Aug 23, 2012 - Ancestry

Three Degrees of 23andMe

Shawna, one of 23andMe’s customer care representatives, who has a degree in biological sciences focusing her studies on genetics, put together this video and post that illustrates the interconnectedness between all people. Enjoy. We hope it inspires your own journey through your DNA.

23andMe’s Customer Care team representatives have a lot in common. Besides the obvious – a love of dogs and chocolate – we also share relatives. In fact, a relative of one representative’s maternal great great grandfather is also related to another team member through her maternal grandfather.

I work at 23andMe on the Customer Care Team. I’m one of the people you may talk to when you need to reset your password, have questions about our features, or want to find out about a specific branch of your family. We are constantly juggling questions and input from 23andMe customers who want to get the best out of the service. Sometimes we have our own questions and wonder out loud about the possibilities of what we could find out from our own DNA.

One of those questions triggered a fun exploration that I thought illustrated just how interrelated we all are.

It started when I jokingly said:

“I bet we (all) are related.”

Sadly, we weren’t and I lost the bet. But one day, out of pure coincidence, I realized that I shared a cousin with another team member. That’s what really pushed us to find out who else shared cousins and how we fit into each others’ ancestry.

We took a chance and decided to compare our “Public” matches DNA Relatives. Public matches are people who have made their profiles fully visible in DNA Relatives, so that you wouldn’t necessarily need to make contact in order to learn information that could be useful for determining your genealogical connection. You can choose which information and how much information you want to make public on your profile page, and you can change these settings at any time.

Comparing DNA Relatives can reveal something quite extraordinary. The people I work within customer service are a relatively random collection of people. Even with our vastly different backgrounds and experiences we found that we are all interconnected. This gets to something one of our scientists, Mike Macpherson, illustrated to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. host of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” Mike showed how when it comes to genetics there is only two or three degrees of separation between us.

How Shawna Drew These Connections
While I could have compared DNA Relatives data in a program like Excel, I created a simple program to find matching names.
Excel offers an easy way to compare DNA Relatives between two-to-three people. First, color code each person’s matches with a different color. Then, create a merged document– combine the Public Match data from the two or three different people into one document – by copying and pasting each person’s matches into one spreadsheet. Next, select all and sort from A to Z. This will place the listings with the same name together. If you see the same person show up with your color and with your friends or family members, you share that match.

In our case, I found that I had cousins in common with three people I work with – Kristina, Tiffany, and Jessica. Our team, excluding one person, was able to create a web of interconnections connecting me to   people who I didn’t even know before I started working here. As a collective group our ancestors came from roughly 23 countries around the world. The majority of these countries spanned Europe, however our collective ancestry stretched out to also incorporate Japan, China, and the Philippines. One team member had only a few Public Matches and couldn’t find a link using this method.

Now with at least yourself and one parent genotyped, you can identify whether your match is a relative on your mother’s or your father’s side of the family in our DNA Relatives feature. This can be helpful if you are only able to genotype yourself and one parent. Comparing DNA Relatives Matches with friends could help you identify where your families’ paths crossed to produce a mutual cousin. If you share a lot of cousins, you may want to check if you also share segments in common. You may actually be related yourselves!

Besides interesting dinner conversation about how your great great great great great uncle married your best friend’s great great great great aunt, you can learn more about your ancestry by determining where and when your ancestry overlaps with someone else’s ancestry. For example, we later found that two employees shared a large number of mutual cousins, but weren’t related themselves. After reviewing the cousins they had in common, a trend appeared. All the cousins they shared listed that they had German ancestry. German ancestry was confirmed by both employees.

By looking for similarities that mutual cousins share, you may be able to find out more about your own ancestral origins, family surnames, and family migration.

View your DNA Relatives results and find public matches. Not yet a customer? Visit our store!

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