Saturday, January 10, 2015

20 Do's and Don'ts of DNA

 

I have a prediction! 2015 is going to be a phenomenal year for everyone who partakes in genetic genealogy. The interest in genealogy has really catapulted over the past five years, and many people are turning to DNA technology to try to find the answers to lingering family questions and mysteries. Since I anticipate that many more people will take an autosomal DNA test from either 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FTDNA, or other companies, I want to start 2015 off with a post of what I feel are 20 do’s and don’ts of DNA, based on my experiences to date. If you know of others, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

1.    Please do not take any DNA test without first trying to put together your family tree. DNA test-takers need to have started working on their family tree or pedigree chart before jumping to DNA. DNA alone will not magically generate your family tree for you. Genealogy research + DNA technology = A Great Happy Marriage.

2.    After you get your DNA results, please respond to your messages. Also, please accept invitations to share genomes from other DNA matches in 23andMe. To ignore someone's message is just plain rude and disrespectful, in my opinion. The “I Don’t Have Time” excuse will likely fall on deaf ears. Utilizing DNA to uncover family histories is a serious business for many. If you are not interested in communicating with DNA matches, please opt out of making yourself visible. We don’t need to see your name and be reminded how rude you are being by not responding, especially if we share a lot of DNA and are not distantly related.

3.    If you haven chosen to make your family tree private in AncestryDNA or anywhere, at least have one and be willing to send other DNA matches an invitation to view it upon request. Or if you have an electronic copy of your pedigree chart, be willing to share it via e-mail upon request. How can anyone expect to make the connection if DNA matches cannot view a family tree? Comparing family trees or pedigree charts is key to figuring out family relationships.

4.    DNA and genetics are not easy to understand, but the basics of genetic genealogy are relatively understandable. You will be doing a disservice to yourself and your DNA matches if you don’t try to understand some of the basics. Here’s a good online guide called “Beginner’s Guide to Genetic Genealogy.” Here’s another one from 23andMe called “Genetics 101.”

5.    This tip reiterates no. 3. I get this a lot à “Let me know how we may be related.” And that DNA match has not provided a family tree, but maybe a few surnames with only the states where their ancestors resided. Don’t have in your profile that your surnames are Jones, Anderson, and Ragsdale from Mississippi and Tennessee and expect me to magically know how we are related. Give me and your DNA matches something to work with. Show me a family tree!

6.    If you have built a family tree, please include exact locations (county and state…..or city/town and state) and not just the state of birth or death. I have seen so many family trees with just a state listed. Narrow it down for us by giving us a little more information, like the county and/or city or town. I won’t magically know where in South Carolina your paternal grandmother lived and died.

7.    Please don’t just list only two surnames in your profiles. Surely, you have knowledge of more than two surnames in your family tree? Adoptees are exempt from this.

8.    Please don’t leave your profile in 23andMe (and others) blank. I understand that people are nervous about providing the public with too much information about themselves. I get that. However, if you have chosen to take a DNA test and would like to learn how some of your DNA matches are related, and perhaps learn more about your ancestry, include surnames and family locations in your profile. Again, give us more to work with!

9.    If you decide to take the AncestryDNA test, please consider uploading your raw data file to GEDmatch. AncestryDNA has no analysis tools, and those analysis tools are essential in trying to figure out how DNA matches are related. Even if you take 23andMe or FTDNA’s Family Finder tests, which have valuable analysis tools, please consider uploading to GEDmatch. To make things a little easier, include your GEDmatch number(s) on your 23andMe profile.

10. If a DNA match asks you to please upload to GEDmatch so he or she can try to determine the family connection, ignoring that request is just plain rude! See no. 9.

11. Please have patience with GEDmatch. It’s a free, online DNA utility program that experiences high traffic. Therefore, their servers are often over capacity. I know that’s irritating, but it is still our best bet for being able to analyze DNA results and to triangulate DNA matches, especially if you have only taken the AncestryDNA test. Just check back often, and you will get in the site.

12. If you are white, please don’t respond with, “I just don’t see how we can be related because I am white.” Here’s one word for you to study: MISCEGENATION. Please know that the following scenarios occurred: (1) Many slave-owners fathered children with enslaved women via rape or consensual sex; (2) Yes, there were consensual interracial relationships since America was founded, even on plantations; and (3) Many people “passed” as white because they could.

