Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part Two)

The Ancestry DNA results are in for my mother and I… but what do you get, and how can they be interpreted?

It’s been a few patient weeks since I did my AncestryDNA test but the email has come through. The results of the AncestryDNA tests for my mother and I have arrived.

Excitedly I clicked on my name first to see what it would reveal.

When you get your results you’re presented with a kind of ‘dashboard’. This includes your name and a brief summary of your Ethnicity Estimate and your DNA Matches.

Able to see the top three results in this dashboard view, I clicked through to view the complete geographic/ethnicity estimate map and results.

AncestryDNA 'Ethnicity Estimate' results  and map.
My AncestryDNA ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ results and map.

With little surprise, Great Britain appeared at the top. Although DNA runs through us all from our very evolution, my family history research (which is a nanosecond snapshot by comparison) has given me a set of documented ancestors who have never strayed outside of England.

Of course, documents lie but DNA doesn’t, but in both cases – it’s all in the interpretation.

After Great Britain, coming in second and as a complete surprise was my 18% Irish genes. So far, I’ve found no Irish ancestors, and only 1-2 Irish relatives. I can’t even put my finger on a few possible Irish surnames… but, they appear to be in the mix somewhere.

In third place, with a nice 11% is my highly anticipated (and hoped for) Scandinavian DNA.   Having been surprised by the Irish DNA, I’d have expected this or Europe West to have turned up as second.

These three are then followed by what Ancestry calls ‘Trace Regions’. They explain that these are small traces of ethnicity, but that they may be unreliable. They’ve included them just in case.

For me, I’m amused by being 4% Italian/Greek, 3% Finn and Northwest Russian, but surprisingly a lowly 3% Western European.

Setting contexts

What is useful, and acts almost as a caveat to the percentage and map, is the potted history of the region when you click on its name. When reading this, you realise that for someone with 61% Great Britain score (the average Great Briton has 60%, so i only just scraped in), seeing Scandinavian in my DNA is absolutely no surprise. Also, seeing Irish and Scandinavian together is no surprise either, and that’s down to the trade and settlement of the Vikings who held around 1/3rd of England by the late 800s. Vikings of course made their way to Ireland too, so it would be unsurprising for both Scandinavian and Irish DNA to turn up.

Reassuringly, Ancestry’s test had spotted that there was a parent/child relationship between myself and my mother’s DNA.

Comparing DNA with my mother

When you look at my mother’s DNA results in comparison, you get a hint of the 50% of the DNA that I didn’t inherit, and a hint at what DNA may well be lurking in my father.

My mother's AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate
My mother’s AncestryDNA results reveal she’s more European than me.

For my mother, her ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ pitches her as 8% more than the average Great Briton, at 68%.

Then, what is my lowest estimated score (of 1%), my mother has as second – she’s 13% Western European. That’s roughly the percentage that I’d have expected to have seen in my result, given ancestral surnames of the likes of the German sounding Moden and Swiss sounding Gothard surnames in her tree.

With delight, I revealed her Scandinavian roots too (she’s a big Vikings fan, and we share a Viking-sounding Yarrow ancestral surname). Her percent is less than mine, so maybe this hints at some Scandinavian DNA in my father too?

It’s not until you reach her ‘Trace Regions’ that Irish DNA turns up – and for her it’s just 3%, whereas mine was 18%. Maybe this also suggests that there’s Irish DNA in my father.

Also amongst my mother’s Trace Regions is 5% Iberian Peninsula, and our shared Finland/Northwest Russa DNA (at 2%).

I’d guess that when looking at geography – for someone with an estimate so high of Western Europe, then seeing the Iberian Peninsula is no surprise. The Fin and Russian ethnicity traces may well be echoes through our Scandinavian DNA too.

