Happy First Birthday Iowa DNA Project

The Iowa DNA Project was formed at the end of November 2014 and for its first birthday has now reached 361 members.  The project is ‘geographical’ in nature, and designed for those who have direct ancestors who lived in Iowa, or those researching collateral lines that lived in Iowa. Our focus is on autosomal, aka Family Finder results, but we also have members who have had or are in the process of having their mtDNA and YDNA tested.  Those new to DNA testing are especially welcome and their research aims are supported within the project.

The previous (August 2015) Quarterly Report can be viewed here.

Key Figures

  • Total Iowa DNA Project Members: 361
  • Family Finder Tests Completed: 305
  • Total Donations: $105  Current Balance $6
  • Highest number of database wide matches per member: 3000
  • Lowest number of database wide matches per member: 1
  • Average number of database wide matches per member: 858
  • Inter-Project Matches: 233
  • Highest number of Inter-Project matches per member: 11
  • Weekly Match Updates
  • 96 of 99 Iowa Counties Represented

iowa mapNuts and Bolts

The Iowa DNA Project Surname Index can be found here.  Surnames associated with specific counties can be found in our FAQ here.

  • Total Iowa Surnames: 667
  • Members with Family Trees:276
  • Members with listed Surnames: 317
  • Members with listed Most Distant Ancestors: 292

Iowan Family Groups

The Iowa DNA Project has many pioneers who were the first to test within their immediate family.  However, the backbone of the project is the inclusion of multiple generations and extended family members who have also tested.  These family groups assist in helping inter-project matches determine how they may be connected and which branch of their family trees to examine further.  In October, we teamed up with Göran Runfeldt of dnagen.net  to trial his ICW Tool to map out the interconnectedness of the entire Iowa DNA project.   Below is a depiction of the connections between our current members.


Using the ICW Tool gives Iowa DNA Project members easy access to a variety of additional information and charts including a tabulation of our members’ Suggested Relationships.  As you can see, our members are actively recruiting close family members to test.

match totals

Suggested Relationships

  • Parent/Child: 64
  • Full Siblings: 38
  • Grandparent/Grandchild/Half Siblings: 22
  • Aunt/Uncle/Niece/Nephew: 22
  • 1st Cousin: 22
  • 2nd Cousin: 30
  • 3rd Cousin: 62
  • 4th Cousin: 114

More can be learned about the process and results here*.

*Additional detailed information is available to Iowa DNA Project members


Project YDNAAs expected, the most common Y haplogroup is R and its subclades, with I and its subclades the second most common.  23 project members have completed the Big Y test.

Conf Y

Predicted Y

  • R-M269: 48
  • R (excluding R-M269): 44
  • I: 28
  • G: 3
  • E: 3
  • J: 2
  • N: 3

More information on the project’s patriarchs and YDNA results can be found here.

Project mtDNA:  The most common mtDNA continues to be H and its subclades with a variety of other haplogroups also represented. 105 project members have completed Full Mitochondrial Sequencing.

Member Haplogroups:

  • H: 68
  • K: 17
  • T: 16
  • U: 14
  • J: 12
  • I: 5
  • W: 3
  • V: 2
  • B: 2
  • C:1
  • X: 1

Complete information on our project’s mtDNA matriarchs, statistics and mutations can be found here.

conf mtdna

Declared Countries of YDNA and mtDNA Origin


mt COA

MyOrigins Leaderboard

Based on percentage points per member, the Iowa DNA Project populations are listed below in order of frequency.  Descriptions of each population cluster can be found here.  Additional admixture tools can be found at Gedmatch.

  • British Isles 12,333
  • Scandinavia 6931
  • Western and Central Europe 6558
  • Southern Europe 1710
  • Eastern Europe 1403
  • Finland and Northern Siberia 345
  • Asia Minor 296
  • West Africa 158
  • Ashkenazi Diaspora 120
  • Eastern Middle East 106
  • (Blended Population Cluster) Eastern, Western and Central European 100
  • Native American 87
  • Northeast Asia 78
  • Central Asia 75
  • North Africa 35
  • East Central Africa 5
  • South-Central Africa 4
  • (Blended Population Cluster) British Isles and Western and Central Europe 1

As a matter of interest:

  • 100% British Isles 3 members
  • 100% Western and Central Europe 2 members
  • 100% Scandinavian 1 member
  • 100% Eastern, Western and Central European 1 member

Coming Results:

Currently, we are waiting for 3 kits to be returned to the lab for testing: 1 Factoid, 1 YDNA 67 Marker and 1 mtFull Sequence.  We have 13 members who have kits that have been transferred but not yet unlocked. Current members, please keep in mind you cannot be checked for inter-project matches without a completed and unlocked Family Finder test.

From the FTDNA lab, we are waiting for:

  • 2 mtFull Sequence (1 delayed)
  • 1 YDNA 37 marker
  • 7 Factoids (same project member)
  • 1 Y Haplogroup Backbone (delayed)
  • 1 R1b-CTS4466 SNP Pack
  • 1 R1b-L21 SNP Pack
  • 1 Big Y
  • 5 individual SNPS (same project member, 4 delayed)

Do You have Iowan Roots?

I would like to thank the project members for their patience and many efforts over the last year.  In October, I attended the Irish Genetic Genealogy Conference in Dublin, Ireland and had the pleasure of attending lectures, meeting cousins, members of ISOGG and other project administrators.  Lots of great information came out of the conference as well as ideas to make the project better. I look forward to making and sharing our discoveries in the months to come.

You can read more about the benefits of joining a project at FTDNA here.  If you would like to join the Iowa DNA Project, please visit our homepage here.  The project has converted to MyGroups and has activated its Activity Feed to encourage collaboration. The Feed may be accessed after joining and of course our links section is available to all.

