The following document is sent out weekly on the DNA-NEWBIES mailing list at Yahoo groups. It is is also available as a word or PDF document in that group’s files area.
Feel free to suggest other questions that should be included.
Table of Contents
It is impossible to discuss genetic genealogy without using terms specific to this field. Kelly Wheaton has put together a wonderful lesson series for newbies that should help you learn the language and more importantly clarify many of the concepts:
More classes and tutorials are listed below, as well as some books.
Is there an acronym or abbreviation list somewhere?
The ISOGG wiki has this list
The DNA Adoption website has this list
The ISOGG wiki has detailed explanations of all these terms.
The DNA Adoption website has this glossary
For a more in depth understanding try Kelly Wheaton’s lessons on autosomal DNA
Roberta Estes explains this very well in her blog article on that subject:
To learn more about DNA testing I recommend you read these articles by Cece Moore at geni.com:
This depends on your goals and your budget.
Richard Hill’s e-book can help the absolute newbie make that decision, Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships, and Measure Ethnic Ancestry through DNA Testing , available from Amazon
ISOGG has a comparison chart of the testing companies here: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart
The latest big news is that ancestry.com tests can be transferred to Family Tree DNA for free (limited account) or as little as $39. A number of people have blogged about this including me:
This makes me recommend testing at ancestry and then transfering to Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch. Do 23andme as well if your budget allows this.
My personal thoughts on where to test are as follows. If you are interested the health issues (disabled but you can upload elsewhere for those) and/or want the best ancestry composition then test at 23andme. If you are adopted or have Jewish ancestry, either use Ancestry.com and then transfer to Family Tree DNA or start with the family finder test at familytreeDNA.com. If you have colonial ancestry the best database may be at ancestry.com (USA only) but they have the fewest tools for comparing DNA, however their results can be transferred to FamilyTreeDNA for a tiny fee. Wherever you test, upload your results to GEDmatch.com for the best ancestry composition tools and to compare with testers from other companies
Note that if you are searching for a specific surname a Y test at familytreeDNA.com might make more sense. If your puzzle is on the maternal line then their mtDNA test may be what you want. If you are interested in your deep ancestry then either Britain’s DNA or the Genome 2.0 test at National Geographic may have your answers.
Read this for more thoughts on which DNA test to do:
ISOGG has pages on the other tests also:
ISOGG has a page on shipping DNA kits which includes details of package forwarders that some ISOGG members have used to order a DNA test kit and bypass the country restrictions and/or the excessive courier charges:
As many relatives as you can talk into doing it! Best to get the oldest generation tested now while they are still here and also their genes are closest to your ancestors. But again, it depends on your goals. Personally I have found 2nd cousins to be very useful for isolating matches to a specific family line.
You can go to http://www.dnaadoption.com and learn more about using DNA for adoptees. In addition, there is a DNA group specific to adoptees at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/dnaadoption/info . Finally, there is a group of Search Angels willing to help you out with your basic Adoption search. Find out more at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SoaringAngels/info
If you are totally new to DNA testing try this short e-book to understand the very basics and where to test, Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors, Confirm Relationships, and Measure Ethnic Ancestry through DNA Testing , by Richard Hill, available from Amazon
There is also a more advanced book that is a great help: Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond by Emily Aulicino.
Finally for a great story of an adoptee using DNA to find biological family read, Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA by Richard Hill (again).
Good overview of genetics and genealogy by Stephen Morse:
Kitty’s basics page
The videos from the recent IS4G conference are online now and very reasonably priced
From ISOGG in 2005
more recently a free online course
from Kelly Wheaton
The DNA adoption site offers several online classes:
The National Genealogical Society has a for pay course but we have no reviews of it
Coursera.org has two free courses on DNA which get technical very quickly but early lessons may be of use:
and this Utube video with Cece’s presentation
and some links with more up to date screen shots here:
and some webinars from Family Tree DNA
See this article for the percentages:
and this one for the expected number of cMs and segments
Most likely you have more than one common ancestor which makes your relationship look closer than it is. If you come from a very endogenous population such as Ashkenazim or Mennonite then all your relationships will look closer than they are
GEDmatch has a tool for looking at your data to see how likely it is that your parents are related
David Pike has a number of tools also for looking at your raw data
By the way, the abbreviation MRCA is used for “Most Recent Common Ancestor.”
