Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Family Tree DNA: My Review

Over the past couple of years, you've gotten ample insight from yours truly on AncestryDNA and GEDmatch. Clearly, this conversation is incomplete without giving Family Tree DNA some long-overdue attention. So today, I'm going to be sharing my thoughts on their Family Finder/autosomal DNA test. Specifically, I'll be sharing my experience with their autosomal transfer service.

As I did in my AncestryDNA review and the follow-up, I'll be breaking down this review into a couple of different categories. I'll grade them individually, and average them together for a final score. Here are the categories:
  • Cousin Matching
  • Admixture
  • Projects
I'm also giving them extra credit right out of the gate for offering the autosomal transfer at all. Their biggest weakness, at this stage of the game, is the size of their database of matches. It's difficult to compete with AncestryDNA's 4,000,000+ tests analyzed, especially with their last million being added between January and April of this year. Having such a common sense incentive for the customer is one of the industry's best bargains. If 23&Me would follow suit, I'd have a full house.

Cousin Matching: C+

There are so many different fronts to approach this from, so let's dive in! Family Tree DNA has an overall great interface. In my opinion, their interface has always been better than AncestryDNA. While the capability of Family Tree DNA's interface isn't as robust as GEDmatch, they have many more analysis tools to offer someone out of the gate than AncestryDNA does. And by using all of the features available on Family Tree DNA, I can see how it would help someone transition much more smoothly over to GEDmatch.

Family Tree DNA's match list is like GEDmatch's One-to-Many match list, on training wheels. It's a sortable table that allows you isolate matches in a variety of ways. You can click the column headers, which allow you to sort X-DNA matches to the top of the list. You can also use the "In Common With" button, to see which matches you share with a given relative. What AncestryDNA customers usually have to find on two different websites, Family Tree DNA has consolidated into one.

Their match list also has an additional field for surnames, which is unique to this site. Those surnames are searchable, as are your cousin matches. This feature is only available with users who fill out their profile, but many of the most active users fit that description. While I do like being able to sort by location on AncestryDNA and feel it is missing here, Family Tree DNA still has a running head start. They could easily add that functionality without a significant disruption to their interface. Which is still more than AncestryDNA can say when it comes to revisiting a cousin match. (Does anyone else realize you can use the Membership Directory to do this? Yeah, no one else does either.)

Family Tree DNA has a chromosome browser, which is also more than AncestryDNA can say. As nice as that is to have, it's actually my least favorite part of working with Family Tree DNA. However, the chromosome browser isn't the problem. It's how inefficiently it operates to do a very simple job.

I greatly dislike that this is the only way to access the full segment data for each match. To do this, I have to systematically input all 2700+ matches into the chromosome browser in batches of 5. And of course, there's literally no way to pull up 5 matches on the same chromosome in the chromosome browser. So they're just 5 random matches from an alphabetical list.

I click on each segment that appears, and copy the data from a pop-up box that has a nasty habit of disappearing if I click anywhere else. This is particularly annoying to do when the segments are small, and there are multiple segments to analyze for the same person. Since I also use Microsoft Access for my data entry, this means I have to move my Access window around my screen based on where the box appears. Many times, I lose the box while trying to situate my windows, and have to start all over again.

First World Rage!
This interface has so much potential, and has so many great features on it. I don't understand why they have it programmed to function only one way, which is the least efficient way possible. They have TWO other options through which they could present the segment data, and THIS is the one they chose. They have the match list and the Excel/CSV download feature they could be using instead.

As an Access user, I can't tell you how valuable it would be to me to export segment data on an Excel spreadsheet. I would be able to do a bulk import of segment data into Access. This would save me hundreds of hours of work, and allow me to spend more time on analysis instead of data entry. And really, what exactly is the purpose of exporting matches into an Excel spreadsheet without the segment data? Like so many things going on with Family Tree DNA, it's a fantastic idea that falls short in the execution.

[NOTE: When I used the Excel/CSV feature in preparation for this post, I used the link available from the Match List page. The matches exported from that page are as I described them: just about useless in every way. It provides the user's name, contact information, relationship estimates, and no full segment data. I didn't know that using the Excel/CSV link from the chromosome browser page would produce a different match list, which DOES include exact segment lengths and locations. The mistake here is mine, and I apologize for the confusion.

However, upon receiving this second match list, I find it equally dissatisfying for the following reasons: it does not include any of the pertinent identifying information from the previous list. It has an entire column dedicated solely to my name, and no contact information or relationship estimates. Having the relevant information I need broken up across two Excel workbooks does not, in fact, allow me to import that information into Access. And given that the segment data match list has matches smaller than 6 cM, I would have to manually remove each of them myself. According to my personal user needs, I'd like to see these two lists combined. And with the knowledge I have of DNA comparison, segments smaller than 5 cM are best removed from that match list.]