Finally, my mother’s Trace Regions end with what has made me chuckle. She’s 1% Eastern European.  She’s a Daily Mail reader, and I continually mock-plead with her to stop reading that ‘newspaper’… which is packed with shock stories and hatred for people from Ukraine, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Hopefully that 1% will serve as another reason she should stop buying it!!

So, what can I do with this new-found knowledge?

This was my questioning right from the out-set. You get a set of data that spans right back through human life – far too far back into history for you to research. At it’s top level, and for those who aren’t really interested in family history, this is a kind of ‘genetic tourism’ or ‘family tree tourism’. Dr Adam Rutherford‘s recent radio feature on The Business of Genetic Ancestry kind of puts it nicely.

AncestryDNA sold this autosomal DNA testing concept to me when they showed what they’d do next with the data – and that’s to use it alongside all the other users who get their test results, and use it to suggest DNA matches to you. It was this point at Who Do You Think You Are? Live that I decided to pay up.

That AncestryDNA dashboard shows you some of those matches, each with a rating of how confident they are at the matches.. and then it’s over to you to reach out to them and explore that connection through Ancestry.

AncestryDNA matches
AncestryDNA shows you who has varying degree of DNA matches with your results.

I’ve already begun reaching out to a few – and it was reassuring to see matches with people I’ve already linked to through good old fashioned family history research, and also a number of people who are strangers but carry some of my obscurer family surnames too.

Ancestry, I’m impressed. All I need to do now, is think of who best to test next. My father? My sister? The oldest blood relative I can find?

Taking an autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA (Part One)

Part One of my autosomal DNA test with AncestryDNA.

It’s more than a month since I picked up two of the AncestryDNA kits from the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at Birmingham. One kit is for me, the other is for my mother.

AncestryDNA talks
AncestryDNA has been a heavily promoted product this year’s WDYTYA? Live show.

This weekend I finally had the chance to sit and do my part of the autosomal DNA test with my mother.

An autosomal test allows you to track both sides of your family – giving you a more ‘tree-like’ view of your family.

You might be asking now, why would my mother bother spending money on having the test done too, when I’ve done the test? Well, aside from her excited response when I texted her from WDYTYA? Live to tell her I’d bought a kit and asked her whether she would also like one, there is value in testing near relatives.

This is because whilst 50% of my DNA comes from each of my parents, I won’t know which 50%. With my mother being tested too, it should give me a better understanding of what’s lurking in my maternal DNA, and a rough idea as to what’s lurking in my father’s un-tested DNA.

Also, because I’m only 50% of my maternal DNA, it means, which bits of my maternal grandparents DNA am I missing? If my sister took this test, she would no doubt have a different set of DNA, with some commonly handed-down bits, but also some of the bits that I didn’t get.  Similarly, if my maternal grandmother took the test, we may see that there’s a load of DNA in her sample, that never made it to my mother, or that did make it to my mother, and to me, but not my sister – simply because DNA takes a random 50% sample each time.

When you get your AncestryDNA kit, you realise just how smart and slick the packaging looks – almost as if it’s something from the Apple range. As soon as you open it, you’re greeted by a welcome and the instructions guide.

Inside an AncestryDNA test box
Open the box, and the instructions are right there, and really clear.

There really is two steps you need to do for this test. The first is activate kit online. This is so important – and Ancestry have been sure to put your activation code everywhere on your kit – it’s on the back of the instructions card, it’s on the plastic carton containing the kit, and it’s on the sample itself.

If you still fail to note that code, and activate it at their ancestrydna.co.uk/activate (I activated my code a month before I actually did the test), then when you send off your samples, the AncestryDNA team will have no idea who did the test, or who/how to return the results. You’ll have wasted your time and money.

Underneath the instructions card is a plastic carton containing your sample tube, and a cap containing blue sample stabilising solution. There’s also a grey plastic envelope, and, in the case of UK and Republic of Ireland, there’s also a postage-paid box. That’s it.

