What are the Odds? New help in finding birth parents

My family gets to welcome another adoptee to our extended family – yay! We have a new projected third cousin match (Mary) at 23andMe. Her dad Bill, now deceased, was born in Ohio in 1930 and later adopted. Mary would love to discover her dad’s birth parents. I spent a fair number of hours working up a hypothesis and even more hours trying to write my analysis up in a way Mary and her family might understand.

Now, there is a fantastic new tool at DNA Painter—called What Are the Odds?— that can cut down that analysis time, improve accuracy, and it’s so easy now to share the results in an easy-to-understand way! So thank you to creators Jonny Perl and Leah Larkin for making this available to genetic genealogists!

You can read more about this exciting option at TheDNAGeek Leah Larkin’s blog post Science the Heck Out of Your DNA Part 7. And you can read below to see how it worked on Mary’s case. (Because of course, I tried it out there to sanity-check my own analysis!)

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Organizing my AncestryDNA matches

One of my ‘resolutions’ for 2018 was to come up with a better process for me to manage my AncestryDNA matches.  We’re halfway through the year, so I thought I’d share my progress.

My new strategy depends on the Notes option in AncestryDNA and a cool Chrome extension called MedBetterDNA. I established three baseline steps (do it once and I’m done!) and two recurring steps.

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Take the lederhosen vs. kilt challenge!

If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen the Ancestry commercial in which a man’s DNA results contradict his family tradition of a German heritage, so he trades in his lederhosen for a kilt! The irony is, no matter how German you may be, if you test at Ancestry, you won’t get German as a result in your ‘ethnicity’ pie chart; it’s not one of the categories they offer!  (See, perhaps, a more generic ‘Western European’ as one possible alternative.)

Many genetic genealogists have written about how imprecise these predictions are within the continent of Europe. For example, see The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell’s blog post Those percentages if you must. Those estimates may be more reliable, however, in suggesting where some of your ancestors might have lived in the past 200 years or so.

Among DNA testing companies, 23andMe offers a unique chromosome tool to explore our biogeographic origins. It’s probably most valuable for people with ancestors from different continents, but I am going to create a lederhosen vs. kilt challenge for myself and more closely examine 23andMe’s identification of German/French roots in my DNA.

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Why the Y?

Sometimes people ask me: can Y-DNA testing help my genealogy? (Only men have the Y chromosome, but if you’re female and can test a brother or male paternal cousin, that will work.) If you are looking for an ancestor within the last 300-400 years on your direct paternal line (your father’s father’s father, etc.), this topic is for you.

The test is offered by FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA). First, you’ll want a basic intro to Y-DNA. If you want to know what a haplogroup is, or the difference between a SNP and a STR, the ISOGG wiki on Y-DNA is always a great place to start. You’ll find an overview of Y-DNA and links to many helpful articles.

Here I am going to focus on what I think is the single most valuable aspect of your Y-DNA results for brick walls or questions in a genealogical time frame. And that is:

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An open letter to my DNA cousins

Dear Cousin,

I’m so glad to ‘meet’ you through DNA testing! I have lots of family history gems to share and explore with you. Perhaps we can help each other. I have copies of wills and obituaries and photos and maps I can send you–and family lore too!

Since March is the month we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d offer several Irish examples. (But there’s a Colonial American example at the end too.)

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Is it a maternal or paternal DNA match?

One of the first things we ask about a new DNA match is this: is this a match on Mom’s side, or Dad’s?
 
We all have two copies of each autosome (i.e. chromosome 1 through chromosome 22): one copy in each pair comes from Mom and one from Dad. Unfortunately, the testing company can’t tell by looking at our DNA if a segment that matches someone else is on our maternal copy of that chromosome, or our paternal copy.
 
We need to compare our DNA to known relatives who have tested; then we can begin to figure out how our new matches fit in our family trees.
 
If you’ve had both of your parents take an autosomal DNA test at the company where you and your new cousin match, it’s easy to tell maternal or paternal. But what if you don’t have DNA tests for both parents?
 
GEDmatch.com has some tools to help us.

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