Saturday 29 April 2017

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2017

It has been a very busy April. At the beginning of the month I was away for the weekend at the Guild of One-Name Studies conference in Boorley Green, SouthamptonWho Do You Think You Are? Live was held the following weekend at the NEC in Birmingham. We then went away for a short family break in Dorset. As a result I've had a lot of catching up to do and I've only just had the chance to do my usual write-up of WDYTYA Live.

WDYTYA is always the highlight of the genealogical calendar in the UK. It's the largest family history show in the UK and in Europe, and is the one event that is not to be missed. It's always good to catch up with friends, and meet new people, but three days is never enough, especially when you are giving talks, organising speakers and helping out on a stand. There were many people I would like to have seen but didn't get a chance to speak to.

In one of my volunteer roles for ISOGG (the International Society of Genetic Genealogy) I once again helped to organise the lecture schedule for the DNA workshop. Family Tree DNA very kindly provided sponsorship for the lecture theatre. We had another great line-up of speakers. We are very grateful to the genetic genealogists and academics who gave so generously of their free time, and especially so as none of the speakers receives an honorarium or reimbursement of expenses.

Thanks to the sterling efforts of Maurice Gleeson, most of the talks 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. To get an idea of the delights in store you can check out the DNA lecture schedule here.

I presented a talk on autosomal DNA demystified, and was very pleased that Tony Wood, a member of my Devon DNA Project, was able to join me and share his story with the audience. Tony has been using both Y-DNA and autosomal DNA to try to identify the father of his illegitimate great-grandfather James Polyblank Wood. James was born on 15th July 1870 in Kingsbridge Union Workhouse in Devon and was the son of Sarah Wood. Previously genealogists would struggle to identify the father in such situations but genetic genealogy is now starting to provide answers.

Tony belongs to haplogroup N-P189.2, which is rarely seen in the for UK and occurs today at the highest frequency in Serbia. Uros Uzelac, the volunteer administrator of the Haplogroup N-P189.2 Project at Family Tree DNA, has taken a special interest in Tony's Y-DNA results, and was able to come along to WDYTYA to meet Tony. The photo below shows Tony and Uros meeting Max Blankfeld, Vice President of Operations and Marketing at Family Tree DNA.

Uros Uzelac, Max Blankfeld and Tony Wood
DNA testing had a major presence at WDYTYA this year and seemed to be a major topic of conversation. There were four companies selling DNA tests: Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, Living DNA and MyHeritage DNA. All the companies had special show prices, and there were lots of people stocking up and buying multiple DNA kits. We can look forward to many more matches once these tests have been processed. BritainsDNA (now trading under the name MyDNA.Global) were noticeable for their absence for the second year running.

I'd written a buyer's guide to DNA testing for the May issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. With immaculate timing early issues of the magazine had arrived at the NEC just in time for the opening. I was delighted to discover that my article is featured on the front cover. There is a preview of my article on the WDYTYA Magazine website but you'll need to buy the magazine to see the testing company comparisons.

Family Tree DNA
Family Tree DNA had a stand opposite the DNA lecture area. The were selling their Family Finder test for just £40, and had special offers on their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests too. The BigY test was on sale for existing customers, and a number of people took the opportunity to upgrade their kits. There seemed to be a constant crowd of people around the FTDNA stand.

I was delighted to see Princess Maria Sviatopolk-Mirski again. We first met at WDYTYA Live in 2010 when the show was held at Olympia in London. I wrote about Princess Maria's interesting mtDNA results here. She had made a special visit to WDYTYA so that she could upgrade her mtDNA test to the full mitochondrial sequence. She belongs to the very rare haplogroup R0a, and it will be interesting to see what her full sequence test reveals.

Living DNA
Living DNA had by far and away the most impressive stand at the show with a big flashing screen with an ever-changing array of images. They were selling their DNA test for £99, and seemed to be attracting a lot of interest.

