Genetic Genealogy Questions Answered: Live DNA Q&A – RootsTech 2017
Hi everyone and thanks for joining us for another Live DNA Q&A session. My name is Amber Brown, marketing manager for Tree Genealogists, and I’m here with Paul Woodbury, one of our senior genetic genealogists, and we’re broadcasting live from RootsTech. We’ve had such a great time the last few days, met so many great people, learned so much and been able to share so much information. If you’ve never been, make sure you put it on your bucket list to attend in the future.
Today Paul’s going to be answering questions submitted on our website at www.legacytree.com/live about genetic genealogy and using DNA testing results in your family history research. We received a ton of questions, so thank you so much for all of those that were submitted, we’re going to try and answer as many possible in the next 30 minutes. Okay, this first question comes from Paul H. on YDNA: “So, does my 3x great-grandfather get any YDNA from his mother? I would say not, right? So my YDNA is strictly from fathers, fathers, fathers, etc.”
Paul: So this is a great question, and gives us a good introduction into our discussion on DNA, because it highlights an aspect of genetic inheritance. The YDNA is the male sex chromosome. Each male inherits a Y chromosome from his father who got it from his father, who got it from his father in a direct paternal line of ancestry. YDNA from his father, and not from his mother. Now that is MOSTLY true. There is a little bit of usually when we’re talking about YDNA in genetic genealogy we live by that mantra that it’s along the direct paternal line, but in fact, men have a Y-chromosome from their father and they have an x chromsome from their mother, and there is a minimal amount of recombination between that x chromosome and that Y chromosome before it gets passed on to the next generation, or at least there is a possibility for that. So it is possible that you inherit some–a very little amount–of your YDNA your mother. That being said, as genetic genealogists, all of the markers we’re looking at for genetic genealogy are markers that were inherited from your father and along that direct paternal line. So for our purposes, we’re just going to stick to saying any YDNA I get from my father, will have come from his father, will have come from his father.
Amber: Perfect, so there you have it Paul. This next question comes from Leslie: “What’s the difference between XDNA mitochondrial DNA? I know about mitochondrial DNA and I see it on my 23andMe gene chart, but I don’t see the x chromosome as something as separate as you suggest in an email you previously sent saying there are 4 types of DNA: X, Y, autosomal and mitochondrial.”
Paul: So, like Leslie says, there are 4 types of DNA, and 4 types of DNA inheritance associated with each of those types. At 23andMe, they will show you the mitochondrial haplogroup you have as part of your DNA test results. Mitochondrial DNA is not the same as XDNA, and that sometimes gets confusing because we talk about mitochondrial DNA come from our mother, and it comes from her mother, and it comes from her mother, and since we talk about the x chromosome as being the female sex chromosome, sometimes we get confused about mitochondrial DNA being the same thing as XDNA. Well they are not the same thing. Mitochondrial DNA is actually quite different from XDNA, YDNA and autosomal DNA because it’s found in a different part of the cell. There are lot’s of things that make mitochondrial DNA from the nuclear DNA where that XDNA, YDNA and autosomal DNA are found. In the nucleus we’ve got that XDNA, YDNA and autosomal DNA. In other parts of the cell, called the mitochondria, which are the cellular powerhouses, it’s what gives yourselves energy and allows you to function in those mitochondria, they have their own set of DNA, and that DNA is different from the DNA in the nucleus. And that’s because in the mitochondrial DNA, there are multiple copies for every mitochondria, and there are multiple mitochondria for every cell.
So with nuclear DNA, you’re only going to have one copy of your nuclear DNA per cell, but you may have as many as a thousand copies of your mitochondrial DNA in each cell of your Mitochondrial DNA is also different because it’s circular, whereas autosomal DNA, YDNA and XDNA are organized into linear chromosomes. The mitochondrial DNA makes a circle, so it’s quite different. In answer to your question about it showing up as something separate, at 23andMe They’re going to give you information about your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, your YDNA haplogroup if you are a male and in order to get any information about your XDNA, you’re going to actually need to share genomes with your genetic cousins–send sharing invitations to them and they’ll have had to accepted those sharing invitations, and once you have that set up, you’ll be able to compare your autosomal DNA to see what segments you share in common, and you’ll also along with that, you’ll be able to see if you share any DNA on the x chromosome. That will be a in your 23andMe test results by clicking on a match, and it will bring up a chromosome browser that you can see the segments you share, and if you do share on the x chromosome it will indicate there if you do. Because the x chromosome follows an interesting inheritance pattern, it actually doesn’t really fit into haplogroups like mitochondrial or YDNA does, and that’s why they don’t put that out there as part of your initial results and you can’t really search by your XDNA, it doesn’t really quite work that way.
