Thursday 21 April 2016

DNA Day sale at Family Tree DNA

DNA Day is celebrated on 25th April and commemorates the day in 1953 when the landmark paper detailing the structure of DNA was published in the journal Nature. It also recognises the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. In honour of this very special day Family Tree DNA have announced that they are holding a short sale.

The sale starts NOW and will extend until Tuesday 26 April 2016 at 11.59 pm Central Time (the local time in Houston, Texas). The current sale is limited to new tests and add-ons but I've been told that there will be an upgrade sale in June.

An e-mail is being sent out today to all group administrators at FTDNA to alert them to the sale.

Here is a chart showing the prices. I've included the equivalent sterling prices in the chart. If you want to check prices in other currencies use one of the currency converters such as the one provided by

Retail Price US$
Retail Price GB £
Sale Price US$
Sale Price GB £
Family Finder
mtFull Seq
SNP Packs

Not on Sale

mtDNA plus

If you haven't yet ordered a DNA test this is your big chance to do so. If you've got friends and family who are interested in testing you can encourage them to join us. The more people who test the more we learn.

If you are thinking of ordering a BigY test or a SNP pack I strongly recommend that you consult with the volunteer administrators of your Y-DNA haplogroup project to ensure that you select the best test for your individual circumstances.

AncestryDNA are also having a DNA Day sale but as far as I can make out the sale only applies to customers in the US and Canada. In the UK AncestryDNA seem to be experimenting with new pricing for their autosomal product. Some people are being offered the test at £79 while for other people the test is still being sold at £99.  Note that with the AncestryDNA test you also have to pay £20 for return shipping by courier. Family Tree DNA charge $9.99 (£7), but you also need to pay your own return postage though this only costs a couple of pounds.

For detailed comparisons of all the different tests see the comparison charts in the ISOGG Wiki.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Changes to the AncestryDNA matching algorithms and downloading your AncestryDNA matches with the DNAGedcom Client

AncestryDNA announced recently that they will shortly be updating their matching algorithms thanks to new advances in DNA science. Yesterday some of the genetic genealogy bloggers in the US attended a conference call with AncestryDNA and were given a preview of the changes. Blaine Bettinger has provided a detailed overview in his blog post entitled Ancestry DNA plans update to matching algorithms. The new algorithms should provide a more accurate list of matches with fewer false positives and false negatives.

I hope to be able to do a comparison of my matches before and after the changes. Here is my match page as it currently stands.

I have 69 pages of matches which, at 50 matches per page, is around 3450 matches. Of these, 28 are fourth cousins. I have one shaky leaf hint. I don't have any New Ancestor Discoveries and I'm not yet in any DNA Circles.

As AncestryDNA do not provide the facility to download your list of matches, I have used the DNAGedcom Client. DNAGedcom is a free autosomal DNA tool provided by Rob Warthen, and provides a number of utilities which are helpful for anyone interested in doing more detailed analyses of their autosomal DNA results from the three major providers (23andMe, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA). One of the most popular tools hosted on the DNAGedcom website is Don Worth's Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer. This allows you to get a visual representation of your matches on a chromosome by chromosome basis. Sue Griffith has written a detailed review in her article Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer (ADSA): no spreadsheets required!

The DNAGedcom Client is an add-on facility which is available by subscription for a very reasonable charge. I've just paid for one month's access which cost me US $5.00. I was able to pay by PayPal and the cost worked out at £3.61. If you prefer you can take out an annual subscription for $50 (about £35).

Rob Warthen has provided instructions on how to use the DNAGedcom Client in his blog post Welcome to the DNAGedcom Client. The instructions are very easy to follow so I won't repeat them here.

One of the nice features about the program is that it operates from your own computer. It is a three-stage process. First of all you need to download your list of AncestryDNA matches. I found that it took about half an hour for my matches to be downloaded with a fast fibre-optic internet connection. The download time will vary depending on the number of matches you have and the speed of your internet connection.

The next stage is to download the family trees of your matches. This was a much longer process and took about one hour and fifteen minutes.

The final stage is to download your "in common with" matches. This download was much quicker and was completed in under fifteen minutes.

Having completed the process I was then able to access the downloaded files on my computer. The most interesting one is the spreadsheet with my list of matches. Here is a screenshot showing the columns and the information provided (click on the image to enlarge it). As you can see, the information also includes the number of shared centiMorgans and the number of shared segments.

