I have a prediction! 2015 is going to be a phenomenal year for everyone who partakes in genetic genealogy. The interest in genealogy has really catapulted over the past five years, and many people are turning to DNA technology to try to find the answers to lingering family questions and mysteries. Since I anticipate that many more people will take an autosomal DNA test from either 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FTDNA, or other companies, I want to start 2015 off with a post of what I feel are 20 do’s and don’ts of DNA, based on my experiences to date. If you know of others, feel free to share them in the comments section below.
1. Please do not take any DNA test without first trying to put together your family tree. DNA test-takers need to have started working on their family tree or pedigree chart before jumping to DNA. DNA alone will not magically generate your family tree for you. Genealogy research + DNA technology = A Great Happy Marriage.
2. After you get your DNA results, please respond to your messages. Also, please accept invitations to share genomes from other DNA matches in 23andMe. To ignore someone's message is just plain rude and disrespectful, in my opinion. The “I Don’t Have Time” excuse will likely fall on deaf ears. Utilizing DNA to uncover family histories is a serious business for many. If you are not interested in communicating with DNA matches, please opt out of making yourself visible. We don’t need to see your name and be reminded how rude you are being by not responding, especially if we share a lot of DNA and are not distantly related.
3. If you haven chosen to make your family tree private in AncestryDNA or anywhere, at least have one and be willing to send other DNA matches an invitation to view it upon request. Or if you have an electronic copy of your pedigree chart, be willing to share it via e-mail upon request. How can anyone expect to make the connection if DNA matches cannot view a family tree? Comparing family trees or pedigree charts is key to figuring out family relationships.
4. DNA and genetics are not easy to understand, but the basics of genetic genealogy are relatively understandable. You will be doing a disservice to yourself and your DNA matches if you don’t try to understand some of the basics. Here’s a good online guide called “Beginner’s Guide to Genetic Genealogy.” Here’s another one from 23andMe called “Genetics 101.”
5. This tip reiterates no. 3. I get this a lot à “Let me know how we may be related.” And that DNA match has not provided a family tree, but maybe a few surnames with only the states where their ancestors resided. Don’t have in your profile that your surnames are Jones, Anderson, and Ragsdale from Mississippi and Tennessee and expect me to magically know how we are related. Give me and your DNA matches something to work with. Show me a family tree!
6. If you have built a family tree, please include exact locations (county and state…..or city/town and state) and not just the state of birth or death. I have seen so many family trees with just a state listed. Narrow it down for us by giving us a little more information, like the county and/or city or town. I won’t magically know where in South Carolina your paternal grandmother lived and died.
7. Please don’t just list only two surnames in your profiles. Surely, you have knowledge of more than two surnames in your family tree? Adoptees are exempt from this.
8. Please don’t leave your profile in 23andMe (and others) blank. I understand that people are nervous about providing the public with too much information about themselves. I get that. However, if you have chosen to take a DNA test and would like to learn how some of your DNA matches are related, and perhaps learn more about your ancestry, include surnames and family locations in your profile. Again, give us more to work with!
9. If you decide to take the AncestryDNA test, please consider uploading your raw data file to GEDmatch. AncestryDNA has no analysis tools, and those analysis tools are essential in trying to figure out how DNA matches are related. Even if you take 23andMe or FTDNA’s Family Finder tests, which have valuable analysis tools, please consider uploading to GEDmatch. To make things a little easier, include your GEDmatch number(s) on your 23andMe profile.
10. If a DNA match asks you to please upload to GEDmatch so he or she can try to determine the family connection, ignoring that request is just plain rude! See no. 9.
11. Please have patience with GEDmatch. It’s a free, online DNA utility program that experiences high traffic. Therefore, their servers are often over capacity. I know that’s irritating, but it is still our best bet for being able to analyze DNA results and to triangulate DNA matches, especially if you have only taken the AncestryDNA test. Just check back often, and you will get in the site.
