Genetic Genealogy

 Genetic genealogy , also sometimes called DNA genealogy, is the use of DNA sequencing and comparison techniques to discover and verify family relationships. I will sometimes talk about “documentary genealogy” (traditional family tree techniques) to disambiguate from the methodology of interviewing family members, searching for names, events, places and dates in records to document the people and relationships leading up to the target individual.

Genetic genealogy is a tool in the pursuit of genealogical knowledge. The techniques could be considered a sub-speciality of genealogy research, but the two go together. At this point in time, it is quite impossible to do genetic genealogy without having a documentary genealogy framework. In the future, when everything that can be known about everyone’s ancestry and is mapped to specific DNA markers, someone can just take a DNA test (probably a full-sequence test), and your whole family history will be displayed. Not today. Probably not in my lifetime.

If you send a DNA sample to a testing lab and look at your results, you will be told that you have hundreds, or thousands of cousins with family names that you have never heard of, and no idea what to do with that. If you start making contact with them, you might find, if you are very lucky, a lost branch of your family … presuming that you both have family tree information that leads to a common ancestor. In many more cases, there will be all these people who may be related, and you can see how your genomes are similar, but there are no clues about how that maps to actual people.

Learning about Genetic Genealogy

To learn more about genetic genealogy, start with Kelly Wheaton’s amazing Beginner’s Guide to Genetic Genealogy. You might want to start reading it after you have ordered your first DNA test kit, because there is a great deal of material to learn and it’s complex.

Other web sites and blogs that help me to understand and keep up with what is happening in genetic genealogy (in no particular order):

  • International Society of Genetic Genealogy – The mission of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy is to advocate for and educate about the use of genetics as a tool for genealogical research while promoting a supportive network for genetic genealogists. This is an extremely useful site. Membership fees are “whatever you choose to donate” at this time.
  • Genealogy Junkie – The blog has many useful articles to browse.
  • The Genetic Genealogist web site – A blog by the immaculate and incomparable Blaine Bettinger. I think that he has reduced his blogging frequency here, in favor of his paid genetic genealogy education website: DNA Central. The past articles in the blog are very useful. I wish him lots of luck with the new site. The price is too high for my genealogy budget right now.
  • DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy Blog – Roberta Estes writes a blog about genetic genealogy. Also very informative, and worth rolling through the past articles to learn the techniques.

Tools That I Use for Genetic Genealogy

  • Genome Mate Pro (GMP) – software that runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux (you rock Becky!). This open source, free (though donations are accepted) software package is actively maintained and is a much better option to keeping a pile of spreadsheets and word documents to manage your DNA matches and contacts. You can download aggregated data from the testing services that provide it and load it into directly into GMP. You can also use other tools, such as DNAGedcom to aggregate and download that data and GMP knows how to use that to. GMP lets you keep track of all that data, manipulate it, manage your contacts with people and update your findings as you go. It is the equivalent (in my mind) for genetic genealogy that database software (like RootsMagic) is for traditional genealogy. And it’s free. Be aware – there is a steep learning curve, but that is mostly the learning curve of learning genetic genealogy. Backup frequently, backup whenever you do anything significant, and you can always roll back to a known state.
  • GEDMatch – A suite of web-based tools for genetic genealogy analysis. This is, in my opinion, the most important tool for any amateur genealogist working with autosomal DNA results. The basic service is free. Advanced tools are available for a monthly donation as a “Tier 1” subscription, which I highly recommend when you have time to do analysis work.  Update: please read my post “Discontinuing DNA Genealogy” to learn why this is now crossed out.
  • DNAPainter – A web-based tool for visualizing and manipulating DNA segment matches. Easy to learn, useful, fun and free!
  • DNAGedcom – A suite of web-based and downloadable tools to extract, download and analyze autosomal DNA data from the major testing services. This downloaded data can be analyzed in the DNAGedcom site. The downloads can also be loaded into your GMP database for analysis. There is some redundancy between what you can download directly from each testing service, but DNAGedcom also uses their programming interfaces to gather and correlate raw data in a useful way. Some of the more useful tools require a monthly donation to use.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.