13. I know that many times, surnames are often our basis for determining how DNA matches are related. Please know that it is very possible for many people to share a common surname and not be related through that surname. With African Americans, relying solely on surname matching can lead many to travel down the wrong path. That’s why it is vitally important to include family locations in your family trees or pedigree charts and on your profiles.

14. Please take time to read the profiles of your DNA matches in 23andMe. That alone may answer some initial questions you may have. For example, if you read my profile, you will immediately learn that Collier is my adoptive family via my father’s adoptive parents, who I loved dearly. Sending me a message with a speculation that we are biologically related via your Collier ancestors will say to me, “You did not even read my profile.”

15. Please be cordial when responding to messages from your DNA relatives. Sharp, condescending tongues have no place in DNA communications, unless the person deserves to be “chewed out”. If someone provides you with information about your family, show your home training by saying, “THANK YOU.”

16. If you encounter someone who is not a DNA match to you, but they can show via a paper trail that you two are distantly related, please don’t assume that a NPE probably took place. (NPE = Non-Paternity Event, when someone’s father was really not the biological father, unknowingly.) DNA transmission is quite random. Family members may inherit different chromosomes from the same ancestors. Also, the probability that 23andMe (and others) will find a match between two relatives is the following:

First cousins or closer:  ~ 100%
Second cousins:           > 99%
Third cousins:             ~ 90%
Fourth cousins:           ~ 45%
Fifth cousins:              ~ 15%
Sixth cousins & beyond: < 5%
(Source: 23andMe)

17. DNA companies give predictions about relationships. If 23andMe predicts that someone is a third cousin, or if GEDmatch gives the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) as 4.0 generations, that doesn’t always mean that your great-great-grandparent(s) is that DNA match’s great-great-grandparent(s), too. Those are just estimations based on the amount of DNA you two share. For example, my cousin Alisa from Arkansas shares enough DNA with my mother to have a prediction of third cousins. However, after I was finally able to determine the connection, she is really my mother’s fourth cousin once removed.

18. If both of your parents are living, test both of them, if you have their permission and can afford to do so. Having one or both parents tested greatly helps to determine if a DNA match is a paternal relative or a maternal relative. Great substitutes are aunts, uncles, and grandparents, if you are blessed to have grandparent(s) living.

19. In most cases, haplogroups should not be used to try to figure out family connections. Not all people who share the same haplogroup are relatives. In fact, most of your relatives will actually have a different haplogroup because your haplogroup only tells you about your direct maternal or direct paternal lineage. Direct maternal lineage means your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and so on lineage. Direct paternal lineage means your father’s father’s father’s father’s father and so on lineage. However, in a case where you suspect that a DNA match is a direct maternal or paternal relative, then the haplogroup may confirm it with further testing and analysis. For example, my third cousin’s maternal grandmother’s mother, Laura Danner Reid, and my maternal grandmother’s mother, Mary Danner Davis, were sisters. Therefore, our maternal or mitochondrial haplogroup should be the same, since it is passed down unchanged from mother to child. Indeed, when she received her 23andMe results, we had the same maternal haplogroup L2a1a, which came from our great-great-grandmother, Louisa Bobo Danner (1842-1921), and her mother Clarissa Bobo and so on.

20. Read, read, read! Once you have taken the DNA test, please continue to educate yourself about DNA. Many informative articles and blog posts can be read online. This will certainly help to understand how DNA is passed down and how certain matches are related, especially if you share DNA on the X chromosome with a DNA match. 

DNA is a wonderful, groundbreaking technology that is growing. It has enabled many people and me to break down a number of brick walls in our family trees. Again, if you know of other DNA tips, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

77 comments:

  1. As a veteran researcher of 20 years, I think this is an excellent article and needs to be shared. I resorted to dna to test my parents (and myself) to linearly extend my already completed family lines beyond the late 1700's. Thank you and I will definitely share!

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    1. Pratiquement certain qu'il va apprécier sa lecture. Merci d'avoir partagé!
      http://koondal.fr/

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  2. As always, you are on point. Sharing with my genealogy group.