Do we match? Yes! No. Maybe!

My cousin Pete is often the inspiration behind my blog posts.  Last October, he saw my family tree at Ancestry and wrote to ask if his grandfather, Carl Toemmes was related to my Toemmes ancestors.  At the time I didn’t know, but between consulting our mutual cousin Bernhard in Germany and a bit of sleuthing through Illinois records we soon learned that indeed we were related.

Pete is my 3rd cousin 2x removed.  We both descend from 2 of the 8 children born to Johann Temmes and Maria Schmitt who were married in 1815 in Trier, Germany.  His grandfather Carl was the son of the only sibling who didn’t immigrate to Illinois along with the rest of the family. I’d had no idea Johann existed until Bernhard went through the German church books and confirmed our relationship by providing his baptismal, marriage and death records, as well as the German baptismal for Pete’s grandfather Carl.

Featured imageOur mutual ancestors are my 6th great grandparents, and as luck would have it the line had already been successfully triangulated, or proven by DNA.  Two descendents of a 3rd sibling, Katherine, had already tested and been identified.  GB and Steve are my 3rd cousin 2x removed and my 4th cousin, respectively.  According to ISOGG, statistically such cousin-ships share 13.28 cm.  GB, Steve and I all share the same 29.2 cm segment on chromosome 17.  To each other,  GB and Steve are 1st cousins 1x removed.

Once Pete’s connection had been proven on paper, he dove head first into DNA testing.  3rd cousins 2x removed is the DNA equivalent of 4th cousins and Pete and I had a 50-50% chance of matching just as I had had with GB and Steve.  When his results came in, unfortunately we fell into the 50% of those who don’t match.  However, he did match GB for a total of 88.1 cm. As Pete and GB are 3rd cousins, they had a 90% chance of matching.

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While statistics suggest Pete and I could have shared about 13 cm of DNA, and we don’t match at FTDNA, once he uploads his results to Gedmatch we will be able to investigate our exact shared segments more thoroughly.  Meanwhile, statistically Pete and GB were only expected to share 53.13 cm but exceeded that at an impressive 88.1 cm spread over 3 chromosomes.

When I shot off an excited email to let Pete know his results were up, he sent me an equally excited email asking, “So, are we related?”

The simple answer is yes, no and maybe.

  • Yes, Pete and I both descend from Johann and Maria according to traditional genealogy, as do GB and Steve.
  • Yes, Steve, GB and I are related by DNA. Yes, Pete and GB are related by DNA. Pete could also be related to Steve, but Steve has withdrawn the ability to be seen by close matches.
  • No, Pete and I are not genetic matches according to FTDNA.  FTDNA will only show a match with a segment of at least 7 cm and a minimum of 20 cm total shared.
  • Maybe we share a valid segment, but if Pete and I are under the 20 cm total mark, the match will not be shown.  Gedmatch will answer that question. edited to add 1/25/2014 Pete and I share a segment on chromosome 8 of 5.6 cm/1288 snps.
  • Maybe my Aunt Jackie, who is a 3rd cousin 1x removed from Pete, and should statistically share 26.56 cm will match him.  Her test is en route to the lab for processing.

The Moral of the Story: Test Everyone You Can

To confirm your paper trail and prove your genetic relationships, you are going to want to have as many people sharing segments as possible, which can be kept track of with Genome Mate.  This will increase the odds of identifying a common ancestor as each new match will be able to (hopefully) contribute useful information about their family’s background.  All it takes is one familiar name or location to unravel how you are related to an entire group of matches.  Once that has happened, and at least two of them (not descended from each other) point to a specific ancestor, your ancestry for that line is proven.

In the case of Cousin Pete, no one else in the FTDNA or Gedmatch databases share the segment I overlap with GB and Steve.  No one else in those databases shares the same segment on chromosomes 5 and 18 that Pete shares with GB, and he only has 3 matches between 10-13 cm on their shared chromosome 2 segment.  He is the first in his line to test DNA, so he doesn’t yet know if his 3 matches on chromosome 2 are paternal (Toemmes) or maternal.  Pete will need to contact them and compare trees, and thanks to another Toemmes cousin, Bernhard, if they are paternal, he will probably be able to provide them with a great deal of information.

So, Are We Related?

Of course Pete and I are related. Our family tree is documented well enough to know that, but I must admit I have become a bit of a DNA snob.  Whenever I’m contacted by traditional genealogists, I can’t help but think in the back of my mind that the paper trail is great and all but…have they tested yet?  My descent from Johann and Maria was already triangulated so GB, Steve, and I can be confident of our places within the Toemmes tree. Thankfully, three different lines from the same ancestral couple have tested, and that has expanded the odds of proving our mutual ancestry back to Johann and Maria. With an 88 cm match between Pete and GB their 3rd cousin relationship is also confirmed, as is the importance of  testing as many different cousins as possible. I am hopeful that Pete and Jackie will also match under FTDNA’s criteria, which will be icing on the cake.

Looking back at our earliest emails it is funny to see how formal they were originally.  Over the months we have become friends as well as cousins.  Every time I write an article prompted by one of his questions, his ears burn.   Although genealogy can be a worst case scenario of cutting, pasting, and copying names, dates and facts, occasionally you get a best case scenario like cousin Pete, and manage to graft an entire lost branch of the family back onto the tree.  To me, that is the spirit of genealogy, and genealogy at its best.

Must-Have Tools for FTDNA Users: Genome Mate

When tracing your family tree, whether through traditional genealogy or by making use of DNA testing, ongoing success will rely on a few simple factors: patience, luck, and good organizational skills.  You may not be able to control your luck, and you may struggle with patience, but you absolutely can take charge of your records and results.  Whether your FTDNA Family Finder results yield 10 matches or 10,000, one free third party tool you want to take advantage of to help keep track of and understand the significance of your results is Genome Mate.