On Thursday evening Living DNA invited about twenty or so genetic genealogists to a special meeting at the Hilton Metropole Hotel where we had the opportunity to learn more about their plans and to ask questions. Here are a few insights I gleaned from that meeting and from other conversations at WDYTYA:
  • The Irish grandparents' project has been going well. They have collected about 1200 samples, and an update should be ready in the next month or so.
  • Living DNA have now launched a German DNA Project. For details see my blog post A DNA Day sale at  Living DNA and the launch of a new German People Project.
  • A Scottish Project is due to launch in June. They are hoping to do similar projects in other European countries.
  • Autosomal matching is being worked on, and two different systems are currently being tested.
  • The autosomal transfers will be coming in two to three months' time for a fee. They want to make sharing and transferring from other companies very easy. The idea is that it would be done with a quick click through.
  • Living DNA hope to collaborate with other companies on trees rather than coming up with their own system.
  • Raw data downloads should be available in the next few months. They are still in the process of validating all the data from the new Illumina GSA chip.
Nick Thorne, the "Nosey Genealogist", did an interview with David Nicholson of Living DNA which can be seen on YouTube.

AncestryDNA had a major presence at WDYTYA, and were the overall sponsor of the show. They sponsored the lectures in the Celebrity Theatre, which included two DNA lectures each day. The AncestryDNA test was on sale for just £49, which was a huge saving on the usual price of £79. By picking up kits at the show visitors were also able to save on the £20 shipping fee. There seemed to be a lot of people buying multiple Ancestry kits to test their friends and relatives.

AncestryDNA had their own lecture area on their stand, where their scientists and genealogists presented a series of talks. The last session each day provided an opportunity to learn more about their new Genetic Communities feature. I didn't have the chance to attend one of these sessions but I did have a chat with Mike Mulligan, AncestryDNA's Product Manager, who was able to get answers to some of the questions that I had:
  • The threshold for matching in the Genetic Communities is currently set at 16 cMs, though it's possible that the threshold will be lowered in the future. (In the scientific paper which provided proof of concept of Genetic Communities a threshold of 12 cMs was used.)
  •  New communities will be added as they are identified rather than being rolled out all once in a big upgrade.
  • Ancestry apply a special algorithm known as Timber to downweight "pile-up regions" (sections of the genome where large numbers of people match as a result of shared human history, shared population history or some other reason). Timber wasn't mentioned in the scientific paper but I received confirmation that Timber is applied before the communities are identified. The communities work with the match data which means that the feature is only applied after the phasing and IBD identification has already taken place.
I paid a visit to the MyHeritage DNA stand and had a chat with Daniel Horowitz, their Chief Genealogical Officer. I've taken advantage of the free autosomal DNA transfer to MyHeritage. At the moment the transfers are not receiving admixture reports but Daniel very kindly gave me a sneak preview of my own report. He explained that these results are not being rolled out to the people who've done the transfers. The company have been collecting reference samples and are working on providing regional breakdowns. The transfer kits will receive an admixture report once the regional breakdowns are ready to be rolled out. They are also trying to work on a chromosome browser.

I've had a lot of problems with the MyHeritage trees. I'd previously received a free three-year PremiumPlus MyHeritage subscription courtesy of a special offer from the Guild of One-Name Studies. However, once this offer expired I found that I was locked out of my account because I'd added more than 250 people to my tree. In order to transfer my DNA to MyHeritage I had to set up a new account under a different e-mail address. Daniel merged the two accounts together for me and very kindly gave me a free MyHeritage PremiumPlus subscription in consideration of my status as a "DNA expert".

I've not yet seen the figures for the attendance at this year's show but it was my impression and that of other people I spoke to that the numbers were down on last year. A number of exhibitors from last year did not make the return trip including big names like The National Archives, Eneclann, and the National Library and Archives of Ireland. A number of family history societies who attended last year were also missing this year including the Gloucestershire Family History Society, the Hampshire Genealogical Society, the Huguenot Society, the Jersey Family History Forum, the Peterborough and District FHS and the Wharfedale FHS. There seemed to be more stands than usual given over to charities, most of which seemed to be related to dogs and cats. Perhaps they think family historians are more likely to be pet owners. Presumably these charities were given discounts to fill up some of the spaces but it would have been better to offer reduced rates to the family history societies who often struggle to pay the high costs of a stand at the show. In addition they have to pay travel expenses and provide accommodation for their volunteers so that they can man their stands for three days. I also think that the organisers could do a lot more to advertise the show, particularly in the national press.

The NEC has a spacious comfortable exhibition hall with good facilities but the venue is in the middle of a large industrial estate which is totally lacking in atmosphere and designed for cars not pedestrians. Because so many people travel to Birmingham by car or by bus, they all leave early to avoid the rush hour traffic so by mid afternoon each day the crowds start to thin out, and it becomes very quiet. I know some people prefer being in Birmingham but I would much rather that WDYTYA returned to London.

