Friday, January 11, 2019

is Gedmatch o.k.?

Dr. D got the following query earlier this week.

One of our Roots group members asked me today if GedMatch is an o.k. place to transfer his data.  He had gotten an email suggesting to him that he transfer, and he didn't know if it is safe.  I think mine has been transferred there, but I never get any emails from them telling me if I have matches.

I quickly responded that the simple answer was “Yes.” However, I realized that a more nuanced answer was required:
There is no universal answer that is “RIGHT” for all of us in all situations for all time.
Although GEDmatch has been well known to serious genetic genealogists for several years, the site exploded into the consciousness of a wide media audience following Barbara Rae-Venter‘s skillful use of this database. She was able to significantly “shrink the haystack” and help police focus on the needle who had eluded them for decades. In April, 2018, her efforts led to the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr. He is alleged to be the “Golden State Killer” who is suspected of at least 12 murders, 45 rapes and more than 120 residential burglaries. He has yet to come to trial.

In the months that have followed, Rae-Venter has had similar successes with other cold cases and CeCe Moore has solved more than a dozen. GEDmatch has been instrumental in almost resolving all these cases that long had been considered unsolvable.

Why GEDmatch? It is not the largest of the databases of genomic information created for genealogists. Several of the DNA testing companies claim to have records of more individuals. However, it is different in several fundamental ways:

1.   Most of us who use GEDmatch were initially drawn there because we could match our DNA with known or unknown cousins who had tested at commercial labs other than the ones at which we had tested.

2.   GEDmatch is not a commercial for-profit enterprise. It does not advertise its services. Actually as its logo suggests, it might be more accurate to say GEDmatch provides tools for us to use ourselves rather than that it provides services to us.

3.   GEDmatch does not have a paid staff to provide all the services some other sites offer in terms of individualized customer service. For example it does not send notices when new matches show up. Users of the service must initiate searches to keep abreast of new matches. This makes the site useful to the genetic genealogists who take the initiative to use the myriad of tools provided.

4.   For most of its existence GEDmatch has been operated entirely by two “retired” men who are avid genealogists. Curtis Rogers and John Olson like to use their skills to help others unlock mysteries about their families.

5.   They originally charged no fees but eventually added small monthly fees for those who wanted to use advanced tools. This allowed Rogers and Olson to pay for the server time these features required.

6.   The basic level of services at GEDmatch is provided free.

7.   Although using GEDmatch does not require high level technology skills, an absolute novice may have difficulty gaining the traction needed to make the best use of features.

8.   GEDmatch does no testing on raw DNA samples. Instead it accepts testing data from commercial testing companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry, FTDNA, MyHeritage, and Living DNA.

3 reasons individuals test our DNA:

  1.  To discover information that may impact our health and/or that of our offspring.
  2.  To discover information about our ethnic origins. Market research has shown that this is the reason most millennials test. That is why television ads focus on what is probably the least settled of what our DNA can tell us. Although these first two processes may indirectly provide information about close family members, we do not need to directly compare our results with those of others to get useful information if these are our objectives.
  3. To discover information about connections with others. This is why adoptees and others of unknown parentage test. It is also the primary reason most genetic genealogists test. To be successful this activity must be a CONTACT sport. That is the objective!  

It is this latter group that GEDmatch is best suited to assist.

A tool for helping solve cold cases:

What has changed with the solutions of the cold cases? Many law enforcement officers have become aware of the power of genetic genealogy. Some of them have attended a seminar conducted by Rae-Venter on making familial matches. This is the same process through which adoptees have been searching for biological connections.

A recent article in Science reported that statistical simulations indicate more than half of Americans of European can probably be identified given the current 1.2 million names in this database.

Using genomic data of 1.28 million individuals tested with consumer genomics, we investigated the power of this technique. We project that about 60% of the searches for individuals of European descent will result in a third-cousin or closer match, which theoretically allows their identification using demographic identifiers.
Given the current growth rate of GEDmatch, it is projected 90% of those with European descent may be subject to identification within a couple of year.

Police have long had access to a hodgepodge of CODIS related data mostly derived from DNA testing of convicted or accused violent felons. Like our current prison populations, these databases are dis-proportionally constituted of minorities and men of lower socioeconomic groups. The current rash of cold case arrests have been successful because investigators were able to tap a very different demographic.

Community security vs. individual privacy 

Two fundamental rights are now in conflict. At the moment it appears that most members of the public are willing to tip this in favor of community security if we are talking about investigating violent crimes. In a US survey 91% were in favor of allowing police to search genealogical websites that match DNA to relatives in order to identify perpetrators of violent crimes (for example, rape, murder, arson, or kidnapping). Among respondents 12% had ordered a DNA test and 37% had researched family online. 

