Friday, 17 February 2017

Launch of The Journal of Genealogy and Family History

The Journal of Genealogy and Family History, a new open access peer-reviewed genealogy journal, published by the Register of Qualified Genealogists, is launching in April 2017 at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

Here is the official press release I received:
Media release - The Journal of Genealogy and Family History 
Launching in April 2017, the new Journal of Genealogy and Family History (JGFH) will address the current need for a high quality, peer reviewed publication, covering broad scholarly research in genealogy and family history in a 21st century online format. The journal will be offered to readers and contributors for free, on an open-access, non-commercial basis, with content available under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The scope of the journal will include any field or academic discipline associated with genealogy or family history research such as heraldry, demography, education and record conservation.

Articles will offer the reader insights into current thinking and practice and provide an outlet for theoretical and speculative ideas within genealogy and family history. Topics will be wide ranging, and include for example:
  • Family histories which demonstrate new and innovative approaches and analytic techniques;
  • Locational studies
  • The use of new technologies
  • Software applications and databases
  • The use of DNA analyses to better understand kinship
  • Ancestry and populations Micro histories which may focus on personal, local, community and social histories.
  • Ethical and legal issues surrounding the practice of genealogy 
The journal will attract authors from around the world who wish to have their genealogical and family history work published in a credible form and made available to anyone who chooses to read it. All articles submitted for publication will undergo anonymous peer review, which will provide a rigorous and robust process of close scrutiny.

The Editor, Jessica Feinstein, says: "I am very excited to be part of the great team involved in this venture, and look forward to enabling authors in our field to publish academic articles that will advance genealogical research in many areas." 
The editorial board will include prominent individuals from within the field of genealogy and family history as well as associated disciplines. 
The Journal of Genealogy and Family History is registered at the British Library with ISSN 2399-2964. 
The journal was initiated and designed by the Register of Qualified Genealogists and will be published via their website at: 
The Register of Qualified Genealogists will be at Who Do You Think You Are Live, Birmingham NEC from Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 April 2017 on table number 2. Come and find us for a chat and to see a preview of the first issue..............
The names of the Editorial Board were not included in the press release and were not available on the website. However, the Editor has kindly given me a list of the names:

Nick Barratt
Caroline Brown
John Cleary
Bruce Durie
Marjory Harper
Ian G Macdonald
Tahitia McCabe
Rebecca Probert
David Rencher
Michael Tobias
John Tunesi
The biographies of the editorial board members should be up on the website soon.

The Journal of Genealogy and Family History is published under the auspices of a relatively new organisation called the Register of Qualified Genealogists. The RQG is set up as a private company. To qualify for membership it is necessary to have completed one of a very limited range of postgraduate genealogical courses offered by UK institutions. The full list of qualifying courses can be seen here. Members are required to adhere to a professional code. There are a number of other organisations that professional genealogists can join. AGRA (the Association of Genealogical Researchers in Archives) is the premier organisation in England and Wales. Membership of AGRA is not contingent on the completion of a course but potential members are required to submit a research portfolio for scrutiny and have to attend an interview. In Scotland there is the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA). Accredited Genealogists Ireland (AGI) is the equivalent organisation in Ireland. The Association of Professional Genealogists is a US-based organisation but accepts members from anywhere in the world. Members are required to abide by a code of conduct and must commit to a programme of continuing education. The APG operates as a not-for-profit business organisation. In addition there are a number of different professional organisations in other countries. For details see the AGRA FAQs and Cyndi's List for details. Given that so many other professional organisations already exist, there have been questions about the need for a new organisation.

While it is common practice in academia for writing and research to be subjected to the process of peer review it is rare in the world of genealogy. There are a number of genealogy journals that accommodate the publication of lengthy scholarly articles with citations. In the UK the Genealogists' Magazine has been published by the Society of Genealogists since 1925. There are a number of scholarly journals in the US such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the New England Historical and Genealogical Society Register and The American Genealogist. For descriptions of the US journals see this article by Kimberly Powell on five genealogical journals you should be reading.

