Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Confessions of a Haplogroupie™

I have a confession to make: I am addicted to DNA testing.

The whole idea of it completely fascinates me. I now consider myself a haplogroupie (™ me!). I've participated long enough that I have a basic understanding of what a centiMorgan is, or where my haplogroups originated, and who might be my MRCAs.

Don't get me wrong - I am anything but an expert. Perhaps to family or non-genealogy friends, I sound downright scientifically educated. But as genetic genealogy goes, I am in kindergarten.  I remember being in high school biology class and just getting the most basic introduction of what DNA and helixes and chromosomes were. Just a few years ago, we all heard when the human genome was first mapped. Now? I have a copy of my own genome on my computer!  I love to learn and absorb new information. And really, that's a big part of why I work on my family history. This is genealogy for us nerds!

My DNA story began about a year and a half ago, as I read more and more about the popularity of DNA testing for genealogy. My paper records go a pretty substantial way and I figured this is a great opportunity to see what new data I could inject into those old facts. The company 23andMe advertised a $99 holiday special in December 2012, so I ordered a kit and dipped my first toe in the DNA testing waters. About a month later, I received my results and was hooked. I didn't learn anything really new, but the haplogroup (simply put, your geographic + genetic place in the world) results confirmed what the paper records told me. 23andMe offered the autosomal testing kit, which essentially tests a broad spectrum of your distant family. As a woman, I was unable to specifically learn information from my paternal side. 

By the end of 2013, two very close relations showed up in my list of DNA matches: they turned out to be two sisters, who were first cousins once removed on my dad's side of the tree. Now we had something to work with! I requested contact and sharing with them and with all reasonably close matches in my list. I also asked my dad to get tested...and he did. (Thanks Dad!) Receiving his results really showed the power of 23andMe's connections. We could link our profiles together and suddenly a list of 'P' names showed up for me - those who matched on my paternal side. Then, by default, the others were maternal matches.

I have since tested with AncestryDNA, and transferred my 23andMe results to FamilyTreeDNA. I guess that's the trifecta of testing - getting into all three major databases. Both sets of new results came back just this week, so I'm now neck-deep into my data.

So Sally, what can you share with us?

1. My haplogroups matched exactly with my paper records.

My maternal haplogroup is U5a2b which originated in northern Europe. I received this through my mother's mother's, etc side. Sure enough, my grandmother's family can be traced back to small villages in eastern Poland, which was previously the edge of West Prussia.

My paternal haplogroup, derived from my dad's test, is R1b1b2a1a2f2, which even to a novice seems mighty specific. A little research determined this group shows a very high likelihood of being from northern Ireland. Two for two - that is exactly my father's ancestry. There is speculation this line is from an ancient Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Maybe we'll never know, but it makes a great story!

My dad's maternal haplogroup is X2c1. This is a fairly rare group which originated in central Europe but has the highest current concentration in Quebec. Ding, ding, ding! My paternal grandmother's family is indeed French-Canadian with some Belgian influence.

2. How do you keep your matches straight?

23andMe has tools to analyze your chromosomal similarities with your matches. I found a wonderful free spreadsheet download [1] that allows you to 'paint' your matches. Yes, it was a little tedious, but of course I did it! I simplified the spreadsheet to one page and assigned a color to each match. Then using the matching strands from each of the 23 chromosomes in 23andMe's comparison table, I color blocked the pieces. I am finding it very easy to use and visually see my matches.

Here is my dad's sheet, showing chromosomes 1-10:

Note some of the very long strands in purple and orange. Those are the cousins. You can graphically see how much they have in common with my father. At least know we can determine which part of the tree future matches might be from.

I'll blog again about how things are going with my matches from each of the three websites. It's too early at this point and I'd like to be able to give a fair comparison of the three companies.

It's a new world out there. Go get tested!

[Disclosure: I paid for my own tests and have no commercial relationship with any of the DNA testing companies]

© 2014 Sally Knudsen