solved a family mystery.
- My personal DNA surnames, which are also found at Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, 23andMe and GedMatch. They are a subset of those in my family tree, which is also online in many places.
- My personal X chromosome DNA surnames. (X matches follow a unique inheritance pattern.)
The first rule of thumb is to test the oldest generation first, preferably with Family Tree DNA because that is the only company that performs all the genealogical tests and they retain DNA samples so that you can order additional tests in the future.
There are four types of DNA testing for genealogy, and the first decision you have to make is which one is right for you? (Many people test all.) Y-DNA tests the direct paternal line back for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Only males can take this test because only males have a Y chromosome. Full Y-DNA testing with matching is available only from Family Tree DNA (some other companies give you only high level results). MtDNA tests the direct maternal line back for hundreds, even thousands, of years. It is available for males and females. Note, however, that males do not pass this DNA to their children. Only females carry their mtDNA forward. The Full Genetic Sequence mtDNA test is available only from Family Tree DNA (some other companies give you a small subset). At-DNA (autosomal) tests cover one's entire pedigree. In each generation, the autosomal DNA that one inherits from all their ancestors is reduced or even lost entirely. A baby inherits 1/2 its At-DNA from each parent and approximately 1/4 from each grandparent, 1/8 from each great grandparent, 1/16 from each great great grandparent, etc. After you go back 6-8 generations, there is usually little or no DNA left from any one ancestor. Note that each company has its own database of customer results and its own algorithms for matching. SNP testing is specifically for learning one's deep roots, before genealogical time. So, what do you want to learn from a DNA test?
If you want to learn about your father's surname, you will order a Y-DNA test -- if you are a male. If you are a female and want to learn about your father's surname, you must find a male surrogate to test -- brother, father, uncle, male cousin in your father's line.
If you want to know more about your mother's deep heritage, you will order an mtDNA test -- whether you are a male or female. It is especially difficult to research female lines because the surname changes in every generation. The mtDNA remains but many people will share the same DNA. Unless you do advanced mtDNA tests, you are unlikely to find someone who is related closely enough to be able to find a common ancestor, or at least a cousin on both your maternal lines.
If you want to find distant cousins who share common ancestors with you on all the lines in your family tree, you will take an atDNA test. The atDNA tests offered by Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA (Family Finder) and MyHeritage are virtually identical (although the serious researcher will test at all to maximize results) and any of them can be transferred to Gedmatch. Neither Ancestry nor 23andMe allows transferring into their databases. LivingDNA is another important testing company that will soon offer a unique matching capability.
The fourth option is not geared to genealogy because paper trails did not exist long ago. If you are interested in your deep roots, or perhaps would like to participate in leading-edge research in population sciences, then tests such as the Big Y for males only (from Family Tree DNA), Geno2.0 (National Geographic), and others may be useful. As more of this testing is done, it is expected that genealogy will benefit in that SNPs will eventually play a role in distinguishing family lines in more recent generations. If this type of research interests you, here is a recent article about aY (ancient Y) DNA.
Notice that FamilyTreeDNA.com is the only company that offers all these tests. Here is one genetic genealogist's view of why he chooses FTDNA. I agree with him.
Now that you have your results, your objective is to find "matches." That is the fundamental concept in DNA testing for genealogy. When someone has the same or virtually the same DNA as you, the two of you are related. Period. Small matches (fewer than 7cMs) are probably "noise," however, so do not rely on them. Start with larger matches and work down.
With a Y-DNA test, you (a male) will match a group of men who share a common ancestor with you. If the surnames also match, you can be pretty confident in the match but sometimes you will want to test additional markers to refine your match. That is, one of you may have a strong paper trail for, say, 6 generations, but another can only go back 3 generations. Still others who match your Y may go back 12 generations to a single progenitor. For Americans, that is often the immigrant ancestor in that line. Let's assume that immigrant ancestor had four sons and that there are 10 of you who had Y-DNA tests and find that you match each other. It is not unusual to find these ten men descend from the four brothers, but only a few have traced their lines all the way back. And there's always the possibility that some of you descend from an ancestor of the immigrant. With an mtDNA test, you do exactly the same thing, except that it's usually much harder because of the name changes with marriage and also because mtDNA mutates much more slowly than Y-DNA. This makes it hard to know if a match to you is recent or very far distant.