There is also the newly re-launched Journal of Genetic Genealogy (JOGG) which is published online and is open access. JOGG has an editorial board and all the articles go through a formal peer review process. The articles are indexed by Google Scholar, and as a result some of these articles have been cited in academic journals.

The big limitation with all these scholarly genealogy journals, with the exception of JOGG, is that they are essentially a closed shop. They are not picked up by indexing services such as Google Scholar, so unless you are a member of the society in question you are likely to be unaware of any interesting articles on your subject of interest. The Society of Genealogists have commendably made back issues of the Genealogists' Magazine available on CD. It is now also possible to search for articles in PERSI (the Periodical Source Index), which provides a subject index to over 11,000 historical and genealogical journals. This index is freely available courtesy of Findmypast. A growing number of images is being added to the collection, but the images are only available to Findmypast subscribers. There is an excellent guide to using PERSI in the FamilySearch Wiki. If you find an article of interest that is not included in the image collection it might be possible to order a copy for a small fee from your local library or to purchase a copy using the British Library's On Demand Service or an equivalent service in other countries, provided that copies of the journal have been sent to one of the legal deposit libraries.

The whole point of publishing is so that others can build on our research, and we are not constantly re-inventing the wheel. If our work is not easily accessible then other researchers are less likely to find it. I therefore welcome the launch of this new open access peer-reviewed genealogy journal which has the potential to bring scholarly genealogical articles to a wider audience. However, the journal will live or die on the quality of the articles published. It will be interesting to see how the journal develops in the months and years to come.

This article was updated on 18th February 2017 to include information about additional professional genealogy organisations, and to correct the details about the RQG in the light of comments received below.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Family Tree DNA are now accepting autosomal DNA transfers from new AncestryDNA and 23andMe tests

Family Tree DNA are now accepting transfers from AncestryDNA v2 kits (all tests processed after mid May 2016) and 23andMe v4 kits (all tests taken from about November 2013 onwards). As before, the transfer is free but you have to pay a small fee to unlock the rest of the FTDNA features. The good news is that the fee has now been reduced from $39 to just $19.

There are many advantages to being in different databases because each company has its own unique database and only a subset of people have tested across all three companies. You will therefore pick up matches at FTDNA that won't be found in the other databases.

At Family Tree DNA you can benefit from additional features such as the chromosome browser, which provides a visual representation of the segments of DNA that you share with your genetic cousins. This is a great way of understanding the inheritance process, especially if you are also able to test lots of other family members.

FTDNA offer Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests which means that you can combine the results of all three tests when interpreting your results.

FTDNA also have the advantage of a much more international database than AncestryDNA and 23andMe. They host a wide range of geographical DNA projects. If you have recent ancestry from Devon I would very much like to welcome you to my Devon DNA Project. .

To transfer your results and to find out more click on this link:

There are further details about the transfer program on this page in the FTDNA Learning Centre.

I have received the following e-mail from Family Tree DNA with additional information about the autosomal DNA transfer process.

Dear Project Administrators,
You’ve all been waiting for it, and it’s finally here - transfers for 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 files!
Here are the details, point by point.
  • Customers can now transfer 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 files in addition to the 23andMe© V3 and AncestryDNA™ V1 files that Family Tree DNA accepted previously. MyHeritage and Genographic transfers will be supported in the coming weeks.
  • Family Tree DNA still does not accept 23andMe© processed prior to November 2010. A Family Finder test will need to be purchased.
  • 23andMe© V3 and AncestryDNA™ V1 now receive a full list of matches and the ability to use the Matrix feature FOR FREE. For only $19, the customer can unlock the Chromosome Browser, myOrigins, and ancientOrigins.