Genome Mate is a desktop tool used to organize in one place the data collected while researching DNA comparisons. Besides data storage it has many features to aid in identifying common ancestors.


  • Multiple Profiles for multiple kits
  • Import of 23andMe, FTDNA and GedMatch data
  • Chromosome Mapping of Common Ancestor
  • In Common With (ICW) Groups
  • Import of Gedcom data for each Profile
  • Surname Matching and Searching
  • Display of Overlapping Segments
  • X-List of X Chromosome Donors

Getting Those Matches Organized: Download and Install Genome Mate

To download and install Genome Mate, visit the tool’s main webpage here.  For the tool to run properly, you must have Silverlight installed on your computer, which may be freely downloaded here.  Once Genome Mate and Silverlight are installed on your computer, it is time to set up your ‘Profile’.  You may set up as many profiles as you like, so each kit you administer is represented and the results are available in one place for easy and instant comparisons.

Getting Those Matches Organized: Your Profile

Once you have Genome Mate installed, setting up your profile is straightforward.  Open the program and from the top toolbar select ‘Profiles’.  In the pop up box enter the profile’s name and click ‘Add’. At this point, you have the option to enter your Gedmatch number, which you should do if you are registered, and to add a gedcom, or generic family tree to your new profile.

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Get those Results Organized!

Voila!  You have now installed a fantastic tool and set up your profile.  All that is left to do is import your data from FTDNA. From your ‘Matches’ page, scroll to the bottom and download the CSV version of your data.

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Next, go to your ‘Chromosome Browser’ and repeat the process from the top of the page.

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With both files downloaded to your computer, open Genome Mate and choose ‘Import Data’ from the top tool bar.  In the pop up box select ‘FTDNA’.  Next, click ‘Load Family Finder File’ and choose the Family Finder Matches csv file you downloaded. Once you have done that, click ‘Load Chromosome Browser File’  and choose  the Chromosome Browser CSV file you downloaded.  You will need to repeat this process periodically as new matches come in at FTDNA.

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Choose Your Battles and Put those Matches to Work!

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Now that your data is entered, you can begin to use it to your benefit.  In your profile, under the ‘Relative’ heading, you will see your list of matches.  The bar beside the names indicates where their DNA overlaps with each chromosome you inherited from either your mother or father.  You can examine all your matches and overlapping segments, chromosome by chromosome, by scrolling through the Chromosome drop down list.   Generally speaking, the larger the segment the easier it is to identify a common ancestor.  However, if matches have reasonably complete family trees, the group is large enough, and your cousins are willing to work together, success is achievable even with smaller segments.

The image below is from my son Jeremy’s profile.  The example will familiarize you with some basic Genome Mate terms and  utilities:

  • ICW or In Common With: an individual or group that matches a segment of your DNA.  You may or may not know the common ancestor of the group
  • Chr or Chromosomes
  • Start End: the precise starting and stopping points where the match’s DNA overlaps your DNA
  • cMs or Centimorgans: a unit by which DNA segments are measured
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Figure 1

With the goal of determining the common ancestor shared between the profile and matches, the above image provides a surprising amount of information.  Since I have been tested, and also have a profile Jeremy’s results can be compared against mine. Anyone who also matches me can be added to the ICW group ‘M’ for maternal match, and instantly Jeremy’s search through his family tree for a common ancestor is halved.  Maternal matches can be determined quickly and easily by clicking on the relative’s name and bringing up the extended information:

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Figure 2

Figure 2 shows ‘Profile Overlaps’ shared between Jeremy and his match.  Also on that overlap list are Lori (mother), Gavan (brother) and Kern (maternal great grandmother).  With that additional information, the ICW group can be refined further and the information is then available at a glance.   As his maternal great grandmother is on the overlap list, we know she, the match and Jeremy share a common ancestor and the search through his family tree is narrowed further.  Once you have a theory as to how you are related, the ICW labels can be customized to anything you like to help you organize your results.

Genome Mate conveniently imports the email addresses and surnames of your matches.  It will also look for surnames in common.  However, the ‘Surnames in Common’ utility is literal:  if you have a similar surname or a variant, it will not pick it up.  Make sure to scroll through the surname list manually if the match looks promising.

Had Jeremy been the only member of the family to test, we would have to tackle his matches in another way.

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Figure 3

In Figure 3 a group of 6 matches share segments ranging between 8-13 cm.  While those are small segments, and indicate distant ancestry, the group proved worth investigating as all members had contact info, surnames listed and fairly well fleshed out family trees uploaded to FTDNA.  One after another, each tree showed a common couple as direct ancestors: Jacob Fouts and Anna Maria Kuntz.  When a person shares a segment and common ancestors with at least 2 matches the segment is considered triangulated, and the relationship is considered to be genetically proven.

Take Notes!

Once a common ancestor is suspected or identified, in Genome Mate each match can be clicked on and all pertinent details can be entered into the notes section. It is also a good place to keep track of communications between yourself and your matches.  If you have added a gedcom to your profile, you can click on the match’s name and choose the identified ancestors from the drop down menu.  As more and more ancestors are identified, various segments of each chromosome will become associated with those ancestors.   The more identified segments, the more colorful your chart will become.

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Genome Mate is a powerful tool, which is frequently updated to keep up with the dramatic advances taking place in genetic genealogy.  The creator of Genome Mate, Becky Walker, has provided a detailed tutorial for FTDNA users here and the Stone Family Tree has provided an easy to follow ‘getting started’ overview here.  There is also a Genome Mate Group on Facebook, where you can get additional tips and insights into how to make best use of the program.  If you are struggling to make sense of your FTDNA match list, you will find this tool indispensable.

