Tools For Genetic Genealogists

This past weekend, 23andMe’s Joanna Mountain and Christine Moschella, attended

Joanna Mountain, 23andMe's Research Director, and on the right Christine Moschella, 23andMe's Community Manager.

Joanna Mountain, 23andMe’s Research Director, and on the right Christine Moschella, 23andMe’s Community Manager.

the 2014 Institute for Genetic Genealogy Conference at the National 4H Center just outside Washington, DC. The conference offered a great opportunity to connect again with genetic genealogists and learn from other experts in the field.

Over the three days Joanna, 23andMe’s Director of Research, and Christine, our Community Manager, shared details of some of our ancestry and genealogy features. But the pair were also there to hear feedback directly from our customers, and to answer questions about topics ranging from where things stand with the FDA regulatory process to tips on using our saliva kit.

African American Example
Joanna presented an overview of two of 23andMe’s most popular tools — DNA Relatives and Ancestry Composition. She went over – their origins, methodologies, and history – highlighting both the science behind these features and how they have been improved over a relatively short time.

The purpose for attending the conference was not only to share information with genetic genealogy enthusiasts but also to get feedback about how these customers are currently using the service and to hear ideas for improvements.

In numerous presentations and conversations with attendees, we heard about some of the creative ways customers are interacting with the information provided by 23andMe, and learned more about what kind of tools and information genetic genealogists in particular find most important.

We also got some feedback about which features could be improved. In some instances, we are already in the process of making those improvements, which we are very excited about. We hope the community continues to provide the kind of constructive feedback that they’ve always given as we improve our ancestry features.

Overall it was a fun and intense three days for Joanna and Christine, who said they loved meeting some of our most passionate customers in person. It’s always motivating to hear about the difference that 23andMe has made for customers and how excited they are about what more we could do. It’s an excitement we share. Thank you CeCe Moore and Tim Janzen for organizing the conference, with plenty of help from their family members; we hope that they will organize another such event in the future!






  • William Gall

    As an adoptee, here’s what I wish for: a step-by-step guide to identifying what the names of one’s parents (or at least grandparents) are by means of the data from 4th cousins. I fool around with the data, but never get anywhere. Is this request even possible? And if not, what else can you suggest?

    • ResourceDragon

      I think the short answer to your question: can you find out the names of your parents (or even grand parents) from the names of your third cousins is: it can’t be done.

      For the purposes of this discussion I am not an adoptee (it’s a bit more complicated than that but I know my parents’ and grand parents’ names). Even with “knowing the answers” I have not found my parents’ names among my closer DNA relatives. Where the correct names have popped up they’ve been very distant relatives of distant cousins. In one case there is a family legend of someone with my father’s surname who married into his family sometime back in the 1600s! So while I have seen some (but not all) my grand parents’ names among my DNA relatives’ family surnames, I haven’t seen anything that would make those names pop out.

      The surname view in the DNA relatives part of your profile
      is not very useful. None of my parents’ or grand parents’ names show up!

      The things I would suggest that you do are as follows:

      1) Share genome reports with as many of your DNA
      relatives as possible. When you do this, you can also have a chat with the
      relative in question who might be able to give you a few hints. It also means
      that you can run a Countries of Ancestry report for each of these contacts.
      With some Excel magic you can then find people who are related to you and one or more of your other DNA relatives and (perhaps) start to build up a picture.

      2) If you have one or more segments of a relatively unusual DNA and these pop up in some of your DNA relatives, this may provide a clue as to a common ancestor. [A word of caution though: if I am correct in guessing that you are American, then “hidden African ancestry” or some Native American DNA are not reliable indicators of a common ancestor – at least they’re not among my DNA relatives.]

      3) The map view in your DNA relatives may or may not also give you some clues. As with other clues, they have to be treated with caution. If you are American, then the map view may be quite helpful. If you are from the Old World then the map view will be quite misleading because the bulk of the 23andme customer base is in the US whereas the bulk of your relatives would be elsewhere.

      4) Upload your raw data to GEDmatch. You can then check for DNA relatives there who may have tested with a different company. You should be able to contact most of them.

      5) Some of your 23andme relatives may have loaded a reasonably omprehensive family tree into 23andme and allow access. Where this
      is the case, if you can afford it, join ancestry.com and use one or more of
      these family trees to start building up your own family tree (or family shrubbery or family thicket as I think of it). This is going to be a long job. You’ll need to go back 5 or 6 generations. Then you’ll need to start working your way forward again. I’m working on my family tree in Ancestry and, even with some names and other information to get me started, I have to be very careful that I don’t end up literally barking up the wrong tree. (For example, even with birth years, chasing up the correct William Campbell father of Andrew Campbell is not easy – the names are too common.)

      6) If money is no object, hire a genealogist.

      The answers are out there but they may well take a long time
      to find and sometimes you find the answers in unexpected places. Good luck.

    • Scott23H

      William,
      There isn’t a quick answer to your question. It is possible for adoptees to find close relatives but it isn’t not easy unless they happen to already be in the database.
      There are several ways that this could happen but most involve being able to connect with DNA Relative matches who have additional information. It also depends on the information that you know about your past: Where you were born, for instance; Any information about your birth mother or birth father;
      Even information about their ancestry can help. This can help you triangulate important information. So if you find your DNA Relative results clustering in an area where you were born, that might be a good starting place for you to connect with those matches first.
      Using DNA Relative you can view the surname list, which can be sorted in different ways. One helpful way to sort those matches is to look on “enrichment” which weights how common that surname is among your matches versus how common it is in the database as a whole.
      As a man, you will also see both your maternal and paternal haplogroups. This can also help you in your search particularly if you have an unusual paternal haplogroup.
      You might also reach out to the community about your search and you’ll find that there are many people willing to help.

  • William Gall

    Thanks, Scott. That’s helpful. Especially the geographical suggestion.

  • Barbara Bauer Sadovnic

    William, there are many helpful tools and techniques here: http://www.dnaadoption.com/

    I’m not an adoptee, but I use a some of the tools this group has developed in my genealogy research. There are many very well-informed and very helpful people in the group.

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