With an atDNA test, you do not know if a match is on your maternal or paternal side. It helps to also test at least one parent and several cousins on both sides to help sort out your matches. Notice that you might have more than one match with someone's tree, especially if you both have ancestors who married cousins. Note also that you will have At-DNA matches but cannot find a matching surname. This will happen if your match is to someone hidden behind a brick wall in your research, often a married woman whose maiden name has never been found and, therefore, her ancestors are unknown. It will also happen if none of your distant cousins have tested yet or if your own tree is sparse. Here is a chart, courtesy of ISOGG.org, that may help clarify possible relationships:
This cM project is ongoing, so check this blog for updated information.
Whichever tests you choose, you and your matches now work together as a group, trying to put together a family history that traces the paths each of your ancestors took as their families grew and moved to distant places. This is what genealogy is all about: names (and how they are related to each other), dates and places (then adding any information you can gather in order to "put flesh on the bones" of our ancestors).
Evaluating DNA Matches
As someone on a DNA message board recently observed, it is becoming increasingly clear that every match needs some degree of tailoring. In other words, there can be no absolute statistical or other test that applies. With this in mind, consider the following criteria as guidelines only and with a liberal dash of “usually”:
- The more cMs and SNPs in a match, the more reliable and more recent it is.
- Add weight if the match shares a known ancestor or ancestral line.
- Add weight if several matches share the same cM segments on the same chromosome(s) (that is, they triangulate).
- Add weight if several others with already tested and proven relatedness also match this person (that is, they are “in common with” but do not triangulate).
- Add weight if geographic proximity exists.
- Add weight if the number of cMs corresponds to the ranges for the presumed degree of relatedness.
- Use common sense to test the logic.
- Try to disprove the conclusion.
A case study in solving a family puzzle
When our father’s first cousins in his Muller line did not match any of our family members, I knew we had a problem. At first, I suspected both their lineages and ours, but it quickly became apparent that the problem was in our line. The cousins found DNA matches to other Muller relatives even back to Germany and we did not. As I pondered this, I focused on one fact that I had brushed over: Grandma Muller was married almost ten years before our dad was born. My first reaction was to assume he was adopted. Many months of research followed this theory, studying adoption records, deaths of mothers in childbirth or soon after, deaths of fathers even during pregnancy, divorces and children born near dad’s birth date – in Jersey City and the surrounding area. But then DNA matches to dad’s mother began to trickle in. There were not many but it was proof that Grandma Muller was his biological mother.
My research focus switched from adoption to an affair. I was now looking for Dad’s prospective father only. In my adoption search, I had found an intriguing clue in a particular DNA match and so I zeroed in on the eligible men in her extended family. I found two who met all the criteria for eligibility: age, marital status, location, opportunity. But then a series of new DNA matches started to appear, all at different companies. With much diligence and applying all the tools of the trade to analyze these matches, I came to realize that there was one man, a doctor in Jersey City, whose descendants matched Marilyn, Diane and me directly. As I continued to test this theory and studied his pedigree back to England, I found many more DNA matches to both his lines. I rigorously tested every match and finally concluded that I had found our grandfather.
Now, many months later, I continue to track every DNA match, building trees where necessary to find the links that strengthen my conclusion. Despite my efforts to do so, I have found nothing to dispute my conclusion. A startling late discovery was this man’s signature on my dad’s birth certificate. (I wonder if it was not an affair at all but artificial insemination as a treatment for Grandpa Muller’s infertility? Our true grandfather had studied at Columbia University Medical School during the time that a doctor-scientist was experimenting with AI on dogs. Perhaps he was an early adopter, long before it became a common procedure. We will never know.)
