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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The evidence is within us! Autosomal DNA analysis: methodology suggestions Part 2

DNA match lists are not for the faint-hearted researcher. They are overwhelming. If your research question is important enough to you, whether you are adopted or missing a branch of your family pedigree chart, the end results of the analysis of those match lists are worth the many hours of work. Sometimes it comes quickly, suddenly you see a very close match that leads to the missing ancestor, but more often it takes a great deal of time and effort.

The list below makes the path look simple and easy, but the first step to working with autosomal DNA (AtDNA) matches is learning the language and how to use available tools. Watch webinars, take classes, attend lectures at genealogy conferences, read books by experts, and follow blogs. This is a new field, but there are already some genealogists who have become experts at the methods and teaching the rest of us:  Blaine Bettinger,[1] Diahan Southard,[2] and many others.  Read through the website of ISOGG.[3]

My Strategy:

Although absolutely not a genetic genealogy expert, through the kind guidance of mentors I have learned to start by creating a robust and well-sourced family tree for known branches including collateral lines if possible to help pinpoint how unknown matches relate to me.

1.     Test DNA. Strategies differ for individuals depending on the research question. Develop a testing plan if possible.[4] Many testers start with AncestryDNA which has the largest database of testers. It is possible to transfer the results to other sites that expand the match pool and increase the chances of finding close relatives.

1.     AncestryDNA test, then download RAW results file,[5] then upload to FTDna and My Heritage.[6]

2.     Upload to GEDmatch if comfortable, always read who sees results and privatize if you have concerns.[7] 

2.     Test family members. Especially helpful are 2nd cousins and half-siblings to know which DNA comes from various branches as you compare results. Get written consent that clearly states unexpected results may come to light and instructions on handling those concerns if necessary. Since testing can be expensive, I find many genealogists pay for their relatives' testing and then manage the match lists and analysis. Always include those generous relatives in the analysis of results if they are interested.

3.     Look at match lists. Begin the process of clustering or grouping matches and use-

1.     shared match tool for matches at any of the companies

2.     Genetic Affairs cluster tool,[8] or My Heritage cluster tool

3.     spreadsheets to organize

4.     Find the cluster that cannot be linked to known relationships (members of the cluster match each other, but do not match any of my known cousins).

5.     Research each member of that cluster by looking at their posted tree or building one for them using-

1.     clues in their profile

2.     a public records search company such as BeenVerified.com

3.     “US Public records Index” on Ancestry.com if you have access

4.     Google.com

5.     Newspapers.com for articles or obituaries

6.     Find overlap in the created trees to find a common ancestral couple or the most recent common ancestor (MRCA)

7.     Build a robust and well-sourced family tree for the MRCA couple with every generation as complete as possible including spouse information.

1.     Analyze the members of each branch to see if they were in the right location/time

2.     Use census, directories, and other sources to track all the members of each line

3.     Rule out any candidates for an ancestor who were too young, had died before the time frame of study or were in a remote location.

8.     Study that MRCA tree and get to know locations, surnames, and dates. 

9.     Place any matches from that unknown cluster into the created MRCA tree.

10.  Use What Are The Odds and Shared cM Project tools to form a hypothesis of how I fit into that MRCA tree.[9]  I share matches with members of that cluster and therefore DNA with them, how am I related?  Usually, the higher number of shared cMs, the closer the relationship so concentrate on the branches of the MRCA tree that I have matched with the highest number of shared cMs.

11.  Check the ethnicity of the matches to rule in/out possible candidates.

12.  Step back and look at other clusters of unknown matches and try to see if any of them overlap with a spouse from your MRCA tree. Looking at the ancestry of the spouses will narrow the list or find the candidate you seek

 Tools used in DNA analysis for genetic genealogy change over time and the best practices for using DNA results to break down brick walls in a family tree are evolving within the genealogy community, so it is best to continue learning what methods are recommended by the genetic genealogy experts. The power of knowing we carry evidence of our past in every cell within us is awe-inspiring.

[1] Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., website:  https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/13-2/

[2] Diahan Southard website: https://www.yourdnaguide.com/about

[3] International Society of Genetic Genealogy website: https://isogg.org/.

[4] Diahan Southard, “Create a DNA testing Plan,” blog post, Your DNA Guide (https://www.yourdnaguide.com/ydgblog/dna-testing-plan : accessed 13 July 2022).

[5] AncestryDNA (https://support.ancestry.com/s/ancestrydna : accessed 13 July 2022).

“Downloading DNA Data,” Ancestry (https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Downloading-DNA-Data : accessed 13 July 2022).

[6] FamilyTreeDNA website uploads: https://www.familytreedna.com/autosomal-transfer

MyHeritage website uploads: https://www.myheritage.com/dna/upload

[7] “GEDmatch.com Terms of Service and Privacy Policy,” GEDmatch (https://www.gedmatch.com/terms-of-service-privacy-policy : accessed 13 July 2022).

[8] Genetic Affairs website: https://geneticaffairs.com/features-autocluster.html

My Heritage Cluster tool: https://blog.myheritage.com/2019/02/introducing-autoclusters-for-dna-matches/

[9] Jonny Perl, “Frequently Asked Questions About WATO,” DNA Painter (https://dnapainter.com/help/wato-faq : accessed 13 July 2022).

Blaine T Bettinger, “The Shared cM Project 4.0 tool v4 beta,” DNA Painter (https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4-beta : accessed 13 July 2022).