  • 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 receive all but the most speculative matches (6th to remote cousins), also for free. After transferring, if the customer wants to receive speculative matches, they will have to submit a sample and have a Family Finder run at the reduced price of $59.  
  • Matches should take somewhere between one and 24 hours to appear, depending on the volume of tests in the autosomal pipeline.
  • myOrigins update will be released in the coming weeks. Until then transfers will include only broad populations.
  • Additionally, all previously transferred files that have not been unlocked will receive their matches and have access to the Matrix feature for free as long as the release form is signed. These kits will be also be able to unlock the other Family Finder features for $19. If the transfer was on a kit with another product where the release form has already been signed, then the matches will appear with no further action necessary.
  • The Autosomal Transfer webpage has been enhanced to include a new image and a FAQ section. The FAQ section is displayed towards the bottom of the page.
  • If a customer tries to transfer the same autosomal file a second time, a message will be displayed that the file is a duplicate and will list the kit number of the original kit.
  • The main Autosomal Transfer topic in the Learning Center has been updated. This topic contains the most recent information and now includes all transfer subtopics on the same page. Additional FAQ information will be added to this topic as needed in the future.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

"Making Sense of Forensic Genetics" - a new guide from Sense About Science

We find in genetic genealogy that there are many misconceptions about the use of DNA, and people often tend to give undue weight to DNA evidence. In order to draw a conclusion it is necessary to look at all the available evidence in combination, rather than a single piece of evidence in isolation. DNA evidence on its own is not very informative. It's also very important that the DNA evidence is interpreted correctly.

These principles are even more important in a crime investigation where a person's innocence or guilt is at stake. DNA evidence can be a game changer but there are also cases where its misuse has led to miscarriages of justice. Misconceptions are fuelled by the misrepresentation of DNA analysis in the media and in popular crime programmes such as Silent Witness, CSI and Waking the Dead. There are also some police departments which are using forensic DNA technology that has not been scientifically validated.

Making Sense of Forensic Genetics is a welcome and much-needed new guide, published by Sense About Science, which sets out to explain how DNA is used in the criminal justice system and to educate the public and professionals alike on the correct application of forensic genetics in criminal investigations. The guide also includes some helpful real-life case studies to illustrate how DNA evidence works in practice. As the authors say: "DNA needs to be viewed within a framework of other evidence. It’s an important detection tool, but it’s certainly not a detective".

The guide has been produced by EUROFORGEN, a European network of forensic DNA researchers, working in collaboration with Sense About Science. Many people from related disciplines were also involved in the development of the booklet including police, barristers, judges, legal charities and crime fiction writers. I was invited to a user feedback workshop as a representative of the genetic genealogy community and provided feedback on the drafts of the booklet so I can testify at first hand to the extensive consultation process involved.

The booklet clarified a lot of the questions that I had about the use of forensic genetics and the interpretation of DNA evidence in court. I highly recommend reading it. You can download a copy here.

Media coverage and further reading
Dr Denise Syndercombe Court, reader in forensic genetics at Kings College London, and one of the researchers involved in the writing of the booklet, spoke about the guide on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. Listen here from 50:25.

The guide was featured on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science programme with Adam Rutherford on 27th January.

A piece about the guide will shortly be up on The Conversation (I'll update this blog post when the link goes live),

Peter Gill, one of the authors of the guide, has written an article for The Justice Gap on How misuse of DNA evidence has led to miscarriages of justice.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

My Living DNA results Part 2: mtDNA and Y-DNA reports

In my previous post I wrote about my family ancestry maps from Living DNA which showed the regional breakdown of my genetic ancestry in Britain based on an analysis of my autosomal DNA. I'm now reviewing the mtDNA and Y-DNA reports, which have started to be rolled out to some of the early testers at Living DNA.

The mtDNA report is a provisional report based on my own Living DNA test on the Illumina Global Screening Array. Males who take the Living DNA test also receive a report on their Y-chromosome results. As I don't have a Y-chromosome, for the purposes of this blog post I've been given access to a sample report for someone who belongs to haplogroup R1b-U106 (my father's haplogroup).

mtDNA results
The Living DNA test analyses 4,700 mtDNA SNPs. My results show that I belong to haplogroup U4c1. I have also had my full mitochondrial DNA genome sequenced (all 16569 base pairs) at Family Tree DNA. My full sequence results place me in haplogroup U4c1a. For my motherline ancestry I have received four different reports: a coverage map, a history page, a migration map and a phylogenetic tree.