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  3. You are spot on! Thanks for this post. The number of people who have tested and fail to communicate *at all* is truly astounding! Good luck with your searching :)

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  4. Excellent as always Melvin!! I would like to add another one.

    If you are managing DNA results for relatives, be mindful they are related to other DNA matches not connected to you. Do not ignore them, help them by connecting them to your relative.

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  5. Excellent advice... I have made changes to my profiles because of this post!!! Thanks!

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  6. Speaking of haplogroups, where can this information be found? Ancestry.com used to provide this information. Does 23andme provide haplogroup with genetic results?

    Edna M Sanders

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    1. Yes, 23andMe provides your haplogroups. If you are female, you only have a maternal haplogroup. If you are male, you have a paternal and a maternal haplogroup.

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  7. Fabulous list. It should be included with every DNA test.

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  8. Excellent list! You've really nailed it. We're all in this together.

    One small correction: NPE means non-PARENTAL event. Surprises happen on the maternal side too! Sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and second wives have all raised children who didn't know (or at least the knowledge wasn't passed down) that their biological mom was actually someone else.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. See Non-Paternity Event at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-paternity_event

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    3. I would label maternal differences as Non-Maternal Events although I don't think that language exists. Nonetheless, good point Chicago.

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    4. Sorry my ID looked weird, trying it again. I wrote the above comment

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  9. Very helpful information, thank you Melvin!

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  10. Great list of tips! It's amazing how we're connected through DNA and other relationships. Genealogy is a mysterious, yet eye-opening adventure.

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  11. Thanks great information. NOW how do you look up adoptive parents? My great aunt was on the orphan train according to obituary and my grandfather and brothers went to family or slave I found a census he was a ward to a snyder....

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  12. With my roots going all the way back to an ancestor in Jamestown, VA not long after it was founded I wouldn't be surprised if an American of African ancestry would also be my kin. Some of my ancestors in VA, MD and KY were slave holders, but these people had small to medium sized farms, not huge plantations, so as far as I can tell, not many slaves. Were an African-American DNA match to contact me, I'd welcome this "mystery cousin" and help him/her to find the shared ancestors. Bring on the mystery! I'm up for the challenge!

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  13. This is a wonderful post. I've seen in shared in several Facebook groups I am in and shared it on my own page as well. I hope everyone that has tested or is thinking about testing reads it. And I see there are some points I need to pay more attention to myself. Thank you.

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  14. Your list gave me much food for thought, and especially reminded me to be overly courteous to others. In a DNA discussion at my local library, I was reminded to add my results to ? website. I couldn't write it down and forgot it. You have provided that website name and reminded me to do it. Yes, I will provide a link to this page when I copy these rules and see them posted at my library genealogy department. Thank you so much for providing them.

    Dee Sager
    Marion, Indiana

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  15. Thank you so much for posting this. It's one of the best posts I have recently read. "Show me a family tree!" I love that one!

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  16. You had some interesting points but some of your do's/don'ts are awfully one sided. Simply based on some of the communications I have received there should be several more
    1) Please do not assume my goals from DNA testing are the same as yours. Therefore, if I choose to keep my tree private, to not add additional information onto a profile, or upload my results to another website that is my choice and it should be respected. Demanding I upload my results to gedmatch solely to help you is rather presumptious.
    2) Being rude and bullying in written communications will never give me the inclination to help you. Calling me names or making assumptions as to my character will get you zero help. I can guarantee you that harrassing me with never ending e-mails will not change my mind,
    3) Please understand that genealogy is not my life so if I do not answer immediately or can not provide you the level of help you think I should accept that and take what I can give you.
    This is a new frontier for genealogy, vilifying those who do not embrace it the same extent as you will not further the cause.

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    1. Thanks Karen for sharing additional tips! Based on your additional tips, which are great, you seem to have had some bad experiences with other genealogy researchers. That's rather unfortunate. The online environment puts us in contact with a number of lunatics who don't know how to communicate and are demanding. The delete and block options are golden!