Amber: Okay, another question, this one comes from Jennifer: “In Ancestry’s DNA test, is there a way to separate or find out about the mitochondrial and YDNA?”
Paul: So Ancestry.com offers an autosomal DNA test. We’ve talked about these 4 types of DNA: YDNA, mitochondrial DNA, autosomal DNA and XDNA. Family Tree DNA offers separate tests for YDNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA. 23andMe only offers a single test that looks mostly at autosomal DNA, but will include some information about your mitochondrial DNA and some information about your YDNA if you’re male. Ancestry.com only provides information on your autosomal DNA so there’s not really any information that you can really get about your mitochondrial or your YDNA from Ancestry test results.
Amber: Okay, this next question comes from Beverly: “My father is deceased, and I have no brothers. The closest male relative to me is my nephew. He is the son of my father’s brother. What could I learn from his DNA?”
Paul: So in this case, what we assume Beverly is trying to accomplish is she’s trying to connect with relatives of her So there are a few things you can do with nephew’s DNA, and this fits really well into the idea of targeted testing or testing plans and that’s a really important aspect of DNA analysis and genetic genealogy research. Oftentimes we’re tempted to take a DNA test for ourselves or for an individual in our family, and then say, “Well, I didn’t get the results I was searching for–DNA doesn’t work.” But there is a great way to target test individuals who may have DNA you don’t have, that could help questions about your own genealogy. So in this case, she has a male relative who is a nephew to her–the son of her father’s And so what can we learn from his DNA? Since Beverly did not inherit any YDNA from her father the son of her father’s brother, would have inherited the Y chromosome the same Y chromosome that Beverly’s father had so by doing a YDNA test for her nephew, that could be a great opportunity to document and find out what Y chromosome signature they had. Also, autosomal DNA we inherit 50 percent of it from our father and 50 percent of it from our mother. But, we inherit a different percentage from our siblings. So even though I get 50 percent from my mom, it’s going to be different than the 50 percent that my brother gets from my So in this case, it would also be helpful to test Beverly’s nephew for autosomal DNA because even though he’s going to share less DNA in common with the ancestors of Beverly’s father he’s going to share different DNA. Probably about, let’s see, if I think about it, he’s going to have about… about 12 percent of his DNA is going to be unique from the DNA that Beverly inherited from her paternal ancestors, so it’s still useful to test that nephew because he will have autosomal DNA that can get us connections with genetic cousins in the database that are related through those ancestral lines, it can help us figure out how closely related those individuals are to you and your nephew, and so there’s a great advantage in being able to test your nephew, not only for the YDNA which will give us information about the direct but also for the autosomal DNA because he’s going to give us something a little bit different.
Amber: Perfect, so there you go Beverly—test that nephew! This one comes from Sandy. She says, “I’ve purchased the MyHeritage DNA kit, but have not yet submitted it. Would it be better for me to submit it for myself, or get my mother’s sister to take the test? She is the only other living descendant from that grandfather.”
Paul: So this fits well with our discussion of DNA testing plans. As we’ve talked about with autosomal DNA I get 50 percent from my mother, I get 50 percent from my father. I get about 25 percent from each of my grandparents, I get about 12 percent each of my great grandparents and because of the successive generations I get less and less DNA from those individuals it’s a good idea when you’re doing autosomal DNA testing to not only search for the oldest relatives but the closest generational descendant of the individual you’re researching. So let’s say I’m researching my great-grandfather if I wanted to test myself, I’m going to share about 12 percent with my great-grandfather, but, if I have a great-aunt who’s still living, a sister of my grandfather, she’s going to have inherited 50 percent of her DNA from that great-grandfather that I’m interested in researching, so it’s well worth it for me to test her because that’s going to connect me with more genetic cousins in the database, it’s going to help me get a better representation of my ancestors DNA in the database and a larger coverage of his DNA–a better representation to connect with those relatives.
Amber: Perfect, very good. This question comes from Lois. She says, “Currently, I am a member of the oldest living generation in my family which precludes asking a mother, father or grandparent to test their DNA. Which of the different types of DNA testing is most useful for those of us in the oldest living generation?”