Working with atDNA results
The following is a brief tutorial to get you started with analyzing your at-DNA matches. Also, I highly recommend the book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger, and this blog post. Even though it is primarily directed to Y-DNA, there is a great deal of useful information. Here is an excellent series of classes and an essential tutorial from a highly successful genetic genealogist. This article, "From DNA to Genetic Genealogy," starts with the science for those who want a bit more genetics.
If you have taken the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA (or the ancestry test at 23andMe or Ancestry or MyHeritage), your objective is to find cousins who match you genetically and therefore share a common ancestor with you. I hope the following step-by-step instructions are helpful.
Step 1. Log into your MyFTDNA page.
Step 2. Upload your GEDCOM to create your family tree if you have not already done so. If you cannot do that, at least enter the information you have into your FTDNA tree and the surnames you know. Remember, your matches will probably be to cousins who likely have different surnames, so your GEDCOM should be as "bushy" as possible and extend as far back as you know (12 to 13 generations if possible). Important: Always include locations and dates in all your trees and Gedcoms, since these are often better clues than just surnames.
Step 3. Choose Family Finder in the top left (menu) bar.
Step 4. Click on Matches. You will see several pages of matches. All are related to you. Work from the top of the list down because the closest matches are near the top and will be the easiest to connect to your own tree. (Caution: I ignore all matches that do not have a tree or at least surnames in the right-hand column unless they are extremely close genetically (first or second cousins) or I recognize the name. I know many others do the same so, if you do not share your own tree, do not expect good results.) Notice that the surnames in bold match surnames in your own uploaded tree, but remember that everyone has brick walls, especially with female lines, so you may match someone on an unknown name. You may download your matches to a CSV or Excel file if you wish to work offline and maintain your own file.
Step 5. Look at the icons on the left under each person's name. You can click on the envelope to write to that person, click on the document to type a note about this match, view the person's tree (if it is green), or use the "In Common With" tool (more about this later).
Step 6. Notice the bar above your list of matches that gives several options. Use the defaults for now. However, to see if you have any matches with a particular surname, click on the box that says Ancestral Surnames. Enter the surname of interest, click Apply, and wait a moment for a new list to be generated. It will be much smaller, probably with only one or a few matches. (Again, there may be many more in the FTDNA database, but if those people have not uploaded a tree or provided surnames, the computer can't find them.) Make note of the names of the people who have that surname in their tree.
Step 7. Another important technique is to use the "in-common-with" and matrix tools at FTDNA. Click the box to the left of a match's name, then click on In Common With to find others who also match this person. This feature has now been enhanced by "automated phasing." To use it, you must have your tree at FTDNA and you must have each tested relative in your tree. If your relative is already in your tree, click on that person's name, then click DNA Match (upper left). That tells FTDNA where this person falls in your tree (paternal or maternal side). If you need to add someone to your tree, the relationship is always to the person. So if you're adding a father to person X, you click on X's circle, click Add Relationship, choose Father. If the person you're adding is also a DNA match to you, click on DNA Match (upper left). If you go to add another person to X or anyone else in your database, FTDNA will check as you're adding the person. If they think someone matches that person, they will pop-up the suggested match. You decide if it's valid or not. Meanwhile, it's populating the Paternal vs. Maternal fields on your Matches page so that any DNA matches it finds to both you and a person you have flagged as a DNA match in your tree will be included in the appropriate paternal or maternal line (at least to the 3rd generation).
