Upcoming talks, i4GG, and a case solved using the latest DNA tools

Unknown parentage searches have changed dramatically over the last year thanks to a number of great new automated tools. I will be updating my presentation on this for the upcoming i4GG conference in Las Vegas in a few weeks, the first weekend in February. I will also probably talk about what’s new at GEDmatch as well as be on a panel there.

Plus I will present how to use these new wonderful tools to explore your cousin matches at the North County DIG meeting next Saturday, January 18.

Below is a screen shot of the final slide in my unknown parentage presentation where I list the steps, in order, that I currently go through on these searches. I need to add at the beginning another step, “check the ethnicity,” as it can be a huge clue when the two parents are descended from very different populations. Click here for a recent blog post on a case solved with ethnicity. Also I have found that the listed communities at Ancestry are pretty accurate so they can be quite useful too.

Finding an unknown father in a few hours with DNA has become much more common due to the large number of American testers. A neighbor, let’s call her Dede, noticed I was a genealogist on FaceBook, so contacted me for help late one evening in December. She asked if I could help figure out who her unknown Dad was from her DNA results. She was a bit discouraged because no one had answered her messages.

Dede was tested on Ancestry and although her mother was not tested, a known maternal first cousin happened to be in her match list. That would be useful for separating the maternal from the paternal matches. Dede’s ethnicity had a surprisingly high 47% German percentage while her first cousin had only 27% . Plus that cousin had no Eastern Europe (Dede 10%) or Baltic (Dede 3%) so perhaps Dede’s father was part Germanic and Slavic.

Dede’s ethnicity at Ancestry  – note the Kentucky community

I took a quick look at her Ancestry match list and saw several paternal 2nd and 3rd cousin matches so I told her that it would be pretty easy, then quoted her my discount rates and a estimate. The next day I sent her the wedding picture of her father’s parents. She and her family drove to Oregon after Christmas to get to know her half sister and Dad. What a magical Holiday it was for all!
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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 (to be reviewed soon).

I have yet to cover all the great new tools at 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!

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 (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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Clicking Over from DNA Ancestor Hints

The great new features just keep coming for Ancestry‘s DNA product. Now we can click new people into our tree from a DNA match with an Ancestor hint. This can be done from the page where it shows the pathway for each of you to the common ancestor, explained in detail on the next page of this post. Hopefully you will all be careful about this, checking sources and so forth …

One thing I love about Ancestry‘s common ancestor feature is that it always uses my tree first before extrapolating from other trees and records. Yes that’s right, it uses records!

When I look at a DNA match with a common ancestor I always note the relationship in the notepad and then color code by great grandparent line. This means that when I look through my DNA matches with common ancestors, the ones not yet categorized are easy to see since they have nothing added in the right hand column, for example Susan in the diagram above.

The other approach would be to filter by “Matches you haven’t viewed” and visually scan for common ancestors since you cannot combine those filters. Personally I have too many distant cousins that I have not looked at yet, but I often use the group filter of “Close matches – 4th cousin or closer” and combine it with the sort by date. People who have just gotten their test results are more likely to be on the site and thus may respond to your message.

The problem with the latter approach is that some matches you have already viewed may have recently added some tree information and Ancestry has found a common ancestor that was not there before. Therefore it is best to add notes and/or color codes and periodically check the list of people with common ancestors for new finds.

The other day I saw a very fanciful looking match with distant cousin “A” to my VE line from Hordaland. Her ancestry was almost entirely Norwegian with a bit of Swedish so that fit. Curious about an ancestor called just “J” in her line I had to investigate.
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