I have a total of 3414 matches, but 1737 of these matches (51%) share a single segment under 6 cM in size. 704 of my matches share segments of 6.00 to 6.99 cMs in size. 719 matches share segments of 7.0 to 9.9 cMs in size. That leaves me with 254 matches with segments that are over 10 cMs. Of these, only 40 have segments that are 15 cMs in size or bigger.

There is also a spreadsheet showing the names of the ancestors of my matches. There are 152,963 names in this spreadsheet. This list is potentially very useful to help me to identify the people in my match list who actually have ancestry in the UK where I might have a realistic chance of working out the genealogical connection. However, scrolling through the list it seems that the vast majority of the ancestors of my matches are in the US (Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Massachusetts, etc) and there are also quite a few in Canada (primarily Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec). I do have known relatives in Prince Edward Island in Canada but these are much more recent and should show up as high confidence matches sharing large segments of DNA.

Whether or not I can actually do anything with the information in these spreadsheets is a different matter altogether. Even with the phased data from Ancestry there is still likely to be a high false positive rate with all these very small segments. If the small segments are IBD (identical by descent), they are likely to be a reflection of very distant shared ancestry going back ten or twenty generations or more. Even if the connections are more recent, with the best will in the world it's impossible to find links with distant cousins whose ancestry is all in Colonial America.

In addition to my list of matches I now also have a spreadsheet with a list of my "in common with" matches. There are 96 names on this list which fall into sixteen groups.

I also have a folder labelled Tree Cache which I've not yet had time to investigate. The trees are designed to be used with the GWorks utility on DNAGedcom. However, as I have so few matches in my match list where I stand a reasonable chance of finding a genealogical connection it's probably not worth my time and effort to use this feature at present.

We don't yet know when AncestryDNA are going to roll out their new matching algorithms. It could happen tomorrow or it could happen some time in the next couple of weeks. If you want to experiment by downloading your matches with the DNAGedcom Client then I would recommend doing so sooner rather than later. I've certainly found it an interesting exercise to analyse my match list in this way and I shall be interested to see how my matches compare once the new and improved algorithms are rolled out.

We should start to see many more UK matches appearing in our match list over the course of the next year. AncestryDNA were doing a roaring trade at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, and the database is growing very rapidly. I'm also looking forward to seeing how the DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries work.

Update 20th April
See also this blog post from AncestryDNA New advances in DNA science coming your way

© 2016 Debbie Kennett

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016

Birmingham has been the centre of the genealogical universe in the UK for the last two weekends. I had an enjoyable weekend at the Hilton Metropole Hotel at the beginning of April attending the annual conference of the Guild of One-Name Studies. Such events are always a good chance to catch up with old friends, to network and to meet other like-minded people who share my obsession with researching a single surname. I have registered my maiden name Cruwys with the Guild, and it was largely thanks to my fellow Guild members Chris Pomery and Susan Meates that I started my own Cruwys DNA Project which in turn led to my wider interest in the world of DNA testing.

Last weekend I was back in Birmingham again for Who Do You Think You Are? Live which is the big genealogy event in the UK and is now the second largest family history show in the world after Rootstech. This year I helped to organise the DNA lecture schedule on behalf of ISOGG (the International Society of Genetic Genealogy) and Family Tree DNA. We had a great line-up of speakers. You can see the full workshop schedule here. We are very grateful to the genetic genealogists and the academics who gave so generously of their free time, and especially so as none of the speakers receives any payment for attending or any expenses.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Maurice Gleeson most of the talks in the DNA workshop have been recorded and will be uploaded to the Who Do You Think You Are? DNA Lectures channel on YouTube over the course of the next couple of weeks. This brief introductory video provides a taster of the delights in store.


The two highlights of the show for me were the talks by Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester and Ed Gilbert from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Mark Jobling gave us a masterclass on the Y-chromosome and next generation sequencing. His talk has been recorded and will be available on YouTube in due course.

Ed Gilbert gave a fantastic presentation on the Irish DNA Atlas Project. He shared with us the preliminary and very exciting results from the project. However, the analysis of the data is ongoing and, until a paper has been written and published, the results and the maps cannot be publicly shared. I can guarantee it will be worth the wait! The project has so far recruited 217 people but there are still some gaps in their coverage and they are always on the lookout for more participants. To qualify you need to have eight great-grandparents all born within the same region of Ireland. For further details see the latest issue of Ireland's Genealogical Gazette which also includes a brief write-up of Ed's talk on page 2.