I'm also not a fan of Family Tree DNA's matching criteria. They give too much emphasis to smaller segments, with no way to set your own match criteria. With 2700+ matches to process on their website alone, I don't have time to waste with 5 and 6 cM matches. And yes, considering some of my research challenges, those matches are a waste of my time. The closest thing that Family Tree DNA has to custom match criteria is a drop down list of options on the chromosome browser. And since I haven't had anyone else closely related to me tested, most of the options are useless to me.

Family Tree DNA has room for improvement when it comes to cousin matching. But they're in a much better position to address those issues than AncestryDNA is, and I hope they recognize it. They have the potential to be a much more comprehensive service than AncestryDNA probably ever will be. What AncestryDNA has done by being the lowest of all possible fruit, Family Tree DNA can accomplish by superior performance.

Admixture: B-

It's no secret that I'm not the biggest fangirl of admixtures. We've all heard the wacky stories about how ethnicity estimates revealed that babies born a hundred years ago were switched at birth. But really, for most of us, ethnicity estimates don't have that kind of potential unless you're biologically diverse. Nevertheless, I was still curious to get a second opinion on my AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates.

European Ethnicity Estimates from AncestryDNA

myOrigins from Family Tree DNA

You'll note that there are some pretty large discrepancies here, including between ethnic groups that both companies test for. The largest disparity is the 26% Scandinavian from AncestryDNA, versus 0% from Family Tree DNA. With a difference that large, someone here is wrong. I don't have much of sense of who it could be. The more detailed view of the AncestryDNA test seems consistent with what I suspect about the unknown branches of my family. But without more traditional research and confirmation of details to back it up, it's not a question I can resolve myself right now.

I will say that unlike AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA has a separate, distinct testing region for South America. This was news to me, and has been added since I originally did the autosomal transfer. AncestryDNA treats the Caribbean, North, Central, and South America as one homogeneous region. As someone with Caribbean heritage, with rumors of Native American ancestry I was trying to squash, being able to distinguish the two is useful. Anyone with interests in these regions will receive more detailed results from Family Tree DNA than from AncestryDNA.

Projects: C

AncestryDNA has 4,000,000+ samples in their database. There's no escaping that fact. If Family Tree DNA is going to compete with the statistical probability of making a match, they need to deliver superior service. They can accomplish this by updating features they already have, and maximizing on AncestryDNA's weaknesses.

You can't make money if you don't exist.
From what I can see, a significant portion of Family Tree DNA's attention is still focused on Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing. And before anyone challenges me about it, I recognize that these tests have their place. But those tests are niche at best, and stubbornly nostalgic at their worst. There is no sense in encouraging the average person, let alone a new customer, to spend hundreds of dollars on one line in their genome anymore. Commitments to niche tests take resources away from developing autosomal testing offerings. And anyone who isn't committing the lion share of their resources to autosomal testing is making a big mistake. They are going to seem crazy when they try to explain their reasoning in ten years, if they're still around to talk about it.

One example of where I see this happening is with their projects. They are most analogous feature they have to AncestryDNA's newest Genetic Communities. With Genetic Communities, AncestryDNA approximates the geographic regions your ancestors belonged to, based on DNA and family trees. Family Tree DNA has had this feature for years, with user-operated location, lineage, and surname projects. But it's still set up specifically from back in the day when Y and mT DNA tests were all the rage.

Why haven't these been upgraded to function with autosomal testing? They're literally sleeping on one of the biggest advantages they have over AncestryDNA. The might as well stand on a street corner and give away free money, for the amount of good it's doing them.

To those who have taken DNA tests, imagine being able to pull up a map to find collaborative discussions about the communities you care about most. Everyone there is specifically talking about DNA. As you scroll in deeper on the map, more specific projects appear, on state, county, or even the city level. Each one would have surname and lineage projects associated with it, with the ability to add more projects. As much as I enjoy Ancestry's Historic Insight tree hints, these don't create or engage people in conversation. Having projects based on historical events and common experiences would spark those conversations for DNA. And unlike Facebook, where a lot of these community-based conversations are happening right now, Family Tree DNA can integrate their features into these projects and conversations.

One of AncestryDNA's critical weaknesses is not fostering effective communication between it's users. They ignore this in favor of automating as much of their user's experience as possible. Family Tree DNA already has, as part of its offerings, the solution to this problem. But those features are only available for the most expensive, niche components of their offerings. (And that's if you don't want to go as far as I will, and say that Y and mT DNA are already dead.)

