Putting the genes into genealogy – Part 2

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Updated 2 April 2017 to reflect changes at FTDNA and Gedmatch

Almost a year has passed since I wrote about my initial foray into the world of genetic genealogy. Back in June 2015, I had received the results of my Ancestry DNA test and had downloaded the data to find out what Family Tree DNA and Gedmatch would reveal. Where has my dabbling with DNA taken me – and my Atcherley family history research – since then? It is going to take more than one article for me to tell you!

Let’s start from where I left off last time. Ancestry DNA had given me estimates of my ethnicity, and a dozen DNA matches in the 4th to 6th cousin range. A little online research had told me that I could download my raw DNA data from Ancestry, and then upload that data to other websites providing genetic genealogy services. This would give me ‘more bang for my buck’ by yielding more DNA matches, some of which might reveal previously unknown ancestors.

other - Ancestry DNA settings

Downloading raw DNA data from Ancestry is a fairly straightforward process. The first step is to click on the ‘settings’ button on your DNA home page (shown above). This takes you to a page other - AncestryDNA download raw datawhere, under the ‘Actions’ heading, you can click on a button to get started (see image right). Choose a folder on your computer to save the downloaded file in, and away you go. The data comes in the form of a ‘zip’ file, which reduces the file size and makes for a faster download: mine weighed in at 5.86 megabytes. Remember where you saved the file and what the file was named, so that you can find it again when you need it!

Family Tree DNA (or FTDNA) pioneered ‘consumer genomics’ and have been offering the ‘Family Finder’ test (equivalent to Ancestry’s autosomal test) to customers worldwide since early 2010. The company also allows Ancestry DNA (and 23andMe) customers to carry out an autosomal transfer (an upload of raw DNA data), which can then be used to find matches in FTDNA’s own extensive database.

Although it is possible to see some basic details of those matches for free, to get the most out of this process you need to pay a fee. Currently (April 2017) the charge is $19, which is a bargain! Bear in mind that this system does not work in reverse – although you can download your raw data from FTDNA, Ancestry does not allow DNA data from third parties to be uploaded to its site.

The transfer does not generate immediate results of course, but as FTDNA only has to analyse your raw data rather than starting from scratch, the process does not take long. One of the first things I did once my data had been processed was to look at how my ethnicity estimates (accessed via a ‘myOrigins’ link on my DNA ‘dashboard’ page) compared with those from Ancestry. I was prepared for the results to vary, as I knew that the two companies do not use the same ethnic ‘regions’. Even so, the differences were bigger than I expected.

other - FTDNA ethnicity 2

FTDNA’s take on my genetic heritage (see picture above) was 53% ‘British Isles’ (Ancestry gave 50% ‘Great Britain’ and 14% ‘Ireland’, a total of 64% British isles), 22% ‘Western and Central Europe’ (Ancestry gave 31% ‘Europe West’), 16% Scandinavia (Ancestry gave less than 1%) and 9% ‘Southern Europe’ (Ancestry gave 5% ‘Iberian Peninsula’ and less than 1% ‘Italy/Greece’). All this shows that ethnicity estimates should be treated as guidance, not gospel.

As for matches, given that FTDNA’s Family Finder test was available to UK customers far earlier than Ancestry’s offering I was not surprised to find that I had a good number of matches from the British Isles. Some of these matches had basic family trees available to look at (FTDNA’s trees do not have the same level of detail as Ancestry’s trees, but they are definitely better than nothing), while some others listed ‘Ancestral surnames’ and the places they came from. All could be contacted by email.

other - FTDNA matches

One match of particular interest, given my ethnicity result of 14% ‘Ireland’ at Ancestry, was a man with decidedly Irish ancestry over several generations. He was one of several matches ranked by FTDNA as a possible 2nd to 4th cousin, and with ‘Shared cM’ greater than 50. (cM, or centiMorgan, is a unit of measurement for matching DNA; the greater the number of cM shared, the closer the genetic match.)

Other matches had distinctly Scottish heritage. I have yet to find any non-English ancestors through traditional genealogy research, so these Irish and Scottish DNA matches are intriguing. Are there clues here to the ethnicity of my two unknown 3x great grandfathers, the fathers of the two ‘illegitimate’ great great grandfathers (one of whom was Henry Atcherley) on my mother’s side?

The total cM shared with a match is something which can now be seen at Ancestry as well as FTDNA. However, one cool tool available at FTDNA which Ancestry does not offer is a ‘chromosome browser’. This enables you to see on which chromosomes, and whereabouts on those chromosomes, the DNA you share with your matches is located.

other - FTDNA chromosome browser

In the screenshot here, you can see where I share matching DNA segments with 4 other FTDNA members, on chromosomes 10, 11 and 17. Note the extent to which the two matches on chromosome 17 overlap. If the two people concerned know who their shared ancestors are, there’s a good chance that the segments of DNA which they share with each other – and with me – came from those ancestors.

The match on chromosome 10 which you can also see in the screenshot is with a man who, according to the details provided on FTDNA, has Staffordshire ancestry. My late mother’s ancestors were predominantly from Staffordshire, so I made contact with the administrator for this DNA match. I emailed a basic ancestor chart, and a comparison of our family trees revealed a known common ancestor, from whom I am descended on my maternal side. A result! Or was it?

Having tested only myself, how could I tell for sure which of my DNA matches were maternal relatives and which were from my paternal side? Mum passed away in 2013 so the answer was to ask Dad to take a test. Thankfully he did not take much persuading, and I ordered another Ancestry DNA kit.

One of the first things I discovered once Dad’s results were available – apart from the fact that our father-son relationship was confirmed (phew!) – was that he and I both matched the aforementioned guy with the Staffordshire ancestry! Our shared DNA therefore comes from a forebear on my Dad’s side, not Mum’s. And that forebear is unknown, as we cannot find a link through traditional genealogy.

After getting Dad’s DNA analysed at Ancestry, I did not upload his raw DNA data to FTDNA. Instead, I used another website where I had also uploaded my own data: GedMatch. Originally created to find matches in  family tree files (known as Gedcom files – hence the site’s name) this service is free, with ‘extras’ available in return for a donation. I highly recommend it. After registering, you can upload your raw DNA data (from Ancestry, FTDNA, 23andMe and several other companies), and your Gedcom file too if you wish, using the links in bthe File Uploads section (pictured above). Once processing is complete (again, patience required as this is not immediate!) you can use the tools available to look at ethnicity results (in a bewildering variety of ways), check for matches with other GedMatch users, compare matches using a chromosome browser, and more besides.

I’m going to skip the Gedmatch ethnicity (or admixture) tools for now and go straight to the matches. These can be accessed via the ‘One-to-many’ matches link in the Analyze Your Data section of the GedMatch home page. Data provided for each match includes total cM of shared autosomal DNA, the size of the largest matching segment (in cM) and an estimate of the number of generations to your most recent common ancestor. Also, from the first letter of the Kit Number of each match, you can tell which company they tested with (A = Ancestry, M = 23andMe, T = FTDNA). Of course, not everyone who has tested with these companies has uploaded their data to GedMatch. A large number have though, making GedMatch a great site for seeking DNA matches.

other - GedMatch Matches

In the screenshot here, you can see Dad at the top of my list of matches, all my other matches are more distantly related with over four generations to our most recent common ancestor. The kit number highlighted in green is a new match (not-so-recent matches are highlighted with paler shades of green). A name or ‘handle’ is also given for each match, along with an email address for contacting the match or the administrator of the kit (I have omitted these from the screenshot).

Another useful feature available at GedMatch is the Phasing tool. As GedMatch has my raw DNA data and my father’s, this provides the means for creating two new sets of data (or kits): one with all the DNA data I share with Dad – my paternal DNA – and one with the DNA data I don’t share with him – my maternal DNA. Using these two new kits through the one-to-many matches tool is a quick and easy way to find matches for each side of my ancestry.

So, by using a combination of websites and tools I have been able to increase the number of my DNA matches and, in many cases, distinguish maternal from paternal DNA cousins. How does this help with my genealogy research though? And more specifically, how has DNA helped with my Atcherley family history work? The answers to these questions will have to wait for Part 3 – I did warn you that it would take more than one article to tell you where my dabbling with DNA has taken me and my Atcherley research!

Picture credits: All images used in this article are screenshots from Ancestry (first two images), Family Tree DNA (next four images) or GedMatch (last three images). Personal details in the images are blurred for privacy reasons.