Must-Have Tools for FTDNA Users: Gedmatch

Between the recent windfall of free and reduced-price transfers from Ancestry, and the end of the year holiday sale, the FTDNA database is now estimated to contain about 565,000 customers.  The December 2014 sale is reputed to have sold in the neighborhood of 10,000 kits, and the first few months of 2015 should see many of us enjoying a bumper crop of new matches.

The Iowa DNA Project has already begun to see members who purchased kits at the beginning of the December sale start to receive their Family Finder results.   Most of our members have already begun to lay the groundwork to make the most of their new results.  With the basics already been covered, results in and raw data available, it is time to consider using essential and powerful free third party tools.

Get Your Name Out There

As you become more familiar with the world of genetic genealogy, you will begin hearing the term ‘Gedmatch‘.   Gedmatch is a website run by volunteers who allow users to freely upload, analyze and compare raw data.  The obvious advantage of this service is that it is available to all customers of the ‘Big 3’: FTDNA, Ancestry and 23 and Me.  So, if you have tested with FTDNA, you can still scoop up additional matches with cousins who have tested with other companies and have also uploaded their data to Gedmatch.

To take advantage of this opportunity, download your raw data, go to the Welcome Page at FTDNA and scroll down to the Family Finder Section.

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Once you are on the ‘Raw Data’ page, you must download TWO FILES:

  • Build 36 Raw Autosomal Raw Data
  • Build 36 X Chromosome Raw Data

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Both Build 36 files must be downloaded from FTDNA and then uploaded to Gedmatch one at a time for the raw data to be processed.  After you have registered at Gedmatch, log in and upload your data from your Gedmatch Home page.  Click the link and upload your Autosomal DNA, or Family Finder file FIRST.  Then click the second link and upload your X file.

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It usually takes about two days for raw data to be processed, or ‘tokenized’ by Gedmatch.  During times of heavy usage it may take longer.  Once your raw data is tokenized you may run it against the entire Gedmatch database by using the One To Many matches utility.  The results will include up to 1500 potentially new matches. In the meantime, you can experiment with various tools, including a wide variety of specialized admixture, or ancestry tools.

Gedmatch is extremely popular with the genetic genealogy community and there is a wealth of information to help you navigate its complexities.  Detailed tutorials and information can be found here under the Gedmatch section.  A series of tutorials to help you learn more about various Gedmatch tools is available here. Gedmatch’s services are free but donations are strongly encouraged and will not only help support the growing infrastructure and hardworking volunteers but also give you access to an advanced set of genetic genealogy tools.

My FTDNA Family Finder Results are Back. Now What?

You’re ready.  You’ve swabbed your cheek and sent the best sample possible to the lab.  You’ve covered all the basics and prepared your account.  You are aware that ethnicity results may be startling and know how to contact your new cousins.  Finally,  the day has arrived.  Your sample has been batched, processed, passed quality control and the results are in.  Congratulations!

You could be faced with thousands of matches or, if you are from an ethnic group with very few testers in the database, a literal handful.  Most people will have a couple of hundred matches or better and the pages of matches can be overwhelming without a systematic approach.  If you want to make the most of your new matches, it is essential to understand how to use some basic FTDNA tools and some basic genetic genealogy concepts.

Your match list can be accessed from your Welcome Page:

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Once you are notified that your results are ready, you will see everyone you currently match in the entire FTDNA database.

When you open your match list, expand your list to Show Full View.

If you have only taken the Family Finder test, for the time being you can ignore the extra information about haplogroups.  Unless you already understand X inheritance, it is best to also disregard that information for the moment*.

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However, it is Very Good to get into the habit of paying attention to the longest block you share with your matches.  That information can only be seen from the expanded Show Full View setting and is at least as important to your research, if not more so, than your total Shared Centimorgans (cM).

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When you are examining your match list, you will want to start working with matches that you are most closely related to.  FTDNA provides you with several tools to help you sort your matches and determine your relatedness.

Relationship Range will sort your matches by the degree of cousin-ship FTDNA predicts exists between you and your matches.  Shared cM will sort your matches based on the total centimorgans shared between you and your matches.  If you are curious, you may also click the Relationship Range or Shared Cm tools to reverse sort your matches and see those that are most distant.  I have found the relationship predictor to be optimistic.  My 2-4th cousins tend to be 4th cousins.

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There is also a ‘drop down’ list which will also give you access to several sorting tools:

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You can access the Relationship Range, total Shared cM and Longest Block from this drop down list.  Generally speaking, the longer the block, the more likely your relationship is recent (ex: 260 total shared cm and 150 cm longest block).  If you share a high number of total cM but your largest block number is small (ex: 150 total shared cm and 8 cm longest block), your relationship is probably more distant and through multiple shared ancestral lines.

From the drop down list you can also select the Match Date tool.  Each time a new ‘batch’ completes processing at FTDNA, if they match you they will be added to your list.  Make sure you continue checking your match list at least a couple of times a week to see your new additions.

Now that you are familiar with the basic sorting tools, it is time for the fun part.  On the right hand side of your match page, you will see a column marked Ancestral Surnames.

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Since you have already entered your own ancestral surnames (Right? HINT HINT!) you will know what this means.  If your match has also entered their surnames, the names will be listed in this column.  If you are very lucky, they will also have listed ancestral locations.  Even if the name isn’t familiar, the place may be, so check their entire list!  The bolded surnames at the beginning of each entry are names that are either in both of your surname lists, or are similar to a name in your surname list.  You can hover your mouse over the small ‘I’ for a complete list of any match’s surnames.

Fortunately, you do not need to go through all your matches page by page to see if you have names in common.  Simply click on Ancestral Surnames at the top of your match page and enter the name of interest into the box.  Any matches with names that are identical or similar will then be produced for further scrutiny.