A parallel international survey of genealogists (41% from the US) reported by Maurice Gleeson asked, "Are you reasonably comfortable with law enforcement agencies using your DNA data on Gedmatch to help identify serial rapists and serial killers?" 85.1% responded "yes" and 8.6% said "no". When the undecided are filtered out the results of the two surveys are very similar.

Should you feel comfortable uploading your data to GEDmatch? Reasonable people can disagree. However, more than 90% seem to form a fairly solid consensus in favor.

What do you think?


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

6 Myopic Genealogists at #RootsTech

In just a few years #RootsTech has quickly grown to be the “beast” of genealogy conferences serving clientele around the world both live in Salt Lake City and through streaming to the remote corners of the earth. With its mix of genealogy and technology, it was only a matter of time before it attracted the attention of the 6 visually challenged genealogists from mythical Indostan.

Each of them had documented his paternal ancestry back at least to his respective great-grandfather who was a member of the group immortalized by John Godfrey Saxe in his 19th century saga, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” [i]

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he:
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong![ii]

Having inherited their ancestors’ lust for learning as well as poor eye sight, these present day citizens of Indostan decided to make the trek to Salt Lake City to experience #RootsTech first hand. As soon they arrived each began to tweet and blog to their colleagues back in Indostan. Those colleagues began to wonder if the six were reporting from the same event. Although all were reporting back with the label #RootsTech 2019 there seemed to be little commonality in the events that were being reported.

Here are selected summaries from the posts they sent home:

Reported the first, after we arrived in Salt Lake City over the weekend, we all hurried to the Family History Library early Monday morning to consult documents not available to us in Indostan. At midweek I was so engrossed in my findings that I could not tear myself away to go down the street with my colleagues to just talk about genealogy research. I remained in the Library to, “Just do it.”

The second wrote lengthy posts each day about the inspiration he received from the world class keynote celebrity speakers. He also reported on the large events that marked the opening and closing of the conference. He also managed to get into the rehearsal of the world renowned Choir at Temple Square which made him envied by many of his readers back in Indostan.

The third reported on the useful information he was learning in classes and the difficulty of selecting which among the three hundred plus offerings available on a rich smorgasbord of all imaginable genealogical topics would be the most useful for him to learn about to enrich his research and share with those back in Indostan.

The fourth spent the entire week in the Exhibit Hall chatting with several hundred vendors from around the world who offered goods and services to genealogists. He was able to have hands-on opportunities with many of the products. Many of the larger vendors even offered mini-classes in the form of demonstrations on a daily schedule right in their booths. And oh the swag that was being offered to take back home—some just to be picked up and some more valuable that was awarded in periodic drawings.

The fifth had planned ahead so he was able to be able to sign up for coveted seats in the workshops in computer labs where he could practice hands on use of the products and tools that were being described in these sessions.

The sixth was eager to learn everything he could about incorporating DNA into his research so he arranged his schedule in a different way. He attended every class he could squeeze in from the DNA track; visited the booths of all the vendors large and small that offered DNA testing and interpretation and discussed his progress, roadblocks and research goals with their staff. He quizzed them about product enhancements on the horizon.

As the six reassembled at the airport to fly home, a dispute broke out about the true nature of #RootsTech and about whom among them and benefited the most.
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong![iii]

Come to #RootsTech 2019 and write the learning plan that is best for you.

[i] Illustrator unknown, “Blind men and an elephant”, From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89. 1909.
[ii] John Godfrey Saxe, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”, viewed 1/14/2013.
[iii] Ibid.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

New ways to look at your old DNA test results

Two announcements yesterday each give many of us something new to look at with some of our old DNA results. Both AncestryDNA and MyHeritage made important blog posts:

Transfers to MyHeritage:

MyHeritage tweeted that the company can now accept additional raw data transfers. However, note that there may be a real advantage in doing it before December 1st: 
We're excited to announce that we now support the upload of 23andMe v5 and Living DNA data files! Upload your DNA data now to receive DNA Matches and ethnicity estimates on MyHeritage for free. Read more:
The 23andMe v5 chip is the one the company has been using since the summer of 2017. This new conversion ability of MyHeritage will allow me to transfer kits of several of my family members who tested at 23andMe in the last two years. Previously, these kits could only be compared with other non-23andMe kits in the separate Genesis database at GEDmatch. 