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  18. My maternal grandmother's father was born in 1842 in St Vincent and Grenadines. One or two of more recent generations have tight curly hair and I wonder if this arises from some African or indigenous connection. His mother was probably the daughter of a dubious slave owner. For all intents and purposes I am standard Anglo-Saxon.
    Would a DNA test help to resolve this or do I need a straight line of females?

    Brian

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    1. An autosomal DNA test will detect if you have African ancestry. You match even be a DNA match to someone who can help to solve this mystery. Good luck!

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  19. I don't like how autosomal tests are presented and marketed. The tools available to analyze data are terrible. I have complained loudly to FTDNA about its misleading focus on surnames in the Family Finder interface. I had to write my own code to at least take my matches out of FTDNA and group them together by chromosome and segment. As I write this GEDMATCH is presenting me an error as I try to log in.

    It has been my experience (at least, for my kits) that there is insufficient genetic data in place for establishing common ancestors - either by family trees (which don't go back far enough), or by there being enough (several hundred) descendant testers so as to carve out a genetic profile of a particular ancestor and be able to identify him (or her) by chromosome segments (or by some combination of family tree and genetic profiling).

    Correspondence with matches has largely been non-productive. For starters, I have written extensive profiles on my FTDNA kits and I can always tell when somebody emails that they haven't bothered to read a kit's profile. I don't feel it is my place or responsibility to describe how the test works to correspondents and I don't like my time being sucked into an email debate on the relevance of a matching segment - or having to explain to somebody that just because we have the same surname in our family trees doesn't mean we are related that way. A few times I have had to ask some people to stop emailing me. For these reasons, I am seriously considering removing my kits from GEDMATCH and taking my FTDNA results private, because I feel too many times that having my results out there just continues feeding a lot of misunderstanding.

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  20. Good information. I am just starting to do DNA testing on my family. This helps a lot with me understanding the process. I have been able to go back five generations and still getting hits from other people. I do have a question. My seventh generation great grandfather Richard Terry when I put him in ancestry or data bases it takes me back to St. Anna, Jamaica. I do not have a lot of paper trail because some of the records have been lost. So I am not sure if that is were they came from. If I go by the family stories then it might be a chance. This is my brick wall right now.

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  21. Very good advice Melvin.
    I've been researching my ancestry since 1980 and have a huge tree on Ancestry.com.au - over 36,000 people, comprising the ancestors of all my grandchildren as well as my second husband.
    Since organising DNA tests with 23andme for my brother, my son, his father and me, my addiction has taken on a whole new perspective and I'm loving making contact with all our many DNA relatives. There's not one who doesn't get an invitation and I keeping inviting the new ones who join.
    I seem to have a great many adoptees who are very keen to find out where they fit in to the scheme of things, and I try especially hard to help them. The thing I stress is that even if they don't know their ancestry, if they match closely in the same spot on the same chromosome, the chances are that if I can make a match with someone and we know we share the same common ancestors, then they will be the same ancestors for the adoptee. Even if they can't find the route down from that couple to themselves yet, it is possible to do it by following the descendants of all their children. By following this method with other close matches on other chromosomes and getting different sets of common ancestors a pattern will begin to emerge where the line will begin to hang together and make sense.
    Best wishes
    Merilyn Pedrick
    Aldgate, South Australia

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  22. Thanks EVERYONE for your responses/feedback/suggestions!

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  23. Add: Keep your profile name the same across the various DNA testing sites. If you are XYZ on 23andme, then be XYZ on Ancestry, FTDNA, and Gedmatch and any other similar site. This makes it much easier to track a match across sites and to their family tree. You may triangulate with people on one site that are not on another site.


    About Private trees - it is very easy to create a tree that has only your pedigree or a tree where all media has been removed. It would take 3 minutes using any family tree software (some have free 30-day downloads). Download your tree from Ancestry, upload it to your software, then from within the software, export as a gedcom file choosing the option pedigree only or deselect add media. Then upload this tree to Ancestry; make this tree public.

