Saturday, January 3, 2015

Genetic Genealogy for Beginners, Part 1

As many of you recall, I took the AncestryDNA test a while back and I'm still trying to make it work for me as much as possible. I said I was going to follow up on the experiences I've been having at, which so far has been a great experience for me. Although I still haven't made any amazing discoveries in terms of matches, I'm well on my way to making that happen.

The more I've learned about genetics, the more I realize that I needed someone to explain the important fundamentals to me--information that, in my experience, is not easy to find.

Because of that, I've decided to make a video series on the basics of genetic genealogy. Be sure to Like, Comment, Subscribe, and Share!

If you're thinking about taking a DNA test, regardless of the company you test with, there are some important things you need to know. I cover these in my Part 1 video in more detail, but here are some of the facts you most need to understand before (or after) buying a test.

  1. You need to start with at least two tests, one for you and one for another person in your family. Why? Because DNA does not come pre-color coded according to what came from your mom or dad. If you want to have any clue at all about which side of the family your cousin matches come from, you need to know which parts of your DNA are maternal and paternal. Have one of your parents tested with you. If that's not possible, try another close relative (grandparents, cousins, anyone who can clearly comes from one side of your family.)
  2. If you think a cM is a centimeter, or a SNP (pronounced "snip") is a haircut, you're in a lot of trouble. These are the two most important concepts in measuring how someone is related to you. Never heard of 'em before? Check out my video above to get started.
  3. There is no royal road to cousin matching. You have to learn science, do calculations, and study up on what it all means to do genetic genealogy. You have to learn about your matching tools and how to use them. Your testing companies may match you to other people, but until you know how it all works it's all going to be Greek to you. If you want to solve your family mysteries, it doesn't just happen like a shaky leaf hint. It takes work. If you don't want to invest the time to learn and collaborate with other people, genetic genealogy is not for you.
And as a final piece of advice: start a new tree and get rid of the privacy settings. Your test alone isn't going to tell you very much. You have to work together with other people, comparing notes with them and trying to figure out how the two of you are related. They can't help you if they can't see your tree or communicate with you. And while you're creating a second tree, try to forget everything you thought you knew about your family. Follow the biological lines as far as you can. Don't put in step parents or adopted parents anywhere in that tree. It will only make your life--and the lives of those who want to help you--more difficult.

Have any questions about where to get started? Leave them in comments and I'll answer them as I continue to genetic genealogy series!

UPDATE: Part 2 and Part 3 are available now!