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My Journey with DNA Genetics and Genealogy!

I have been doing genealogy for over 4 decades, going to libraries, vital records repositories, city clerks, historical societies and surfing the world wide web for genealogy related websites. I have also subscribed to several magazines, societies, and websites. And   I have spent countless hours walking through cemeteries, and interviewing relatives, but there was one thing I had not done to help me in my ancestry search and that was DNA testing.

After years of research I have run out of ideas as to where to look for more documentation on a few  of my branches that I have had no success finding. These certain individuals just didn’t leave enough of a paper trail for me to find them.  I have come to what is known as a genealogy brick wall, so I decided to take a different path  and have my DNA tested in hopes that it may give me some new leads on my family tree.

Back in 2000, two companies:  FamilyTreeDNA.com based in Houston, Texas and Oxfordancestors.com based in Oxfordshire, England) started out offering the opportunity for genealogists to use DNA to aid in finding the family connections.  Oxfordancestors has recently closed, but FamilyTreeDNA continues to grow. In the early days it was quite expensive to have your DNA testing done and the testing was still in its infancy. Now day there are several companies that offer DNA testing services.  Testing methods have improved and some companies offer testing of MtDNA and YDNA, along with Autosomal DNA, I’ll explain what these are shortly.These companies have been creating databases of the DNA information from the people that have had their DNA done and some also  have family tree information. It has been 18 years since this endeavor began and millions of people have now had their DNA done, which has helped to create huge databases of genetic information. People are not only using the information from DNA matches to help them in their genealogy research, but people who were adopted are using DNA testing to find their biological families. Websites such as Ancestrydna.com, Familytreedna.com, Myheritage.com and 23andme.com, just to name a few are helping people to find these DNA matches.   And people are learning where their ancestors may have come from by the ethnicity estimates that are provided when you have your Autosomal DNA tested.

The DNA test itself is very simple, and depending on which company the testing is done with you either have to swab the inside of your check or spit into a small vial and  then mail the sample back to the company. It is harder to decide what type of test to have done and with whom to go with for the testing then doing the test itself.  There are currently three main types DNA test, which I mentioned early, Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), which is the DNA passed down to sons and daughters from their mother, but only daughters can pass it on to their offspring. Y-Chromosome DNA (YDNA), which is the DNA passed down to sons from their fathers, and only sons can pass it on to their sons. The third test is the Autosomal DNA (AtDNA), which is made of  22 pairs of Chromosomes. We receive 50% of our DNA from our father and 50% from our mother.  We have a total of 23 pairs of Chromosomes. The 23rd pair are different in that they are sex chromosomes. Our mother has two X X Chromosomes, one from her father and one from her mother and our father contributes a X to his daughters and a Y chromosome to sons.

Each of the companies that provide DNA testing offer a little different take on your results. They have chagnonfamilytreetools on their websites to help you to understand your results and connect with your matches.

In  November  2017, on Black Friday several of the DNA testing providers  offered discounts on their DNA testing services, so  I decided to  buy an  Autosomal DNA test from MyHeritage.com.  It was $49 plus $12 shipping. MyHeritage is an online genealogy platform with web, mobile, and software products and DNA testing services. This website was first developed and popularized by the Israeli company in 2003.  I purchased my DNA kit on 11/28/17. I received it 12/10/17. Their test is a swab of the inside of your cheeks.  I did the test and put it in the postage paid mailer and mailed it out the next day. Check out this Youtube video on how to take a DNA test with MyHeritage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaxTF5Ev6rw.   You have to activate your kit on their website and create a family tree account. This lets them know you received it and that the kit # belongs to you. This number is for you DNA results and will help with your matches.This is a Youtube video link that explains  what happens with your DNA sample https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_806nvZF2o .  To see your matches’ family tree information on this website  you will need to have an annual membership with MyHeritage.com.  There are some people who keep their family tree private. There is several perks with each of their membership levels. They offer three different options. Premium, Premium  Plus and Complete.  I did enter three generations of my family tree (myself and family, my parents, my two sets of grandparents). You can build a family tree on their website or download they tree builder software which is free. Here is a Youtube Video to show you how to use it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmxmladLrTs . They also have a mobile app. The family tree builder software can sync with your online account. All smart matches can be downloaded into your tree. You can build a tree from scratch or import a GEDCOM file.   You can build your tree on line only if you want. See this Youtube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YTcS3VMMKY for building a family tree on line.