Aside from making sure that you have activated your kit (or will activate as soon as you post it), the other piece of advice is not to ‘eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum for 30 minutes before giving your saliva sample‘. These activities would no doubt make your sample become more of a dietary analysis, than a DNA one.

Filling the little tube with your saliva is actually quite a challenge, and there is no elegant way of doing it. Both myself and my mother found that we were good at frothing into the little funnel, but we both got levels up to the wavy line eventually.

AncestryDNA sample
My DNA sample with the blue stabilising solution cap screwed on.

The next step was to remove the slobbery funnel, and then screw on the cap containing the blue solution. Whilst screwing this on, it breaks the seal in the cap, allowing the solution to fall down into your sample. The instructions then tell you to shake your sample for at least 5 seconds to mix it, and then put the sample in the grey plastic bag.

Having sealed that up, my mother and I popped our samples into the postage-paid boxes, sealed those up, and I posted them.

Once you’ve activated your kit, you get a little progress bar in your account that tells you about your sample:

AncestryDNA sample progress bar
The progress bar keeps you informed of your sample’s journey.

With the seemingly big buzz at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, and the AncestryDNA campaign in total, I’m sure that the results processing time has been busy for their labs, so the 6-8 weeks timeframe given on my indicator is fine with me.

I’m looking forward to the results. As an Ancestry user, I’ll be interested to see which other testers have DNA matches, and whether I know of those people already, but like my mother, we’re both interested in seeing the geographic distribution estimate maps.

We’re hoping our inner-Viking will appear!

DAY TWO: Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015

Day Two of the Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2015 show at Birmingham NEC is over, and the final day is coming!

If you’re yet to tread the halls of this year’s show, then here’s what you missed in Day Two.

AncestryDNA talks
AncestryDNA has been a heavily promoted product this year.

Right near the front of the entrance is the show’s main sponsor, in prime space – Ancestry. I’ve had my account with these guys (and FindMyPast) for some time, and this year the team are going all guns to promote their AncestryDNA product.

Essentially this consists of a kit, that you can buy and register on their site, and then use to take a swab sample of DNA. Post them off, and then your results are returned to you online about 6-8 weeks later, via your Ancestry account.

The results will then give you an ethnicity estimate (I’m hoping for Vikings and old Saxons), and then it will give you leads to other people who have taken the test on AncestryDNA, where they have found matching DNA.

Two AncestryDNA testing kits
Two AncestryDNA testing kits

I’ve picked up two kits, as I was curious, and my mother has been far more excitedly curious about her DNA for some years. I guess that with all the other kits around, and with the recent discovery, questioning and burial of Richard III, the DNA market is booming.

I’ll write more about the tests another time – so keep posted!

Day Two was definitely busier, and even though the aisles are wider between stands (most noticeably amongst the Society of Genealogists Family History stands) they were still thick with busy, eager, genealogists looking for the next clue.

The Home Team – the Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry was naturally a busy spot to be. I have only a couple of distant relative marriages in Birmingham, so I didn’t need to stop.. but the team certainly looked busy!

Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry stand
Birmingham & Midland Society for Genealogy & Heraldry stand

As with yesterday, where I was able to catch Alec Tritton talk about the many wonders of The Parish Chest, and caught some of Jayne Shrimpton talking about the dating of 80s and 90s photographs (1880s/1890s, okay!), today I was able to catch some more.

The first was from Dave Annal who gave a fascinating talk on the FindMyPast stand, on Death Duty Registers. I could tell that it was something to do with death and taxes, but beyond that I had no idea what they would contain. As a source, they look like the fantastically messiest, chaotic and cryptic set of possible information ever (beyond Doctor’s notes!).

Understanding the Death Duty Registers sign
Understanding the Death Duty Registers sign

Later, I briefly caught the team at FamilySearch, who gave me a lovely warm reminder about the years of research I’ve put in working my way through microfilm. They themselves are in the midst of a big project to digitise microfilm, and are looking for volunteers to process batches of transcripts so that everything can become much easier to search. I don’t think that this was new news, but it was good to hear what they are up to.