Other blog posts
A number of other bloggers have written about their experiences at WDYTYA Live:
Other resources
Who Do You Think You Are? Live will take place next year from 26th to 28th April 2018 at the NEC, Birmingham, so put the dates in your diary now. See you all there!

In the meantime you can enjoy some more photos from this year's show below.

Update 3rd May 2017
Immediate Media have announced that Who Do You Think You Are? Live will no longer take place for "financial reasons". The event has been running at a considerable loss and it has not been possible to bring into profit. See this blog post from Who Do You Think You Are Magazine for further details. The Society of Genealogists are hoping to arrange a replacement event. See the SOG blog for further information.

I've been advised by Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogists that attendance this year was 13,500 which was slightly up on last year, but clearly not enough to make a difference.

The long queue of people outside the NEC waiting for the doors to open.
Linda Magellan - DNA for beginners
Katherine Borges - The benefits of being a DNA project administrator
Garrett Hellenthal - The science of admixture percentages. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Julia Bell - The strange affair of the Kings Cross baby and other mysteries solved with autosomal DNA
Maurice Gleeson - Researching your surname with Y-DNA. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Emily Aulicino - Finding your way through DNA. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
John Cleary - What is SNP testing and how can it enhance a Y DNA surname or genealogy project? Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Mark Jobling - The Y-DNA and mtDNA landscape of Britain and Europe
Brian Swann - DNA emigration and shipping
Graham Holton - Y-chromosome SNPs in the historical era: discovering cascading hierarchies of SNPs
Linda Kerr - DNA for absolute beginners. Photo by Joss ar Gall
Michelle Leonard - What can autosomal DNA testing do for your family tree? Photo by Joss ar Gall
Dan Bradley - Recent findings in ancient Irish DNA
Mark Thomas - Ancient DNA and British genetic history.
Andrew Millard - Digging up your ancestors. Photo by Joss ar Gall
Victoria Moore - Applying forensic DNA techniques and applications to historical casework. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Adam Rutherford - A brief history of everyone who ever lived
Debbie Kennett, Mark Thomas, Dan Bradley and Adam Rutherford
The Guild of One-Name Studies stand.
From left to right: Peggy Homans Chapman, Geoff Giles, Paul Featherstone, Sue Swalwell and Cliff Kemball.
Katherine Borges, Director of ISOGG with (left) Uros Uzelac, group administrator, N-P189.2 Project, and Gareth Henson, group administrator, Haplogroup T Project, and a member of the  ISOGG SNP tree team.
The Devon Family History Society's stand.
The ISOGG stand. Photo by Joss ar Gall.
Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

Monday 24 April 2017

AncestryDNA passes four million milestone and announces sale for DNA Day

AncestryDNA have announced on Twitter that they now have an astonishing four million people in their database. They passed the three million milestone in January so this means that they have sold one million DNA tests in the last three months alone. If sales continue at the current rate there could well be seven million or more people in the database by the end of the year.

If you've not yet tested at AncestryDNA now is your chance as they have today announced a flash two-day sale in the UK and Ireland in celebration of DNA Day. There is a 25% discount on UK kits which brings the price down from £79 to just £59. Return postage is extra and is charged at £20. In Ireland the test is reduced from from €95 to €70.

Visit the UK store here:

Visit the Irish store here:

There are also discounts available on the AncestryDNA test in the US and Canada. There is no discount in Australia but that's probably because 25th April is ANZAC Day and it would be inappropriate to detract from the solemnity of the occasion with a frivolous DNA sale.

If you are a pre-existing AncestryDNA customer the closing date of the sale is given as 2nd May 2017. It is not clear if the closing date of the sale for new customers will be extended as well.

If you test at AncestryDNA and haven't yet tested at Family Tree DNA make sure you take advantage of the free autosomal DNA transfer programme to add your results to FTDNA's Family Finder database. This will give you a different mix of matches and the ability to participate in the various surname and geographical projects. If you pay a small additional fee of US $19 (£15 or €17.50) you will have access to additional tools such as the chromosome browser. Although Family Tree DNA have a smaller autosomal DNA database than AncestryDNA they have been selling their test in the UK since 2010 whereas AncestryDNA only launched in the UK in January 2015. You are therefore likely to find many cousins in the FTDNA database who have not tested at AncestryDNA.

