DNA & Genealogy
Scotland's Greatest Story is a fervent believer in the power of DNA to help break genealogical brick walls when all other methods have failed. We also believe that people should be able to achieve the maximum amount for their pound or dollar, and with this in mind, we are delighted to recommend Ancestry.co.uk's ground breaking new DNA testing service DNA Ancestry. At half the price of previous suppliers, and with a much quicker turnaround, Ancestry's new service is a much welcome additon to the genealogist's toolkit.
In this article, genealogist Chris Paton explains in detail how DNA Ancestry works and provides a step by step user guide for those contemplating the use of their service. Of course, the DNA results will only be of use when you have the documentation to back it up, which is where we hope you will consider using our service to take things further!
Should you require more information on the use of DNA technology within genealogy, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discover Genetic Cousins at Ancestry
Chris Paton explores Ancestry’s exciting new DNA testing service, and explains how it can be used to both trace distant relatives and break down genealogical brick walls.
Amongst the many family history tools available to the public, genetic genealogy is perhaps the least understood, and for many, the most feared. The ability to have our DNA profiles examined and then placed onto a database for others to search and find possible relationships has been around for a few years, but until now has been quite expensive and riddled with jargon, putting many off having a go for themselves. Fortunately, Ancestry has come along and created what is promising to be one of the biggest developments in genealogical research for a decade, having recently gone into partnership with
Y-chromosome DNA, mitochondrial DNA, haplogroups – you would be forgiven for thinking that scientists came up with such terms to put people off! Thankfully, DNA Ancestry does what many others have failed to do in the past, and that is to effectively explain the process what you will go through should you wish to take a test. There are three tests available, the Y-DNA 33 (£74), the Y-DNA 46 (£99) and the Maternal Lineage Test (£89). The first two are designed to analyse the paternal line, by studying the DNA passed from a father to his son, and are therefore often referred to as surname line tests. Although these tests can only be taken by men, a woman can ask her brother or father to undertake one on her behalf, if she wishes to explore her paternal surname line. The third test is designed for both men and women to check their mitochondrial DNA, which is a form of DNA that can only be passed from a mother to her children, and which can therefore allow you to look at your maternal line.
From the Ancestry.co.uk homepage, there is a link on the top toolbar to the DNA Ancestry homepage. Before getting started it is well worth exploring this page. The Learn About Genetic Genealogy section gives some brief overviews on how the various DNA tests work, how to go about ordering and then taking the test, and how to understand the results when they come back to you. There are also some DNA Factsheets that provide further information, though these are perhaps a bit more technical if you are just starting out.
Once you have decided to do a test, clicking on the Get Started button will take you through a series of simple initial steps designed to help you choose the right product. At each stage an information panel will appear to the right hand side of the screen, allowing you to be better informed about why you might wish to do a Y-DNA 33 test as opposed to a Y-DNA 46 test, for example, and any other questions you might have. Before ordering the test, you will need to have an Ancestry log in, but if you have yet to sign up, you can easily do so during this process. Once you have made your selection it will be added to the shopping cart, and you can then purchase it using your credit card.
Having made the purchase, you will receive an e-mail confirming that a testing kit has been posted to you. This comprises a set of instructions telling you how to take your DNA sample, a sterile pack with three collection swabs, a form to fill out and a pre-paid envelope addressed to DNA Ancestry. The test is fairly straightforward, requiring you to take the swabs and rub them on the inside of your mouth for 30 seconds each, with one from the inside of each cheek, and the last from inside the front of the mouth. Do remember to wait at least 30 minutes from your last meal or snack before commencing, as you won’t want part of your meal to contaminate the results! Once done, you let the swabs dry inside the collection envelope and then post the sealed envelope back to DNA Ancestry. The tests take about three to four weeks to process, but you will be notified by e-mail when the laboratory has both received your samples and when the results are ready.
Once you have been notified that your results are ready, return to the DNA Ancestry homepage, and log in at the point half way down the screen where it asks Already Have Your DNA Results? After entering your details you will then reach a screen that displays your results. At first it may seem a bit bewildering, with a table listing various numbers and values. These are what are known as the ‘marker’ values, which basically show the number of times that certain sequences are repeated at specified points along the DNA chain. It is these numbers that will be matched against other profiles to try and find a match, and if you wish at this stage, you can save your profile to your computer as a PDF file (requiring Adobe Reader).
Before moving on however, it is worth scrolling down the page and reading the Paternal Ancient Ancestry section. This tells you which particular ancient DNA grouping, or ‘haplogroup’ you belong to. Genealogically, this is actually next to useless, but it is immense fun to read which part of the world your very ancient caveman ancestors used to go hunting within and how their many descendants made their way to the
Once you have clicked on the Find Paternal Matches button, you will be taken to a new screen depicting a map of the world, and on this image there will be little icons depicting people at various locations, showing possible matches. The difficult task in the past by other providers has been in trying to explain to people exactly how mutations in DNA down the generations can be used to predict a possible time back to a likely shared common ancestor between two individuals. Ancestry has now come up with an extremely simple way to graphically show this. On the right hand side of the screen, each matching individual has a coloured icon with a user name of the person who has submitted that result to the database. On top of this is a slider bar that changes in colour from orange on the left to green on the right. If you move the slider from one end to the other, the number of individuals shown beneath it will change accordingly, as you go through the colour range. What this slider in fact depicts is a timeline covering 70 generations of a family tree. When in the orange zone, the icons now shown beneath will depict anybody who is likely to be a very close relation, perhaps an uncle, male cousin, father or brother, along with a probability of how far back you are likely to connect to them. The further along the slider moves into the green, the further back your likely common ancestors will be, and therefore the more distant a cousin that the people represented by the icons now will be to you. Clicking on any icon will show you your likely relationship to that person, and the Compare button will then allow you to closely examine your profile against that of any possible relatives.
