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!

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