Genetic Genealogy Questions Answered: Live DNA Q&A – RootsTech 2019
Carolyn: Hello, this is Legacy Tree live. I’m Carolyn Tolman, I’m a project manager. And this is Paul Woodbury, our DNA team lead. We’ve been collecting questions from you on Facebook for the last few weeks and we’re going to try to answer as many of them as we can in the next half hour or so. One of the most popular questions, and many of the cases we receive are about this is: I am interested in finding my biological father. However, I do not have a lot of information to run with. Is this something your company can assist with? And this was [Ariana 00:00:52], but there were several others.
Carolyn: As a project manager we love to take these cases. The very first step is to have you test with or transfer your DNA data to all of the main DNA companies. That would include MyHeritage, Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and then the third party testing site GEDmatch.com. The reason we do this is because you may find cousins in any one of those databases, and finding the cousins is the key to being able to find your close biological family. Once we have that we also look for matches that we recognize would be key to answering your question, and we ask our clients to be prepared to reach out to these matches and ask them questions. Maybe who their grandparents are, or their great-grandparents. And by comparing this information we’re able to zero in on the best candidates to be the parents or the grandparents of our clients.
Paul:You mentioned in this question that you may feel that you don’t have a ton of information to go off of, but time and again we find that even if you start with just a very-
Paul: … little piece of information … We’ve got a little bit of an announcement.
Paul: All right, continuing on. Time and again we’ve noticed that even if you feel like you don’t have a ton of information, some of the information that you do have is often key to solving the mysteries of your biological parentage. Even just knowing where your mother was working at the time of the conception, where your family … her family was living, what activities she was involved in. All of those tiny pieces of information that may not seem pertinent to your search can be immensely helpful and important for solving the case in the end. Even if you feel like you don’t have a ton of information, that’s okay. We can take what you have and oftentimes we can build off of that to make fascinating discoveries regarding your biological parentage and your family history heritage from that unknown side of your family.
Carolyn: Often our clients will remember a story that they were told that they discounted, or they didn’t believe, or they didn’t trust and sometimes they don’t realize how important it is to share that with us. Because as we’re looking through DNA matches and evaluating which ones are more important. Just that little clue of maybe a surname that you were told once could help us to pick the best match to study. We’ve got a great success rate with identifying biological family members. Of course, it always depends on the quantity and quality of your matches. Sometimes it comes down to waiting, or identifying people who should test, but there’s always a way forward with these cases.
Carolyn: All right, the next question. There are a number of tools for tracking and analyzing your DNA results including segment analysis, is there one tool you would recommend over others for members of highly endogamous populations? This was a question submitted by Alicia, and I’ll let Paul take it.
Paul: This is an important consideration as you’re dealing with endogamous populations. Endogamous populations are populations where there is a history and a tradition of intermarriage between an isolated population, whether that be due to religion, geography, language, or culture, or other reasons why they are marrying within a particular population. What happens in those situations is a lot of the times over time we get a lot of shared DNA between many members of the population and many members of the population are related to each other in multiple ways, or descended from the same ancestral couples multiple times. That can be really challenging for us as we’re looking at autosomal DNA evidence because with autosomal DNA evidence it often does not follow the typical rules of what we would expect for amounts of shared DNA based on the closest level of relationship. You may be a second cousin, but you could also be a third cousin, and a fifth cousin once removed, and an eight cousin, and a triple seventh cousin. You just have all these multiple relationships contributing to the amounts of DNA that you share.
Paul: Despite those setback, and some of those challenges, it is still possible to overcome some of those challenges through targeted testing and through chromosome mapping and segment analysis, as was mentioned here. For endogamous populations chromosome analysis, and segment mapping and analysis, is actually an important part of the process of analyzing your test results. You will want to test with a company that permits segment data. For example, 23andMe or MyHeritage. I personally recommend for endogamous situations 23andMe because they do provide information regarding fully identical regions that can be very helpful and informative regarding your endogamous ancestry. Some other tools that I find extremely helpful are GEDmatch.com where you can analyze the runs of homo-zygosity through the, “are your parents related” tool. That’s particularly pertinent if you have both parents from that endogamous population.
Paul: Another thing that you’ll want to consider is chromosome mapping tools like DNA painter. Those are some of my top three, 23andMe, GEDmatch, and DNA Painter can be really helpful for exploring some of these situations with endogamous populations.
Carolyn: Thank you, Paul. All right. My third great-grandfather was illegitimate. His first and middle signify, I believe, the name of his biological father as was the custom back then. How can I determine through DNA matching if his biological father was actually from the [inaudible 00:07:47] family, and therefore part of my ancestry? Will any of the DNA companies DNA match families?