12. If you are white, please don’t respond with, “I just don’t see how we can be related because I am white.” Here’s one word for you to study: MISCEGENATION. Please know that the following scenarios occurred: (1) Many slave-owners fathered children with enslaved women via rape or consensual sex; (2) Yes, there were consensual interracial relationships since America was founded, even on plantations; and (3) Many people “passed” as white because they could.
13. I know that many times, surnames are often our basis for determining how DNA matches are related. Please know that it is very possible for many people to share a common surname and not be related through that surname. With African Americans, relying solely on surname matching can lead many to travel down the wrong path. That’s why it is vitally important to include family locations in your family trees or pedigree charts and on your profiles.
14. Please take time to read the profiles of your DNA matches in 23andMe. That alone may answer some initial questions you may have. For example, if you read my profile, you will immediately learn that Collier is my adoptive family via my father’s adoptive parents, who I loved dearly. Sending me a message with a speculation that we are biologically related via your Collier ancestors will say to me, “You did not even read my profile.”
15. Please be cordial when responding to messages from your DNA relatives. Sharp, condescending tongues have no place in DNA communications, unless the person deserves to be “chewed out”. If someone provides you with information about your family, show your home training by saying, “THANK YOU.”
16. If you encounter someone who is not a DNA match to you, but they can show via a paper trail that you two are distantly related, please don’t assume that a NPE probably took place. (NPE = Non-Paternity Event, when someone’s father was really not the biological father, unknowingly.) DNA transmission is quite random. Family members may inherit different chromosomes from the same ancestors. Also, the probability that 23andMe (and others) will find a match between two relatives is the following:
First cousins or closer: ~ 100%
Second cousins: > 99%
Third cousins: ~ 90%
Fourth cousins: ~ 45%
Fifth cousins: ~ 15%
Sixth cousins & beyond: < 5%
17. DNA companies give predictions about relationships. If 23andMe predicts that someone is a third cousin, or if GEDmatch gives the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) as 4.0 generations, that doesn’t always mean that your great-great-grandparent(s) is that DNA match’s great-great-grandparent(s), too. Those are just estimations based on the amount of DNA you two share. For example, my cousin Alisa from Arkansas shares enough DNA with my mother to have a prediction of third cousins. However, after I was finally able to determine the connection, she is really my mother’s fourth cousin once removed.
18. If both of your parents are living, test both of them, if you have their permission and can afford to do so. Having one or both parents tested greatly helps to determine if a DNA match is a paternal relative or a maternal relative. Great substitutes are aunts, uncles, and grandparents, if you are blessed to have grandparent(s) living.
19. In most cases, haplogroups should not be used to try to figure out family connections. Not all people who share the same haplogroup are relatives. In fact, most of your relatives will actually have a different haplogroup because your haplogroup only tells you about your direct maternal or direct paternal lineage. Direct maternal lineage means your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and so on lineage. Direct paternal lineage means your father’s father’s father’s father’s father and so on lineage. However, in a case where you suspect that a DNA match is a direct maternal or paternal relative, then the haplogroup may confirm it with further testing and analysis. For example, my third cousin’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Laura Danner Reid, and my maternal grandmother’s mother, Mary Danner Davis, were sisters. Therefore, our maternal or mitochondrial haplogroup should be the same, since it is passed down unchanged from mother to child. Indeed, when she received her 23andMe results, we had the same maternal haplogroup L2a1a, which came from our great-great-grandmother, Louisa Bobo Danner (1842-1921), and her mother Clarissa Bobo and so on.
20. Read, read, read! Once you have taken the DNA test, please continue to educate yourself about DNA. Many informative articles and blog posts can be read online. This will certainly help to understand how DNA is passed down and how certain matches are related, especially if you share DNA on the X chromosome with a DNA match.
DNA is a wonderful, groundbreaking technology that is growing. It has enabled many people and me to break down a number of brick walls in our family trees. Again, if you know of other DNA tips, feel free to share them in the comments section below.