Category Archives: FamilyTreeDNA

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

My Living DNA results have proved a bit of a curate’s egg. Good in parts, but leaving me with major question marks in others.

I’m 100 per cent from Great Britain and Ireland, which correlates with my research so far. I’m also predominantly of Yorkshire ancestry; more precisely South Yorkshire which, as defined by Living DNA, roughly comprises the South and West Yorkshire counties. Park that piece of information. 

Given what I know, my next largest component is unsurprisingly Ireland at 9.2 per cent – but I also know this is a massive underestimate and should be nearer 50%. My research so far shows this is all County Mayo, so my 4th ethnicity component of 6.2 per cent southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland is not a shocker either, with its proximity to Mayo. But that’s where it ends.

My family history research does not match my LivingDNA results in some fairly significant areas. My ancestral origins research doesn’t go back the estimated 10 generations the LivingDNA results capture. But my research shows North East England ancestry,  from the Durham and Northumberland areas: one set of 4x great grandparents were born in those counties (Ann Jackson in Northumberland and Robert Burnett in Durham). The evidence is backed up in several record sources, most crucially a documented, bitter, removal order dispute.

Yet my LivingDNA standard result, the one which links to the test’s best-guess reference population ancestry sources, does not show any ancestry in their designated Northumbria area. This roughly equates to the Northumberland/Tyne and Wear/Durham/Scottish Borders/Fife areas. Neither does Northumbria feature in my complete result, the one where the test attempts to allocate the unassigned 7.7 per cent of my genetic make-up to regions where it look most similar.

Perhaps Ann and Robert’s parents (my 5x great grandparents, John Jackson/Elizabeth Hayes and Stephen Burnett & his one-handed gypsy mistress Charlotte) all migrated and settled in that area from elsewhere – possibly Cumbria or Scotland. Despite me not yet having any ancestors from north of the border, my standard result has identified percentages from three of the Scottish areas (albeit one of those is the aforementioned Scotland/Northern Ireland region).

The other conundrum is the absence of any North Yorkshire trace in the standard test, basically the North and East Ridings. The explanation may simply lie in proximity to county boundaries and 1974 boundary changes. I have relatively recent (if you call 18th century recent) ancestry around the Sherburn-in-Elmet, Saxton-in-Elmet, Brayton and Hemingbrough areas. These all fall within what is now North Yorkshire. However, prior to 1974 the first three were in the West Riding. Hemingbrough was in the East Riding, but it is only five miles, as the crow flies, to Brayton. So they could conceivably fall within the LivingDNA South Yorkshire zone. My complete results do pick up a trace 1.2 per cent North Yorkshire ancestry. 

Other surprises? Well the shock for this white rose Yorkshire lass is she has genetic components from the dark side of the Pennines, possibly (whisper it) the red rose county. Though, in the absence so far of any North West roots, I’m claiming that any such ancestors must be from the Cheshire/Merseyside/Staffordshire and not Lancashire parts. We’ll see what further family history research down the line turns up.

I also have Welsh DNA – 5 per cent in total from North and South Wales. And then there’s the 3.8 per cent Devon and 3 per cent Cornwall. So THAT’s why I’m addicted to Poldark!  And I’ve a remarkable absence of southern-ness.

How does my LivingDNA ethnicity result compare with my Ancestry and Family Tree DNA ones?  Family Tree DNA places me as 97 per cent European, of which 71 per cent is British Isles.My Ancestry test is 100 per cent European. Of this 52 per cent is Great Britain and 44 per cent Ireland. In terms of their Genetic Communities, I fall within two of the nine regions assigned to the UK and Ireland as follows:

  • the Irish North Connacht category (very likely) which ties in neatly with my County Mayo ancestry; and
  • English in Yorkshire and Pennines (very likely) which again fits with my research.

The confusion here is the Genetic Communities of my parents are slightly at odds with me, as shown below.

And mum, given her dad is from County Mayo, may be disappointed with her “likely” Irish North Connacht outcome.At a simplistic level, it’s easy to ask should not all the results be the same? After all, there’s only one genetic me (hurray!) But delving deeper, the difference is not unexpected. The companies have different reference groups, time measures and, possibly, a different emphasis on the ethnicity element of their tests as opposed to the DNA matching side. LivingDNA is much more of a deep dive into 21 British/Irish genetic groupings (80 worldwide ones), rather than the broad-brush overview given by Family Tree DNA and, to a lesser extent, Ancestry’s nine UK/Ireland regions.

Finally, for those DNA experts, my LivingDNA Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has me in Haplogroup U4, Subclade: U4b1b1. U4 is found in low frequencies across much of Europe and Asia, more commonly in populations near the Ural Mountains and Volga River in Siberia. According to LivingDNA U4 is “an old group, which helps to explain the relatively low frequencies in populations today. It is now thought that haplogroup U4 was involved in migrations into Europe from the Middle East that occurred before the end of the last ice age”.

