Archive | December 2019

Great New DNA Tools in 2019

2019 was a great year for DNA. Many wonderful DNA tools were created by the testing companies as well as by a number of third parties. Throughout this article I will list my blog posts which discuss the tools from 2019.

I have found so many new cousins thanks to ThruLines at Ancestry plus the deployment of that to my DNA matches. My current process is to sort my matches by date and then filter for just 4th cousins or better (or 15cm or better) to catch new matches while they are still logging in and so might see my messages. Also once a week I check my matches that have common ancestors to see if any new ones have been connected in (since I note how people are related in the notes, anyone with blank notes is someone I have not yet seen the tree connection for):

MyHeritage‘s Theory of Family Relativity also makes it easier to find new cousins. Many of my Norwegian cousins have been found there. I even got a message from one this morning!

23andme may be finally trying to consider us genealogists. They added a build your tree from DNA feature (yet to be blogged about here) and connected to the FamilySearch tree. My wish for 2020 is that they combine those features!

My favorite new 3rd party tools in 2019 are DNA2tree, a game changer for unknown parentage cases, and the addition of trees to the automated clustering at Genetic affairs. I confess, I actually bought myself an iPad so I could use DNA2tree.

Automated clustering really took off in 2019 with GEDmatch, DNAgedcom, and MyHeritage all adding clustering.

2019 also saw the birth of a new public database for Y and mitochondrial results at https://www.mitoydna.org/ (to be reviewed soon).

I have yet to cover all the great new tools at DNApainter.com although I refer people to the online relationship calculator there regularly.

Other new tools sites that I need to review are Borland genetics tools and Your DNA Family

2019 has been a really great year for DNA tools!

Free health results from your DNA test for the rest of 2019

There is a third party site which will analyze your DNA test results for health information called Promethease which is FREE until the end of the year as a gift to us from MyHeritage who has acquired that site. You can even upload several tests from different companies for the same person to get a more complete picture.

Looking at your results takes some getting used to. It is a fairly geeky interface but here is a video that explains it.

 

They only keep the report for 45 days, but you can download it to your computer for future viewing.

Please be aware that the problem with trying to get health results from your DNA test is that so little is yet known. While some of the most damaging mutations are well documented there are hundreds more that might or might not be a problem. Most evidence is from correlation studies which are not necessarily definitive or large enough to be statistically significant.

On the front page you may quickly agree to many terms and conditions but please read and understand this one,

“I realize that most published reports about DNA variations explain only a small part of the heritability of a trait, and they also don’t take into account how different variants might interact. In addition, published reports typically ignore environmental, dietary, microbial, medical history and lifestyle factors, any or all of which may well affect my true risk for any trait or disease. “

Reading some of the information Promethease shows for your genes can be scary but don’t be alarmed. Most of these results are just saying that you might have an increased tendency for a specific condition but please remember that genes have to interact with each other and your enviroment so most are not destiny by themselves.

Here is an example of how it works:

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Important Changes at GEDmatch

If you have not logged into GEDmatch recently, please do so and either accept the new terms and conditions or don’t. Unless you are clearly USA based*, your kits will not be visible to your relatives any more unless you accept. I have linked to numerous other blogs at the end of this article to help you make your choice. I recommend reading either the one from Roberta Estes or EU users, the one from Debbie Kennett. Both look carefully at the new terms and conditions which are not very different from before.

Frankly, I was surprised by the panic expressed last week by some in the genetic genealogy world on FaceBook due to the sale of our beloved GEDmatch DNA tools site to a forensic science company. Personally, I hate knee jerk reactions so I did some research into this company, Verogen, as well as communicated extensively with Curtis Rodgers, one of the GEDmatch founders, and Kim Mohr, a spokesperson for Verogen.

To remind you all, GEDmatch is the best place to compare DNA tests done at different companies to each other or just to see the actual chromosome locations shared by two Ancestry testers. While both Family Tree DNA (ftDNA) and MyHeritage accept uploads of tests from other companies so you can compare on those sites, neither has the extensive tools of GEDmatch. FtDNA compares down to very small segments which can be useful in a family project but leads to inaccurate relationship estimates. MyHeritage does not show the X chromosome and neither company shows the fully identical segments (FIRs) that full siblings will have, which can be so helpful (click here).