Another personal highlight for me this year was the opportunity to meet Richard Hill, the author of the book Finding Family: My Search for My Roots and the Secrets in my DNA. Richard was adopted but only discovered the truth about his birth by accident at the age of eighteen on a visit to his doctor. Richard subsequently set out on a search to find his biological parents. His case was probably the first adoption DNA success story, and his success encouraged many other people to follow in his footsteps. Richard gave an inspiring talk on his personal genetic detective story. If you've not already done so I highly recommend reading his book. There are so many twists and turns in his story that it reads like a novel. Real life is often so much more interesting than fiction.

Turi King gave an entertaining talk on "Discovering Richard III" which was much enjoyed by a large audience which also included the Antiques Roadshow expert Eric Knowles.

Doug Speed from UCL presented the results of computer simulations investigating the amount of autosomal DNA sharing between individuals. His lecture will be of particular interest to our more advanced genetic genealogists.

John Reid gave an interesting talk with lots of audience participation asking the question "Did DNA really prove it was Richard III's skeleton in the Leicester car park?"

Julia Bell made her debut at WDYTYA? Live and gave an inspiring talk on how she was able to identify her unknown GI grandfather. She is now working with foundlings in the UK and is well on the way to "achieving the impossible" in some of these cases.

Scott Brouilette from Illumina explained to us how next generation sequencing works.

ISOGG once again had a stand at the show to educate genealogists about the benefits of DNA testing. Barbara Griffiths, Brian Swann, Richard Hill, James Irvine, John Blair and Ann Blair all helped out on the stand. Barbara and Brian both worked hard to provide the materials for the display and handouts for people to take home with them. We missed Sue Curd this year  she stayed at home to recover from a nasty cold. Joss Le Gall did a magnificent job shepherding people into the DNA workshop, taking photographs and sharing pictures on social media.

ISOGG members Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan, Derrell Oakley Teat, Emily Aulicino and Michelle Leonard all helped out on the Family Tree DNA stand. They are not employed by Family Tree DNA and they all help out as volunteers at their own expense because they want to promote genetic genealogy and encourage participation in FTDNA surname projects.

A number of project administrators were offering sponsored Y-DNA tests this year. I don't have the final tally but I know that there were at least ten sponsored tests taken up this year. The surnames include Dunn and White.

AncestryDNA were promoting their DNA test very heavily at the show and selling the kit for just £59. An additional benefit of buying the test at the show is that you also avoid the £20 postage charge. There seemed to be a lot of people buying AncestryDNA tests which will provide a much-needed boost to the number of UK testers. If anyone has tested at AncestryDNA make sure you also transfer your results to the Family Finder database with the free autosomal DNA transfer programme. This allows people to benefit from being in two different databases, and to pick up a different range of matches.

BritainsDNA were recently acquired by Source BioScience and were noticeable by their absence this year.

Katherine Borges, the Director of ISOGG, was the final speaker on Saturday. She made the announcement during her talk that the Journal of Genetic Genealogy is being relaunched and that it will now be coming under the control of ISOGG. Leah Larkin is taking over as Editor, and Linda Magellan will be helping with the formatting and the IT work. The first issue should be out some time in the summer. Turi King had originally agreed to take over as editor but, soon after her appointment, Richard III was discovered and her life has not been the same since. However, she has kindly agreed to assist as a member of the new Advisory Board.

In previous years it has been possible to get free tickets for the lectures in the Society of Genealogists workshops. This year for the first time a charge was introduced for these lectures by Immediate Media. However, this charge was very unpopular with the speakers. As with the DNA workshops, none of the SOG speakers receive a fee for speaking and they do not get their expenses reimbursed. It is therefore quite unacceptable that the organisers should charge people to go to these talks and not give the speakers a share of the takings.

The aisles are much wider at the NEC than at Olympia so the space does not look as crowded, making it difficult to gauge the actual attendance. It also seemed as though there were fewer stalls than in previous years. The organisation leading up to the show was chaotic at best, though the problems were partly caused by the sickness of a key member of staff at Immediate Media, the company who organise the show. There were extensive delays in getting the DNA workshop timetable published and I do not think the event was very well promoted. However, it all turned out well in the end and the staff were all really helpful during the course of the three days. I did hear on the grapevine that the number of pre-booked tickets was up on last year so I shall be interested to see what the final turn out is.

I seem to have spent quite a bit of time this year tied up in meetings but hopefully these will all bear fruit in the near future. There are some exciting new developments on the way from all the DNA vendors in the next 12 months. I would have liked to have had some time to have a proper look at some of the stands. There was supposedly a Spitfire somewhere in the hall but I never managed to get near it! I only had time to snatch a few quick photos and say hello to people in passing on my way to and from coffee shop to get some much needed sustenance. A selection of photos is provided below with the emphasis very much on DNA!

