I've been on an incredible genealogy high this week! And it has everything to do with my first DNA tests. If you missed it, the results of my DNA tests were unveiled, both to me and to a live webinar audience, this past Tuesday. Thousands of you have now tuned in and shared in the amazing discovery. I truly had no idea DNA testing could find what it did.
I'm finally starting to get the hype - this really is the hottest thing in genealogy. It's not that I've been in my own sheltered world trying to avoid DNA because I have been involved in it. In fact, I've now hosted nine full-length webinars (www.familytreewebinars.com/dna) teaching people about its value to our research. But it wasn't until I actually had my family tested that it has become so real. Finally.
Of those that attended the live webinar, 29% had not yet participated in a DNA test. To you I plead - find someone in your family - you, your parents, your grandparents - anyone! and get them tested yesterday! Another poll showed that most were still in the same boat as me:
- 45% felt they were complete newbies to DNA genealogy
- 44% have dabbled in DNA genealogy and know a little bit
- 9% were pretty confident with DNA genealogy
- 1% felt they were experts with DNA genealogy
So it seems that we still have a ways to go in this field, but it's incredible where we are now.
What I learned from my first test
Here's what I learned from my first test. To clarify, it was my mother's parents who were tested, and it was their autosomal DNA from AncestryDNA that was tested. The easiest part was getting them to spit into the container. The hardest part was waiting the one month and 14 days for the email that said the results were in, and then the additional 1 month and 9 days I waited to explore them with you.
I learned about Grandma's ethnicity - she was 100% from Europe.
I learned that I have 15 DNA circles. Circles are created around a particular ancestor and everyone in a circle has DNA evidence that links them to Grandma or to someone else in the group. Here's what the William McCall DNA Circle looks like:
I learned that I have 180 DNA Matches of 4th cousins or closer:
It was by reviewing these matches that the answer to one of my longest-standing genealogy brick walls was discovered! My 4th great-grandfather, Asa Brown, had four children with his first wife. The identities of children #1 and #3 have been elusive...
...yet I've always believed them to be John and Griffin:
My theory has been that if Grandma's DNA matched the DNA of a descendant of either John or Griffin, then at least I know for sure that they are indeed related.
Diahan, my on-air DNA consultant, suggested that I do a search in my DNA matches for any Brown surnames who were born in Pennsylvania.
Of the 60 results, I clicked on the first match, who happened to be in the "4th Cousin" section. Then my heart rate jumped. I looked closely at the details of this John Nelson Brown...
...and compared him with the details of my John Nelson Brown.
Their names, dates, and places all seemed to match. Then Diahan suggested that I click on the Shared Matches button. This shows DNA matches that Grandma and John have in common. One match appeared. Reviewing it, my heart seemed to beat right out of my body, and I literally began to be light-headed.
And here's my Griffin Brown in my Legacy family file:
If I understand correctly, here's what all of this means. John Nelson BROWN shares DNA with Griffin BROWN, both of whom also share DNA with my grandmother - Virginia BROWN. Therefore, somewhere, somehow, both John and Griffin fit into the family. And with all of the genealogy research I've already performed, it now looks more likely than ever before that they really are children #1 and #3 of Asa Brown's family. And I thought I'd never find the proof! While DNA will not tell me that "Griffin is the son of Asa" I'm now as excited and energized as ever to continue pursuing this family. I am on the right trail.
Why was this so successful?
Hundreds of you have personally written to me (thanks!) to congratulate me on these findings. Many of the messages have suggested that this discovery was somewhat unusual, even ideal. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but I feel there were some factors that contributed to this success.
- First, I was fortunate to have my grandmother perform the DNA test. Had I only tested myself, and since I only have 25% of my grandmother's DNA, there's a 50% chance that the DNA which matched John and Griffin wouldn't have been passed to me, and I would not have made this discovery.
- Second, not only did I have part of my tree at Ancestry, but both the descendant of John and the descendant of Griffin also had partial trees at Ancestry. With the combination of that and our DNA match, we discovered each other. I will continue to keep the master copy of my tree in Legacy for all of the advantages it gives me, but recognize the benefits of having parts of it online.
- Third, my genealogical research of both John and Griffin was very thorough, which permitted me to recognize the potentially matching names, dates, places, and relationships. Never be satisfied with a partial family!
- Fourth, not only did the descendant of John and Griffin have a tree at Ancestry, but they also participated in DNA testing.
- Fifth, the guidance I received from Diahan was invaluable to understanding and filtering through the results. If you've tried interpreting your DNA results on your own, I'd strongly recommend that you visit with her through her consultation services or learn from her via her inexpensive DNA reference guides.
- Sixth, I must have really good DNA. :)
I'm still a little overwhelmed with the results, and this was just my first test! Here's what I plan to do next. If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.
- I've ordered another DNA test, this time for my father's 93-year-old father. It should arrive in the next day or so, and then I've got another excuse to make the 3-hour drive to visit him.
- I'll probably spend most of my time looking for more evidence of John and Griffin. I look forward to that day when I can, with full confidence, link them to their correct places in my tree.
- I'm more confident with DNA testing now, but I will definitely review these two reference guides by Diahan: Autosomal DNA for the genealogist and Understanding AncestryDNA. I should probably also review Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogist.
- Re-watch the previous DNA webinars in the library (at www.familytreewebinars.com/dna):
- The Power of DNA in Unlocking Family Relationships
- DNA Research for Genealogists: Beyond the Basics
- The New Frontier in Genetic Genealogy: Autosomal DNA Testing
- Genealogy and Technology - State of the Union
- I Had My DNA Tested - Now What?
- Organizing Your Genetic Genealogy
- Making YDNA and mtDNA Part of Your Family History
- Confirming Enslaved Ancestors Utilizing DNA
- Watch Geoff Live: DNA
- Import my AncestralDNA results into FamilyTreeDNA. Transferring costs about $39 and from what I hear there are additional benefits by having the results there too.
- Import the results into GEDMatch. This is free, and provides additional tools such as comparing my results with others who may not have had their tests done with AncestryDNA.
- Against others' recommendations, I'm going to have myself tested sometime. I've got to prove to my parents that they didn't find me under a rock. And who knows what else I'll find?
- I'd also like to have my wife's parents tested. I've done a little bit of research on my father-in-law's line, and feel this could help with some of the challenges.
So if you've read this far, and you haven't yet joined this new world of DNA testing for genealogy, I hope I've inspired you a little bit. At the very least, I've now got a summary of what I did and a checklist of where I'm heading - both good practices for genealogy research of any kind.