As a user experience and a business strategy, it simply makes zero sense. You can't be everything to everyone. It's the same trap that restaurants fall into when they have too many choices on their menu. Instead of trying to provide value through eleven different offerings and options, why not focus on the one thing that matters, and doing it the best way you know how?

Final Grade: B-

Out of the box, is Family Tree DNA a better service than AncestryDNA? In terms of the product they offer and the features that come with it, yes. But when you factor in the size the of their respective user bases and the company's ongoing leverage, the story changes. If you're going to compete with a much larger company, and a growing playing field with increasing amounts of competition, you have to focus on innovation.  You can't rely solely on carrying obsolete products your competitors don't have, and charging more for them. That is not a strategy for growth. That's a memoir for Radio Shack.

The Eighties called.
They want their DNA test back.

But from where I'm sitting, there's no reason for Family Tree DNA to be in the position they're in. They have everything they need to give AncestryDNA a serious run for their money. They just aren't using any of it to their advantage. And as a customer who is approaching the decision about purchasing secondary kits for family members, I'm finding it difficult to decide who deserves my money more. The company that doesn't listen, or the company that is moving precariously close to the wrong meaning of "throwback"?

Some might say that "only time will tell," but I disagree. It isn't time that will tell. It will be innovation and common sense that determine the future of Family Tree DNA and their Family Finder test. And the silver lining here is that innovation and common sense are 100% within their control.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sweet Spots: Using Books on FamilySearch

Genealogists are cheapskates. Let's not deny it. We sort of have to be. Family history isn't a cheap hobby, after all. Research trips, website subscriptions, FOIA requests, research fees, gas money, copies, postage, it can add up in a hurry. If you're not careful, you'll end up eating Ramen noodles in front of a computer screen at 3 a.m. And don't even get me started on the economy of wearing pants. A major factor for most decisions to leave the house for my generation, in addition to cost versus reward, is how long we have to be wearing pants.

What I hear every time there's a genealogy event that doesn't include pajamas.
I can't be the only one waiting for this to be a thing.

I've come a little way from paying for a single month of once a year with money I found in the couch. But that's only because of the FamilySearch partnerships. And no one really outgrows getting free records access, do they?

Which is why I wanted to point out some free resources that aren't as well known on FamilySearch. This has nothing to do with their record collections. Instead, I want to talk about how you can access a growing number of books from the Family History Library. Why fly or drive to Salt Lake City when the information you need could be right at your fingertips without you knowing it, right?

Using FamilySearch Books

To navigate to the Books section, go to, hover over the the Search tab, and click on the Book menu.

A simple search box will appear, as well as a list of repositories whose books are also included in the collection. So before you plan a trip to the Allen County Public Library, check to see if the resource you need is available through this portal. I don't know about y'all, but I know I don't want to pay money, put on pants, and fly on a plane if I don't have to.

If this isn't the best part of your day, are you really a genealogist?

Don't bother with the simple search box. I mean, I suppose you can. But they make the Advanced Search so easy to find, you might as well use it.

You basically get two search fields, and you can have them search whichever way you like. I personally prefer Full Text. It's also a good idea to set the middle box to OR (not displayed below, but trust me.) I'll usually put a county name in one and a surname in the other. I've gotten some great results that way. This of course is a much easier approach with unique county names, as my example is. I'm pretty sure no other place on earth is called Pittsylvania. Let's look for some Towlers.

Scroll down to see your results. I know that sounds dumb to say, but these search boxes take up the whole screen and the results appear underneath them.

Now some things that you click on will open fine and dandy. If you're lucky, there's no limit to the things you can find.  If you're lazy like me and you want to use the Ctrl+F function to search the book for names, you have to download it first. I don't know why, but it doesn't work in browser, even though all of the books have been OCRed. You download them by putting your cursor inside the viewing window, and click the download icon.

For Pittsylvania County alone, there are several books with vital statistics in them. Most of them are indexes of vital records from the county courthouse. Some of them are transcriptions of unique documents, like those who took the Oath of Allegiance during the American Revolution in 1777. I find that looking by geographic areas (cities, states, provinces, regions, countries) is the best way to get a broad sense of what's available.

If you're lucky, you may even find something that fills in a record gap for your community of interest. I know for Pittsylvania County in particular, Dr. Reuben W. Bennett kept private records of births and marriages that predate official county records. They're some of the only vital records I've ever seen that predate 1853. His register was transcribed and published in the William and Mary Quarterly, and is available to view through this portal. (Albeit, it's much easier to view it for free on JSTOR here.)  And I had no idea it existed until I got curious and started poking around in the online books on FamilySearch.

