Monthly Archives: September 2015

My Journey into Autosomal DNA Testing

Until recently I was one of those people who did not think that autosomal DNA testing would bring much to the table in terms of advancing my own genealogy research. I have been researching for over 10 years and have built up my family tree through various traditional sources — both online and off-line. I have identified all my 3x great-grandparents by first and last/maiden names and all but 5 of my 4x great-grandparents. Granted, beyond that I have more holes and hit brick walls, but my thinking was that I would need to find a 5th, 6th or higher cousin with whom I share DNA and who is a lineal descendant of one of my unidentified ancestors in order to solve one of those brick walls. I thought the chance of that happening was pretty slim. But as the genetic genealogy buzz grew and more and more people were getting tested, I started to change my mind. Even if I was not able to break through a brick wall, maybe I would be able to find an elusive cousin who inherited the old family photographs or the family Bible. And so a couple of months ago I decided to get an autosomal DNA test.

Basically an autosomal DNA test is used to identify genetic cousins. Google can help you if you are looking for a detailed explanation of the mechanics. I chose to test with AncestryDNA because 1) they were having a sale [smile] and 2) I thought most AncestyDNA customers would be existing customers and as such would be more interested in finding cousins than in finding their deep ethnicity. (I must admit that based on the number of matches that I have with no tree, I was undoubtedly wrong on that account.) I was also thinking that I could upload my AncestryDNA results to FTDNA. This would enable me to take advantage of finding matches in their system as well, and I would only have to pay the transfer fee. I have not done this step yet, but I have not ruled it out. My current match results on Ancestry are pictured below.


At this point I should point out that when I made the decision to go with AncestryDNA I knew that a major downside was that they did not provide adequate DNA analysis tools – most notably a chromosome browser. They force you to rely only on member trees to work out your DNA matches. And while comparing trees is an important and necessary step in analyzing a match, not taking the next step and comparing chromosome data can lead to erroneous conclusions. (I already ran into this on the second group of “related” matches that I was working on.)

In order to look at the chromosome matches, AncestryDNA customers must upload their results to Gedmatch (or FTDNA). The Gedmatch website provides several useful tools. It operates on a “free-mium” model with certain tools being free to use while more advanced tools require a donation or subscription. An added benefit is that FTDNA and 23&Me customers can also upload their data, thus results from all three companies can be compared. I have only used Gedmatch a short while, but it has been incredibly useful and necessary. The major downside, of course, is that not all of your matches have uploaded their data to that site. So while Gedmatch is awesome, I still think the community needs to continue to try to convince Ancestry to provide it’s customers with the tools necessary to make informed and valid analyses.

The bottom line with all this is that I have already met and collaborated with cousins that I probably would not have found otherwise. I am glad that I joined the DNA band wagon — and I even convinced my Mom to join me!!!