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  24. Melvin,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/01/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-january-16.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  25. Thank you for writing your highly informative article based on so much personal experience. I do not have any living parents or grandparents, no siblings or children. I pretty much know my ancestry on my father's side back to the mid 1700's, but on my mother's side only her mother and father as they were immigrants from Eastern Europe. My fear is that I'll hear from people who don't speak English! I do not know how to speak any other language than English. Like you say, not to be rude, but what to do if people contact you and you can't communicate with them? Doing your DNA seems to be something that consumes more than just taking the test and sending it in and reading your results, a person has to be committed to it all from beginning to end; and that could take up more time than some of us bargain for from what I can see. Thank you so much.

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    1. Hi Linda. I wanted to suggest that if someone contacts you who doesn't speak English, Google has translation services which are helpful in enabling you to understand what the person may be saying. It isn't perfect (and there are other sites which also offer translation services for free), but it should give you a good idea what is being said, and allow you to compose a response. HTH,
      TC

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    2. Google Translate
      https://www.google.com/search?q=google+translate&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8

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  26. Thank you Melvin for this informative article! I'm starting a search for my bio dad from scratch and have barely any info to go on, but I believe your suggestions will aid me in researching and understanding my DNA results while I build a rapport with matches in the process of locating my father! Blessings to you.

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  27. Excellent article on DNA. It hit all the points.

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  28. Thank you so mush for writing this EXCELLENT post. So many people just do not understand what having their DNA run entails. I have shared your link on my Facebook page and hope others also spread your words.

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  29. DNA solved two of my brick walls. This is an excellent article that everyone should read...and follow. Thanks.

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  30. I only just discovered your blog today, thanks to a link to it on FB. This is a really excellent post about DNA, a subject I am currently trying to understand. My mother, two brothers, my husband and I have all taken tests. From 3 different companies I might add. This was very helpful and I can't thank you enough.
    I too am a blogger and I will be adding your blog to my list of blogs I follow at www.michiganfamilytrails.com

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  31. Thanks Melvin. I will print this out. Your list is accurate abd very helpful. I Have done or not done about all of tgese. It is good to know I am on the right track. Thank you again.

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  32. Thanks Melvin. I will print this out. Your list is accurate abd very helpful. I Have done or not done about all of tgese. It is good to know I am on the right track. Thank you again.

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  33. Thanks Melvin. I will print this out. Your list is accurate abd very helpful. I Have done or not done about all of tgese. It is good to know I am on the right track. Thank you again.

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  34. Thanks Melvin. I will print this out. Your list is accurate abd very helpful. I Have done or not done about all of tgese. It is good to know I am on the right track. Thank you again.

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  35. LMBO! This is so awesome! May I attach this link to all the profiles I manage?

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  36. Excellent post. I haven't done the DNA testing yet, but I've been thinking about it. Now I know how to make it a good and possibly productive experience. Thank you.

    I've linked to this post in my new NoteWorthy Reads series: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/03/noteworthy-reads-6.html

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  37. Excellent post. I haven't done the DNA testing yet, but I've been thinking about it. Now I know how to make it a good and possibly productive experience. Thank you.

    I've linked to this post in my new NoteWorthy Reads series: http://jahcmft.blogspot.com/2015/03/noteworthy-reads-6.html

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  38. I would like to comment: "Don't do DNA until you've tried to put your tree together." COME ON... for an adoptee, that is impossible when records are sealed.

    "Show me a tree". Same problem.

    "List more than 2 surnames..." WHAT, SMITH AND JONES, JACKSON AND JOHNSON? You don't know the names!!

    Truthfully, this may be just great for non-adoptees... but for adoptees, it's worthless.


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    1. Your third comment came from no. 7. You didn't see the last sentence in no. 7 or you just wanted to be super negative. Oh well....

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    2. For an adopted person, I would suggest that you take the initiative to do as much with the information the other person provides before you reach out to them. If they are on GEDMatch, with their kit number, you have enough information to see what chromosomal segments you share and also to cross-reference your matches with their matches to see who you have in common. Then you can look at your common matches and see if others share that same segment of DNA. You can also use the chromosome painter to see where geographically that particular segment may have come from. Then, you can look at their Gedcom trees (or request to see their Ancestry tree) to find common ancestors or even a common location.

      All of that takes a lot of work, which is why #5 is important. Genealogy works when people put their heads together. Otherwise you're putting the burden on someone else to figure it all out, which is time consuming and doesn't help them.