By now you have given your match list a good once over:

  • You know which matches share the most DNA with you and are your best leads
  • You know your predicted cousin-ship and have a general idea how many generations back you will need to look in your tree for a common ancestor
  • You know which, if any surnames/locations you have in common with your matches

If your matches have family trees uploaded you can access them by clicking on the tree icons beside their names.

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Once their tree has loaded you can search for both surnames and locations in the search box on the lower right hand side of the tree.  Alternately, or if they don’t have a tree uploaded, you can contact them directly.  Simply click on the envelope beside their name.

Although it is exciting and good fun, genetic genealogy is also tough at first and has a sharp learning curve.  By no means should you be discouraged. It is normal to feel confused until you get your feet under you.  Start with the basics, take your time mastering them, and if your run into problems, ASK!  The genetic genealogy community is nothing if not lively and helpful.  FTDNA has a forum for its users as well as a searchable Learning CenterISOGG has a wealth of information, and of course there are many blogs and Facebook groups on the subject.  Enjoy your new results!

*More information about X Inheritance can be found here.

DNA Calculator: Another reason to IGNORE Small Segments

23/12/14 edit to add: From Felix Chandrakumar, ” I just updated the DNA calculator to customize thresholds/settings along with 2 predefined options for total and recent ancestry. Hope this will avoid confusion. I also made the other 3 tools obsolete.”

You will no longer be  able to replicate my experiment, but you will still be able to calculate your total recent ancestry.  Enjoy!

Felix Chandrakumar has come out with another gadget to amuse the DNA aficionados over the holiday season called the DNA Calculator.    According to Felix, “DNA Calculator will accurately tell you how much percentage of DNA is shared between two people. The accuracy is within the range of 1-2%. It supports FTDNA, 23andMe and Ancestry files.”

As an administrator for a few family members, I was able to run our raw data through the DNA Calculator and determine our shared percentages:

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The results were odd for several reasons.  To begin with,the percentage of DNA shared between close relatives was not what one expects to see.  ISOGG has published the following statistics:

  • Grandparent and Grandchild on average share 25% DNA
  • Great-grandparent and great grandchild on average share 12.5% DNA

Why was I sharing 39-45% of my DNA with my grandmothers?  Why were my sons sharing between 35-41% of their DNA with their great grandmothers?

In addition to the seemingly weird shared percentages, the entries marked with asterisks aren’t related in a genealogical time frame.  They don’t appear on each others match lists at FTDNA or Gedmatch, nor do they come from similar geographical areas.

  • Maternal Grandmother and Paternal Grandmother sharing 31.67%

I was surprised enough by the high percentage of shared DNA among unrelated people to not only re-run their files but to also re-download the raw data and make certain it had not been mis-labeled.

At Gedmatch I compared my grandmothers head to head:

Comparing Kit F364959 (*Duffy) and F372234 (*Kern)
Minimum threshold size to be included in total = 700 SNPs
Mismatch-bunching Limit = 350 SNPs
Minimum segment cM to be included in total = 7.0 cM
Largest segment = 0.0 cM
Total of segments > 7 cM = 0.0 cM
(1813) No shared DNA segments found

When I dropped their default values at Gedmatch to 100 snps/1 cm I began to get an idea as to why they had such strange shared percentages.  Across all of their chromosomes, the results were similar to the figures below:

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A person’s total amount of DNA is 6766.2 cm.  Gedmatch showed my grandmothers sharing 1253.3 cm, with the vast majority of their shared segments  in the 1-2 cm range, and a handful up to 4.8 cm. With my grandmothers sharing about 16% of their DNA at mostly 1-2cm segments, the rest of their shared DNA is beneath the 1 cm  default I had set.

22/12/2014 edit to add:  Felix Chandrakumar confirmed the conclusion I was coming to, “If I want to be clear, the tool is meant to know the shared DNA which tells your total percentage of shared ancestors in each others pedigree.”  None of these ancestors are recent.  The shared ancestry isn’t even population based.  It is human ancestry.  We all descend from the same original population and are of course going to have many shared ancestors in the human pedigree.

The DNA Calculator. is a fun enough bit of kit for immediate relatives or even unrelated individuals, as long as the user is aware that all DNA is being measured, not just segments above 7 cm/700 snps and the total shared DNA % will reflect that.  Given the ongoing debate of how low you can go in setting default values when comparing kits, this tool is a useful illustration that those very small segment matches are in everyone’s DNA, not just your matches.

Dueling Grannies

I’ve now had the luxury of having had both my 94 year old grandmothers tested, which affords me the opportunity to explore several suppositions about genetic genealogy and inheritance:

  • Recent immigrants have fewer matches
  • Certain ethnicities have more/fewer matches
  • Those with Irish/UK ancestry are likely to get good matches at FTDNA as natives of those countries test
  • Older generations will share larger amounts of DNA with matches than current generations


Grandmother Leona ticks both of the first two categories.  Not only did her mother Erna not immigrate until 1907, she was from a “German” population living in what is now Poland and had the relatively rare haplogroup of W3.  The rest of Leona’s background is from a family of Alsatians who immigrated in 1855 and from a prolific Norwegian family from Gran, Oppland.  Some of the Norwegians are known to have immigrated to Iowa and North Dakota.

Grandmother Gladys, meanwhile, is mostly Irish with a dash of French and German.  ALL of her known family lines have been extremely prolific and in theory that should greatly increase the odds of garnering matches.

Total Matches

Grandma Leona came in with only 238 matches, 65 of which are X-matches. No one on her match list, beside already known family shares her rare haplogroup.

Leona has only 3   2-4th cousin matches, and 2 of them are a father-son pair.  She has 11 3-5th cousins, 23 4th cousins and the rest are 5th to distant.