Paul: This is a great question, and it highlights the importance of considering document evidence in conjunction with DNA evidence. Because in the end genetic genealogy is just genealogy. We’re using DNA evidence as part of the whole story. It’s important to consider the culture, the traditions, the traditional documents that might be pointing to candidates of who this father might have been. When you get back this far it’s a little bit hard to utilize autosomal DNA testing to address these research problems. For that I often recommend Y DNA testing. In this case you would want to do a Y-DNA test on a direct paternal male descendant of this individual. Then you would also want to pursue a Y DNA test for a direct paternal descendant of a member of the [inaudible] family. What that would do is it would allow you to do a hypothesis test. Are they tied in to this [inaudible 00:08:53] family? In response to the question about whether the DNA testing companies offer genetic matching between families, this could be really helpful and it can provide information regarding those relationships. In fact, many of the DNA testing companies do offer information regarding genetic relationships between tested candidates and tested individuals.
Carolyn: Thank you. And it’s probably a good time to bring up the importance of combining DNA matches and DNA analysis with the traditional research to understand the different families involved and their backgrounds.
Paul: No, thank you.
Carolyn: All right. This is a question from Tom. My sister who has our family tree back to the 1700s, along with my other sister who has independently done the same, have strongly concluded that we have significant Irish DNA. But basically, they’re not seeing that result in their ethnicity estimates from different DNA sites. With ethnicity, I think the question is can you always trust it, and why are they different?
Paul: Yeah. With ethnicity, it’s important to remember that each company maintains its own reference population, it’s own references panel of who they consider to be Irish. They have different designations of what’s considered to be Irish, versus British, versus different areas within Europe. While each of the companies is very good at distinguishing between broad population categories such as East Asian DNA, versus European, versus Native American, versus African it is much more difficult to distinguish between closely related populations. What is the difference between Irish versus British? It’s important to realize that even though you may not be seeing Irish DNA coming out you may want to look for connections to surrounding populations. Are you seeing British DNA? Are you seeing Scandinavian DNA? Because sometimes you’re going to be grouped into those categories, particularly depending on where in Ireland, depending on the migration history and the ancient migration history of those regions that your ancestry came from.
Paul: Another thing to keep in mind is that ethnicity results are constantly being refined. It may change down the road, you may get that Irish ancestry as the population reference databases are improved, as the algorithms that the companies utilize are improved, and in order to take advantage of that just wait a little bit. The ethnicity is improving. Now, there’s also this question of, if that’s off base how can I trust the rest of the DNA test results? Really, through genetic genealogy the most valuable part of your DNA test results, particularly for autosomal DNA analysis, is that cousin match list. It’s that list of genetic cousins, and that is very accurate. The amount of DNA you share with somebody is very accurate based off of the DNA tests that they are performing. While you may not get the exact ethnicity estimates that you’re expecting you really want to focus on those genetic match lists to help explore and corroborate the evidence that you have proposed in your family tree.
Carolyn: Yes, and it’s really exciting, especially right now during RootsTech the announcement of improvements in sorting matches on several of the DNA sites. It makes it a lot easier to figure out which matches are related to the line that you’re interested in and being able to take notes, and sort them, and understand how they are related to their other matches, that’s the meat of DNA analysis.
Paul: Absolutely. I think there were actually a few questions on, “How do we go about this process of identifying biological parents, or grandparents, or recent ancestors?” It really is in that organization of your genetic matches, trying to determine which ones are related through known ancestral lines, and which ones are through unknown ancestral lines. That really is the process. Once we’re able to filter out those that are not of interest to us we’re left with this group of people who are related to each other, and probably through the unknown ancestor that we’re interested in. When we can build out the family trees of those individuals, see how they’re related to each other, find ancestral candidates for you, then we can trace down and find the right people, in the right place, at the right time to be the individuals who are among your ancestors.
Carolyn: Yeah, and this brings up the importance of sharing your tree when you take a DNA test. It is so important to those who you are matching to have your tree already available. Otherwise, it takes time to figure that tree out on your own, so attach your tree.
Carolyn: We had a question from Ron. What, specifically, does a Y-DNA test tell me? The Y-DNA test only tests your direct paternal line. In western culture that’s usually your surname line. It doesn’t tell you how closely your matches are related, usually. It will tell you maybe within 100 or 200 years how close they are, but it gives you a good idea of the surname of the people that you match. Especially if you have unknown paternal heritage, it’s a great start. It’s a great clue. Hopefully you can find your paternal matches among your autosomal matches and use all of that together to help extend your paternal line.
