Sunday, May 6, 2018

Counting the DNA Aftermath

It's been a wild week, watching the news unfold with terms that we thought only genetic genealogists would use in everyday conversation. I've wondered about the fallout of seeing the tools we use for our family history research become hijacked for other investigative purposes. With today being the day to do my biweekly recap of research progress, the numbers may be supporting this cause for concern.

Granted, it is not uncommon for me to lose matches, week over week, in my 23andMe account. My "DNA Relatives" count seems to shrink on a regular basis, so losing matches today might not be unusualuntil you realize the thirty six matches I lost this time represent sixteen more than I've lost in any biweekly period since I started doing this tally at the beginning of last year. (I'm now at 1,000 matches at 23andMe, incidentally.)

The 23andMe account is the only one where, while I routinely lose matches, my husband continues to gain them. Today, however, his numbers followed suit: losing thirty seven matches to total 1,035. I can't help but wonder how many of those distant cousins were inspired to yank their sharing status by breaking news of the past week.

Still, everywhere else, both my accounts and my husband's DNA accounts held up, despite any suspected repercussions. At Family Tree DNA, his account increased eighteen to total 1,933 matches, while mine moved up thirty two to total 3,021. And at MyHeritage, his account jumped 108 to reach 3,115 matches, while I gained 157 for an incredible 4,462 matches. Only at AncestryDNA was I hampered from seeing if there was any difference; lately, the policy seems to be to cap the cousin count (for fourth cousins and closer) at one thousand. On my husband's account, though, the total was well below that ceilingat 563so I could tell he had received an additional fourteen matches in the past two weeks.

I'm still plugging away at extending the branches of our family trees, in hopes of capturing data on all the descendants of our distant ancestors. It can be a challenge figuring out the most recent common ancestor for someone matching at a fourth cousin level if the tree we're working with doesn't even reach to third great grandparents. I figure this is a systematic way to prepare for the inevitable match questions.

In the past two weeks, that meant I was able to add 149 to my mother's tree and 335 to my mother-in-law's tree. (Alright, alright, I admit her tree is so much easier to work with!) That leaves me with a total count on my mom's tree of 13,052, and with 15,081 in my mother-in-law's tree. (Unfortunately, on both my father's tree and that of my father-in-law, I made absolutely no progress.)

Granted, that seems like a lot of work for two weeksI do a lot of it during lunch breaks when I'm eating at my deskbut it still leaves me with that sinking feeling, every time I look at a new match, of wondering, "Who are these people?" Sometimes I feel that, after all this work, I'm no closer at solving the problem than I was before.

That's the grumpy, depressed side of me. On the bright side, I get some promising contacts from matchesadmittedly rare, but still quite worth the effortwhich will hopefully lead to a breakthrough on one of the family trees I'm managing. I'm still working with a match at 23andMe who likely will turn out to connect on my father's mystery pedigreea hopeful prospect, to be sure. And just the other day, I received a note from a distant match on my mother-in-law's side of the familywho, surprisingly, lives in France, a valuable clue, indeed.

It's these unexpected connections which hold the most promise for building out our trees on lines where we've been stuck. If we think Life has thrown us curves in our own timelines, just remember that it may be that same unexpectedness which caused our ancestors to live lives which shook us from their trail, as well.

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