Sunday, March 12, 2017

Playing in the Genealogical Sandbox

It's tally time again: time to check my progress in each of four family trees I've been tackling, ever since participating in DNA testing programs promising the moon matches to distant cousins. While I haven't made stellar progress in the past two weeks, I have taken the time to experiment with some different approaches to muddling through those comparisons between distant cousins.

It's been rather eye opening to have the results of three siblings among the test results I now administer. Sometimes, it's just fun to play with the stats, graphs and charts—to explore and see what bounces to the forefront. It's purely observational window shopping, of course—I have no set protocol. I'm just a DNA Lookie-Loo right now. But some ideas are managing to seep through this dense gray matter of mine.

For instance, a while back, I had noticed that one of those siblings—my husband and his two sisters who had agreed to become part of my "science project"—matched someone from Ireland whose acquaintance I had made at a genealogical conference in southern California. I recognized his name instantly, and just as quickly wondered how I could have missed seeing that name in my husband's matches (which I had received a couple years earlier than his sisters' match lists).

I went back to see how I had missed such an obvious name. Nothing there.

Alright, I thought, I'll try his other sister's list. But there was nothing there showing a match with this person, either.

That's when I began examining the nuances between the test results of the three siblings. Fifty-fifty re-creations of their parents' DNA they might have been, but each child got a different mix in his or her own set of chromosomes.

We all know that, of course. It's not just intuitive—open your eyes and take a look at any set of siblings. They are obviously different, no matter how much they all sport that "family resemblance."

I started taking to this notion of comparing the numbers, each time one sibling had a match. I'd go back, see if the others also had that match, then compare how the numbers varied between the siblings. I suppose this approach would be roughly akin to a preparatory step before doing visual phasing. I'd get the same type of result—and definitely one full of much more detail—if I had just done the phasing process itself. But this is me, just playing around in the sandbox. I'm exploring what can be observed. Just looking around.

With each new match, I started comparing results between the three siblings. For each match, I took a closer look at all the numbers—estimated relationship, number of centiMorgans total, measure of longest block—between each sibling and that same specific match. I wanted to see who, of the three, seemed most closely related to that match—and if I could sort matches, then, by branches of the family.

Of course, with well over a thousand matches, this could be a tedious process. But I don't mind at this point. I'm starting with the new matches, as they add to the previous list. And I'm still setting my cut-off point at the relationship range of second to fourth cousin. If nothing else, it's giving me a sense of how the genetic segments come into play, between the various branches of my husband's family.

As far as those DNA matches go, things have seemed to slow down a bit, now that we've distanced ourselves from those insane sales offerings during the winter holidays and conferences. With the exception of 23andMe's "+one" sale offering right now (through March 31, and apparently only for those who are already customers), our DNA match juggernaut has de-escalated. My husband only gained twenty five new matches in the past two weeks, bringing his total matches to 1,173—as opposed to the 126 matches he had gained in the prior period.

My own DNA match list seems to have settled back to routine advances, too—although admittedly, I edged out my husband by gaining thirty three to end up at 1,858 matches. That's at Family Tree DNA. But AncestryDNA isn't gaining many matches, either. I've gained twelve to end at 474; my husband is up ten to finish at 226.

Just as much as our DNA match list has simmered down to paltry levels of increase, so has my progress at adding relatives to our family trees. Though my mother-in-law's tree is at a decent total of 10,534, I only added seventy three names—plus appropriate support documentation—in the past two weeks. On my own mother's tree, a little more vigorous effort brought 145 names to the list, but the overall count for that list is 9,674.

Perhaps the inspiration of having three siblings participate in this DNA project has had the side effect of boosting growth on their mother's tree. I might just have to twist some siblings' arms to catch up on my side of the family.


  1. I wrote about how I used visual phasing (there are links to Blaine Bettinger's post about the details) to do what you're talking about here. See Visual Phasing.

    1. Elizabeth, thanks for sharing the link to your post. Blaine's visual phasing articles were the instigation for my own "science project" for which my sisters in law agreed to test, so I do mean to try my hand at that, as well. Interesting to read your experience and see your graphics in that post.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...