Paul: This fits well again with our discussion of DNA testing plans and why you want to test the oldest living generation or the closest generational descendant, and that is particularly because we’re getting cut in half every subsequent generation that it goes down. For YDNA and for mitochondrial DNA, you may also want to perform those tests if you are the last living male descendant of a line and you don’t have any brothers, you don’t have any nephews through your brothers, you don’t have any close relatives who would carry your YDNA or if you don’t have any relatives who might carry your mitochondrial DNA. So it’s important to consider those as well but particularly for autosomal DNA we really want to get that from the oldest living generation. I might add here that we’ve only been talking about these three YDNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA. What about XDNA? Well XDNA is also, it kind of falls somewhere in between YDNA and autosomal DNA and how much it recombines and gets passed down to the next generation, and how much we can expect to inherit from a specific ancestor. But the x chromosome is actually tested as part of autosomal DNA tests, so it’s not necessary to do a separate test for your XDNA. If you do an autosomal test at any of the major testing companies then you will be able to find out information on your x chromosome.
Amber: Perfect. I should also mention we do have articles on our blog regarding this topic, so be sure to check that out. It’s www.legacytree.com/blog. Okay, this next question comes from Bev W. She says, “What is the #1 best use of a mitochondrial test?”
Paul: I read this question and I thought, “Wow, that’s going to be hard to narrow down to just one. It may be a 2-way or a 3-way tie, but I’ll try and highlight some of the main uses for a mitochondrial DNA test. My opinion on what’s the best use is probably going to be different from the genetic genealogists and what they consider to be the best use of a mitochondrial DNA test, but I think in my the best use of a mitochondrial DNA test would have to be in a specific situation where you’re trying to attempt to identify of an individual who lived pretty far back in the past. So for example, if I have my mother’s, mother’s, mother, my great-grandmother, and we have no idea who her mother is, but we have some candidates of individuals who may have been her mother, then what we can do with mitochondrial DNA testing is we can test a direct line maternal descendant of my great-and that will represent my great grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA. When you share a mitochondrial DNA match with somebody, it indicates that you share a direct line maternal ancestor. So then, what we can do is look for each of those candidates that we’ve identified, maybe three or four people who could have been her mother, and we search for their descendants, if they didn’t have descendants we look at their family trees and we search for other people who are living, who would have shared the same mitochondrial DNA as those individuals We do a test for me, a direct line maternal descendant of my great-grandmother, and we also do mitochondrial DNA tests for those candidates, and by comparing against those candidates we can identify the most likely individuals to be the mother of my great-grandmother. That, in my opinion, is the best approach for mitochondrial DNA testing. Sometimes with the other types of testing we kind of take an approach of let’s go fishing. I take my DNA test, and let’s see what comes back. That’s definitely appropriate for autosomal DNA, and in some cases with YDNA, but with mitochondrial DNA it really is the most effective when you have theses specific research questions you’re attempting to answer and you have specific candidates and individuals and descendants of those candidates that you can test to explore those hypotheses.
Another, close second for mitochondrial testing and it’s best use would be for exploring ethnicity of a direct line maternal ancestor. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited in a hierarchal fashion, meaning that if there is a mutation in my great-great-great-grandmother’s DNA, it’s going to get passed on to all of her descendants. Because of that and the unique mutations that get introduced into those mitochondrial DNA lineages, we can separate it out into things called haplogroups, or larger groups of mitochondrial DNA signatures. As a results of those, we get an idea of where in the world those individuals could have come from, and there are some mitochondrial haplogroups that are ethnicities, to specific regions of the world that you can use to trace your ancestry that way. So that would be my close second for mitochondrial DNA.
Amber: So there you have it, the #1 and close second. This scenario comes from Christina, and she says, “My husband takes the Y-111 DNA test, has an unusual surname, has 0 and 1 distant matches, but nothing matching his surname nor in any of his matches. Could there be an NPE somewhere close? He is not adopted, matches DNA with his mother, and has a second cousin with his paternal line.”
Paul: So in this case, it would be important to explore a little bit further before we jump to the conclusion of a non-paternal event or a case of misattributed paternity. It’s very possible, that that may be the case, but, we have to confirm that none of the other known relatives of his reported direct line paternal ancestors have tested. So what we would want to do we would want to confirm each generation. Since he has a second cousin autosomal match through his paternal line, we might search for a descendant of that great-grandparent and confirm with YDNA that he is descended from that grandparent then search for a third cousin, search for a fourth cousin, to confirm each generation of ancestry moving back. If it’s a very unique surname, then it may be that just not enough people have tested in the database to really make those connections.
Amber: Okay, perfect. This one comes from Mary Alice, and she says, “I’m adopted. I know my birth mother’s name, but not my father’s name. How I can research about my birth family?”
