As a start of the blog I will republish my earlier posts around DNA-testing and family research. This is my thoughts and experiences around the subject. I have taken two test personally with Ancestry and FtDna as well as transferring my result to My Heritage.
This is my first blog which was published in newsletter no 4. The second article will follow later.
DNA and family research
As some of you might have noticed DNA is the ‘in thing’. All the big genealogy
firms seem to sell DNA tests and the idea of finding who you are and where you
really come from. I finally decided to take a test to find out how it could help
with some of the stumbling blocks in the research – if at all. I would like to share some of what I have learnt and also my thoughts.
I started with looking into what other researchers discussed in different forums
around the subject. The first hurdle is to choose which company to order from.
Most of them have one thing in common; they sell their test through telling us
that we can find out what part of the World we are from in percentages. This is
our so called ethnic background. So how is this done? They compare your test
with their own reference group. This reference group differs from company to
company so your result depends on which one you use and from where their
reference group comes. What the test does is to compare to what extent your
DNA is similar to people from a different country or area. Logically this will
create some problems – since the reference group is smaller than the Worlds
population this will not show a 100% accurate solution to who you are. Also due
to constant migrations over time you might share parts of DNA with a group in
USA or Australia but this is because large number of people emigrated there
from other parts in the World. So I would say that this part of DNA testing is
less useful in family research and a bit more of a gimmick.
I can explain this with my own result: I am according to one company 78%
Scandinavian, 21% British Isles and trace amount (less than 2% in this case
1%) Finnish. If I compare this with my old fashioned research (called paper
research even if you do it online and on a computer). Yes I have a very large
chunk of Scandinavian and the trace Finnish is probably logical as well. Now
remember as apposed of the research which can branch out, when it comes to
DNA this is only blood related following a blood line and how and what you
inherit from your ancestors differ. I do not have any British Isles relatives in
direct blood line. Even if I account for unknown parents this would not end up
being 21% unless one of my grand parents where British or Irish. However
what happened with those blood relatives that come from northern, western and central Europe? They have left no trace at all… If the Finnish bit comes up as trace I should also have Belgium and Germany as trace. The Finnish roots
came during 1500-1700 hundreds and Belgium 1600 hundreds and German
1700 hundreds. It does highlights some questions and concerns around the percentages of ethnic background.
Now to the interesting part of a DNA test. The test all companies have is called
autosomal test and generally gives you a tool to match your DNA with other
testers in the company. They say this is for finding 2nd to 5th cousins although
it also sometimes states remote cousin. You can download a file of your DNA
and then add it to another company’s list for comparison with their customers.
The exception is Ancestry which don’t allow you to upload results from another
company to their site (you can download from theirs and upload to others). How close or distant cousin you are depends on where your roots are from. If you have pedigree collapse (anförluster in Swedish) your cousins might be further away than the company expects. This is a part of DNA testing which is very helpful in your research although there will be a lot of work to find out how you are related to your matches. With the autosomal test and some old fashioned research I have manage to find one of the unknown parents in the tree. I did have a match with someone who is a 2nd cousin twice removed. According to the research we should not be a match. This person is the grandson of a biological child in a specific family. I descend from a foster son in that family.
Together with some other matches further back in time we now know that at least the foster mother was also the biological mother to this foster son.
The main drawback with this test is that in my case very few close or immediate family have done a test so the work to find out how I am related to my over 2000 matches will be very time consuming. My parents and my brother have agreed to also take a test so that I get a better tool to work with. By testing both parents I will be able to divide my matches into my mothers and my fathers side. We are all using FtDNA which is the company that many Swedes are using. More and more are however also using the other companies.
FtDNA is also the only of the companies that offers more tests – Y-DNA and
mtDNA. Y can only be taken by men because it looks a the Y chromosome and follows the fathers line back. The last one can be taken by both men and women and it follows the mothers line. Both these test are the ones used to go back thousands of years and it follows the migrations of line.
I know this article is a bit long but I felt I had to explain bits around it. Reading and following forums where DNA is discussed shows that a lot of people just take the test and don’t understand how it can be used and what parts of a test can show what and how reliable it is. It will not give you your family tree you still need to research to understand your DNA test. Without the paper research you cannot understand how you are related to your matches or prove the identity of an unknown parent. If you are interested in knowing more or would like to do a test please don’t hesitate to ask questions. I am not an expert but am willing to help when I can, but there are also a lot of forums online where you will find experts, novices and everything between and they are willing to help. For those of you in Sweden Rötterbokhandeln (online) has a very good book to start reading. I assume you can find it at the libraries as well.