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  39. I agree with every point you made. It is really frustrating when I contact 2nd and 3rd cousin matches and they don't respond to my email. I just don't understand it, especially when I am as polite as I am and provide as much information as I can to our possible connection. It's even worse when they haven't worked on their family trees past their grandparents.

    Side note...I just stumbled upon this blog a couple of days ago and I can say it is one of the most informative ones I've come across thus far. Thank you.

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  40. Many adoptees are going this route and some are met with the attitude that they have "nothing to offer" to their matches. This is in addition to the usual "no one in OUR family..." Biracial adoptees get a double whammy.

    Many of those adoptees have put in hundreds of hours of work and usually know more about your matches' trees than your matches do - especially the non-communicative ones.

    Many adoptees are or are working with "search angels", volunteers who know an awful lot about records and DNA. Just because they don't charge fees to adoptees in search doesn't mean they are amateurs.

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  41. My name is Charity Dell, and I have been doing a family ethnography project for several years. My brother, mother and I have tested with DNATribes, AfricanAncestry and FTDNA. These tests have enabled me to put together a portrait of the various ethnic groups--African, Middle Eastern/Western Asian; European--that constitutes both our maternal and paternal lines. A friend gave me a tip about the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish origins of many of our African ancestors--this was certainly born out in the genetic testing of our family. Apparently, many of us African Americans descend from Sephardic Jews
    who fled Portugal after the Expulsion of 1492--many of the Portuguese Sephardim
    married African women after fleeing to the Senegambia region, Cote D'Ivoire, Nigeria, Cabo Verde Islands, Brazil and the state of Georgia (after 1735). I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has discovered similar genetic evidence in their family lines, and/or anyone with Portuguese family surnames, such as Andrade, Coutinho, Barreira, Silva, Lopes/Lopez, Mendoza, Pegues, etc. I can be reached at CelestialChoir@gmail.com. Thanks/obrigada!

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    1. I am reading this blog for the 1st time,even though I 1st met Melvin in Nov 2016. My tree information doesn't swing your way & I don't expect my DNA will either. But I deeply appreciate the historical movement info you provided. It's more info to share with others who may hit a brick wall in those regions of the world.

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  42. How can I to learn more and more available and effective skills ?
    Medigene DNA

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  43. Thank you for your so cool post,it is useful,i love it very much. Please share with us more good articles.
    dna testing

    ReplyDelete
  44. The main focus concerns the diagnosis of hereditary diseases
    Every paternity establishes a special relationship. This not only means a lifelong emotional bond, but also includes extensive and ongoing legal obligations. As large as the scope of that relationship is, the questions can be just as excruciating if there are any doubts about the Paternity Test, DNA Relationship Test and Identity Proofs. Unlike the mother, as a general rule, the father is naturally often left with his suspicions unless he decides to take a paternity test.

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  45. I just received results from 23and me and also share large sums of dna with Jamaicans and Dominican Republic. My grandparents were born in Charleston, South Carolina. I always felt there was a connection.

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  46. I just received results from 23and me and also share large sums of dna with Jamaicans and Dominican Republic. My grandparents were born in Charleston, South Carolina. I always felt there was a connection.

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  47. Just now found via Twitter this excellent list. I would add - don't force your findings on your family. Not all findings are things some people want to hear. Also, don't be disappointed at not having famous relatives. Most stories of the lives of "average" people turn out to be pretty interesting and often compelling.

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  48. Just now found via Twitter this excellent list. I would add - don't force your findings on your family. Not all findings are things some people want to hear. Also, don't be disappointed at not having famous relatives. Most stories of the lives of "average" people turn out to be pretty interesting and often compelling.

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  49. Thanks Melvin for this realy good article!
    Lucien

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  50. Another great post Melvin, thanks for taking the time to write it.
    David.

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  51. very informative. I did my DNA test with Ancestry awhile back and recently uploaded it to GEDmatch. Their relationship predictions are somewhat different from each other and some are correct. Which prediction do you follow?

    Lia

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  52. This was excellent. I'm looking to get my DNA test and this was helpful. thanks!

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  53. Thanks for sharing such informative post.

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  54. EXCELLENT post.Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this.

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