Inevitably, you're going to run into a particular error message. You'll click on an item in your search results, it says you don't have the rights to access it. What does that mean? Where is the book and why can't you see it? There's a lot of confusion about what this means and why it happens, so I thought I'd talk about it.

The main factor at play here is ownership. Because many of the books and periodicals being included in the online collection are under copyright, they have to get a little creative in how they allow people to access them. Restricting how many people can access the digital copy is legally necessary to respect authorial and repository ownership, as mandated by laws as they currently exist.

Additionally, many of the materials are not owned by the Family History Library. The repositories that own them can stipulate other conditions under which they may be used. The result is that some of the more promising results on your list can only be accessed on-site at the Family History Library, in their partner libraries, or at a local family history center. You cannot use them from your home internet connection.

What are Family History Centers?

As many of y'all may or may not know, FamilySearch is the family history arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons don't play around when it comes to genealogy. Most of our churches have entire rooms set up for doing genealogy. Other regions have standalone buildings dedicated to that purpose. In the days before the internet, these centers were largely used to distribute and use microfilm from the Family History Library. Today, they provide computer and internet access for genealogy to anyone who doesn't have it. They also provide free access to and other paid subscription sites. They've now become the logical access point for many digital record collections and materials that otherwise couldn't be distributed.

To find your local family history center, use the Locator utility. You can input your city, and it will show you the closest family history center to you. You may have multiple options to choose from. You'll have a map that you can poke around on to decide which one best meets your needs. Check their hours of operation, and any closures they have scheduled. The centers are run entirely by volunteers, so it's always a good idea to call ahead and let them know when you plan to visit. Because they also teach classes to various groups, you may want to take advantage of any events they have going on, or schedule your trip around them. The address and phone number for each center is provided via the locator.

The centers are completely free to the public. I recommend preparing a visit like you would any other research trip. Have specific records and books in mind you intend to use, and budget your time accordingly. I'll even make a list or email myself links to different record sets, so I can open them in-browser at the Family History Center. Anything that saves me this much time and money is something I can live with.

To anyone who has ever put on pants to do genealogy, I salute you!

Even if it does mean I still have to wear real clothes and leave my house. Some things are just worth putting on pants for.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Roots Magic Websites for Genetic Genealogy

I've been trying to find a way to embed my family tree onto my personal blog for a while now. It just seems like a logical thing to include on a blog about my family history. But I've never found any options I liked that would allow me to do that. You'd think that because I host my main tree on, linking to my public tree would be sufficient. But since the only ones who can view Ancestry member trees are people with active paid subscriptions, this isn't a perfect solution.

This came to my attention again as I was interacting with one of my cousin matches on AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA was able to match us together, and we have have a shared ancestor hint linking our trees together. But because he doesn't have an active subscription, he doesn't think he can see my tree. And since his tree is private, I'm not able to see his. He even asked me how to change his tree to public because he doesn't actually care about keeping it private.

We're trying to work that out right now. I'm pretty eager to know who he is because he isn't connected to anyone else that I recognize. The entire exchange has gotten me thinking about the continued struggle of being an AncestryDNA customer. How did I make it this far into this exchange, and I'm still no closer to an answer about this connection?

And on that same note, how can I make this process easier and more familiar to that generation of users that will never, ever be comfortable using computers?

I've come across a lot of people who have websites that allow them to post interactive versions of their GEDCOM files online. I decided that could be a good option for addressing this problem. If I could optimize it enough for a genetic genealogy application, I thought it could be a very useful tool. I set out to explore some of the options that exist. Since I have full access to Roots Magic 6, and it has free site hosting, I decided to try them out first. And I have to admit, I'm pleasantly surprised by the results.


Not only is the site simple to navigate, it's one of the few GEDCOM-to-web options I've ever seen that bothers to include sources. And as I thought about how I could make the most of it as a tool in making contact with DNA matches, there were a couple of other features I decided to include:

  • All of my confirmed biological ancestors from the last 12 generations
  • All of their descendants I can find who share a biological connection with me
  • Social media links
  • Links to my profiles and trees from the DNA testing companies I've tested with
  • My GEDmatch kit number
  • A link to my blog

This site, which took me less than 10 minutes to set up, is an awesome little hub for my genetic genealogy efforts. I can imagine sending it to anyone who might be related to me, and everything they need to compare notes with me is all in one place. Regardless of what testing site they use, I make it easy for them to connect with me, and find the resources they're looking for.

Looking at the sample site on the Roots Magic website, I also see that they've color coded different lines. It's nice to see that feature carried over into the site, because there's an awesome bit of untapped potential for that for genetic genealogy. I can activate color coding when DNA matches for different lines have been confirmed. I can even color code them based on the testing site they come from. I don't know how well the pedigree view on the live site would allow me to do this, or whether the color coding displays on any other view within the website. But I know working with the data within Roots Magic, that potential is there.