Kitty did a blog post on that subject:
With smaller segments it becomes a matter of percentages. Where
IBS = Identical By State = by chance
IBD = Identical By Descent = inherited
(see http://dna-footprints.com/203/the-abcs-of-dna-ibd-vs-ibs/ for good explanations of these terms)
(per analysis by John Walden)
% IBD one side phased
% IBD both sides phased
% lost by second phasing
An Ashkenazi biologist researcher claims that it is not worth bothering with matches where the largest segment less than 23cM in that population group (but if phased,18cM)
You can be anywhere from 4th to 14th cousins. See this article
Maybe. The X chromosome can reach farther back in time than the other autosomes. The approximation I have heard is that the X recombines at about 2/3 the rate of the other chromosomes. Since X chromosome matching was added to Family Tree DNA ,there have been many questions and good blog posts on the subject.
The lists below are taken from Kitty’s post What does shared X DNA really mean?
- ISOGG’s article on the X
- X marks the spot by Roberta Estes
- Fan charts of X inheritance by Blaine Bettinger
- Steve Handy’s post on the X
- Debbie Parker Wayne, “X-DNA Inheritance Charts
Please send them in, someone on the list once posted this terrific introduction he uses in his.
“I would like to share genomes at a basic level (no health reporting, only shows where we match on our chromosomes) to see where we overlap and perhaps find our common ancestors.”
My ancestry is half XYZ and half ABC yet my ancestry composition is showing only a little of each of those and lots of PQR?
None of the testing companies have completely accurate predictions. 23andme is the best of the lot. All are dependent on who has tested from which countries. If your population group is not well represented then no predictions are going to be all that accurate. Plus there was plenty of population movement hundreds of years back that you may not be aware of.
Try uploading to GEDmatch.com and using their admixture tools. Plus read this detailed blog entry from Roberta Estes on that issue:
About 120 from the last 10-12 generations. See this article for the details
Probably not useful unless all your ancestors are from one country. Read what Debbie Kennett says:
and another more detailed and disappointed blog post from someone who tried it:
The ISOGG wiki has pages listing autosomal DNA tools, Y-DNA tools and mtDNA tools:
Autosomal tools: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_tools
Y DNA tools: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Y-DNA_tools
mtDNA tools: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/MtDNA_tools
Kelly Wheaton has a good list of tools here:
and the author of this FAQ, Kitty Cooper has a list of her tools and her other favorite tools here: http://blog.kittycooper.com/tools/
ISOGG has an entry with many links about chromosome mapping here: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Chromosome_mapping
which include links to Tim Jantzen’s methodology
Roberta Estes does a very good job of explaining the chromosome mapping technique in this blog post:
The National Library of Medicine has a chromosome by chromosome resource. Of course most genetic research has concentrated on diseases and problems not traits.
UCSC has a Genome Browser website. This site contains the reference sequence and working draft assemblies for a large collection of genomes. It also provides portals to the ENCODE and Neandertal projects. Located at http://genome.ucsc.edu/
23andme’s one to one comparison does show some traits (under family and friends, gene comparison)
And to learn more about specific genes try SNPedia
Whichever company you used, you can discover what health information lurks in that subset of your DNA which was tested by uploading your raw data to Promethease.com . This is by no means definitive and new discoveries are made every day.
When you are no longer a newbie feel free to stay and help. However you may pose your more advanced questions on the rootsweb list for DNA and genealogy or the one for autosomal DNA:
There is a standards document published here:
That document is intended to provide ethical and usage standards for the genealogical community to follow when purchasing, recommending, sharing, or writing about the results of DNA testing for ancestry.
The next genetic genealogy conference is DNA day at the SCGS in Burbank in June
Rootstech in February always has some good genetic genealogy lectures
Many of the lectures from the Who Do You Think You Are 2014 a recent conference in the UK are available on youtube at
And many of the lectures from the recent conference in Ireland are at YouTube as well
and see classes above for the link to the videos from the recent I4GG conference