Grandmother Gladys on the other hand has 546 matches.  88 of them are X-matches. At this time we are waiting for the return of her mtDNA results.

15 of Glad’s matches are 2-4th cousins. She has 46 3-5th cousin matches, and a whopping 105 4th cousins. The rest of her matches are 5th to distant.

None of Gladys or Leona’s 4th or closer cousins fall below the 10 cm mark, which is considered to be a 99% positive match. Based on those figures, excluding close and immediate family, Leona has 37 matches that are almost certainly related within the last 6 generations, while predominately Irish Gladys has 164.

How the Countries of Origin Stack Up

For Leona, having ancestry from distinct areas means it is easier to guess at a glance the most likely line her matches share.   Also, it is sometimes immediately obvious where her matches originate, either by their email addresses or   names and locations of ancestors from only a single known area. Leona’s match list is fairly clear cut.

Total number of matches with identifiable origins:

  • Scandinavian 25
  • French 5
  • Eastern European 13
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Leona’s Ancestry

Most of the above matches are currently living in the regions of shared ancestry.  I was pleased to see several native Russians and Poles, as well as a Lithuanian. The remainder of Leona’s matches either have family names from a variety of areas, or no family names/family tree listed.  I cannot over emphasize how important it is to enter you ancestral names and to add a family tree to your account.  It will vastly increase your chances of finding matches, making connections and adding to the knowledge of your family’s origins.

The matches in Glad’s list are more difficult to discern as the vast majority of them are of Colonial American stock.  Among her 3-5th cousins or closer, she has matches living in the several regions.

Total number of matches with identifiable origins:

  • Ireland 8
  • UK/NZ/ Australian 8
  • German 2
  • Scandinavian 1

Her match list is packed with surnames like Magee, O’Brien, McConnell, Walsh, MacKie, Ferrell, Kane and FitzGerald.  Time and again, her Irish cousins, even the colonials, lead to Counties Mayo and Armagh, where her ancestors are known to be from.  They have also given us further clues leading to possible origins in Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone.  My youngest son, whose father is Irish born, also has a large proportion of native Irish/UK/NZ and Australian matches.

Do we really inherit 25% from each Grandparent?

The quick answer is, “Not exactly.”

Time and again segments are passed down through the generations almost unaltered or they disappear entirely from one generation to the next.  Using the matrix method, here are a few examples of the type of pattern I am seeing across the board:

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Irish/UK Testers?

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Ancestry for Gladys

Depending on your expectations, I will let you be the judge.  At least 16 of my Irish grandmother’s 61 3rd-5th or closer cousins are living in the area (or NZ/AU) that FTDNA designates as the British Isles. Considering Ancestry will not sell to customers outside of the United States and the price of a 23 and Me kit in the UK is £125 ($195) before shipping, your best shot of connecting with Irish or British cousins remains with FTDNA.

Grandma Gladys definitely won out in the quantity of matches portion of the duel.  However, Grandma Leona has some intriguing Eastern European matches that I am excited to begin investigating.  In the end, I think the clear winner was me for having two grandmothers, both blessed with longevity, who have been able to contribute to our family’s story.

Do Not Do This

Currently, there is a spirited debate taking place amongst the genetic genealogy community over the “realness” of matches based on tiny segment size. First, Roberta Estes wrote about how she used small segments, some as small as 1 cm to help identify a common ancestor.  She then clarified her methods and rationale here. In response,  Blaine Bettinger contributed his research on small segments that are Identical by Descent (IBD) vs Identical by State (IBS), as did CeCe Moore.  The subject has been pounced upon by the community, with views ranging from ‘small segments are worthless and random’ to small segments are ‘representative of deep population similarities’ to proof positive of common ancestry. Amidst the hubbub what is clear is that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation being spread among the rank and file,  and a lot of work to be done, and published by those conducting large scale multi-generational studies.

When testers receive their results from FTDNA, their matches are classified based on how closely they are likely to be related.  This classification is based upon the amount of shared genetics and measured in centimorgans.  Genetic genealogist John Walden has produced a chart that every DNA tester must become familiar with:

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Identical by Descent (IBD) means the DNA shared between matches comes from a common ancestor. Otherwise, a match is considered Identical By Structure (IBS), or  mimicking IBD and not inherited from a common ancestor.

FTDNA won’t show a match that doesn’t share a segment of at least a 7.7 cm and a total of 20 cm in common.  Still, there is a 50-50 chance such a match might be false.  It is only at 10 cm that you can be fairly confident you share a common ancestor. As more research is being done, including results from trios of parents and children and Ancestry’s investigation of ‘pile-ups’, researchers are continuing to improve our knowledge of which matches are statistically likely to be real.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop some, especially new folks, from investigating matches at the 1 cm segment mark.  At Gedmatch.com it is possible to lower the search threshold but the owners warn users, “To qualify as a ‘match’ in the genealogical time frame, results must have a largest Autosomal segment that has at least 700 SNPs and be at least 7 cM.  It must have BOTH.


In my own experience, I received a mass email from Dr Hester, who has clearly invested a great deal of time studying his FTDNA matches.  His intent is to map his chromosomes so that he may determine which segment has been inherited from which ancestor.

Dr Hester has gone through his match list and for his entries, clicked upon the In Common With tool and then used the Chromosome Browser to compare chromosomes.  On his website, he has then provided screen shots of how his matches share DNA, identified the tester and putative ancestor, and classified matches in groups he believes are descended from particular individuals in his family tree. He has urged his matches to conduct similar studies.