Carolyn: Another question from Paulette was: Why do I have so many fourth to eighth cousins I never heard of? I can’t tie them back to me even when my family, when my close family that I recognize, pop up as third cousins or closer. The answer to that is because once you get out to the fourth and fifth cousin level you have thousands of relatives out there. It increases exponentially. That is why that brings us back to the importance of being able to organize your matches, and the different DNA sites have come up with some great tools and they’re continuing to improve that process.
Paul: Yeah, another point to make there is that even if you don’t recognize many of the surnames for individuals in your match list that is not necessarily an indication that there’s something mysterious, or something that you should investigate further in relation to might I not actually be the child of my father? Or might there be a case of misattributed parentage in my recent ancestry? Something to help with that is that as you are analyzing your DNA test results it’s really important, as we said before, to build a strong base in the document research and the traditional genealogical evidence that we rely on in order to understand, not only your direct line ancestors, but their siblings, the people that they married, the other surnames that tied into your collateral relatives lines, because that gives you a broader view of some of the relationships and other surnames that you could expect to find among your genetic matches and see come up in that list.
Carolyn: Yes, gathering the collaterals, that’s very important. Let’s see, we’ve talked about different ethnicity results, that’s a common question. Our great-grandmother was born into our second great-grand … to an unknown man. This is according to her birth, marriage, and death records. We have taken autosomal tests and mitochondrial results, and to reveal the identity of the man. How would we go about looking for DNA matches? She’s wondering whether third or fourth cousins would be the most likely to follow at that level of second great-grandparents.
Paul: This brings up an important point about the methodology of how we actually solve these cases because in order to determine who the parent might be you certainly are going to be searching for unknown relatives at a little bit more distant level. But you also want to keep in mind the possibility that some of your genetic cousins may be a generations, or even two or three generations, closer to your common ancestors than you are. They might show up as, say second cousins, even though they are a second cousin three times removed because they are closer to your common ancestors their data can be extremely helpful for drawing these connections to unknown relatives. You can’t always assume that they’re going to be of the same generational level as you.
Paul: Another point here is that by relying on some of the descendants of that target research subject, descendants of your great-grandmother who may show up as closer matches to you, you can still use that information to help you and guide you in your research because people who share DNA with multiple descendants of your target ancestry that you’re researching are most likely going to help you connect with collateral relatives from more distant family lines. Collateral relatives, more distant relatives who share DNA with multiple descendants are key to helping you explore that relationship. You don’t want to just rule out all the people who are descended from your target research subjects, you want to include their information and analyze their information to help guide you in the exploration of those more distant cousins, which are typically a much longer list and many, many more people at those more distant cousin levels.
Carolyn: Yeah, it’s always important to gather extra information to help you recognize the key that you’re trying to discover. That works in traditional genealogy as well as DNA genealogy. That question was from Sharon. We had a question from Sally-Anne about whether Legacy Tree does a payment plan. Yes, we do. We’re very flexible. We do require payment up front, but that payment can be split into three monthly payments. We’re happy to work with you on that. It’s always worth the investment to have a professional perspective on your genealogy problem.
Carolyn: Okay. A question from Beverly. “I have thousands of matches and I am totally overwhelmed. I don’t understand what to do with the information. Some people upload their family tree, which is somewhat helpful but I’ve only connected with a few. Interpreting the DNA segment matches is impossible. I’ve read lots of information provided in the help section, but I am still not understanding.” It is for sure overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help. We can break through a lot of that. It takes patience to know what to look for. But again, that brings up the tools of being able to group your matches, patience in looking at each of their trees and figuring out who their common ancestor is.
Paul: Yeah, and I think … I mean, I can completely commiserate with this. The sentiment that you’ve got thousands of matches. It can be really overwhelming. Add to that that your DNA test results are constantly changing. The DNA test results that you have today are going to be different from the ones you have tomorrow. As additional people test you’re going to get more and more matches. With that it’s important to prioritize the closest matches. Prioritize analysis of your closest matches. Find out who they are, and then work down in that list. Start with your closest matches and work out from there, rather than immediately going for those really distant matches. You probably will never get to all of your DNA matches because there’s thousands of them.
Carolyn: And always more coming.
Paul: And there’s always more coming, but as you focus your research around specific research objectives that enables you to organize your test results around that objective. Like we talked about previously, if I have a research question that I’m trying to figure out a particular answer, I can organize my DNA matches based on their relationships to each other and based on their known relationships to me, or their unknown relationships to me. So I can say, “I have all of these descendants of this known ancestor. I have all these people who also match that group of people. They’re probably related through that known ancestor but I’m trying to use that information to actually build that family tree out.” That’s made possible as we organize our tests results based on clustering, based on their relationships to each other.