Paul: So, my answer to this question will depend a little bit on if Mary Alice has a relationship or has contact with her birth mother. If she knows her name, then that still can be helpful. So if she has contact with her birth mother, I would recommend that both Mary Alice and her birth mother take DNA test. That way any matches that she has that matches both her and her birth mother she can eliminate from consideration in the exploration of her paternal ancestry.
If she doesn’t have contact with her birth mother, since she does have her name, you would want to do some research in modern records and public records using some techniques in exploring Facebook, white pages, obituaries and some of the more modern records to be able to extend her ancestry, so she can use that as a filter in exploring her DNA test results from both sides of her family.
Amber: Perfect, and that’s a question we frequently get. This one comes from Dawn. It says, “Is there an app or some sort of spreadsheet available that I can enter raw DNA data from sites like gedmatch to compare my DNA matches? I would like to eventually be able to look at a comparison where our chromosomes match, if they are on our maternal or paternal side. How do I track this?”
Paul: So there are a few tools you can use for some of these different analysis on segments of DNA that you share in common. One of my favorites is dnagedcom.com They have an excellent tool that you can use to analyze segment data from Family Tree DNA, and it’s called the ‘Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer Tool’. I really like that tool for Family Tree DNA data. Another website that you can upload your test results to, to be able to compare against other cousins who have also uploaded their results there is gedmatch.com and you can perform comparisons for segment data there. If you’re looking for a specific program you can use to organize your data and look at your segment data, Genome Mate Pro is a software that you can install on your computer that you can use to analyze and organize your DNA matches and their segment data. It is a little bit difficult to use it has a steep learning curve, but there’s some great tutorials out there on how to set that up.
Amber: Okay, perfect. This is a similar question, it says, “What is the best method or tool to track and compare your DNA matches to assist in genealogy research?” That comes from Lana.
Paul: So for this question, I always point people to three simple principles that you should always follow when you’re beginning to use genetic genealogy test results as part of your investigation. You want to look at. First, making yourself available out there, so publish. Publish your profile information, publish your family tree, share it with people, make it easy for people to contact you. Next, collaborate. Collaborate with your genetic cousins. Even though that can sometimes be scary, and even if you may already know how you’re related and you can see through their family tree, “Oh, they’re a third cousin, I don’t really need to contact them.” It’s really valuable genealogical research to reach out to those individuals because they may have information that you don’t have. and that could be a great opportunity to collaborate and correspond and grow together. Finally, the one thing that we’re asking when we’re looking at DNA test results is we’re attempting to identify our relationship. We there’s a relationship somehow, so what we want to do is we want to identify exactly how we’re related. So what I will often do for my DNA matches is I’ll go through the list and just explore their trees and document for each one of them our exact relationship and the ancestors we share in common.
Amber: Perfect. Okay, next question comes from Kelly, and she says, “I have many of the same surnames across several different lines. For example, I have two possible Jones my mom’s side and two different Jones lines on my dad’s side. How can we tell which side my DNA matches are from in autosomal?”
Paul: So if this is an autosomal DNA test, then there are ways that you can filter out which Jones families are the ones that correspond with the different Jones families in your family tree. To do that, you’ll want to identify confirmed relatives through each of those Jones families, and then, you’ll want to explore the genetic cousins that they share in common with you. You can begin to group those individuals into a known network of relatives and how they’re related to you. If for some reason there is a possibility that these two Jones families may be related to each other, then that can be really challenging, and in that case, you have to do quite a bit more testing and some chromosome mapping to figure out which ones may have come from the paternal side versus which ones may have come from the maternal side. Really it’s just doing the traditional research to identify those relationships and really you have to work in tandem with genealogical records to be able to separate out those different families of the same surname.
Amber: Got it. Okay, this next question comes from Joanne, she says, “I have 193 fourth to sixth cousins, almost all of who’s ancestors came from the same small area of Italy. I’m trying to determine who might have been my birth father. There are two possibilities. How can I narrow it down if are related in a small location?”
Paul: So this is really common in small villages from Europe. We get to see a little bit of situations where maybe there was a little bit of endogamy. There weren’t a lot of marriage choices. There were a lot of people living in the same town, marrying generation after generation, so you’ll be connected to many individuals. What you’ll want to do is focus on those matches which have the largest amount of DNA shared in common with you, and particularly focus on those who share more than 50 centimorgans in common with you. That is going to help you prioritize those individuals. They will likely have closer relationships and then you can begin to explore some of those more distant matches to see how they might tie into the family. If you have very close relatives, I recommend looking at their specific great-grandparents to see if you might be related at the level of second cousins, or even second cousins once removed or third cousins.