Note that other newer entries to the DNA testing arena such as Living DNA also use this same chip and can be uploaded to use the diagnostic tools and matching database of MyHeritage that have become increasingly useful in the past year.

"Ancestry Unveils More Detailed and Precise Ethnicity Estimates"

The long anticipated update of the ethnicity estimates, at least for US customers were rolled out yesterday. This will give those of us who have tested at Ancestry something to ponder about. Chief Scientific officer Dr. Catherine Ball blogged:

Today, we announce that Ancestry will deliver ethnicity estimates with increased precision to its customers, through a new algorithm that analyzes longer segments of genetic information, marking an important evolution in the way we interpret DNA data. Having built and expanded our DNA reference panel, we have a better understanding of genetic signatures globally, can break down geographic ethnicity estimates with greater specificity and give you a more detailed picture of your origins.
Whether or not you agree that your new estimates more accurately describe your family's migration, they will give us much to discuss. Below is a summary of changes for my own estimates:

However, this summary does not tell me that some previous ethnicities dropped off completely in this upgrade. For me these were Caucasus 4%, Africa North 2% and Native American 1%. In neither version did Ancestry pick up on my known Finish ancestry which MyHeritage pegged at 2%. Sweden and Norway have not been called out in any of my other tests  They At least this gives me things to ponder.

What do you think about your new results?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Changes for RootsTech 2019

If you were at RootsTech 2018 earlier this year, you may have been put off by the long lines at Registration that snaked back and forth around the main hall of the Salt Palace. Lines also clogged the halls outside popular class venues as monitors had everyone line up to have their badges scanned before we could go inside and claim a seat. Even if you had been in the room for the previous presentation, you had to go out in the hall, get in line and get your badge scanned before you could come back in and claim a seat. As you might imagine criticism was sever and the planners of RootsTech 2019 listened.

On their behalf Dani-Tyler-Stahle has just released the following information:
We're excited to announce a few changes to the conference to help make the attendee experience even better. One of the biggest things we're doing is trying to eliminate lines! To address the line issues we saw last year, we are moving the check-in area to a larger space, we're not doing badge scanning, and logistically we are creating larger classrooms. Please share this piece on your channels and with your audiences. We read every piece of feedback we get from our surveys and these changes are a result of that.
Lets hope these changes make next year's conference more enjoyable for all attendees.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Haplogroup Soup

Later this month in Burbank I am giving a presentation that I entitled "Using yDNA and mtDNA to Trace Deep Ethnicity". My thoughts about this have evolved since I submitted the proposal last year. As some of you know proposals for presentations at conferences like Genetic Genealogy 2018 must be submitted many months in advance. Even the syllabi for the chosen talks must be provided about four months in advance so that they can be compiled for distribution to registrants. This may be a fine timeline for presentations about 1890 US Census substitutes. However, it is really a challenge for cutting edge topics in genetic genealogy. So much can change during the gestation period of the conference program.

Such is the case with my thoughts about this particular talk. Now as I put the semifinal touches on my presentation, it occurs to me that I should have entitled my presentation "Haplogroup Soup".

Market research tells us that the majority of those who take atDNA tests, at least in certain demographics, do so because they are curious about their ethnic origins. To lure in new customers, testers are offered a chance to find out whether they should wear lederhosen or kilts to the next family gathering. Many of these customers know little about -- and sometimes care little about -- their family histories in the sense that us dyed in the wool genealogists think is appropriate. However, if they test we may find out that they are cousins previously unknown to us.

These autosomal DNA (atDNA) tests are clearly what is driving today's market for DNA testing. Our autosomes make up about 95% of our DNA. This is the only DNA test has offered for almost a decade. It is the only part of our DNA reported by MyHeritage, Living DNA and 23andMe for ancestry information. 

I also will be presenting "Can DNA Tests Help ME Breakdown MY Genealogical Brick Walls?" a couple of days later at Jamboree. During that presentation I will go into more detail about your 4 different kinds of DNA and how each can help you learn about some of your elusive ancestors. But that is another topic for another day.

Meanwhile back to ethnicity testing. As I am sure most of you have heard, ethnicity predictions based on atDNA testing are just that -- PREDICTIONS. Even full siblings will often get noticeably different percentages on the same test. They should because siblings inherit different amounts and different segments of their atDNA from each of their 4 grandparents. Other factors also contribute to variances in ethnic predictions. Even when these are allowed for such ethnic projections are only accurate for a few generations back in time.

