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!

Reluctant Roots: Those who just don’t want to know

BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed show with Laurie Tayor, discusses people and their reasons why they DON’T want to research their family tree (imagine it!)

I was driving home on Wednesday with the radio on, when I heard the familiar Who Do You Think You Are? theme. This of course, prompted me to turn the radio up instantly.

Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor at BBC Radio 4

I was listening to BBC Radio 4‘s Thinking Allowed with Laurie Taylor, a show that I often listen to on a Wednesday afternoon.

He was talking to Professor Janice McLaughlin about paediatric genetics and her research study published recently as ‘Family Ties in Genes and Stories: The importance of value and recognition in the narratives people tell of family‘.

I was amused at Laurie’s comment about the popularity of the many people who research their family tree ‘even if they do so at the cost of ignoring their living relatives’ (I’m conscious of this situation)!

The segment only lasts 11 minutes, but I thought it was fascinating enough to share here – to hear about those people who DON’T want to discover their family’s past, and their reasons why.

Sometimes those reasons were because they didn’t want to ‘reconnect’ with disreputable family members in the past, as they’d put in a lot of effort to distance and better themselves and their own family.

Here’s a link to the episode (there might be geo-specific restrictions)

Have you ever reached out to a relative who specifically tells you that they don’t want to know about their family’s past?

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013

Day Two of 2013’s Who Do You Think You Are? Live event.

So, I’m just back home from my third Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at London’s Olympia.

The show, now in its second day, seems to be about the same size as in previous years. Thankfully the heating was on, as I’d already experienced the gentle flurry of snow adding to the shivvering I had done on the drab Earls Court station platform.

Stands at Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013
View across Olympia lower court.

At one end of the hall were all the local Family History Society stands – brought together by the Society of Genealogists, whilst the rest of the hall is filled with the behemoths of genealogy – the magazines, the suppliers, and the online datashops – Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and GenesReunited etc.

Upstairs, once again was the legend that is Eric Knowles, along with military historians – some in period costume. This whole area was packed with people clutching medals and photos, seeking information on relatives or identification of uniforms.

Following on from last year’s Titanic themed FindMyPast theatre, this year it was the turn of the Crime and Punishment theme (coinciding with their huge launch of fresh C&P records online). Their presenters were informative and entertaining, particularly period policeman Myko Clelland‘s search for Wombles.

A presentation by FindMyPast
FindMyPast’s Myko goes hunting for wombles.

The WDYTYALive Tweetup!

I had really wanted to attend what i think was the first ‘tweet-up’, and had been looking forward to meeting up with fellow genealogy twitter users, but awkwardly I was double-booked with the Richard III talk, so I had to bail, although did manage to meet a few twitter friends.

In the run-up, during, and no doubt afterwards, you can keep up with the latest mentions of the event by following the #wdytyalive hashtag on twitter.

Still, as guilty as that snubbing made me feel, i thought I better share Rosemary Morgan‘s photo of all those that did show up, as a kind of ‘sorry i couldn’t make it’.

Samantha Womack

I arrived before 10am, so had plenty of time until my first booked session – the Celebrity Interview with Samantha Womack (or Janus if you remember her in Game On or Eurovision). Interestingly, interviewer Tessa Dunlop led Sam to reveal that she had not watched the broadcast episode as she felt that it was a personal journey and wanted to keep it that way for herself… plus she said she hates seeing and hearing herself.

That aside, we saw a few broadcast clips from key moments, and also a clip that wasn’t in the programme (something seemingly Sam had wanted kept in the show), which revealed much more about her ancestor Jesse Rider being in ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ in the USA before she ever married or had children.

The Two Kings

Dr Turi King on stage
Dr Turi King shed light onto the Richard III dig and its future.

Dr Turi King‘s (University of Leicester) presentation was fascinating, and detailed the archaeological dig from the outset right up to finding and identifying King Richard III via DNA testing and genealogical research. She also gave an insight into what is still going on with the data and the all important skeleton. Dr King told us that there was still a lot of work to do and a lot of information to write up, and also a modern Y chromosome to follow up on. She emphasised that funding is a major issue in this project and in general in archaeology (a subject which Tony Robinson and Helen Geake also emphasised the other week at the University of Cambridge), and whilst this dig has been back-filled, there were still plenty of things to explore further – including a stone coffin which was left untouched.

