Saturday, March 25, 2017

DNA and Genealogy: I Am So Confused, I Feel Overwhelmed, What do I do Now?

This article is for those new genealogists who want to use DNA to find their family. It is geared toward adoptees, but will work for anyone.

Read through this article once before using the links.

Many cultures understand the best way to learn is to teach others through doing. I am willing to share what I know with others. For me, that is providing you with the best resources.

I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Rather than attempt to explain some things myself, I am providing links I have discovered useful when I felt overwhelmed. I hope sharing what others taught me will help to provide you a jump start toward our shared goal: Finding missing family and knocking down brick walls.

Currently the three major DNA testing companies are: 23andMe, Family Tree DNA (Ftdna), and AncestryDNA.

If you think of each DNA testing company’s interface with the user as a genealogy computer game, you will discover each has its own user benefits and limitations. Warning: They can all be addictive.

Regardless of the testing company, when you communicate with others you need to know some of the language. MRCA=Most Recent Common Ancestor. This means you share a great (or more g’s)-grandparent(s) in the past. MRCA is one of the most common acronyms in the language of genealogy. Another common acronym is NPE which politely stands for Non-Parental Event; for many it is more easily understood as Not Parent Expected. You will also find people tossing around the term cM which is a unit of measurement. cM is often used in conjunction with the word segment, which is a chunk of cM’s in certain positions on different chromosomes in your DNA that match with possible relatives. (Did your eyes just cross?) As a beginner you don’t have to know the entire language to start. Here is a link to the language of DNA. Read it at your leisure, or better yet simply use it as you need it.

It is often helpful to refer to measurement charts to determine your probable relationship to your DNA match to determine where to look on trees to find your MRCA. and

Gedmatch is free. Once you have received your data from your testing company, upload your raw data to Gedmatch. I am telling you this at the start because it can take some time for your information to be available to play with at Gedmatch.
What is it? How do I do it? Why? This links to a Youtube video that answers these questions.
AncestryDNA, for the adoptee, is the most user friendly company for a genealogy beginner. Someone was clever enough to figure out how to make AncestryDNA’s user interface do things it wasn’t designed to do, much to the benefit of adoptees in their search for family. This exploitation has been given a name: The Mirror Tree.

The Mirror Tree
One of the best explanations with illustrations for building a Mirror Tree is by a blogger who writes under the name, Puzzled.

Another great link for the Mirror Tree’s building process was written by Knol Aust, a designer who specializes in simplicity. (Copy and paste into search bar or just search the title.)

A note from experience when growing Mirror Trees: Make it a habit to take a screen-shot of the tree of any close relative the moment you see it. (Sometimes the page disappears if the family member has challenges accepting the result of unexpected NPE’s).

Back to Gedmatch. Gedmatch is not a testing company. It is a stand-alone user interface and has the most bells and whistles to find relatives. Gedmatch is designed to use raw data from any of the major testing companies. This site can also be used by Ancestry members to aid in the building of Mirror Trees and “proving” through DNA you have identified the correct relative’s lineage. Paper trail genealogists need to temporarily lay aside their paper and allow their DNA to guide them when seeking to find answers to their brick walls. On the Gedmatch “one-to-many” page under the heading “autosomal” you will find a sub-heading, “Gen,” round this number to nearest generation and deduct 1 to find where to look in a tree for your MRCA.

There is an awesome pdf Gedmatch Utilities Manual written by Barton Lewis and Kitty Cooper that you can download here:
This manual goes into details the video did not cover. (There are many other useful download resources on this page as well, but start with the Utilities Manual; you’ll be glad you did.) Beyond the manual, the Gedmatch Forum is an excellent source for answering questions about how to best utilize the utilities at the site.

If you have a brick wall or are an adoptee, I can’t stress enough the value of joining the Facebook page, DNA Detectives. These are some of the most helpful researchers I have found that are willing to help and prepare you for finding your family. People on this page are finding family at an amazing rate. This group was started by CeCe Moore, DNA genealogist.

In conclusion, though I may not have taught you anything, I have shared with you the best resources I have found to make your quest of finding family one of the most enjoyable and productive experiences you will ever have. Hopefully, by having these resources, your feelings of being overwhelmed, confused and not knowing what to do have been resolved.

Happy hunting!

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