The Genetic Stew that is You

To map the trail our genomes have traveled through prehistory and into the early days of genealogical times, we must examine other parts of our DNA -- yDNA and mtDNA. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is the only major US company testing these parts of our DNA at levels that are genealogically useful for family historians. Your mtDNA and yDNA, if you are a male, only examine your exact matrilineal or your patrilineal lines. These results project back to and through many millennia of prehistory to allow your to follow the path your genome followed to get to the present. In my presentation I will discuss how you can use your own results, those of close relatives who test as your surrogates and tests of others with whom you can connect by documented paper trails to learn about the soup made up of the variety of haplogroups that make up the genetic stew that is you. 

Hope to see you in Burbank!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Autosomal match through 6th Great-grandparents

We generally think that autosomal DNA (atDNA) is only reliable in evaluating matches back 3 to 5 generations. However, like with most things that have a random distribution, random really does mean random.

I have recently started working with my almost eight year old grandson to document the segments of his atDNA that match various ancestors using DNA Painter. This grandson has taken a deep dive into art. His Christmas wish list this year included only two words, “ART SUPPLIES.” Jonny Perl’s new award winning software, DNA Painter, is very graphically oriented and I was hoping it would capture the interest of this grandson. The first time we sat down to add segment matches to his skeleton genome, he asked me how long this was going to take. I told him it was going to take the rest of his life. I thought that might put him off; but the next time he came over for a visit he wanted to work on it some more.

We recently discovered a matching segment that stretched the limits of what we expected from atDNA. My grandson matched 3 women in the same area of chromosome 12. 
The Chromosome Browser tool at Family Finder (FTDNA) showed the shared segments.

Further investigation revealed that the three were related. The woman represented by the green segment above (31.24 cM) was Simon's 3rd cousin -- 4 times removed. Her common ancestors with Simon were a couple born before the Revolution in Pennsylvania: John Hoar (1766-1840) and Sarah Pearson (1766-1830). These were Simon's 6th great-grandparents (7 generations back).

The woman whose match with Simon was represented by the blue segment above (30.74 cM) was Simon's 4th cousin -- 3 times removed and the daughter of the previous match.

The the third woman was the granddaughter of of the first woman and daughter of the second. Her relationship to Simon was as a 5th cousin -- 2 times removed. The atDNA she shares with Simon overlaps what he shared with her mother and grandmother. However, she did not inherit the entire segment intact from her mother. Instead she received two segments of 9 cM and 12.11 cM with a significant gap between them.

One of Simon's two brothers also inherited the same pattern of atDNA matches with these three women. The other did not. 

Added support to the conclusion that my grandson's matches with these three distant cousins are the ones that contributed the segments of atDNA shown above can be found in my own results. I am two generations closer to them than are my grandsons. John and Hannah Hoar are my 4th great-grandparents. This puts us a little closer to the range within which we might expect to find legitimate atDNA matches. The three women are on paper related to me as: 3rd cousin -- twice removed; 4th cousin -- once removed; and 5th cousin.
Maybe random inheritance really does mean RANDOM.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Spit or Swab?

Most of us who have done DNA testing have anecdotal impressions about the success of "spit tests" and "swab tests" for collecting DNA samples. Some of us may still have skepticism about whether a little saliva can provide accurate scientific results. On this later question, I was reassured shortly after we moved to Nashville in 2012. In late 2009 my wife and I had been beta testers for 23andMe when the company was expanding from health related testing to ancestry testing. As a result we both had pre-FDA intervention reports on multiple potential health conditions and drug interactions.

Although I wanted to believe the results, I was born in Missouri -- the Show Me state. Therefore, I had a bit of residual skepticism. Shortly after we arrived in Nashville, we enrolled in Vanderbilt University Medical Center's PREDICT program which aimed at matching drug reaction information with patients' electronic medical records. For this program blood was drawn in a clinical setting and was processed in the Medical Center's labs. On a half dozen comparable tests, both my wife and I got results and interpretations from Vanderbilt that validated those we have previously received based on 23andMe's spit tests. My wife was flagged for statins and I was identified as a faster than average metabolizer of certain blood thinners by both our spit tests and our blood tests. Saliva DNA tests seemed to work just fine.  

However, the question of whether spit tests or swab tests were more likely to get usable results in the lab still remained. My wife sometimes says that her family has a "no spit" gene. It took her three tries to produce a usable sample for Ancestry. It took her sister two tries at Ancestry. Their brother was never successful in producing a readable sample for 23andMe. After two tries the company refunded his money. 

I just retested a grandson a spit test for 23andMe and that result is still pending. The grandson is not biologically related to my wife's family. 