For a comparison of the autosomal DNA testing companies see Tim Janzen's testing comparison chart in the ISOGG Wiki.

Note that if you've tested at AncestryDNA from May 2016 onwards you will get a reduced number of matches when you transfer to Family Tree DNA. This is because AncestryDNA are now using a different chip, and there are fewer markers that are compatible with the chip used by FTDNA. See the blog post from Louise Coakley Should I upgrade my Family Finder transfer for further information.

If you want to take advantage of the full features of both databases then there is much to be said for testing independently at FTDNA. If this is something you want to do make sure you take advantage of FTDNA's DNA Day sale. The Family Finder test is now just £46 ($59).

Update 29 April 2017
AncestryDNA have published a blog post about reaching their four million milestone.

Thursday 20 April 2017

A DNA Day sale at Living DNA and the launch of a new German People project

Living DNA have announced a special sale to commemorate DNA Day. Discounted kits are available for a limited period only. There is a £20 discount when ordered from the UK, a $40 discount in the US and a €30 discount in Ireland and other European countries. For details visit the Living DNA website.

For background information on the Living DNA test see my previous articles:
The Living DNA test provides the best biogeographical ancestry analysis for British people, but note the test does not currently offer a cousin-matching service although this feature will be introduced in due course.

Living DNA recently launched an Irish DNA Research Project to improve their reference dataset from Ireland. We learnt at Who Do You Think You Are? Live this year that they now have around 1200 samples from Ireland and are expecting to roll out their Irish update in about eight weeks' time.

Living DNA have now announced a similar initiative to collect samples from Germany. The project is being run in collaboration with CompGen (Verein für Computergenealogie e.V). CompGen is the biggest genealogical society in Germany and has over 3,700 members.

To participate in the project click on one of the following pages on the Living DNA website:
There are further details of the project in the following press release from Living DNA.
Living DNA initiative seeks to identify patterns of DNA within Germany and surrounding regions

An international group of researchers from the UK and Germany today launched a large-scale appeal for people with four locally-born grandparents, to contribute to a long-term DNA project that will map the genetic history of Germany.
One Family - The German People / Eine Familie - Die Deutschen, is a collaborative project by European ancestry firm Living DNA and Germany’s largest genealogy society, Verein für Computergenealogie e.V. (CompGen). Individuals with four grandparents all born within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of each other, are being sought to take part in the project by taking a simple DNA test.

The project’s aim is to map the genetic structure of contemporary Germany and surrounding eastern regions (Silesia, Posen, Pomerania, East and West Prussia), which have been part of Germany prior to WWI, with a special focus on the former eastern provinces (now part of Poland and Russia).

By focusing on people whose grandparents were all born in close proximity, the team aims to build up the most detailed and accurate regional map of Germany’s genetic history – prior to the loss of territory and mass departures from the eastern parts of Germany that occurred as a result of WW2.

One of the biggest challenges the project faces will be identifying people across all regions of interest, some of which now lie outside of contemporary Germany (Silesia.To encourage suitable people to come forward, individuals who fit the criteria will be able to claim a discounted DNA test at only €89 + return postage (RRP €159), which includes lifetime membership to Living DNA.

Qualifying people who have already had their DNA tested, can transfer their results to the project free of charge and receive a complimentary lifetime membership to Living DNA, which means that they will receive updates to their ancestry results as the Living DNA database grows.

David Nicholson, managing director of Living DNA comments:“Within our DNA is the fact that we are all connected. At Living DNA our One Family project aims to map and connect the world’s DNA. Ultimately producing a one family tree of the world.”

Mr Nicholson also adds: “It’s a great honour to work with CompGen on this project, they have a vast understanding of the complex population structures of Germany and surrounding regions and we are all excited to see the results of the project”.

Dr. Tobias Kemper, genetic genealogist working for CompGen, says: “We are thrilled to be working on this project which will show how the history of middle Europe – from the Roman Empire through the middle ages and the early modern period – until now has left traces within German DNA and their regional distribution.

“This project is of the utmost importance for genealogy in Germany, because it will lead to the creation of the first databank containing a large amount of German DNA samples. DNA genealogy, which has already established itself in many other countries, through the special link between historical research and natural science, will finally also be available in Germany on a large scale.”