So, to sum up, my test leaves me with much more work to do to build my tree to try to prove these new elements to my ethnic make-up. But it also gives me some new migration theories to work with.


WDYTYA? Live 2016 : So much to do, So little time

The evening after the day before. I’m still recovering after a 220 mile round trip and a jam-packed day at “WDYTYA? Live”.


The “Ask the Experts” area, busy right from the off

This year I focused on talks as trailed here. I did a mixture of ticketed and free talks. Pre-booking the Society of Genealogists (SoG) Workshops proved a wise choice for me – I think all my chosen ones had sold out before the event. So it meant this year I got a seat instead of loitering on the periphery.

I picked up lots of useful tips from all three SoG talks I attended, including search tips and suggested books. I now have a couple of new research strategies and record sets to check out for my Irish research from “Luck of the Irish”. It was fascinating to follow step by step the methods used in conducting research from one name in Meath, tracing the family back to way beyond pre Civil Registration.

And, following on from “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family Tree”, the moment I got home I ordered a copy of “Courts of the Manors of Bandon and Beddington 1489-1552” to help with my Latin to English translation of Manorial records.  Going to a Catholic school and studying Latin for two years is of limited help – and then only for basic words. My “Ecce Romani” Latin is useless for Manorial rolls!


A Packed “Tracing a 16th and 17th Century Family” Tree Workshop

My husband also attended three workshops. He’s only into Family History at a basic level, but learned lots from the “What they Don’t Tell you about Visiting Archives” and WW1 research talk “Overcoming Trench Walls”. He came away fired with enthusiasm, and insisted there and then on sharing his new-found knowledge!

As a journalist he also attended the “Copyright and Family History” talk. It was interesting to compare his perspective of what is done in reality (and ways round things), to what should be done.  He said this talk would put the fear of God into anyone about doing anything!

As an old-school journalist he was trained in shorthand, so made copious notes. I will be keeping an eye on the SoG website because, as in previous years, many (but not all) of the speakers’ handouts or slides presented at the show will be uploaded in due course.


Final Packed Workshop of the Day – Research Before 1837

I also attended Debbie Kennett’s “Autosomal DNA Pleasures and Pitfalls” talk. A clear explanation of a complex subject, and I now feel better prepared to re-visit my DNA tests. Immediately on my return home I downloaded her talk slides and joined the “DNA help for Genealogy (UK)” Facebook page. So these should help with what is a daunting subject for my scientifically-challenged mind.

One nugget I did take away with me, which hadn’t previously crossed my mind with the Ancestry DNA kit, was the need to factor in my annual Ancestry subscription cost. This is required in order to be able to continue to access the full range of their DNA online result features.


Debbie Kennett Points out the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Autosomal DNA

One talk which me and my husband attended together was Andrew Robertshaw’s “The Story of the Somme”. As my husband put it, the clearest most concise 20 minute explanation he has ever heard.


“The Story of the Somme” – one of the highlights of the show for me

As a result of the number of talks I attended, regretfully I didn’t have as much time as I needed to explore the rest of the cornucopia of exhibitors. I did plan out in advance those I wanted to visit but didn’t get round them all. Part of the problem was navigating the stand numbering system – I kept getting hopelessly lost and distracted.

I was particularly disappointed I didn’t make it to the Forces War Records stand to see what the discount was, as I am considering subscribing.


WW2 Spitfire in the Forces War Records Area

I did manage to get my 25% Ancestry renewal discount. Definitely one bargain not to be missed out on.

I was torn about purchasing some more DNA kits for the family. Ancestry had a great deal, with kits retailing at a massively discounted £59 and Family Tree DNA’s autosomal Family Finder kit at £65. I decided against it. But with luck, judging by the rate they were flying off the shelves, I may get some more matches (hopefully with attached trees).

As ever I spent a small fortune on books, my big weakness. The Pen & Sword stand got the largest chunk of my book cash. Their offer of three books for £30 proved far too tempting and I ended up buying 5 for £40! Only the fact I’ve got the indispensable “Phillimore Atlas of Parish Registers” stopped me from grabbing a £20 bargain at The History Press stand.


Pen & Sword Haul

I also managed to sign up for a Pharos course (with 20% discount). So I’ll be doing their “Introduction to One-Name Studies” course in May. For good measure I ended up registering a one-name study name with the Guild – heaven knows how much extra work I’ve landed myself there!


More Goodies – including One-Name Studies Guidance

On the subject of courses, I managed to speak to a number of providers. I’m now pondering about doing the Pharos Advanced course, the Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies (IHGS) correspondence course or a Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) one. As ever for me the sticking point is fitting genealogy learning around work commitments. I need the flexibility. I also want a course which will potentially lead to formal accreditation with the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA).

And talking, listening and learning is another fantastic thing about “WDYTYA? Live”. It was great to meet so many people who share this passion for family history, including so many #AncestryHour Twitter folk! So faces to Twitter names at last.