The DNA Applications menu at GEDmatch

GEDmatch has many useful additional tools, such as “People who match both or 1 of 2 kits ,” an “Are your parents related?” test, the ability to see who matches you on a specific segment, being able to check for full siblings rather than half, and automated triangulation, to name a few of my favorites (click those words to go to that post when I did one or click here for my more general GEDmatch articles). Plus it has GEDCOM comparison utilities. Compare yours to all the ones in the database or to just one other.

GEDmatch became a center of controversy when it was discovered that genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, working with law enforcement (LE). had solved the Golden State Killer case (click here) using that site. Since that time, there have been more controversies around law enforcement’s use of the site and many overblown scare articles in the press. Personally if my DNA outs a distant cousin who is a murderer or rapist, that’s fine with me. Genetic genealogy techniques are used as a tip; no one is arrested without getting their DNA from discarded materials and seeing if it is a match to the crime scene. I know some people are afraid of the possibility of false arrests, but that just does not happen with these modern techniques. You can, as before, choose to opt out of allowing LE to see your results on GEDmatch when looking for cousin matches to the dna of the perp or the unidentified victim.

In recent months, there have been more problems, news stories and controversies, including a Florida search warrant being granted. One has to feel for the two retired hobbyists who founded GEDmatch to help in their research and ultimately help us all, keeping most of the features free. Clearly getting the site owned and managed by a more professional group would be of great advantage to the users. Curtis spent several months looking for the right partner that would respect the original misson of GEDmatch and yet deal appropriately with LE, the EU, and security issues. He and the programmers, the two Johns, will continue to work on the site as consultants.

So who or what is Verogen? Two years ago this company was spun off from Illumina (the maker of the chips and machines that all the consumer oriented DNA testing companies use to sequence your DNA). It has 50 plus employees and plans to continue growing. Their office is in a small office park near UCSD here in San Diego. Continue reading

Can ethnicity help with unknown parentage?

Recently ethnicity was a major factor in figuring out the family of the mystery father of an Australian women of mixed heritage: Chinese, Italian, and English/Irish. We still need some help, so any Australian readers please read to the end.

Elana’s ethnicty on Ancestry after the update, before she had lots more Italian

This case is unusual because for those of us with primarily European ancestry, the ethnicity predictions from the various DNA test companies are not accurate enough to be a significant aid with figuring out unknown parentage situations. For one thing, our ancestors moved around more than you might expect, and for another, the science is just not exact enough yet.

Too often I get a panicked email or comment from someone who is worried that Daddy is not their dad, or perhaps grandad is not, because their ethnicity predictions show no German or French or Bulgarian which he was and where is that Norwegian from? To which I respond, check your matches, if you have matches to cousins from his family, all is well, it’s just the inaccuracy of ethnicity predictions. North Europeans and South Europeans are fairly distinct from each other, but countries as we know them today did not exist in the far past.

Comparing ethnicities for Elana (left) and her mother (right) at Ancestry

In Elana’s case, having East Asian and Southern European in addition to the usual Australian British mix, actually gave us some different and potentially useful data to work with. Her mother seemed entirely English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, a frequent blend for an Australian. She remembers that Elana’s father said he was part Maori and that his name was Bob. There is no Maori in her results shown above (it usually looks Polynesian), so likely he was just trying to make himself seem exotic and interesting.

Elana’s best matches at ancestry were almost all maternal (yes this is a squashed image)

Since Elana’s mother tested also, we could see that Elana had no close matches that were not listed as “Mother’s side” on Ancestry which made the search very difficult. Her paternal matches consisted of only one 3rd cousin, an American of Italian ancestry, and lots of 4th cousins, quite a few with trees, and most of the closer ones were of Italian descent, in spite of only 7% Italian listed in her Ancestry ethnicity.

One possibility for so few paternal matches was related parents. We checked that by uploading to GEDmatch.com (click here for my post on related parents) and that was not the case. The other more likely explanation was very few of her father’s relatives had tested. For example, Elana had only one very distant Asian match in spite of her father clearly having half that heritage.

Since we could see both Elana’s ethnicity and her mother’s it was easy to tell that Elana’s unknown father was half Chinese/Korean with an Italian (great) grandparent. These were her initial percentages before the recent update at Ancestry:

65% England/Scotland/Wales (so her father will have about 15%)
16% Korea and Northern China
12% China
7% Italy

I asked Elana to also test at 23andme and to upload her Ancestry results to MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA as well. Still no luck finding close paternal matches.

 

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