Monday, March 25, 2013

DNA Monday: Are We Related?

Have been working through the results from the DNA test I took at 23andMe, and you can see previous posts by plugging "DNA" into the search box at the right there. I decided on 23andMe because of the low price as well as the medical results, which seemed interesting and useful. Have not been bored with the genealogy results either!

By the way, AncestryDNA just announced at RootsTech that they are lowering the price for an entry-level test to $99. It gets interesting-er and interesting-er all the time!

This past week have been busy contacting DNA matches for two groups: the closest match based purely on chromosomes, and matches sharing surname. First let me cover a few observations about this whole contacting matched people effort and then I'll take a moment to comment on the close match versus the surname match.

Contacting your matches is a fairly straight forward process in which the first contact is made through 23andMe messaging to allow a buffer, and that felt comfortable. If the person is interested they can reply to your overture. I picked about ten or so from both the DNA match as well as the surname match, for which I selected Williams. The results could have been predicted if I'd stopped to think it through. Of both groups the most likely to respond were the individuals who had supplied the most information to 23andMe, probably indicating their interest in using this testing for genealogical purposes rather than those people who came for the medical results and then were just vaguely curious about ancestor matches.

Only one person in either group had a tree online to look at and that was from the Williams surname group. Perhaps this number is low because I didn't contact enough people. Or perhaps this number is low because those who are more serious about testing for genealogy - and with larger and denser trees - have chosen one of the other services, and if I had to guess that's what I'd guess.

After picking through a couple of Williams responders, most of which didn't have a tree online for me to look at, it became apparent that it was going to be much more difficult than I ever could have imagined to find any matching folks or to be able to pinpoint just where and along which line the match was happening. Those without trees online were supplied a list of my direct line Williams ancestors to look at with accompanying dates and locations. A couple of those who responded said they thought the matching ancestor was probably too far back for us to identify and they could be right about that, or at least their trees and research didn't go back that far.

Maybe I selected the wrong surname to start with. Everyone with a Williams surname has ancestors who come from Wales... where else would they come from?! Perhaps I better go back to the list and find another surname. And, I need to find out how these surnames were generated. That's an important detail.

The group with close DNA matching chromosomes in general (not surname specific) were the most difficult to sort out and to know how to get going on. Which surnames do we have in common? Most people offered a half-dozen surnames, but I'm thinking that if we're 3rd to 5th cousins the pool of possible surnames is way larger than that. Do they have a tree online? Most don't. Where to begin the matching process? (When I did a surname report on Mom's Big Tree it was over 200 pages long!)

Generally, people were slow to respond. (Maybe they have a life: how boring for them.) But now at close to a week out about a third have replied and that's pretty good, I think. I still have five replies that I'm working on so who knows how this will turn out. I'll keep you posted.

I'll be looking for Randy Seaver's posts about his contacts over at Genea-Musings because I'm starting to feel that there is probably a "best practices" way to go about this contacting stuff and with Randy's wonderful engineer's orderly mind behind this problem is he's bound to come up with something. Me, I'm blindly stumbling and finding (or rather not finding) my way and not doing a very good job of it.

Plus, I think I'll hold off further exploration until this Saturday when the seminar by Ce Ce Moore on DNA research is happening, hosted by the Chula Vista Genealogical Society. I'm probably going about this the wrongest way possible!

Coal miners in Eckhart, Maryland with the old Eckhart homeplace in the upper right.
Photo courtesy of my Eckhart peeps over on the Descendants of George Adam Eckhart facebook page. (About 1910)

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