When my name is clicked upon, I see this:

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First of all, it is not cool to list the full names of your matches without permission,  Second, if you note the upper left hand corner, he has reduced the segment size to 1 cm. Dr Hester goes on to write,

“This is a rather small group of only 3 matches in common with Lori A. plus McConnell as was shown as an ancestral name for Lori. The matching segments for Lori A are all very short indicating distant and possibly multiple common ancestry. For all of these matches the common ancestry has been quite a mystery.

Myhrvold is Norwegian, so the matches with him may involve a settler of New Sweden, whose descendants may have moved to Pennsylvania. But as shown in the lowest rows, the match with him on chr 22 is presumed to have been inherited by the author over Margaret Swinderby born 1578 in Copenhagen, although the author’s Christopher Randall and/or his wife Johanna widow Norman may have been from New Sweden too.

Rayburn shares quite a bit of DNA with the author: the match on chr 11 has been established elsewhere on this page as Andrews DNA. And both Lori A and Rayburn share one typical segment of Taylor DNA on chr 12, while Stevens shares another.”

That sounds great except for one small problem: the people Dr Hester and I both have in our match lists, or In Common With aren’t necessarily related to each other and lowering the threshold to 1 cm is only going to lead to wild goose chases.  As members of my close family have tested, I know the matches he has grouped me with cannot share a common ancestor with me.  Dr Hester is a maternal match.  RAYBURN is a also a maternal match but MYHRVOLD is a paternal match.

Dr Hester is gambling heavily on the validity of the In Common With tool combined with very low segments.  Yes, we match him.  Yes, RAYBURN, MYHRVOLD, and I somehow match, but how we match each other must then be determined through triangulation and traditional genealogy. In this instance, I known I match RAYBURN and MYHRVOLD on entirely separate lines and these miniscule matches Dr Hester is reporting are IBS, or junk.

To make matters worse for Dr Hester’s method, when I compare our results in Genome Mate, I see that he and I share no matches at all above the 8 cm default I have set.

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Although I contacted Dr Hester last summer and explained we cannot possibly match in the manner he has determined, he has let the incorrect information stand.  Doubtlessly, he is continuing to take screen shots of his matches, lower the chromosome browser setting to 1 cm and use the In Common With tool in a way that won’t accurately advance his work.

We all must start somewhere and we all make mistakes.  Genetic testing is the bleeding edge of genealogy and our knowledge and methods are evolving at a dramatic rate.  Experts like CeCe Moore are doing their best to educate us and share their knowledge and resources.  It is up to the rest of us to read, listen and learn.

Hey, FTDNA, Pass the Salt Shaker

Amongst hobbyists, one of the most popular reasons to get DNA tested is to find out your ancestral origins, both deep and recent. Yet, time and again when people get the email that their results are ready, they are left surprised and puzzled.  Sometimes they don’t match what you believe to be true about your family.  Sometimes they don’t match results you already have from another company.  Sometimes, they are just downright bizarre.

Like so many others, when I received my original ‘ethnicity’ results from FTDNA, I was flummoxed.  Back then, the ethnicity calculator was called, “Population Finder” and it pigeonholed me as being 94% Orcadian and 6.08% Middle Eastern.  Middle Eastern, as in…Palestinian, Adygei, Bedouin, Bedouin South, Druze, Iranian, Jewish, Mozabite.

When I relayed my results to my cousin Michelle, I got the reply of, “WHAT??? I didn’t see the Middle Eastern connection coming.  I am loving this.”

I didn’t see it coming, either.  I was also surprised by the 94% Orcadian.  On average we carry about 1% of the DNA of our 4th great grand parents, so I was aware that not everything in our paper genealogy would still be in my genes.  For Michelle and I, our 4th great grandparents were born between 1760 and 1820 and the majority of their descendents made their way to Iowa.  Generally speaking, the DNA of any ancestor from before that point has been diluted out of our genes.  However, we had plenty of ancestors that came after 1820 that that were anything but Orcadian or Middle Eastern.

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Jackie, Cassie and Mickie Wise c 1959 Fayette Co, Iowa

Michelle continued, “What is most interesting to me is this — Jackie has a “different” look to her, Cassie has a “different” look to her, you have a “different” look. Which of these ethnicities accounts for that, I wonder. What do you think?”

“What do you think?” She asked me that every which way possible, but I didn’t know what to think, so I contacted the creator of Population Finder, Dr Doug McDonald. After all, we are also part Shawnee, although that ancestor entered the tree before the 4th great grandparent cut off.  If anyone would be able to sleuth out those or other small percentages it would be Dr McDonald.

After he looked at my raw data the answer came back that Chromosomes 1, 6 and 8 represented some Middle Eastern signals. He concluded I was mostly, “English with a touch of other northern European.” His best fit estimate broke the Northern European into Polish, Lithuanian and German.


With Dr McDonald’s  inclusion of Poland, Lithuania and Germany, things were making a bit more sense, as my maternal side has a fair amount of Germanic ancestry, including a great grandmother, Erna Georgi,  from what is now Poland.  I wasn’t sure what had happened to the rest of our ancestors, but as I was frequently warned, it was best to take these ethnicity estimates with a grain of salt.

When FTDNA came out with the next-gen ethnicity calculator, MyOrigins, I was back to being severely flummoxed about my results.

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My MyOrigin Results

Where did all that Orcadian and English and Middle Eastern (that didn’t make sense to begin with) suddenly go?  I was disturbed enough by my results to have my dad, who is half Irish and half Belgian, tested.


My dad’s MyOrigin Results

While I was relieved not to be a non-paternal event, I couldn’t imagine how I had no British Isles and my dad only had 14%.  We couldn’t have that much Scandinavian, no matter how many Vikings had plundered Ireland. Where did all the non-Irish and non-Belgian come from? Meanwhile, many who had tested with FTDNA and expected to get fair amounts of British Isles were experiencing similar problems and being classified as Western and Central European. Scandinavians and Germans were coming in as British.  From anecdotal experience, some of which is detailed at FTDNA’s Forum thread MyOrigins Discrepancies, my family was not the only one suddenly questioning the fabric of its make up.