What tips and tricks do you have for reaching out to your DNA cousin matches? What tools are making it easier for you to collaborate and discover your common ancestors? Let us know in comments!

Friday, April 28, 2017

10 Tips for Making the Most of

I'm not really shy when it comes to how much I love, the open-source tool for anyone who has taken a DNA test for genetic genealogy. And really, what's not to love? I get matched up with relatives from all of the major testing companies, for free, without having to take or pay for multiple tests. It presents me with all of the segment information for my matches, and gives me the tools to analyze and work with my own results. I can decide for myself what matching criteria I want to use. Without GEDmatch, my experience as a genetic genealogist would be controlled and limited by corporate interests and objectives.

The one downside to GEDmatch is that it has a steep learning curve. I've been using the website for several years now, and I'm still discovering new ways to use it all the time. To say nothing of all the ways I could be using it better. So in the spirit of helping us all to make the most of what GEDmatch has to offer, here are some of the tips that are making life a little easier for me.

1. Use Internet Explorer

I know. Let's party like it's 1999, right?
I'm not an expert on the technology behind web browsers, what makes them work, and why it matters which ones you use for which site. All I can tell you is what I've seen on my computer, in the hundreds of times I've used GEDmatch over the past several years. The sum of all that experience has shown that Google Chrome is the browser most likely to time out, crash, or just not load at all. Firefox is hit or miss, depending on the number of users on the site.

The only browser that consistently loads GEDmatch for me, regardless of the time of day or function I'm using, is Internet Explorer.

2. You Can Identify the Testing Company from the Kit Number

Am I the only person who didn't know the letter in the kit numbers corresponds to testing company? A is for AncestryDNA, T (and previously F) for Family Tree DNA, and M for 23&Me. (I recently saw an H, which I'm assuming is for MyHeritage.)

3. Printing your One-to-Many Match List as a PDF

In order to view all of the cousins and relatives that match with you, you have to load them all onto a single page. Called the One-to-Many list, this page takes the longest to load, and is the first thing to stop working when the site gets busy.

Rather than loading this page over and over again, print your results as a PDF document. That way, you can reference all of the information on it without creating extra strain on the site.

4. Sorting the Match List

Another feature I discovered by accident, you can actually sort by different columns on the One-to-Many match list. By default, it sorts by Total Autosomal DNA. Because of the way I sort and organize my data, however, I prefer to view it by Largest Segment. Every time I load the page, it's the first thing I change. But depending on what you want to view, you can reorganize the page and save a PDF of that version

This is especially useful when you want to create a match list of your X-DNA matches. By sorting with that column, your match list will load with a completely different set of matches. Based on the experience I had processing these matches for the first time, GEDmatch doesn't include all of the X-DNA matches on the default match list. The only way to see all of these matches is to use the sort arrow in that column. Keeping a separate list of these matches as a PDF is also helpful.

5. Use the X-DNA One-to-One Analysis

Speaking of X-DNA, which I also discovered in the past week, let me eliminate some confusion. X-DNA is Chromosome 23, and determines gender. It is not the same thing as mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only by women from their direct maternal line. X-DNA is inherited by both men and women, and follows different inheritance paths according to gender. Being female, I inherited an X chromosome from my father, and my mother. My father got his X chromosome from his mother, and back through several different men and women along her lines. My mother, however, got her X chromosomes from a much larger collection of male and female relatives from both her paternal and maternal lines.

GEDmatch provides X DNA matches and analysis. If the only tools you ever use are the default match list and the general One-to-One analysis, you might not know that. There is a separate One-to-One utility for X DNA matches, which is the only one that will display those results. For relatives that share both autosomal and X DNA with you, you'll have to run their kits through both One-to-One match utilities to see all of the segments they share with you.

6. There's a Facebook Group!

Do yourself a favor and join this Facebook group. When I was first starting out, I had to ask a lot of questions that, looking back, I realize were really basic. The people there didn't have to take the time to explain such fundamental stuff to me. But they did, and it has made all of the difference in the choice I made to stick it out until I could understand. And they helped me without making me feel stupid, which is always an awesome thing.


To do DNA analysis, you have to process and compare literally hundreds of pieces of unique data. It's time-consuming and slow. From GEDmatch alone, I've processed over 1,500 samples. And I still haven't made it through half of the 23 pages of matches GEDmatch has to offer me. Let alone all of the matches on other websites I haven't gotten to yet. I may actually die before I process them all. And I know I'm not unique in that respect.