Here is the coverage map which shows the present-day distribution of haplogroup U4, and the frequency of haplogroup U4 in different populations.

Here is the history page which provides background information on haplogroup U4.

Here is the phylogenetic tree which shows my placement on the mtDNA tree.

Here is the migration map which "shows the possible routes your ancient ancestors could have taken, from the point we all shared the same mtDNA (nicknamed “Eve”) to recent times".

Y-DNA results
The microarray chip used by Living DNA covers 22,500 Y-SNPs. The Y-SNPs are currently going through the quality control process, and it will be a few more weeks before the results are ready. Not all SNPs work properly on a microarray chip and it is likely that the actual number of SNPs reported will be reduced. The sample report I've been given is for haplogroup R1b-U106 (my father's haplogroup). U106 is quite high up on the Y-SNP tree but I understand that the test will give a more refined subclade assignment than this, though we don't yet know which SNPs are included on the chip. There are once again four different reports: a coverage map, a history page, a migration map and a phylogenetic tree.

Here is the U106 coverage map.

Here is the history page. I'm told that this is legacy information from the old test site, but that the content will eventually be updated and will be based on the scientific literature.

Here is a screenshot showing the upper branches of the Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree.

You can move the tree around and zoom in on the tree. Here is a close up showing the placement of U106 on the R1b tree.

Here is the migration map which "shows the possible routes your ancient ancestors could have taken, from the point all men shared the same YDNA (nicknamed "Adam") to recent times".

The mtDNA and Y-DNA pages are visually appealing and I like the simplicity of the presentation. The phylogenetic trees are easy to understand. The distribution maps and frequency tables are a very useful feature. It would be helpful to have the full citations with links to the actual papers, though I understand that these will be added in due course. At present the Y-DNA and mtDNA SNPs are not reported but these will also be added.

While it's good to see scientific papers used for the history pages it should be remembered that it's very difficult to provide meaningful information on haplogroup histories and migration. Much of the scientific literature on the subject is highly speculative with conclusions inappropriately drawn about ancient migrations and origins from modern DNA (Balloux 2009, Chikhi 2010, Goldstein and Chikhi 2002). The DNA of living people is not a good proxy for past populations, and direct evidence from ancient DNA is required (Pickrell and Reich 2014). However, we can expect to see many new ancient DNA publications in the coming years which will improve our understanding. I would hope that the Living DNA platform will have the ability to update the reports from time to time as and when new research is published.

The Y-DNA and mtDNA results from the Living DNA test are potentially useful for deep ancestry purposes but don't currently have a direct application for genealogical research. Y-DNA and mtDNA testing for genealogy needs to be done with a company such as Family Tree DNA which has a matching database that allows you to compare your results with other people. However, if you've already taken a Y-STR test at FTDNA and wish to refine your subclade assignment the Living DNA test could be a possible alternative to SNP testing or Y-chromosome sequencing. For SNP discovery and a detailed subclade classification it's necessary to take a Y-chromosome sequencing test (eg, the BigY from Family Tree DNA or the YElite from Full Genomes Corporation) but these tests are still relatively expensive and beyond the reach of the average genealogist.

I suspect genetic genealogists will be taking the Living DNA test primarily for the autosomal DNA family ancestry maps, but the Y-DNA and mtDNA information will be a useful bonus feature. Not everyone is interested in genealogical research and for people who just want an overview of their genetic ancestry then this is an excellent all-round test.


Balloux F (2009). The worm in the fruit of the mitochondrial DNA tree. Heredity 104: 419-420.

Chikhi L (2010). Update to Chikhi et al.'s "Clinal Variation in the Nuclear DNA of Europeans” (1998): Genetic Data and Storytelling - From Archaeogenetics to Astrologenetics?" Human Biology 81(5/6): 639-643.

Goldstein DB, Chikhi L (2002). Human migrations and population structure: what we know and why it matters. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 3: 129-152.

Pickrell J, Reich D (2014). Towards a new history and geography of human genes informed by ancient DNA. Trends in Genetics 2014; 30 (9): 377-389 (subscription required).