Susanne Nicola, chair of the Verein für Computergenealogie e. V. adds: “We’re very pleased the society will be able use its expertise to make a sizeable contribution to a publicly available mapping of the genetic structure of “Germany”.

The DNA research team, under the leadership of Living DNA, made a name for itself in 2015 through its work on a similar landmark study entitled “The People of the British Isles”. This study, which was published in Nature magazine, was the first to map the genetic history of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in high detail. Key members of CompGen under leadership of German genetic genealogist Dr. Tobias Kemper, are also closely involved in the project to ensure it is as academically robust as possible.

The DNA Day sale at Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA have announced that they will be holding a sale to celebrate DNA Day. The sale starts today and will end at 11:59 pm Houston time on 27th April.  Here are the sale prices as advised to group administrators.

If you've not ordered a Family Finder test or wish to test other family members now is a really good time to do so. The price works out at £46 or 55 Euros at current exchange rates. Postage will be charged extra and costs $12.95 worldwide. In the US return postage is included in the price.

There are also particularly good deals on the BigY test and the SNP Packs. The BigY is £331 or 395 Euros, and the SNP packs are £70 or 83 Euros which I believe are the lowest ever prices. If you wish to order a BigY or SNP pack test make sure you check first with your haplogroup project administrator to ensure that you're ordering the right test for your situation.

Note that Y-DNA and mtDNA upgrades are not included. You will receive the reduced price if you add a product to an existing kit, but going from Y-37 to 67 or mtPlus to mtFull Sequence (FMS) will not be discounted this time.

Any orders placed through the invoice system must be paid by the end of the sale period.

Happy DNA Day!

Monday 10 April 2017

23andMe passes two million milestone and gets FDA approval to offer health reports to US customers

While I was away last week in Birmingham at Who Do You Think You Are? Live it was announced that 23andMe have now obtained approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to offer genetic health reports on ten medical conditions, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, to their customers in the US. This is a landmark decision and clears the way for 23andMe to submit further applications in the future for additional reports. The approval will now put 23andMe in a very strong position as they are the only company who can say that their reports are approved by the FDA.

The new FDA reports will only be made available to 23andMe customers in the US, all of whom have now been migrated to the new 23andMe platform. 23andMe reintroduced their health reports in the UK back in 2014 but they haven’t updated any of the literature on most of these reports since about 2011 so they are now very out of date. 23andMe's customers in the UK, Canada and a few other countries are still in limbo on the old 23andMe platform. No announcement has been made about the availability of the reports in other countries. I assume that we will not be able to benefit from the updated reports until we have been migrated to the new website. There are rumours that we will be transitioned by the end of June, but it remains to be seen if this will happen.

It is also worth noting that there are still many health reports available to UK customers that have yet to be approved by the FDA in the US. One example is the report on the BRCA markers associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. As this test is potentially diagnostic I understand it will have to go through a separate approval process.

There is no mention of 23andMe re-introducing the pharmacogenetic reports in the US. In a recent preprint Lu, Lewis and Traylor (2017) expressed concerns about the out-of-date pharmacogenetic reports that 23andMe are providing to their UK customers. The authors say:
Better mechanisms should be in place to ensure that tests reflect the latest science, to ensure tests do not become outdated. Pharmacogenetic research can move quickly – and producing out-of-date reports raises ethical questions since reports may be invalid based on updated research results.
It seems unlikely that 23andMe would be in a position to update these reports until they have approval from the FDA so I hope that they will eventually get clearance for these too.

Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, was interviewed by Bloomberg on Friday and provided some interesting insights into the approval process and the company's future plans. She also revealed that the company now have over two million people in their database. 23andMe were reported to have 1.2 million customers in March 2016 which means that they have sold around 800,000 tests in the last 12 months or so.

Update 17th April 2017
The full text of the letter received by 23andMe from the FDA can be seen here. The official press release from the FDA can be seen here.

Update 22nd April
Note that US customers who tested prior to 23rd November 2013 will not have access to the new reports. See the article in the 23andMe help centre Am I eligible to receive the new Genetic Health Risk reports?

Further reading
I've provided links below to some of the most useful articles and blog posts about the FDA's approval of the 23andMe health reports: