Saturday, November 08, 2014

Frustrations over DNA test results


Ol' Myrt's recent public post to Facebook friends includes "I'm just about ready to hire a professional to decipher my AncestryDNA and FTDNA results and assist in my understanding what to do next." (sigh) Never would I have dreamed so many others feel the same way.

From the ensuing conversation, Angie Bush writes "DNA is just another complex source like land records or probate records. Judy G. Russell has written two excellent posts about using DNA as a source in our research. The same principles apply in using DNA - ask a focused research question - then apply the GPS [Genealogical Proof Standard] to that question."

I believe that failing the time or opportunity to study a specific topic in any field of study, it's worthwhile to pay an expert to either do the work for me or to mentor me in future research. 

Before we go into details, a few definitions and links are appropriate:

What follows is a partial transcript of responses to date.

Ruy Cardoso I expect you know a few.
Angie Bush Let me know if there is something I can help you with. Luana Darby is getting pretty good with these things, too.

Susan Clark
Huge learning curve on the DNA testing, but I found it began to make sense the more I worked on it. I did actually hire someone to help me with interpret my aunt's results because they were not what I expected. 

Harold McClendon Jr
To me there is no reason for DNA to be complicated unless you are primarily interested in the science. All DNA does for me is to tell me that I am related to another individual. No matter how closely matched you are you must have the genealogy research to determine exactly how you are related. Without the genealogy research, DNA results are of little value.
Pat Richley-Erickson I hear you Harold and couldn't agree more. I have probably done pretty well in the genealogy department, but haven't yet attended DNA institute courses.

Judy G. Russell But Harold, you *do* need to understand a little bit of the science to be able to discern where in your family tree the intersect is for you and your match. It's not exactly nuclear physics, no, but it's not Isaac Newton sitting under the apple tree waiting for gravity to drop it into our laps either. 

Michele Simmons Lewis I have been watching the videos from the 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference. There is just so much to learn!

Pat Richley-Erickson Judy's right. Getting tested was the easy part. Now to figure out priorities for who to test next and understand why. I think it may be my brother Mike and my half brother Dave, and my Dad's brother Jack - to pull in the yDNA

Angie Bush You only need to do one Y-DNA test for your paternal side. I would do atDNA testing on your uncle, then half brother, then full-brother. 

There is currently a paper in process in which the authors demonstrate reconstruction of pedigrees for over 1800
individuals with nothing other than genetic information - no traditional genealogy involved. Additionally, I believe there will come a time that we will be able to identify certain individuals by their DNA only, as there isn't a paper record to identify them by. Blaine T. Bettinger has written about this here:
Genetic Genealogy in 2050 (or Maybe 2015?) - The Genetic Genealogist

Pat Richley-Erickson Funny thing. My father, a physician, warned me not to get my DNA tested. Wonder what story went with him to the grave?

Diane MacLean Boumenot I'm with you, Pat (in fact very relieved to see you say that). But maybe it's like genealogy itself, confusing at first, and a lot more of a learning curve than a person would think - and, the more you know, the more you realize you don't know. I would ALWAYS love some help from someone more knowledgeable, but I don't regret learning to do things myself. Hopefully DNA will be the same.

Debra Anderson I have heard that some DNA testing can only go so far and it can't take us back to the early 1800 or even 1700's how would we be able to find all of that out. I have only sisters, my father i don't talk with, my mom is dead and so is my grandfather. My aunt and uncle on my mom's side are very far from me and we really don't talk. any suggestions on that matter.

Debra Anderson I agree that as it goes on and more people are doing it the easier it will become to read and understand.

Pat Richley-Erickson After following the DNA research story unfold on Michael D Lacopo's blog, I'm not so shy to just ask in a matter of fact way. [See Michael's recent post titled Hoosier Daddy? Soliciting DNA from Strangers.]

Angie Bush Using DNA for genealogy is just like most things in genealogy - best to start with yourself and work your way back. If I were in your shoes, Debra (and I nearly am - with sisters and father that doesn't speak to me), I would test myself with AncestryDNA, transfer the raw data to Family Tree DNA and then test with 23andMe. Next, I would look for a male cousin that might be willing to do a Y-DNA test for the surname lines I'm interested in. After getting a handle on that information, I'd expand my circle of people to test based on my specific genealogy questions.

Lauren Maehrlein Years ago we had my husband's uncle tested. He was the last of the line for that family name and I wanted to see if I could hook in to one of the Connecticut Chapman lines. Well, eight years later I'm still waiting for my first close match. While we waited I told Uncle Jack that we hadn't gotten any positive results. He was quite upset for a while until I explained that it didn't mean his father wasn't actually his father. This got me thinking that maybe your dad didn't want you to uncover a family secret???

Pat Richley-Erickson Lauren Maehrlein, we just never know. But my family is my family, no matter what.

Susan K Howard Like Michele Simmons Lewis, I also have been watching the videos from Genetic Genealogy Ireland 2014, recently held in Dublin. Lots of good info. Here's a link to one. There were 14 sessions posted at last count. [See] Emily Aulicino - Who’s Your Cousin? atDNA Knows!

Georgia Genealogist Pat, I find DNA chromosome mapping even more addictive than traditional genealogy research. When you find the first common ancestor with a match through mapping, well, you're doomed. It just goes on and on and on and on... I never knew I'd enjoy science so much!

Pat Richley-Erickson Thanks, Susan.

Lauren Maehrlein That's right Pat Richley-Erickson. We genealogists revel in the "surprises" that might horrify others! 

Debra Anderson I agree that a family secret may or may not be hiding in the closet. However, i have to admit that family isn't just bio it is who you decide to have as a family.

Susan K Howard I agree, it is a bit overwhelming, even for me who was a biology major long ago. I think I understand most of the science but, like you, don't know how to approach, the steps I should take and in which order. I am also overwhelmed with the number of "matches" on the atDNA tests I've taken. Have found a few "for real" cousins, though.

Georgia Genealogist I'm partial to chromosome mapping, and I don't believe we can fully understand how important a tool DNA can be until we actually *see* the matches with overlapping HIRs. When I was able to visualize the matches, it made more sense to me.

Debra Anderson I think that with my family if the cost wasn't so out there. they would probably do it with no problem. but since most are on a fixed income $99 or even $50 is a lot to them. maybe in time the cost will come down. hopefully before they pass. LOL. Thanks for all the input everyone.

Susan K Howard BTW, I firmly believe there is money to be made for anyone who can develop software tools to decipher DNA test results. There is a definite lack of products in that area. I cannot tell you the number of people I have talked to who have had various DNA tests and have no idea what to do with the results. (Or the number of people who have asked me "What's the best DNA test for me to take?" without having a real problem or question that can be solved by DNA testing.)

Pat Richley-Erickson Debra, I figure I'll be paying for the tests, but either way, I don't want to spend $$$ for the "wrong" tests.

Debra Anderson that is all true. we need something that we can attach to our computers, and the cost need to come down. because if you get the wrong test you have wasted a lot of money.

Georgia Genealogist Pat, this graphic on Roberta Estes' DNA Explained site is a great way to understand how DNA is inherited and about types of DNA tests. Y-DNA is inherited through the blue lineages, mtDNA through the red lineages, and atDNA is red, white, and blue. X has a different inheritance pattern, but there are worksheets available on Blaine T. Bettinger's site to help us determine which families are included in our X matches. 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy

Pat Richley-Erickson Georgia Genealogist, thank you. I'm learning... 

Pat Richley-Erickson I'm really good with HOAs and have spent my "learning" time there lately.

Debra Anderson thank you I have been learning a lot from all of you.

Susan K Howard If you have a mind to, you can learn so much for FREE online! 

Jenny Lanctot This exact topic is on my to-do list for after the first of the year. I'm getting a TON of mtDNA results from FTDNA, but they all seem to say the same thing ... 그것은 나에게 모든 그리스어

So ... yeah.

Angie Bush Pat Richley-Erickson - I am doing a couple of presentations at the Riverton FHC on November 15th. They will be pretty basic and I plan to include a lot of genealogy in the presentation.

Pat Richley-Erickson I'll put it on the docket..

Pat Richley-Erickson Thank you Angie Bush. I still will be hiring someone. I think an HOA series analyzing my results might be a good idea to push my dear readers into the world of DNA. I think many are too shy to get their feet wet. (Like me.)
I believe in hiring professionals to fill in the gaps. I don't know what I don't know.

Shelley Murphy I think that is a good idea, I think I will do the same. But how are you selecting who to hire...what are your standards etc.

Deborah Lord Campisano Pat Richley-Erickson I can recommend a good one--just attended a 3+ hour DNA workshop she presented here in Louisville. Debra Smith Renard of Eureka! Genealogy

Pat Richley-Erickson Shelley, one criteria is to locate a DNA specialist that isn't employed by a specific DNA company. I don't want a conflict of interest to arise.

Colleen Method Contact a genetic counselor.

Pat Richley-Erickson A second criteria is that the person understand sound genealogy research principles.

Angie Bush Genetic counselors deal with inherited genetic traits and possible medical implications. Most of them are not genealogists, and you need to be referred to one through your health insurance or doctor.

Pat Richley-Erickson I'd like to transfer this post to my blog, and wonder if anyone in this public forum objects to that. It's just that Facebook does such a good job of losing things, and I think the questions raised in this discussion would help my dear readers.

Colleen Method The ones I've been around - do medical genealogy research and most of them are not bad at determining these things. Also, figure out just what you need to know directly. Do not just walk in and ask for the everything under the sun about the DNA results. Had my DNA tested and the results were read by my Doctor. Yes, he is into genealogy too.

Pat Richley-Erickson The honest truth? I don't have genetic health issues. My father kept tabs on that for us. Another honest truth? I don't know the right questions to ask a genealogy-focused DNA professional.

Angie Bush DNA is just another complex source like land records or probate records. Judy G. Russell has written two excellent posts about using DNA as a source in our research. The same principles apply in using DNA - ask a focused research question - then apply the GPS [Genealogical Proof Standard] to that question.

See:  DNA and the GPS.


Sherry Hall One challenge our family is facing is "adoptees." It's not a as easy when genealogy is unknown.

Fiona Tellesson That's how I got brother was born a hemophiliac, with no history of it in the family. Genetics fascinate me!!!

Sharon Varnum Sergeant Pat, I am also following the DNA pioneers, but so far I find that interpreting the results and planning next steps mirrors what we have to learn in the paper records and GPS -"It depends." LOL Tom Jones:)

Pat Richley-Erickson I hear you, Sharon. I am excited to get going on this. 

Wendy Grant Walter I just asked a cousin last night if she would be tested. I expected her to say no but she had no hesitation and said she didn't even need to be anonymous!

Pat Richley-Erickson Wendy, that's encouraging.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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  1. Pat,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. THANKS for the shout-out, Jana. I hope to resolve these issues over the next few months. :)