Amber: Perfect. Okay, this comes from Malcolm, and this is an interesting question. It says, “What happens to the DNA after testing? Who has legal control over it? Can a testing company share a customer’s actual DNA or DNA results with another party?”
Paul: So when you take a DNA test at one of the DNA testing companies, what will happen is they will receive your sample, and that sample will go into storage. When you take a DNA test at some of these companies, at each of the companies, you can request that your sample be destroyed, and then they will destroy your sample. In the end, you are the owner of your DNA test results, and that is according to the Genetic Genealogy Standards and ethics committee, which published the Genetic Genealogy Standards a few years ago. When you take a DNA test, those test results belong to the test subject. Even if you test somebody else if you administer the test, they are the owner of their test results. Keep in mind that you need to ask for any permission from them if you’re going to be doing anything with that. Family Tree DNA is currently the only company that will store your DNA and allow you to perform additional testing on those same samples. The other companies do store your DNA and they use it for quality control. They will use it for research you have opted into that research, or you can also opt-out of those research options. So that’s a little bit of what goes on once your DNA test results end up at the companies.
Amber: We received a lot of questions about ethnicity and DNA testing results, so in order to answer as many as possible, we grouped some of them together to answer the most frequent questions, and those were, “What do the ethnicity percentages really mean?”
Paul: So ethnicity admixture estimates are looking at autosomal DNA so looking at the autosomal DNA that you inherit from many of your ancestors. So you might be tempted to say “Oh, there’s a 27 percent chance I’m from Italy, and there’s a 30 percent chance I’m from Britain.” But that’s not really an appropriate interpretation of autosomal DNA test results. On the other hand, YDNA and mitochondrial DNA ethnicity results will use similar percentages and in those cases, yes, there’s a 20 percent chance that my ancestor was from Britain, there’s a 30 percent chance it was from Austria, so you can kind of see how there’s a In this case, autosomal DNA ethnicity admixture results are looking at the percentages of your autosomal DNA that come from different areas of the world.
Amber: Okay. “My sister and I have different results for countries and percentages. How can that be?”
Paul: So as we talked about, I get a different 50 percent from each of my parents than my sibling does, inheriting different segments of DNA from our common ancestors.
Amber: Perfect. Okay, “Why are ethnicity categories so broad?”
Paul: So this is catch because we take these DNA tests and it says, “Oh, I have some Scandinavian, but that might be from Viking times.” Or it tells me I’m from Europe–“Oh great, I already knew that!” Or it tells me I’m from the British Isles, and it doesn’t really help me a ton. Right now, the reason that those ethnicity categories are so broad is because of ancient migration patterns and admixture between populations. When populations have people and movement between them, it actually result in less genetic diversity. When there’s isolation, they have time to get their own set of DNA and set of mutations that make them unique from everyone else. So in Europe, we have central Europe, northwestern Europe which will often Germany and France, we get British Isles, and we’ve got Scandinavia, and a lot of people from those areas will have ethnicity estimates from the other areas. On the other hand, if you have Finnish DNA, it’s very unique, it’s very isolated, and it’s probably really Finnish DNA. There are some exciting things happening right now in the terms of exploring ethnicity. LivingDNA has announced some exciting things that they’re doing with ethnicity analysis to even look down to the regional and provincial level of where your ancestors came from. Family Tree DNA has been working on their ethnicity results, MyHeritage just announced a few weeks ago that they have announced the Founder Population Project, and they are going around and testing, and eventually they hope to provide up to 100 ethnicity categories and really fine tune some of those ethnicity estimates. In the end, ethnicity estimates I feel like are the ugly step sisters of DNA. They get all the attention, they get all the and everyone wants to know about the ugly stepsisters, but really the DNA matches are Cinderella. She’s the one that’s going to bring us home in the golden coach to really make genealogical discoveries possible in our family history.
Amber: That’s a good way to compare it. So we have a lot of exciting things happening in the DNA industry obviously. We are out of time for questions, but I know you’ve all been waiting to hear who the winner of the DNA Analysis is that as a sweepstakes, and that winner is…Angelo Arizola! So we’ll be contacting you via email with instructions on how to claim that prize. Thank you for everyone that entered, and thanks for joining us for another Live DNA Q&A session.
To submit a question for a future session, you may do that on our website at www.legacytree.com/live. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone. Thanks!
For more information on genetic genealogy visit https://www.legacytree.com/genetic-genealogy-dna