All four of the above family members have passed swab tests on the first try with MyHeritage or FTDNA. Most of you know that samples sent to these two companies are processed through the same lab in Houston.

The Poll:

How unusual is my wife's family? Maybe I should rephrase that. How unusual is their DNA testing success? To cast a wider net to collect some data I posted a poll this week on the "Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques" Facebook page which claims more than 36,000 members. For a variety of reasons this turned out to be a "quick and dirty" data collection survey. I was not clever enough to bend Facebook's poll instrument to allow responders to easily enter multiple results when multiple family members had been tested. All the data is self reported from customers. I tried to enter data customers provided in comments. My quick and unscientific poll ended up with 1.333 usable testing experiences.


While testing companies will claim a higher success rate than is shown in my results, I would welcome their data to prove it. Intuitively, these data seem to reflect what many of us experience. This is not intended to be the definitive final word on this question. What do you think?

I'd love to have more data. 


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Inheriting atDNA from 3rd Great-grandparents

Recently I have transferred to or tested about three dozen extended family members at MyHeritage. The recent upgrading of the tools by MyHeritage has moved the company's DNA services into the 21st century. If you haven't taken a look in the last month, you owe it to yourself to do so.

About a week ago I discovered a match from Germany for the maternal grandmother of my three Dowell grandsons. 

Those of you who are perceptive genetic genealogists will recognize that this amount of shared atDNA is well within the bullseye of what 2nd cousins would be expected to share. It also could be on the fringe of what could be expected if the two were one generation removed from each other within their families.

Particularly since my in law had been born in Germany, this appeared to be a match well worth pursuing. My interest was intensified when I discovered that "Weirauch" was one of the family surnames listed by the match.

Looking farther down the match list, I found my daughter-in-law:
She matched her mother as a daughter and shared a little less than half the atDNA her mother did. This would be about what we would expect because she was a generation farther removed from the matched individual.

Continuing down the match list I discovered my three Dowell grandsons. They were listed based on the amount of atDNA they shared with their maternal grandmother since it was her account I was using for this investigation. Those of you who read my blog posts a few months ago about how each of my grandsons inherited their atDNA from each of their four grandparents will not be surprised that MyHeritage reported their match with her ranged from almost 35% down to just over 23%. 

The boys are second cousins -- twice removed since the match is a second cousin of their grandmother. As such they would be expected to share about as much atDNA as third cousins and they do. However, I was surprised to find that the grandson who shared the most atDNA with his maternal grandmother, shared the least of the three with her second cousin. This is one more example to remind us of the random nature of atDNA inheritance. I guess I should learn not to assume predictability and just observe the data. 

Yes, this did turn out to be grandma's second cousin with whom communications had been lost when part of the family immigrated to America. A reunion is in the works that will include the grandparents, the parents and the grandsons during their spring school holiday in a few weeks. 

The source of the matching at DNA:

The connection of my grandsons with their newly discovered second cousin --twice removed is through a common descent from Max Weiranch (1878-1923) and Paulene Mittman (1878-1934) who were both born and died in Brieg, Schlesien. Max and Paulene were the boy's 3rd great-grandparents and between them they made a contribution that lives on in each of the boy's atDNA.


Each grandson inherited an identifiable and similar but different pattern of atDNA from this set of 3rd great-grandparents. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

FTDNA's Holiday Sale 2017

Some of you may have already noticed that the FTDNA Holiday Sale was launched yesterday afternoon. Below is the official company price list that was handed to attendees of the group project administrators conference immediately after the launch:

Those of you who have observed these sales for the last few years, have come to expect additional presents to appear on your FTDNA page each Monday during the sale which is expected to run through December.

When you click on the "Holiday Reward" icon, a discount code is revealed which is good through the following Sunday night Houston time. For example this week my coupon is good for an additional $20 off the sale price of a y67 marker test. If you manage multiple accounts, be sure to check each of them each week to maximize you chances to find the best discounts.

A secondary marketplace has already grown up to regift these "Reward" codes. If you received a y67 discount code as I did but instead need a mtDNA test, you can deposit your unneeded code(s) at locations like this site and "shop" for discounts on the tests you need. Check back often as the bigger discounts will be posted at any time during the week as more people log into their accounts for the first time that week or they decide they cannot use a particular test. There can be some strategy involved as you decide whether to take advantage of a small discount or wait a week or so as you hope to locate a larger discount.

Happy Holiday shopping to all of us as we cooperate to build our cousin matching databases to benefit us all!