Step 8. Use the Chromosome Browser to see if those on your In Common With list also overlap on specific segments. The corresponding names will appear in the box above, and each will have a different color. The chart on the right side of the page is a chromosome map. Notice how the colors of your matches show up in that chart. Each spot of color shows how much DNA you share with that person and where it is located on your chromosomes. You are looking for overlapping segments. They do not have to be the same size, but they do have to be in the same place and overlap in order to be a match that you share with them. However, Caution! This is not enough evidence to confirm that all who overlap share the DNA of a particular ancestor. In order to do that, you must "triangulate," meaning prove that those who match you in overlapping segments also match each other on the same segments. (The reason for this is that some of these matches could be on your maternal side and others on your paternal side. Remember, your chromosomes come in pairs -- 23 from your mother and 23 from your father.) You can confirm that they match each other by writing to all of them to ask if they do match each other (they must also use the chromosome browser), or invite them to use a third-party free service:
You and your matches must upload your raw data (and your GEDCOMs, hopefully). This serves several purposes: It provides an even larger database because many people who tested with other companies (Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage) also use this free service so you can find new matches. It offers several tools, including triangulation, searching GEDCOMs for DNA matches, analyzing the X chromosome which has a unique inheritance pattern, and more. Here is one highly successful genetic genealogist's rationale.
To use Gedmatch, go to their website and register. Notice on the right that you must upload your raw data from whichever company you tested with -- Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage or Family Tree DNA Family Finder. Leave that webpage open if you like. Download your raw data from the testing company and notice where it is placed in your computer. Go back to Gedmatch, click on the the Upload link and follow the instructions to upload the file you just downloaded. Wait until the screen shows that the upload has finished. Once processing is completed, you can begin to run reports of various kinds. Start with the One-to-Many report.
At Gedmatch, you can choose matches you think may be related to each other (as well as to you, of course), and the system will produce a chart showing whether they are or not. Once you have found a group of people who match you on specific segments of specific chromosomes, compare each pair of these matches using the One-to-One Comparison tool at Gedmatch. Or use the new tool that compares several people in one step.
Detailed information about using Gedmatch can be found under "Using Gedmatch" after you log in.
There is much more you can do with your Family Finder test results, but these are essential steps to use them effectively. You will quickly notice that an autosomal test is especially useful for family groups; the more cousins (parents, siblings, uncles, aunts,children) who test from different parts of your pedigree, the more relatives you will find who can lead to more discoveries in your own genealogy. You will also notice that the DNA test cannot tell you whether a match is in your maternal or paternal line, but finding genetic cousins can narrow the field. Also, FTDNA's newest feature, phasing, can be a huge help.
Keep updating your FTDNA tree. (See Step 7 above.) Once you have identified one or more relative matches and have them in your FTDNA tree, use the phasing feature to also identify them as DNA matches. This will enable FTDNA to sort your DNA matches into maternal and paternal buckets.
Family Tree DNA has many resources supporting its many tests, including online videos that can be very informative. Check their Facebook page for the latest offerings, or click on the Resources-Learning Center tab on your MyFTDNA page. Don't miss DNAPainter for a fun and useful organizing tool.
Additional information on the use of DNA in genealogy is widely available. The best starting place is ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy). If you have questions, please write to me. I will make every effort to try to clarify or address specific issues or questions.
Additional tipsAs the popularity of DNA testing grows, more programs, apps, and creative ways to use our results are being developed. It's hard to keep up, but here are a few that I either have used sucessfully or use today as essential tools:
- Genome Mate Pro
Chrome Extensions include (1) MedBetterDNA that allows you to see your Notes on your Match pages at Ancestry and even sort paternal vs. maternal if you flag them and (2) Pedigree Thief that lets you convert a public Ancestry tree to Ahnentafel format. Facebook and Google Groups can be extremely useful. Some of my favorites at Facebook areGenetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques, All Genetic Genealogy, DNAAdoption (not just for adoptees), and others. Don't overlook user groups for DNAPainter, Gedmatch, RootsFinder, etc. Family organizations, Rootsweb mailing lists, and surname groups everywhere can be incredibly useful, as always.