Carolyn: Yes. The way I have worked on … I’m trying to identify an unknown fourth great-grandparent and it is time consuming, but I have worked … I started with my matches that I did know, and I started to … I figured out which one was on the line that has that unknown fourth great-grandparent. I went out as far as a second cousin. Once you figure out who that second cousin is you can do shared matches, which is a key feature on all of the DNA websites. Now I’m focusing all the shared matches with that second cousin, and I know that that group is my target group. If I recognize their tree, that gives me evidence. If I don’t recognize their tree then I know that they are the answer … they are the eventual answer to the mystery person. I just need to study them, and focus on them, and watch for more matches to join that group. It’s a slow … it can be a slow process but with our experts on our team it can be a little faster. They’re used to working through the tools and solving these mysteries.
Paul: And organizing and making sense of all those matches.
Carolyn: Yes. All right. Dwayne said, “Where does one go now?” If he’s been working on a historic DNA question. We’ve had several attempts to try to identify this ancestor and so far have not made a lot of progress. Where do you go from here? Do you go back to the traditional? Or do you keep working on the DNA? I think the answer is both.
Paul: Yeah. I mean, as we mentioned before, DNA, genetic genealogy is just genealogy. DND evidence is just one part of the overall picture that we have to look at. As we incorporate that DNA evidence, and tie in the documentary evidence, it’s important to pursue a balanced approach in that. Really, to make sense of DNA evidence you have to rely on some of that traditionally document evidence. The strategies that you pursue in those approaches are going to be balanced. You’re going to spend some time looking at the DNA, you’re going to spend some time looking at the traditional. The research may eventually demand that we do on-site, courthouse record research for several hours before we can build a solid foundation in the traditional evidence, then come back and make sense of the DNA evidence, and vise versa. We may need to spend quite a bit of time in just the DNA evidence, several sessions building out the trees, and building out and making sense of these relationships before we can bring meaning to the traditional evidence. It works both ways and they really do work hand-in-hand.
Carolyn: Yes, they do. We often will, through DNA, identify a key family that we know that the unknown parent descended from. Then we must go to the traditional, to trace each of their descendants until we find one that was in the right time, in the right place to be the parent. Often we get down to a set of siblings, and at that point it’s we need to find living descendants of each of them to test out the conclusion, but I have seen that work in so many cases where we have identified the parent.
Paul: Yeah, it really is a conversation. You start, perhaps, with the traditional document evidence, you’d go to the DNA, it points you to one direction. You go back to the documents, you build out the trees, it points you back to the DNA. We make sense more of that, then we have to trace all the descendants. We do DNA testing. That helps us address which brother was most likely. It really is a conversation between these two types of important evidence in explaining and understanding these cases.
Carolyn: Yes, DNA is a tool in the toolbox along with many other tools. It’s a very valuable tool, but it must work in tandem with all of the others. And it’s an exciting field, it’s changing and evolving every day, and it changes people’s lives. We’re really excited at Legacy Tree to be a part of that, and to see people find their family and figure out who they are. We hope you will bring your projects to us so that we can help you as well.
Carolyn: Let’s see if we have any other questions that have. Let’s see, all my life … Let’s see, this was Kay. I was told I had Native American blood, that I was 25% Choctaw, but I’m actually 26% Jewish. What do I do about that?
Paul: Okay. Where do I begin my search? Something that is interesting in this situation is that with very divergent ethnicities like Jewish, or like Native American ethnicities, we can sometimes use that to guide our research. We’ve talked a lot about using relationships between clusters of matches with autosomal DNA to help identify who might be related through an unknown ancestral line. In this case, you might rely on the ethnicity estimates of some of your matches to determine who are all the matches that also have Jewish admixture in their results. Then you can use that to isolate the people who are likely related through those ancestral lines. That can be helpful as well.
Carolyn: Yes, both of those very distinctive DNA. That can be helpful.
Paul: Do we want to take any live questions? [Ashley’s 00:28:28] got them, okay.
Carolyn: Okay. Finding biological parents and finding biological grandparents, those are both questions that we can usually work through and solve with the DNA. Then getting father back in the generations can take a little bit longer, but those are solvable as well. Anyway, we wanted to thank you for being with us for Legacy Tree live. We invite you to visit the blog on our website. New articles weekly from all of our experts on many, many different subjects. We hope you will join us again next time. Thank you.
Paul: Thank you
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