Margaret Haig talks copyright and family history
Margaret Haig (IPO) talks copyright and family history

Finally, I sat in on Copyright and Family History – a talk by Margaret Haig from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). She gave a fascinating talk on the law and the minefield of copyright when it comes to family history. There were loads of questions after, but I poppe along to their stand to ask them my one: Who owns the copyright of a Will? The answer I was given was that they are not under copyright because they are not a creative piece, they’re a commissioned piece of work that follows a formulaic formal process. This wasn’t really the answer I was expecting.

I managed to meet Eric Knowles, and he was able to shed light on  my mystery spoon… But I’ll write more about that soon too!

I ended my day by treating myself to two books from the team at Pen and Sword Books – one The Real Sherlock Holmes – The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada by Angela Buckley, and the other one by Stephen Wade, titled Tracing Your Criminal Ancestors.

Some criminal reading to add to my reading pile.
Some criminal reading to add to my reading pile.

I was flicking through the latter when the stall-holder asked me if I had criminal ancestors. I said ‘yes’, but reassured them it wasn’t for fraud as I handed my card over.

Anyway, more on DNA, the spoon and the criminals another day. Day Three is calling…

Start your family tree – the time is NOW

In what is the last few days of 2014, I’m thinking back through to last January and my 2014 genealogy resolutions (more on their progress or otherwise, and my 2015 ones to come).

Man holding magnifying glass and death certificate
I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by ‘new records’ right now.

This year has been a busy one for genealogy as an industry, and history as a whole, what with some significant world war anniversaries.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued working on my trees, undertaking a couple of bits of free detective work for a friend and also in response to finding a family bible in an antiques store, busily updating my Family Tree UK site with some nice Structured Data for the benefit of Search (yes, my inner nerd has been binging on that), finding a ghost, and joining a one-name organisation that’s found its way through somewhat of a sudden unexpected and perhaps turbulent period of change, I’ve been merrily receiving emails about the latest new sets of hundreds of thousands of newly-available records.

That list of newly available records has kept on growing and growing and that kind of leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I feel like I’ve dropped the ball and let my genealogy badge slip.

Perhaps I should just draw a line, and start again?

Only joking, I’m not about to throw 20yrs worth of work away.

But, there’s so much ‘new’ out there, that I feel a bit lost in the noise again.

This is why, if you’re only just starting, or you’re toying with the idea to explore your tree, or to find out if your old grandmother’s rumours were in any way true or just romanticised whimsy, then this is the time to start it.

Book yourself into a session with your local archives, or talk to your oldest coherent relatives, find out the photos.. but make sure you use the sites that carry the ‘human’ bits of genealogy and record them too – not just the number counts of a census return, but the newspapers, the scraps of info from war records, and the scribbly notes in parish registers.

How does that help me?

What I need to do is climb back down my tree branches and stand at the bottom of the family tree, look upwards, and then slowly learn to climb it again. By doing so, I should find new information that helps to make those old branches grow a little bit more.

In my random casual looks for records against close relatives, these new record sets from the likes of the British Newspaper Archive and FindMyPast, have allowed me to fill in more of the everyday lives of people I thought I had already.

I’ve only just dipped my toes/fingers/nose into their millions of records that they’ve been steadily releasing this year. Kudos to FindMyPast, who despite taking a massive backlash when they altered their website, on a scale that was a-kin to the Ancestry Search Change Disaster (remember that?), I think they have led the way with getting the more numerous and more interesting records into their data-sets.

Also, with the launch of sites like Lives Of The First World War from the Imperial War Museum, the information is not only going to come from record organisations, but also via personal histories through the wisdom of crowds.