Where these new found relationships can be especially useful is in overcoming a brick wall you may have on your line, having looked at all the documentary sources you can possibly find. Your prospective cousins may have been able to go much further back in time on their lines, and can therefore help you to bypass your problem to an earlier ancestor that you are both descended from. After comparing your results alongside those with close matches, you can make contact with those to whom they relate by using the Ancestry Connection Service, an e-mail function provided by Ancestry that allows you to get in touch whilst remaining anonymous should you wish, giving you absolute control over how much of your DNA information you may wish to share.
In the very near future, Ancestry will allow users to integrate their DNA profile into an online family tree on the parent site, and to attach the results to all generations going back on either the maternal or paternal lines, depending on the test taken. Also on the cards is the site’s new DNA Groups service, which will create user groups with a shared interest, such as a surname study group, or those wishing to investigate the settlement of a particular location.
But the real joy of the service is that as more and more users have their DNA samples taken, the greater the chances will become of finding a match to your profile, which means that you will constantly need to check the database holding your profile regularly for the rest of your life!
Scotland's Greatest Story's Guide to Using DNA Ancestry
A ten step guide to using Ancestry's new DNA service
1) At the top of the Ancestry home page (www.ancestry.co.uk) is a tool bar with the option ‘DNA’ about half way along. Clicking on this will bring you to the DNA Ancestry home page. Before proceeding further, take time to explore some of the options such as the FAQ and Factsheet sections, as well as the sample results. Once you have familiarised yourself with the possibilities, you can now click on the orange ‘Get Started’ button.
2) You will now be asked which test you wish to take. There are three options: Y-DNA 33, Y-DNA-46 or the Maternal Lineage Test. On the right hand side of the screen is a panel explaining some basic information on the tests to help inform your choice. In this case I will go for the second option, the more detailed paternal Y-DNA 46 test, and I will confirm that I am male before selecting the test.
3) A series of basic screens will ask me to confirm my name and the test I have chosen. After providing confirmation, I proceed to the checkout, where I will then be asked to give my billing address, and to make payment. At the present time, this can only be made via credit card, either Mastercard, Visa, American Express or Discover. I will shortly after receive a confirmation e-mail, explaining that my testing kit will be despatched shortly.
4) The test will arrive within a few days. I have to wait at least half an hour after a meal to prevent contamination, and then take the first swab and rub it on the inside of my cheek for 30 seconds, making sure to turn it as I do. When finished, I place the swab inside the collection envelope, and repeat using the additional swabs inside my other cheek and from within the front of my mouth. When the three swabs are dry, I then seal the collection envelope and post it back to DNA Ancestry.
5) Within about four weeks I am notified by e-mail that my sample has been processed. I now return to the DNA Ancestry home page and click on the ‘Go to Your Test Results’ link. This will take me to the results page (see interface guide), where a series of 46 boxes are found across the screen containing a range of numbers, and a map. This is my DNA profile, which can be download as a PDF file, and my ancient haplogroup type, showing the migration path of my earliest ancestors. Now I need to click on ‘Find Paternal Matches’.
6) I am now confronted with a map containing several icons of people, as well as a list of similar icons on the right hand side. There is also an orange and green slider on the top right beside the map. Using this slider, I can play around to find my number of recent and more distant matches. The number of icons will change as the slider moves, with the orange end of the scale depicting relatives with recent links to my family, and the green end showing those with more distant connections.
7) With the slider at the far left, I see that there is now only one orange icon, belonging to a person with the username James Doe. By clicking on this icon, I can now see on the map that he is located in the American state of Utah. The DNA analyses of both his sample and mine suggest that we are connected within two generations, and within the last fifty years. By clicking on the Compare DNA button, I can now have a closer look at what this means.
8) On a new screen my genetic profile is displayed, with that of James Doe now placed directly beneath mine. The red squares on his markers, with the white dots depict the spots where his DNA profile exactly matches mine. The boxes with numbers displayed are the markers that did not match. From this I can see that we have extremely closely matching genetic profiles within our Y-chromosomes. But just how close is the match? To find out, I need to click on James Doe’s name, displayed as a link beside his profile.
9) A graphic will now appear showing me a 50% probability of the likely connection to our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). In this case, James and I may share a grandfather, though because of the statistical nature of the analysis, that could in fact mean a great grandfather, or even a great great grandfather, but the connection is definitely very close. The genetic test has done its job and flagged up a likely connection to a relative – but now I have to revert to good old fashioned documentation to establish the exact link!
10) Going back to the comparison screen, I can now click on the e-mail icon on the far left beside James’ name. This will take me to the Ancestry Connection Service, where I can make contact and discuss our respective histories, to try to pinpoint our exact connection. I do not have to reveal my identity if I so choose, allowing me total control over my privacy. In the very near future, I will also be able to append my DNA sample to my online Ancestry family trees, in the hope of finding other distant or close cousins.