Before I received my DNA results  I started receiving emails from MyHeritage.com letting me  know when they found possible family tree matches for me, but  I wasn’t able to view anyone family tree because I  hadn’t purchased  a membership yet. Then I received a 50% discount off their memberships in February, so I decided to purchase to the Complete membership level. You can join for 1 -3 years. I joined for one year.

While waiting for my results I decided to read and learn as much as I could about DNA genetics and genealogy. One of the best books that I have read is “The Family Tree guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” by Blaine T. Bettinger.  It helped with understanding what DNA is and how it works. He gives a ton of useful information on the different DNA testing providers and 3rd party services to help with interpreting your results.   I learned about a few other websites that once I had my DNA results I could upload my raw DNA file and they would also provide their interpretation of DNA matches and information. I also joined a few Facebook groups: DNA Genealogy, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and DNA genetics. It is interesting to read about other peoples experiences with their DNA results.

I was emailed on 1/27/2018 that my results were ready. I went to my account on their website. Clicked on to the DNA tab and my results came up.

It showed me that I had DNA traces from 8 Ethnicities, 97% from Europe, (43.1% Irish, Scottish, and Welch, 13.2% English, 5.9% Finnish, 4.9% Scandinavian, 21% Sardinian, 9.8% Greek, 2.1% from Northwest Africa. Well I was surprised that there wasn’t anything listed from Canada or North America. Most of my ancestors through the mid1600s came from Canada. So it tells me these ethnicities estimates go back to a lot early ancestry links. Next it showed me that I have 3576 DNA matches. The list started with highest total of DNA which was a 1st cousin once removed. We shared a total of 521.9 cM (CentiMorgans). The higher the total DNA the closer the relationship to the match.  Meaning if I had a match that had approximately 3900 cM that would most likely be a parent or a sibling match.  I don’t know of anyone in my immediate family that has had their DNA tested. Also if they have they may have tested with another company like AncestryDNA or 23andMe.  Because I didn’t have a MyHeritage membership when I first received my results, I was not able to view my matches family trees if they had one. You can see how much DNA a match has and you can contact the person to ask questions without having a membership.   Not everyone that has a match with you includes family tree information and not everyone is a member. MyHeritage has a few really nice tools you can use such as their Chromosome browser to compare the match with your DNA. I talk about this in a future blog.

I have been going through the closest matches and have found connections on both my mother’s and father’s sides. It’s too early in my research to determine if I have any matches to the branches in my tree that I have not been able to connect.

I have downloaded my Raw DNA file and uploaded it to Familytreedna.com website and to Gedmatch.com. It was free to upload to these two sites. They both provided DNA matches with their own databases.  From the results I have found a few matches that are the same as on MyHeritage, but many that are different. I believe this is because of where people have their DNA testing done.  So not all databases are the same, because not everyone tests at all or with more than one company. I have been able to find several matches, but my closest match thus far has been a 1st cousin once removed on my mother’s side

There is one DNA testing provider that has the largest database and seems to be the most popular from what I have learned since I started this DNA journey and that is AncestryDNA.com.  One reason may be because they advertise their DNA testing on TV.  They started out as a genealogy website and have billions of family trees that you can match up with. They do have an annual membership to access the family tree information, but your DNA information is accessible without a membership. They only offer  Autosomal DNA testing at this time.   I decided to test with them also, but instead of buying my DNA test kit from them directly I went on eBay and bought a new sealed test kit for half of the cost of what AncestryDNA charges. I paid $38.00 with free shipping. The kit arrived within a week and I activated it on AncestryDNA and then mailed it to them in the postage prepaid mailer after I did the test. They have your spit in two small vials. So besides the kit being cheaper I didn’t have to pay for the shipping cost that AncestryDNA charges.  I have gotten confirmation that my DNA test sample has arrived to their lab, but they have not started to process it as of yet. From what I have read on AncestryDNA Facebook group it can take 6-8 weeks from when they receive it before you get your results. This must be due to the high volume of samples that they receive.  They will email me the results when they have processed it.  I do plan to download the raw data file and upload it to familytreedna and gedmatch to see if there is any difference between the two samples that I have done.

I would have to say that I find all this DNA stuff very intriguing and know that there is still a lot more to learn in order to make the best use of all the information that it has been revealed to me.  Next month I will get into more details of what I have learned from my results.   Wishing you all the best in your search.

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