A snapshot of Lives Of The First World War stats
A snapshot of today’s Lives Of The First World War stats

Of course I should expect to see ‘new’ information turn up – and I’ve enjoyed this immensely spending more time exploring the Ancestry ‘Hints’, and only recently found some photos of my Great Grandfather – Alfred Newman, aged about 28 (youngest I’d ever seen him previously to that, was in his 40s). I never met him.

Ancestry Hits
All these Hints will keep me busy on Ancestry in the Christmas period.

I’ve yet to delve into School Records, but really hoping to find lots of notes on my Great Grandmother as being a mischievous little devil (I always felt she had a rebellious streak in her).

I’m also yet to explore the new online ‘Find A Will’ service from The Probate Service. I’ve always enjoyed reading Wills, but have very few of them. I have some great transcripts of 16th-19th century ones, and they’ve been perfect for unravelling relationships between generations.

With so much to even start to explore, this is why I almost feel like I did when I first walked into a Records Office (the Bury St Edmunds one).

It is exciting, revealing, overwhelming…. and oh…. wonderfully addictive.

Poll shows 50% of respondents want Ancestry’s ‘old search’ to remain

Results from the poll question ‘Ancestry are ditching their ‘old search’ tool. Are you sad to see it go?’ reveals that half of respondents want ‘old search’ to remain.

For the last few days, genealogists have been airing their concerns about Ancestry.com’s decision to kill off it’s ‘old search’ tool. A poll conducted on this website finds that 50% of the respondents want ‘old search’ to remain.

Ancestry.com 'old search' poll results

Questioning the quality of the Ancestry ‘new search’ search results in discussions on blogs, on twitter, and in LinkedIn groups, professional genealogists and amateur family historians alike have been vocal in their concerns at the demise of ‘old search’. Those who want ‘old search’ to remain, claim that it provides more exact matches and fewer ‘padded out’ results (the ‘padding’ being photos and member tree matches – both of which are known to be blighted by swathes of incorrect information).

However, almost a quarter of respondents said that they use ‘new search’ and the remainder were split between those who ‘don’t mind’ (14%), and those who were not aware that there are two different searches (14%).

Unsure whether you’re using new or old? Here’s how to tell…

Checking which Ancestry Search you're using
Checking which Ancestry.co.uk Search version you’re using

Visit Ancestry.com (or .co.uk as in the screenshot above). Click ‘Search’ in the navigation, and then check over to the right. Whichever version it names here, you’re using the other one!

Ancestry.com claim that they are taking notice, and have launched a survey to collect the responses from users.

The poll on this site ran from June 29 – July 5 2013.

POLL: Good riddance or a sad farewell to Ancestry ‘Old Search’?

Ancestry.com has revealed that it is killing off its ‘old search’ tool.

Ancestry.com logo

Unexpectedly, this has caused quite a storm with those who favour the tool, with many taking to social media to vent their concerns.

American genealogist Randy Seaver swiftly carried out a comparative test of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ search and posted his results.

So, I thought I would do a quick poll, to see where you sit on the issue….

To be honest, I had been pretty oblivious to the switch from old to new until I saw a few tweets about it. ‘New Search’ arrived some time ago, and as I stare at so many sites that go under a re-design/upgrade, this would have just been another one that made a few design changes.

I remember the concerns regarding the changes that FamilySearch did to their site, and the anger every time Facebook ‘dares’ to change its site.

I can only assume that Ancestry made a change to its site because they felt they had a legitimate reason (remember, they are a business, and therefore have business reasons) to make the change, and I’m sure they believe that it will be an improvement, otherwise why spend the cash on doing it?

Whilst talking with the panel after last night’s What’s Up Genealogy? episode came off air, it was suggested that this change may well have been done to improve the notion of ‘connecting people’. Of course, connecting people is great for a genealogy site – doubt anyone would dispute that – and ‘connecting’ is a great way to get return visits, loyalty, and ultimately a subscription that means more developments and records can be added in future.

Take a look at the articles below which discuss the change, and let me know what you think in the poll and comments.