Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Genetic Genealogy To-Do List

Now that I'm focused on sprucing up the files associated with various DNA tests for myself and family members, I've set aside this week to make sure I've uploaded everything the newly-configured Family Tree DNA dashboard and components makes available to their customers. Don't wish to miss a lick, when it comes to making new family connections.

Yesterday, I mentioned taking the time to check all the trees of the tests for which I serve as administrator. Thankfully, that task is nearly done. The down side of that accomplishment is having the visual reminder that my trees are woefully inadequate, when it comes to those distant great-grandparents' records that can fetch confirmed matches with fourth through sixth cousins.

On my husband's tree, for instance, every one of the slots are filled, in his pedigree view, up to the rank of second great grandparent. While it is quite pleasing to realize all sixteen slots in that pedigree view are completed, the sad part is the next step. On some of those lines, the next step drops me off in the great abyss of the family unknown.

I can console myself by looking at my mother-in-law's side of the equation, where there I have names enough to go around for another two generations beyond that second great grandparent roadblock on the Irish side. That, likely, is where most of my husband's matches are generated, so it would seem that I'd have an easy go of it, determining how those nine hundred matches line up.

However, we all know that simply isn't so.

Don't think things are any better on my side. While I do have the chart completed, up through second great grandparents, that is with one gaping caveat: I still know no more about my paternal grandfather's family than I did when I started this research effort, years ago. Other than the man's name, itself—and there's considerable doubt about that, even—there is no information to put in all those blanks on that pedigree chart.

So I console myself with the long stretch of ancestors showing in that chart on the maternal side. Thanks to some lines which reach all the way back to Mayflower times, that litany of begats can get rather lengthy. But there are some other maternal lines where the story abruptly ends at that second-great demarcation, as well. I have a lot more work to do, before I can assure a fourth through sixth cousin that we are indeed related.

Now that I've transferred all the information I can into this pedigree chart on my page at Family Tree DNA, my next task is to include, in the "Family View" chart, just how my confirmed DNA matches actually fit in the family picture. There is a slot for everyone in this diagram; I just have to figure out where to insert each of these connections. For some of them, we mutually worked out the pathways two years ago. Who knows where those back-of-the-napkin sketches are, now?

Yet another glitch comes when I realize the name I inserted, as admin, for some family members' tests was the name they are known by now. When my brother met me at a genealogy conference, years ago, to get his DNA test done, the person helping us at the FTDNA booth (it happened to be CEO Bennett Greenspan, himself, that time) asked for his name, and I gave the name I've always called him by. It was his nickname. Guess which name my brother is entered under, in my formal pedigree chart? Hint: not his nickname.

This requires a work-around, now that I'm tagging people in this pedigree chart. Trying to insure test results labeled with female relatives' married names connect with genealogical records properly identifying said family members by their maiden names means I'm left with a tree in which those names are handled quite incorrectly. But that's what will work for the company's system. And I want to make that FTDNA system happy—enough, at least, to compute those matches correctly.

In a way, owing to such convoluted work-arounds, I'm actually happy to be able to hand-enter individual records, rather than having to upload an entire GEDCOM, then go in and re-correct after altering it to make the company happy. When it comes to utilizing DNA testing for family history confirmation, I guess we have to remember we are working with a company of geneticists who are learning to do genealogy, not the other way around.

And so I plod on, now reconstructing those convoluted family pathways that led me from my vantage point in the family constellation to the hiding places of those third-cousins-once-removed (and beyond). I have four more confirmed matches to plug into my husband's tree, and five more to finish for my own. Hopefully that task will be completed by tomorrow evening, because it won't be long and I'll be exploring the matches on yet another company's DNA test when we receive results from 23andMe, as well.


  1. You need to create an FNN (family name/number) system!

    1. Well, there are some standardized numbering systems in use in the genealogical world...but I haven't seen any merged into the genetic genealogy world, yet. It certainly would be helpful to differentiate between the various John Kellys and Margaret Tullys I've had to sort through!


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