The number of people who upload duplicate kits for themselves, especially when they don't make it obvious, does a disservice to everyone. They take up precious space on the site servers with duplicated information. They waste everyone else's time in processing extra samples for the same person. And as much as I hate this behavior, I can at least understand it if you upload results from different testing companies. I seriously wish you wouldn't. But I get it.

But y'all who are uploading duplicate kits from the same testing company. Why? WHY?! What did you think it was going to tell you the second, third, fourth, or fifth time that it didn't say the first time? And before you think I'm blowing my stack about nothing, I'm not making this up. I have seen multiple people in my match list upload as many as give kits for themselves, and they're all from the same testing company.


Just stop it already!

(Note: You can tell if it's a duplicate if you do a One-to-One comparison with the Graphics turned on. The bars that show up will be solid blue and green)

8. Link Your Kit Number and Tree Together

DNA segment data isn't useless without a tree. Certainly adoptees have had to make do with less. But everything about genetic genealogy is so much easier with a tree. So the more you do to connect your GEDmatch kit number and your online tree together, the better.

I post my kit number all over the place. It's on my blog, in my profile, and on my Find a Grave profile. On Twitter, I put my kit number in the location field of my profile. I made a graphic of my kit number with a template on Then I set it to be a Featured Photo in the sidebar of my Facebook profile. You can also share it on Instagram, Pinterest, and other forms of social media. Put your kit number anywhere a relative might see it, and who knows? Maybe one day, it'll pay off.

I only wish it were that simple to link to our various online trees on GEDmatch. While the site allows people to upload gedcom files, the interface is dated and limited. It doesn't display any source information, and does nothing to connect users to their profiles or trees from their original testing companies. Links to online trees, usernames, and testing company user profiles would be much more useful, in terms of building bridges between trees and segment data. I'd love to see that in future builds for the site.

9. Tell Your Cousin Matches About GEDmatch

Whenever I contact cousin matches on AncestryDNA, I tell them about GEDmatch. I always send along my kit number, in case they're already users. If it's someone I'm particularly interested in connecting with, I tell them they can access more free matches from other testing companies at GEDmatch. Quite a few people have taken me up on that invitation, and some of my best matches are with people I've introduced to the site.

GEDmatch exists entirely from word of mouth. Everyone who uses it heard about it from someone else once upon a time. If we want the site to keep growing, we have to keep telling people about it.

10. Do Descendancy Research!

When I took my DNA test, I thought it was going to tell me who my ancestors were. Now I see that isn't how it works, at least not directly. The thing DNA tests are best at is connecting me to other living descendants of my ancestors. It's up to us to figure out where the connection is through collaboration and traditional research.

Since cousins and distant relatives are primarily what my test gives to me, it makes sense to spend time researching who they are. The more you know about the descendants of your ancestors, the more easily your will recognize them when they take a DNA test. Since most of us start a new tree with only biological ancestral connections anyway (or at least you should!), it makes sense to include descendants on that same tree.

When your biological tree becomes a more complete record of every person who is biologically related to you, the more DNA testing will reward you for those efforts.

Learning to use segment data can seem like a daunting task. It requires an investment of time that some of us may question. Is the value of what I've going to get back in the end worth the time I'm taking away from traditional research? I know that was a question I once had. I know it's a question that many people ask themselves before and after taking a DNA test. Is it worth the time and money I'm about to spend on it?

Even as many are asking themselves those questions, they still underestimate the investment that goes into doing genetic genealogy well. There truly is no royal road to geometry, no easy way to learn to use DNA, and no credible way to make it easier. We all have to pay what it costs to achieve understanding.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Keeping a Journal: A Genealogist's Guide

From the time I was nine years old, I've written in a journal. While I no longer have some of those earlier samples of my writing, I have a shoebox and the better part of a shelf in my closet dedicated to the rest of my journals. While I'm not a regular journal keeper, I don't really hold that against myself. It's not about how frequently I write, but the quality and value of what I have to say.

That being said, there are some simple steps every genealogist can take to transform their journals into historical records and sources of information. From remembering to describe people and places, to the selection of your writing prompts and topics, anyone can create a priceless treasure trove of history through journal keeping.

Do you keep a journal? What are some of the people, places, and events that have shaped your life? Let us know in comments. If journal keeping is something you've always wanted to start, check out our the latest video for helpful hints and ideas.

And of course, don't forget to subscribe!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Calling all you Young and Savvies out there!

Our community and audience is growing all the time. We know that young voices have so much to give to the genealogical community, but too often they go unheard. We want that to change, and we want you to be a part of it!

Young and Savvy Genealogists is looking for 2 new perma-bloggers! Become a regular contributor to the Y&SG blog, as well as a moderator to our Facebook community.