With the return of my grandmother’s MyOrigins results, I was able to cease wondering if my dad had been secretly adopted, sprinkle an unhealthy dose of salt over the MyOrigin ethnicity issue, and hand the salt shaker back to FTDNA.  My grandmother, who is mainly  Irish, came back with the ethnic make up we expected.


Grandmother’s MyOrigin Results

My dad and I had of course inherited the exact same DNA MyOrigins classifies as British in my grandmother, but as Scandinavian in us.  As MyOrigins deciphered her DNA as British, her son should have had about  50% and her grandchild about 25%.  As MyOrigins doesn’t see our accounts, and therefor our DNA as ‘linked’, no such adjustment, or ‘phasing’ was conducted.

Essentially, the ethnicity calculator looked at each set of data independently, and tried to determine which reference populations each of us were most like, and at what percentage.  Sometimes it was close, and sometimes, not so much.  As my grandmother is less mixed than my dad, and far less mixed than I am, the calculator seems to have been less thrown by her relatively homogenous DNA that clustered comfortably with its British Isles reference population.

Sadly, while the science behind ‘cousin matching’ is sound the testing companies do not make it crystal clear that the ethnicity estimates are just that, estimates and that they change over time as the science matures.  If you are awaiting your results, or have already received them, do yourself a favor and create an account at Gedmatch.  You will be able to upload your raw data and avail of their admixture, or ethnicity tools.  Each of these tools produces different results and tends to be suited to particular populations (ie Eurogenes is best for Europeans, Ethiohelix is best for African ancestry etc).  It is a free service and can potentially provide a more in-depth breakdown of your ancestral populations than any of the three major testing companies today.

For further reading, Razib Khan and Rui Hu, the creators of MyOrigins, have described their methodology and their reference populations in their white paper.

“Please explain, I don’t understand.”

Those five little words can be the most helpful words a genetic genealogist can hear.  In fact, you may need to hear them regularly in order to rein in your enthusiasm, which may make the very information you are trying to share sail right over the heads of the people you are trying to share it with. After you have had your results and been working with them for awhile, it is very easy  to forget how overwhelming they were when first received.  No matter how much you read and try to prepare in advance of your results arriving, the best part of being new to the hobby is that you are blissfully unaware of how much you still have to learn.

Recently, I shared images of FTDNA’s chromosome browser detailing the inheritance pattern of 4 generations of my paternal family and blithely titled it, “4 gens: we inherited totally different segments from my grandmother.”

Featured imageFeatured imageRight on cue, my cousin and traditional genealogist Mary came along with the magic words, “Please explain, I don’t understand.”  Mary and I share great grandparents (the Kerns) and have worked together on our family tree for years.  She hasn’t yet tested her DNA, but has mentioned she might like to.

I tried to explain. “This is a visual representation of the chromosomes of 4 generations (my grandmother, dad, me, and my sons). My grandmother’s chromosomes are the base image (with the rounded tips). Since my dad inherited 50% of his dna from his mother, you see his line (the top bar) as solidly overlapping each of her chromosomes. When I am added to the graph (you see my bar overlapping my grandmother’s beneath my dad’s bar- that represents what my grandmother and I have in common), I inherit about 25 % of her chromosomes. When her great grandsons are added to the graph, they inherit about 12.5%, but a different 12.5%, which results from genetic recombination (and also the reason you need to test, ’cause you got some Kern great grandparents DNA that I didn’t!).”

I expanded, “On chromosomes 19-22, only my dad inherited anything from his mother.  All of us inherited nearly the entirety of her chromosome 9.  My dad and I both inherited the bulk of several of her chromosomes, yet my boys inherited a varying range.  For instance, Gavan inherited almost all of chromosomes 13, 14 and 16 whereas Jeremy got nearly all of chromosomes 15 and 18.  Luck of the draw. When you look at all 23 chromosomes, it works out to the typical 12.5% inheritance pattern between a great-grandparent and great-grandchildren.”

I heaved a sigh of relief and hoped it made sense. With her reply, Mary brought me back down to earth with a thump.  “How would they know Kern blood if no Kern has done the testing? I guess that is what confuses me. If all are alive and test then sure it’s easy, but if I only test what could be found out?  I would love to do it, but if I don’t get many results it’s a waste, don’t ya think?  I guess I am having a hard time trying to understand how they could get that info.

I had one of my many genetic genealogical Ah Ha! moments.  There is a reason for the cliche that we need to learn to walk before we can run.  I had forgotten how totally confusing the subject is at first. I tried to un-muddy the waters I had mucked up.

“You and I both inherited from the Kerns about the same 12.5% percentage but not necessarily the same pieces. Just like in the chart, we inherited from our great grandparents the way my kids have inherited from their great grandmother,  but they didn’t inherit the same pieces from her. As far as testing, the reward would be that you and I would match on certain segments, and as our most recent common ancestors are the Kerns,  we would know those segments are from them. If anyone else ALSO matches us on those segments, we can then investigate their tree and see how we connect. That gives us the possibility of learning about generations further back.”

Then came the eleven little words that made all the explaining worth it, “I get it now! I really do want to do this!”

We all have brick walls in our trees, and we all have family lines we would like to know more about.  Once you start working with DNA matches, it becomes apparent success depends upon other family members testing to help sort out how you relate to your matches.  My parents testing lets me divide the matches we have in common into maternal and paternal piles, my grandmothers divide the piles further, and cousins like Mary narrow matches in common to very specific lines and give a real shot at bashing down walls.  Sometimes, “Please explain, I don’t understand,” are the most important words for your genealogy project.