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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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23andme Now Connects to the FamilySearch World Tree

You can connect your family tree at FamilySearch to your 23andme profile as part of a Beta test of this exciting new feature. Then your DNA relatives can see the names of your grandparents (if deceased), great grandparents, and so on, via a nice compact list where every generation is clickable to see the full names, dates, and locations. Plus they can even click on a specific ancestor to go to that profile at FamilySearch! Only a preview is shown until they log in there.

Click on any down arrow in the compact ancestor list to see the names for that generation.

Clicking on my Grandparents displays them, all clickable to their profile at FamilySearch

Click on any person of interest from that list to go to their profile at FamilySearch. Then maybe the View My Relationship tool, at the top right of a profile, will find the relationship. This is somewhat limited at the moment. Although it shows the pathway, it does not name the relationship.

This can make it easy to find your common ancestor although I have to wonder why 23andme does not do that for you. It would be incredibly simple to program that, since there is only one copy of each person on the one world tree at FamilySearch. In other words, it is nowhere near as difficult to do as ThruLines from Ancestry or the Theory of Family Relativity from MyHeritage.

If you opt in to Beta testing at 23andme, your DNA relatives list will show a special little green icon of the FamilySearch logo on the far right next to anyone who has connected their tree. Clicking on that person to go the detailed match page will now include the FamilySearch tree information there as shown above.

The Beta test also includes an family search label and icon at the bottom of the left column on the DNA Relatives list which indicates how many of your matches have connected to FamilySearch. Dear cousins, get to work, five is not very many yet!

So how do you make this connection?
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23andme Basics and an Update

My favorite capabilities at 23andme are: finding new relatives with DNA and comparing them in the chromosome browser, looking at my ancestry composition in depth, and having the ability to look up specific genes. Most of the recent changes at 23andme are to the ancestry composition tools, specifically there is more granularity in the areas it shows for your ancestors’ origins.

With three generations of Munsons on 23andme, thanks to my niece’s recent test, I can finally evaluate the GrandTree. This tool, found on the Family & Friends menu, lets you look at what you inherited from each grandparent. Not surprisingly my niece LM got way more from my mother, whose mother she strongly resembles, than from my Dad. There is no guarantee that you will get exactly 25% from each grandparent. In my case, I got more from my maternal grandfather which I deduce from my 28% jewish ethnicity.

This tool will look at the traits and health items tracked through the generations even if you did not buy the health reports. This will be discussed in more detail later in this article. Meanwhile, I will do a quick review of the current 23andme basics as a guide for my niece and any other new testers reading this.

Finding DNA relatives and comparing them in the chromosome browser

Click on DNA relatives on either the Ancestry menu or the Family & Friends menu to look at your cousin list. Here are my previous posts on this topic, still fairly accurate:

Looking up a specific gene

You can look up a specific gene or marker in the Browse Raw Data function which is found on the menu under your name. Click here for my blog post about the AIDS resistant gene which details how to  do that type of look up.

Ancestry Composition

The great thing about the ancestry composition display at 23andme is that it shows you the details by chromosome. None of the other testing companies do that. What’s more if you put your cursor on a specific ethnicity, it will highlight just those segments on the diagram. Click on Ancestry Composition on the Ancestry menu to get to the page with the most details, including the chromosome by chromosome display.
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Finding Cousins at 23andme

There are a number of posts on this blog which can help you navigate 23andme (click here) but as always in life, things change. Now there are many new features and ways of finding information that are not covered by those articles. Plus the tests sold during the holiday sales are coming in and I have lots of new cousins.

The Family & Friends page – red arrows show what to click to get to the DNA relatives list from either top menu or this page

The key to using your 23andme test for finding new cousins is to navigate to the DNA relatives page and then click on each name of interest to go to the page with information about that match. The contents of that page are well covered in my previous blog post (click here)

Most importantly, you can get to the version of the chromosome browser that shows the actual segment locations and sizes from that match page. Here is why that is important.

When a new tester matched me, my dad, and several distant cousins for 33cM on a specific location on the X, I knew she was related via the Fatland farm family from Halsnøy island, Hordaland, Norway, because I had previously identified the ancestral source of that segment from the 1700s (click here to read about that). It took me a little over an an hour using Ancestry’s possible parent clues to build her a tree and find her descent from that family. It helped that I knew what I was looking for and only one of her Norwegian lines was from the Hordaland region.

23andme does not do tree matching for you like Ancestry does, but it does provide a chromosome browser. This means that sometimes you can tell from the segment that a cousin matches you on who the likely common ancestor is. When you keep a large master spreadsheet of all your matches from all the companies, this can sometimes be quick and easy (click here to read about using spreadsheets for DNA ).

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Changes to the 23andme DNA Relatives Displays

There have been some good changes to the relative matching displays at 23andMe. Finally when I get a new match, I can quickly compare them to several other known relatives from that first DNA comparison page. One of the features I have always loved, that 23andMe has but not the other testing companies, is the ability to compare my matches to each other. Seeing how much DNA they share can often help resolve how they are related.

I was surprised and delighted to see that the granddaughter of my Dad’s favorite brother got a DNA kit for Christmas and her DNA results are just in at 23andMe. So I will use her kit to show the new 23andMe displays. For privacy I will call her Nan.

When I click DNA relatives under Tools, the page it goes to no longer has two top tabs. Perhaps that confused many users. Instead there is a long sentence up top where the last few words are linked to the chromosome browser page that I like to use. I have put a red box around those words in the image below of Dad’s best matches. Of course there are other better ways to get to that browser.

When Dad gets a new relative, I typically click on their name to see how they compare to him. That next page is the one that is vastly improved.

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