It has already been confirmed that WDYTYA? Live will take place next year from Thursday 6th April to Saturday 8th April at the NEC in Birmingham so keep those dates free in your diary. See you all next year!

Garrett Hellenthal from UCL explaining how DNA can be used to infer historical events.

Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester speaking about "Fathers and sons, the next generation: the Y-chromosome in the genome sequencing era.

Mistress Agnes and Master Christopher (alias Janet Few and Chris Braund) in action.
The queue of people outside the NEC on Saturday morning waiting for the doors to open.

A busy Family Tree DNA stand.

Bennett Greenspan, CEO of Family Tree DNA, talking to a packed house about
 "Genetic genealogy: the past, the present and the future".

Doug Speed from UCL on using DNA to determine relatedness.

The Berkshire Family History Society's stand.

Graham Riggs and Maureen Selley worked hard on the Devon Family History Society's stand.

Turi King from the University of Leicester spoke about the discovery and identification of Richard III.

Crowds of people at the AncestryDNA stand.

The Guild of One-Name Studies had a busy show and signed up over 40 new members.

Katherine Borges, Director of ISOGG, with Maurice Gleeson at the end of the day
 on Saturday after another successful WDYTYA Live.
Further reading
A number of the speakers in the SOG workshops have made their handouts or PDFs of their Powerpoints available on the SOG website. You can download the files here.

If you attended the show you can fill out the feedback survey here.

A number of other genealogists have blogged about their experiences at WDYTYA Live. I've included a selection of links here:

- Who Do You Think You Are? Live Part 1 by Steve Jackson
- Who Do You Think You Are? Live Part 2 by Steve Jackson
- Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Birmingham, England - Day 1 by Dick Eastman
- WDYTYA? Live 2016 - So much to do, so little time by Jane Roberts
- A report and pictures from Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Birmingham, England by Dick Eastman
- WDYTYA? Live 2016: Day 1 by John Reid
- WDYTYA? Live: Day 3 by John Reid
- My trip to Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2016 by Chris Paton

© 2016 Debbie Kennett

How DTC genetic testing spells the end of donor anonymity

I have written an article with two UCL colleagues, Joyce Harper, and Dan Reisel about the end of donor anonymity. The article has now been made available online prior to publication in the print edition of the journal Human Reproduction. The full title of the article is "The end of donor anonymity: how genetic testing is likely to drive anonymous gamete donation out of business". Here is the abstract:
Thousands of people worldwide have been conceived using donor gametes, but not all parents tell their children of their origin. Several countries now allow donor-conceived offspring to potentially know their genetic parent if they are informed of their donor-conceived status. At the same time, personal genetic testing is a rapidly expanding field. Over 3 million people have already used direct-to-consumer genetic testing to find information about their ancestry, and many are participating in international genetic genealogy databases that will match them with relatives. The increased prevalence of these technologies poses numerous challenges to the current practice of gamete donation. (i)Whether they are donating in a country that practices anonymous donation or not, donors should be informed that their anonymity is not guaranteed, as they may be traced if their DNA, or that of a relative, is added to a database. (ii) Donor-conceived adults who have not been informed of their status may find out that they are donor-conceived. (iii) Parents using donor conception need to be fully informed that their children’s DNA will identify that they are not the biological parents and they should be encouraged to disclose the use of donor gametes to their children. Together, these concerns make urgent a wide-ranging societal conversation about how to best safeguard and promote the interests of donor-conceived offspring and protect the rights of donors. Specifically, there is a need to ensure that new genetic information is communicated in a way that promotes both the safety and the privacy rights of offspring and donors alike. All parties concerned must be aware that, in 2016, donor anonymity does not exist.
The full article is currently behind a paywall but will be made available on the UCL website twelve months after publication.

Despite the rise in the take-up of direct-to-consumer genetic testing there seems to be little awareness outside the genetic genealogy community of the implications of such testing. As we explain in the article DNA tests are increasingly being used to solve unknown parentage cases for adoptees and donor-conceived persons. People are finding half-siblings and even biological parents in the consumer databases. A sperm donor does not have to be in the database to be identified as identification can be made from matches with other close relatives such as second or third cousins.

The article highlights the need to ensure that new genetic information is communicated in a way that promotes both the safety and privacy needs of offspring and donors. Fertility clinics need to develop robust guidelines and procedures that enable them to integrate subsequent genomic data into their existing consent agreements. All parties concerned must be aware that, in 2016, donor anonymity does not exist.

Further reading
- Ten years since the end of donor conception: have we got it right? My report from a Progress Educational Trust meeting held in November 2015.