The talk buried a few rumours (see what i did there?) circulated by the press – including free DNA tests via Who Do You Think You Are?, and also the rumour that Richard III was buried beneath the letter ‘R’ painted on a carpark. He was not.

Searching for Surnames with SoG

My third and final workshop was one with the great Else Churchill from the Society of Genealogists (affectionately known as SoG). She showed off the Society’s forthcoming much improved website, and also gave an insight into the work and vast collection that the Society performs and maintains. Sounds like the Society has a huge legacy of great and valuable historical sources but they are tied up in a range of formats making them a challenge to see. Still, it sounded like plans were afoot to change this, and the new site would at least make searching those items that are already indexed/catalogued much easier.

All in all, this was probably my most enjoyable WDYTYALive. After my first one being somewhat uninteresting, and my second one (last year) seeing me attend workshops for the first time and getting more value from it, this one built on that but with the added meeting of twitter friends old and new.

I look forward to WDYTYALive 2014 (i’m pretty sure I saw a stand selling next year’s tickets).

View across stands at WDYTYA Live 2013
View across stands at WDYTYA Live 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

The fifth Who Do You Think You Are? Live runs from 25th-27th February 2011 at London’s Olympia.

The fifth Who Do You Think You Are? Live runs from 25th-27th February 2011.

This was actually the first time that I had been to Who Do You Think You Are? Live. I thought that I would go along to find out for myself what it was like, to catch a talk by Monty Don, and also ‘entertain’ my Twitter followers for a few hours live from the event.

After quite an early start from Huntingdon station, I got down to Earls Court in good time. The train for Olympia seems to take an age to arrive, but thankfully once you’re on it, it’s just a short trip. I knew that I was on the right track as this train to Olympia was packed at 10:30am.

I’ve been to Olympia loads of times before for marketing/technology shows, so pretty much know my way around the place. Upon arrival, i nipped upstairs to the gallery to take the above photo and a couple of others before checking out where the Who Do You Think You Are? Theatre was (it’s upstairs), where I had my ticket to see Monty Don.

I was pleased to look out across the hall to see some very familiar brands – of course the Who Do You Think You Are? magazine team were there, but also Ancestry.co.uk, FindMyPast, FamilySearch, Society of Genealogists, and a fantastic Victorian set, complete with staff in period costume belonging to Genes Reunited.

Amongst them were an array of other organisations that provide information on DNA testing, Caribbean ancestry, the fantastic Cassini Maps team and many many others.

The Society of Genealogists had paved the way for a plethora of local family history societies to hold stands there too – I was pleased to stumble across my chums Cambridgeshire Family History Society (CFHS) and Parish Chest – both of whom I regularly shop with.

Up on the gallery level could be found other organisations – identifying/dating photographs, war medals.

Celebrities at WDYTYA Live

I stumbled across Eric Knowles – the legendary antique expert. I swear he didn’t leave his little stand for a second! And caught some fleeting glimpses of Nick Barratt.

Monty Don’s talk was both fascinating and funny. You could tell that he had enjoyed every moment of his adventure with WDYTYA, and even told the stories of the bits you didn’t see in his episode, and about further research that had taken place after the episode.

I had planned to catch Tony Robinson talking with Ancestry.co.uk but by this time I was already flagging on my feet so decided to start my journey homewards.

I think it was well worth the trip and I had a really good day. I didn’t go there looking for any particular information though, but there were plenty of people with notepads and folders – perhaps making use of the Ancestry.co.uk advice, or the Ask The Experts team upstairs.

I would definitely go again, but maybe not annually unless there was something specific I wanted to see or buy.

A few bits of advice:
They were allowing re-entry as long as you kept your ticket, so by lunchtime when i was starting to get a bit hot, i was pleased to grab some fresh air and a little walk over the road to get some lunch.

It can get quite hot in there, but fortunately i’d put my jacket in my rucksack… and there was a stand selling icecream.

The queue for the Who Do You Think You Are? theatre gets quite long quite quickly, so give yourself plenty of time if you fancy getting a really good seat.

There’s quite a lot of seats upstairs if you fancy taking the weight off your feet for a few minutes.