Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bullish on Genetic Genealogy!

Have you jumped into Genetic Genealogy? I took the mitochondrialDNA and FamilyFinder (FF) tests almost a year ago. Back then, I shared my excitement, as well as skepticism when I wrote Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? followed by, So, Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? (Part II). I concluded with the statement: " I remain bullish on genealogy DNA testing", with the understanding that the more family members get tested, the more likely I'll actually learn something about my family history from this venture.

Progress has been slow on the testing front. In the months that passed, I received several inquiries from curious cousins. If your family is anything like mine, getting them to get tested is not easy. Until now, I felt I was still gathering information about this new technology and I was not ready to endorse it 100% or to ask my family to shell out the money for this relatively expensive venture. This year's experience has given me more insight into the world of genetic genealogy and I can now recommend testing to my numerous cousins.

I would like to officially draft as many family members to join my genetic genealogy project! My goal is to create as detail a genetic family tree/map as possible.

Full disclosure: Genealogy DNA testing is basically for the benefit of researching our family's story. It resembles volunteering for a medical research protocol. You can think about it as an altruistic endeavor. The results will be much more abstract and academic than you've imagined. No major breakthroughs are guaranteed. Since family history research is fascinating to me, if I could afford it, I would pay to have all my cousins tested, but I can't. I understand that it's not as interesting to most of the family. Doing the test is really a gift to me (to my research). When I successfully synthesize the information and decipher another part of our common story, I promise to share it with the family. The results of this research quest will be my gift in return to the family and to our future descendants.

1.Who in the family should get test?
Ideally, I would like everyone to get tested. As many cousins, from as many branches and all the generation. Siblings, children and parents of those who have been tested, should also get tested!
If you are interested in the technical reasons why as many family members as possible should get tested, there is a great article by+Judy G. Russell, the Legal Genealogist called: The DNA Gamble. Judy goes through the statistics and probabilities involved in creating a family DNA map.
2. Which DNA test to do?
Since money is often the issue, the most important test is the Family Finder test. If you can afford to do more, men should do the Y-DNA test and women the mt-DNA test, but only in addition to the FF test.
3. What should one expect to learn from the test and how quickly?
The kit takes weeks to process and then months to years to make connections. The simple answer is, mostly like one individual test will teach you almost nothing about your family history in the short term or even for months to come. You need to be part of a family project and you need someone (like me) in your family to sift through the data, look for connections and create a family genetic map or genetic tree. The more detailed the map, the more likely the family as a whole will learn something.
4. Where should one get tested?
A family needs to consolidate it's data in one site. We have has been using They posses the largest database and are now affiliated with +MyHeritage, so members may be able to get a discount. was acquired by MyHeritage recently, so I expect members to get a discount soon.  The FF test cost $289 and goes on sale several times a year. You can get tested on other sites which may be cheaper. Some sights like 23andMe offer the option to transfer the results to FamilyTreeDNA. I find that it's too complicated offers savings for all the hassle. Let's keep things simple! For my family I recommend to stick to

Almost One Year My Family's Genetic Genealogy Progress report: 

7 family members including myself have been tested.

  • Myself- mtDNA and FF
  • 2- uncles (my mother's brothers). Y-DNA and FF
  • 1 male Bloomfield cousin (with the Bloomfield last name). He is also a Pomerantz descendant- FF
  • 1 Female Bloomfield cousin-FF and MtDNA test pending.
  • 1 male Crane cousin (with Crane last name)- Y-DNA and FF
  • 1 male Pomerantz cousin (with the Pomerantz last name)- Y-DNA test.
As expected, we all share large amounts of DNA and confirm that we are related (we known that already). To me this confirmed the test is reliable.

Interpreting the results: 
Very quickly, most of my family members who are not family historians found that making sense of their test results was complicated. They were getting inquiries from potential distant cousins and they could not make heads or tails from the information. I now manage most of these accounts for my family members. I am grateful to my relatives who are participating in my research. I hope FamilyTreeDNA will in the future make it easier to centralize family profiles. Right now, family members need to give me their log-in info and I need to log in and out of the various accounts. My suggestion to FamilyTreeDNA, create a "master" level account and with people's authorization, the master should be able to navigate the various profiles from the master account (just a thought).

Type of inquiries:
We have had many inquiries about the various connections. Interestingly, a high percentage has been from people who are looking for a biological parent such as children who are adopted, or people who have discovered that their father was not their biological father. I must admit, that at first I was taken aback by this kind of inquiry and how frequently I was coming across these cases. I jointed FamilyTreeDNA because I was interested in genealogy and generations long gone. These people on the other hand, had a completely different motive for getting tested. This stirred many moral dilemas in me, the scope of which is beyond this discussion (but would make a great follow up post). 

Impediments to understanding of matches:
1. Most of the people we match, do not know enough about their family tree. I find that people know their ancestors, but to match genetically, they need a better understanding of what I call, the horizontal branches, their ancestors siblings and their descendants. 
2. Few families have tested many members. We've only tested seven family members. I've come across families whom have tested twenty-five family members or more. Most, have only tested themselves or maybe one or two more family members. Statistically, this generates many false negatives and gives no clues as to which branch to investigate. 

Some families have created a fund to do genetic testing. We don't have one as of yet. If someone is interested in donating towards such a cause, do let me know. If someone is interested in participating, but is in need of funding, you can contact me as well. 

I look forward to hearing from family members who want to get tested as well as fellow genealogist with insight about how to improve process.


  1. Smadar,

    I second your 'master' kit login idea. I'm currently only managing two kits but even that is cumbersome.

    Since one of the kits for my family included a known adoption I expected the cousins I would be unable to match via genealogy. Still, it has been fun talking with some those folks.

    I, too, am bullish on DNA. As more people become interested, the pool becomes large, the more chance of the kind of 'real' genetic match many of us are hoping for.

    I would like to add the for those females in your family willing to spring for the mtDNA test. It's Full Sequence or bust. Without full sequence, you will get many false positives or 'related within the last 10,000 years' type positives. Useless. My mtDNA kits has hundreds of matches for HVR1 & HVR2. Of those matches that also did Full Sequence, not one of them matched. In other words, dozens of false positives.

    Best of luck. I look forward to reading more.

    1. Hi Rorey,
      That's a really good recommendation for the mtDNA full sequence test. Point very well taken. I also agree that the more people join the pool the better the results. Even though we may still be guinea pigs, I think there are enough people who have been tested that interesting matches are happening. Good luck with your research and thanks for the insightful comment!

  2. if you test at ftdna or 23&me you can upload the data to and compare there. perhaps ancestry will release their data soon and be able to do that as well.

    i'm having a hard time convincing relatives to test even if i pay for the test, i'm in the process of looking for key dna relatives to build up my tree and solve issues. one potential cousin accepted a kit and never contacted me after it arrived. it is all very frustrating.

  3. Richard, is really great! I agree! I also think it would be great if all the companies would agree to share data and alert you when you have a match not only from their data base but from others. You could pay a fee when you want obtain the data from a site your not a member of, but at least you are alerted of the match! Would it be cool?
    In terms of relatives participating, it is complicated. I have to say that this post has helped me draft relatives.It created a "buzz" amongst the relatives when I wrote it, and every once in a while when someone inquires or asks questions about what to do, I refer them back to this post. You might want to consider writing an explanation about your project for your relatives either in a blog or website!


Thanks for sharing your comments!