Doris's ancestral (DNA) surnames
These are the surnames in Doris's pedigree that are potential DNA matches:
Bowyer, Daggett, Gerrish, Holwell, Jaentsche, Linch, Mundy, Stark, Steuber, Schwartz, Tigges/Tiegs, Torschinsky
Acey, Adriense, Alberts, Alerts, Allen, Annable, Arnold, Atkins, Avery, Bachiler, Backus, Baldwin, Barents, Barnes, Barrette, Batz, Baumann, Beauchamp, Beckmann, Bergmanns, Bernhardt, Berry, Betts, Betzer, Bez, Blanchan, Blarcum, Bodat, Bogart, Bowerman, Bowne, Bradt, Braun, Brewster, Breyandt, Brune, Burgess, Burkhardt, Butler, Carman, Carstensen, Cary, Cerant, Claflen, Claghorn, Clemens, Clifton, Clum, Cock, Cocke, Coney, Cook, Cool, COON, Coons, Crispel, Daufenbach, Davids, De Cram, De Duytscher, De Fuh, De Grauw, De Hooges, De Jonge, , Demuth, Diederich, Dimbleby, Dippel, Dipple, Dircx, Dopf, Dunschmann, Eckert, Eckhardt, Edgeley, Every, Ewer, Falkenberg, Fauth, Feke, Feller, Flegler, Flugler, Fones, Frantz, Freeman, Freer, Freisen, Friedrich, Froelich, Frolich, Fromm, Frost, Frye, Funck, Gardenier, Geib, Gifford, Giles, Glimp, Glory, Glump, Godfrey, Goertzen, Goodman, Grant, Griffin, Guysbert, Habig, Hagadorn, Haight, Haiton, Halm, Harmensen, Harmes, Harper, Hart, Hatch, Hauser, Havens, Haye, Heale, Hendrickse, Hendricksen, Henrich, Hewes, Hoennes, Hoffman, Holley, Holway, Hopper, Hoyt, Huff, Hull, Jans, Jansen, Johnson, Joire, Jorisse, Joyse, Keller, Ketcher, Keyser, Kip, Klum, Koch, Kohl, Krost, Kuhn, Kuijstendr, La Bonte, La Grange, Lamper, Lauermann, Lauzon, Lawell, Le Blan, Le Meshine, Le Roy, Leick, Lover, Lubberts, Marinessen, Martens, Metzalear, Michael, Momford, Montross, Mueller, Muller, Noble, Nuchter, Ostrander, Ostrom, Ostrom/Oostrum, Overmeyer, Parker, Partridge, Peake, Peck, Penniman, Perry, Pier, Pietersen, Pitcher, Pratt, Prence, Priar, Pryer, Pudley, Quint, Rau, Rauch, Reiffenberg, Reisdorf, Relje, Remagen, Remington, Reyniers, Ritter, Roosa, Rossler, Rowley, Ruoff, Ryfenberg, Schaffer, Schauerman, Schaufelein, Scheerburch, Schenkmann, Schild, Schleicher, Schneider, Schoomaker, Schot, Schreiber, Schryver, Schumacher, Schurtz, Shirts, Showerman, Simons, Singer, Snyder, Somer, Southard, Southwood, Southworth, Spooner, Spurgin, Stahl, Steinkopf, Steinmann, Steiver, Stowers, Surrey, Suthard, Suylandt, Swartwout, Swift, Teddeman, Teeple, Tenderle, Thyssen, TIPPLE, Tracy, Tragner, Traphagen, Treher, Turner, Van Amersfoort, Van Bloemendaal, Van Boerum, Van Borsselen, Van Bunschoten, Van Ceulen, Van Culemborg, Van Etten, Van Gouts, Van Heuckelum, Van Keulen, Van Maurik, Van Salee, Van Steenberg, Veeder, Velder, Voss, Wager, Wamboom, Warden, Weber, Werden, Westcott, Westervelt, Williams, Winegar, Wing, Wolleben, WORDEN, Wyberseen, Zimmermann, Zuyland.
See Wikitree for Doris's X chromosome and mtDNA names.