  1. Review our Submission Guidelines. They give you an idea of the kind of content we want to publish!
  2. Submit two sample guest posts. Between 1000-2000 words, to be featured on the blog. Deadline for submission will be February 28th! Caitie and I will choose the finalists. All posts will run throughout the month of March.
  3. Vote in a poll in our Facebook community for the creator/posts you like the best.

While guest posters can be of any age, we are interested at this time in elevating the voices of the under 30 crowd.

The newest Young and Savvy perma-bloggers will be announced on March 31st! 

Spread the word, and good luck!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ubuntu Linux for Genealogists

Life as a genealogist means adapting to new technology. I've talked about that pretty extensively in the past, especially when it comes to obsolescence. Experimenting with new tools and sites is an important part of not being left behind, a topic that I covered extensively in my guest post on Geneabloggers.

I'm not someone who is afraid of digital adaptation for the sake of staying on the cutting edge of what's available to me. But what happens when your chosen tools or their operating systems begin to interfere with your productivity? When does it become a mistake to maintain brand loyalty, and how does that affect us as genealogists?

Part of the reason I've taken a bit of a genealogy hiatus is because I've been in a prolonged state of forced exploration of these questions. The end result has been terminating my relationship with all Microsoft and Windows products, and converting my desktop experience over to Linux.

The story of my dissatisfaction is a long one, but I'll try to summarize. As a user of Windows and Apple products, I felt like much of my user experience was being controlled more and more by corporate interests, instead of giving me a quality user experience. There was more money to be made in keeping me dissatisfied, and replacing my devices, instead of fully or properly supporting the stuff I already owned. They disguise this by offering an array of desirable features that they don't make available for previous devices, mixed together with hosts of other features I don't care about, or don't want. Put this together with compatibility and stability issues I've been having on my computer since Windows 8, multiple instances of data loss from Microsoft products, and the built-in spying of Windows 10, I reached my limit of what I was willing to tolerate.

How I've resolved these issues for myself with Linux will likely resonate, on some level, with others. This post won't necessarily help you to make genealogical discoveries. But if your experience has been anything like mine, it will help you to prevent the data loss and frustration keeping you from working as effectively as you want.

Introduction to Linux & Ubuntu

Life as a Linux user is completely different from being part of the Windows or Apple ecosystems. The word I would use to sum up this difference is choice. I have more choices than I know what to do with when it comes to using Linux. And as dumb as it's going to sound, that's both liberating and frustrating. I'm so used to having my experience dictated and decided for me by Windows and Apple, I'm not used to having so many choices. And it all begins when you decide what version of Linux you want to use.

Yes, there are multiple versions (distributions, or distros) of Linux. Because Linux is open-source, it's open for anyone with the right knowledge and expertise to develop it, and make it even better. This means that many different people have gotten a hold of Linux, and made their own versions based on the kind of user experience they want to have. There are literally hundreds of different versions of Linux, each with different combinations of features. Which one you choose depends entirely on the features you want, and how much you want to customize it even more.

I'm not a computer programmer, and I don't have much interest in learning at this point in time. I wanted a user interface that is similar to Windows, and compatible with the software and tools I use the most. For me, this meant using the most popular, beginner-friendly version of Linux called Ubuntu. I've been very happy with it, and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about Linux. Everything you need to install it on either part or all of your hard drive is build right into the installer.

Ubuntu even has a virtual tour, so you can see what it looks like from a user standpoint. So if you're sick of Apple and Windows, maybe it's time for a change. And Linux might just have the right combination of features to give you the alternatives that you want.

Ubuntu for Genealogy

When I said I wanted to break up with Microsoft, I meant a clean and total break. No Windows, no Office, no OneDrive. There was no level of discomfort I was not willing to experience to switch to something new. But because all of the open-source offerings available for Linux, browser extensions, and online offerings, eliminating Microsoft from my life is easier than ever. Using websites like helped me to find alternatives to my favorite software and apps, with reviews from other users about what works and what doesn't for each one. At the time I was trying to work out what programs were available on Linux, that website helped enormously.

In case you decide to take a similar plunge, here's a tour of the tools and features you don't have to give up by using Linux.

An Office Suite

I chose WPS Office by Kingsoft Office. Because my problems with Office were related to stability and data loss, not the interface itself, I wanted something that would look and act like Microsoft's Office suite. WPS Office was the only one I found with the ribbon interface, and has quite a few features I couldn't get with standard Office. WPS Writer has Eye Protection mode and Night mode, and all of the other features I've come to enjoy from MS Word. WPS Spreadsheet is nearly indistinguishable to me from MS Excel. I haven't yet tried WPS Presentation, which is their offering for PowerPoint. But considering the ways that Kingsoft Office designs itself to be so comfortably familiar to those who use Microsoft Office, I can't imagine it would be all that dissimilar.

