Monday, October 5, 2015

Sink or Swim, I'm Jumping In

When it comes to tech stuff, I'm pretty confident I can hold my own on many aspects. But don't expect me to be on the cutting edge with the early adopters. You won't, for instance, catch me sporting Google Glass while wandering the halls of the Family History Library. I need to sit back and assess the situation before I decide a new development is right for me.

Of course, by then, that development is no longer new—but at least I may try it.

I wasn't exactly the first—though certainly not the last—to try DNA testing. I found my way around the tutorials, editorials and other commentary online about how to apply DNA testing results to the world of genealogy. I spent considerable time and money on getting myself educated, heading to conferences and seminars to mount that learning curve. Yet, there was one aspect of the DNA testing world that had me hesitating.

"You need to try this," my mystery cousin urged, likely right after he and I first connected, thanks to DNA testing, back in November, last year. Our autosomal tests hadn't turned up the level of relationship we had sought—in fact, wherever we connect, it is farther removed than sixth cousin—but we still wanted to figure out our mutual ancestor. He wanted me to upload my test results from Family Tree DNA to a free utility known as GEDmatch. A computer geek himself, he even offered to do the upload for me. Stubborn two-year-old-at-heart that I am, I insisted, "I'd rather do it myself."

And never did.

Of course, I had questions. I always research things to death—which is a subtle way of saying I got stuck in analysis paralysis. Guess what that meant.

Fast forward nearly a year. Now, I know it requires a special kind of patience to wade through nine hundred possible matches and figure out the precise nexus tying two mtDNA results together—so why on earth ask for more data in which to get bogged down?

As has been pointed out so many times, each of the three major DNA testing companies are like a pond in which you can go fishing for cousins. If you fish in one pond, you only catch one set of fish. If you fish in all three ponds, you have the possibility of catching that many more fish. GEDmatch is like trying to fish in all three ponds—without having to pay the price to play in all three places.

When I was a kid, one of the delightful parts of my childhood was the annual visit to my aunt and uncle, who lived on a lake in New Jersey. When all the cousins were there together, it was like one continual beach party. There was only one catch: you had to know how to swim. Although I did have swimming lessons, our family was also firmly in the camp of those who believed in learning by jumping in. There's that survival mechanism that kicks in and tells you, if you want to make it, you'll figure out how to swim.

Maybe I've been running away from that natural mechanism for too long, this year. And there's no reason to have done that to myself. There are all sorts of online encouragements for jumping in—which is good, because the GEDmatch site offers up a bland FAQs page. Bloggers from all over have posted about GEDmatch—with overviews, experiences, tutorials, explanations of features and all-round praises. What more could someone hesitating on the water's edge want?!

While I've been stalling at the shoreline, my mystery cousin was diving in to the DNA testing world. Once an adoptee who only wished he knew something about his birth parents, he has now determined who his father and mother were, and has had the opportunity to actually meet his birth mother. He has been so immersed in the process, appreciative for all the help sent his way by "search angels" that he has delved into the realm wholeheartedly, to help others with what he learned, himself. Now a blogger in his own right, he produces a daily post called, appropriately, Search Angels.

Yet, as much time as I've spent on pushing out the periphery of my maternal family tree—and exploring his matrilineal line's family history—I still haven't found that nexus. In the meantime, I've finally been warming up to the invitation to "Come on in, the water's just fine." Sink or swim, I'm going to try my hand at uploading my DNA data to GEDmatch and see what happens. If nothing else, at least I know how to tread water.

Above: "The Young Boat Builders," 1893 oil on canvas by British artist, William Hemsley; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. You go girl! I bet the results are worth it! :)

    1. Well, at least it will help me organize in my own mind where I stand and how far I have to go. And likely, I'll find a few more cousins along the way.

  2. Analysis paralysis... excellent turn of phrase... when one realizes this is happening, it's time to break the (looping) chain.

    :) My folks were into boating and fishing from day one - so of course all their kids had to learn to swim just in case we fell overboard. I was just a few months old when I was in a YMCA swimming pool - and have no memory of a day where I couldn't swim!

    1. I can relate to that need for swimming-since-birth. My cousins who grew up on the lake were like that, as were many of my friends living next to the canals on the island where I lived. Parents just had to do that--not only for their children's safety, but for their own peace of mind!


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