Saturday, January 2, 2016
A Year of New Cousins
No sooner had 2016 begun than I got one of my wishes for the new year: new cousins. An email arriving on the first day of the year, sent to me as administrator for my brother's DNA tests, introduced me to someone who recently got results back from an mtDNA test. Now, somewhere in the distant past, we know we share a common ancestor.
That is a nice appetizer, but I want the main course! After having worked with all three of the tests used in genetic genealogy—the Y-DNA test (for my husband, brother and brother-in-law), the mitochondrial DNA test, and the autosomal test—it's been no secret that my preferred tool is the autosomal test. I'm into this for tree-building, and the autosomal will be the one DNA test yielding the most practical outcomes, in my opinion.
And yet, even this most promising of the three has its down side. While it gives guidance in the close range—up to sixth cousin, as opposed to tens of thousands of years in the distant past—it doesn't divulge its secrets in a very self-organizing manner. The results may come out with predicted levels of relationship tidily arranged in catagories—second to fourth cousin, for instance, instead of fourth to distant cousin—but it still resembles a splat on the wall. There is no great dividing line, for instance, between maternal as opposed to paternal relatives. We are all in this gene pool together.
That down side means a lot of grunt work. Combing through other people's trees, trying to seek a familiar surname is one aspect of that work. But hidden behind that obvious task is the great untangling of branches of that family tree. Trying to group DNA matches into branches of the family can be very difficult at first, although thankfully, once the process gets rolling, it becomes easier through devices such as the "in common with" button at Family Tree DNA. Once a match becomes a known entity on my family tree, I can seek others with similar genetic matches. It's all a process of elimination to find each DNA match's place on the proper branch of the family tree.
Since one of my hopes for 2016 is to make more progress with these genetic genealogy tools, I'm elated to have the chance to travel to Salt Lake City this month to attend the Institute of Genealogy there. At SLIG, I'll have a week-long hands-on opportunity to apply these genetic genealogy tools to practical examples—and ply the experts with all my questions. Considering I have, in my own autosomal DNA test alone, nearly one thousand matches, to gain more expertise in manipulating the data yielded by these tools should provide a year full of connections to new cousins, indeed.
Above: "Boulevard de Clinchy," 1886 oil on canvas by French Impressionist artist, Paul Signac; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.