There are tons of free and open-source office suites that work on Linux. Ubuntu comes pre-installed with LibreOffice, but Open Office, Calligra Office, and quite a few others are available. Search around to find the one that's most comfortable to you. Most of these options are also available on Windows, so you can even try them out before you jump ship to find the ones you like the most.


WPS Office does not have an alternative to Microsoft Access. Since I love using Access for my DNA analysis, this is a tool for which I had to find a free alternative. suggested Kexi, among many others. After quite a bit of experimenting, I found that Kexi was the only one that was able to handle how large my database is. And because it's free, now anyone who enjoys my approach to sorting and cataloging DNA matches can join in! I'll be sure to give a tour of it in future posts, especially because it's available for Windows as well.

Playing Music, Video, and Podcasts

I know I've mentioned my dissatisfaction with Apple. I had a similar breakup with them more than a year ago, and had to go on the hunt to replace my iTunes library. As a Windows user, I ultimately settled on Winamp, which I liked a lot. Since Winamp isn't available for Linux, I had to go searching again. Since I love the smart playlists, the separate menu for Audiobooks, and podcast functionality of iTunes, these were the most important features to me in Linux. I found what I was looking for with Banshee, which is available for free from the Ubuntu Software sources menu. It has tons of other features, including integration with Apple devices, Amazon mp3s, and online radio stations. Google Play Music and Tomahawk are two others I considered, so you can check those out as well.

VLC is also available on Linux, which is my default video player. But I've also never come across a format that VLC cannot play, including recording formats from just about every cell phone ever made. So no worries if you're relying on VLC to play the interviews with grandma that your cell phone put into a format that only VLC can read. I also just discovered that Audacity is available for Linux, so there's another favorite for audio editing.

I'm still looking for and experimenting with alternatives to Windows Movie Maker, and haven't found one yet. Once I figure that one out, I'll be sure to pass it on.

Google Earth

Really, the more of a Google user you are, the less you are going to notice a significant difference when you switch to Linux. All of those features are still available to you, in one form or another. Google Earth, with its awesome applications for genealogy, is available for download on Linux. Just make sure that when you save all of your places to the right KML when you go to migrate them. And when you load them in Linux, they're going to open into Temporary Places. Move the root KML or KMZ file to My Places, and save. After that, it's no different than having that same functionality from Windows.

Chat and Video Messaging

Right at the same time I switched over to Linux, I had a Skype call and a Google Hangout scheduled for that same week. Because Skype is available for download on Linux, it worked beautifully. My first attempt with Google Hangouts, however, was a flaming dumpster fire. Suffice it to say, Google Hangouts do not work well in Chromium or Firefox on Ubuntu. If it doesn't work in Chromium for you, try uninstalling Chromium, downloading the actual Chrome browser, and using the web version of Hangouts. The problem, from what I could tell, was something to do with Flash. Because Chrome has Flash built into it, Hangouts works fine there.

What Doesn't Work

If you're a huge fan of Adobe products, know that they aren't available for Linux. A life on Linux means a life without Photoshop, Acrobat, and even Reader. Being on Linux opens up a world of free alternatives to Photoshop, including many options that are available on Windows. And as silly as it sounds, I'm sill looking for a satisfactory alternative to Microsoft Paint. But now that I've discovered the treasure trove that is, I find myself missing desktop photo editing software less and less.

PDF support is available, so no worries there. But if you love the annotation features of PDFs, especially Comments and Highlights, know that these won't work in Linux. This is proving to be a bit of a bother for me, but it's nothing I can't live without. If you have downloaded or annotated PDF copies of books from Google Books, or newspapers, or anything else like that in PDF format, know that these may or may not show up when you open them in Linux.

The best PDF reader I've found for Linux to start over with this style of annotations is Okular, available for free. However, because Linux handles these annotations differently than Windows, if you try to open an annotated Okular/Linux PDF on Windows, know that your annotations won't display properly.

Back to Work

For now, I'm dual booting in Linux and Windows 10. I can switch back and forth between them at start up, based on what my needs are. Whenever possible, I keep my digital life in Linux. For as long as I'm working there, I'm able to do so without an endless string of problems and interruptions. While I'm not an IT professional, the awesome thing about using Linux is you really don't have to be to enjoy using it.

"What's wrong with you now, Windows?!"
"Are you kidding me, Apple?"
Said no Linux user ever.

So if you're tired of Windows and Apple spending all your money, ruining your workflow, and controlling your user experience, you do have another choice. And there has never been a better time to experiment with Ubuntu Linux.