Given my interest in WW1 history, I visit Flanders and the Somme annually. So the show provided me opportunity to do some planning for my two visits scheduled for this year.


Holiday Planning

On a WW1 theme finally, as the show was winding up, Chris and I paid for joint membership of the Western Front Association, something we’ve meant to do for quite some time.


Plenty for Military Researchers

Yet again I thoroughly enjoyed my day at “WDYTYA? Live”. The talks I attended were excellent. However, given that I felt I missed so much this year in terms of exhibitors, next year I won’t try to cram everything into one day. I will stay for two, possibly the full three, days. That in itself sums up how useful the event is.end of show

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the Hill (DNA) – Part 3, No Silver Bullet

This is the third in my series of posts about my genetic genealogy journey. I ended my last post at the waiting game phase, all kits on their way. Things have progressed and I thought it helpful to provide an update.

I have included the information below of the various test stages to give some indication as to the variability of posting/processing times:

Test Type Posted Arrived Lab Processing Starts Anticipated Result Date Result Arrived
Ancestry autosomal (mum) 27 June 3 July 7 July 6-8 weeks 13 July
Ancestry autosomal (dad) 27 June 15 July 18 July 6-8 weeks
FTDNA Family Finder (me) 29 June 11 July including lab processing stage 5-19 August
FTDNA Y-DNA 37 (dad) 29 June 13 July including lab processing stage 23 Sept – 7 October
FTDNA mtFull Sequence 29 June 13 July including lab processing stage 26 August – 9 September

There is a lengthy delay in the anticipated result date of the FTDNA Y-DNA test. Hopefully this is a good sign, due to its popularity and hence the number of testers.

But the thing I found must perplexing was the difference in timescales for mum and dad’s Ancestry tests. These were both posted the same day from England to Dublin. The results for mum’s test came through significantly ahead of schedule, in fact even before dad’s vial of spit got there.

I really did suspect his was lost in the post but, when I asked, Ancestry said it allows 20 working days before a test is designated such.

More amazingly the FTDNA tests posted a couple of days after dad’s Ancestry one, and destined for Texas, arrived before his Ancestry test.

But dad’s test did finally reach its destination. So the moral of the story, which seems to be the DNA theme,  is do not give up hope and do not assume tests posted on the same day will arrive at roughly the same time! And one final thing to watch out for, there can be a delay between the test actions being annotated on the site and the email notification reaching you.

Mum’s Ancestry results came in on 13 July, a mere 17 days after posting. I have now had a quick preliminary look at them and these are my initial findings.

First thing to say is the site is easy to navigate and a pleasing mix of charts, tables and expandable “?” Boxes. It is all very intuitive and clear.

In terms of ethnicity there are no surprises. My mum has an English mother and Irish father. Her ethnicity results show 63% Great Britain, 34% Ireland. Of the four trace regions, Ancestry state “it is possible that these regions appear by chance and are not actually part of your genetic ethnicity”. So on this basis I am not claiming any tentative Armada, possibly false in any case, ancestry.

Mum's Ancestry DNA Test Ethnicity Breakdown

Mum’s Ancestry DNA Test Ethnicity Breakdown

The results correspond with all my research to date (going back to the early 17th century on mum’s maternal line). It is good to have general confirmation of my research. But this is more an interesting coffee-table talking point rather than anything more substantive.

Then onto the meaty stuff – the DNA matches. The upfront view is mum has 44 4th cousins or closer and one shared ancestor hint. The latter is like the Ancestry tree shaky leaves.

I excitedly went to the “View all DNA matches” button and immediately felt overwhelmed, but thrilled, to see 57 pages of them, with around 50 entries per page. These are split into relationship ranges and confidence levels. The 4th cousin box refers to possible 4th – 6th cousins range and this is the first batch of matches listed in mum’s case, as this is the closest identified relationship.

Mum naturally has a significantly larger distant cousin category, with a possible range of 5th– 8th cousins. This is the remaining 56 and a bit pages.

Ancestry assign the following “confidence” ratings to the matches: “Extremely High”, “Very High”, “High”, “Good” and “Moderate”.

At this point it may be worth mentioning that ISOGG has a useful piece explaining the Ancestry confidence scores and their realism. It may be that the percentages for sharing a common ancestor are set too high[1]. There is also the caveat that the “AncestryDNA database is 99% American, and it is not yet known if these ranges will apply in the same way to other populations”.

Enthused I spent an afternoon ploughing through the first page of matches, only to become increasingly frustrated. This page included all 44 4th cousin matches. Six of these had “extremely high” confidence markings and the remainder “very high”. There were also two “very high” and four “high” distant cousins on this page.

Clicking onto the individual matches brings you to the next level. There is a “Pedigree and Surnames” tab which identifies all the surnames associated with the match’s tree. Helpfully shared surnames are pinpointed at the start, so this cuts out trawling through a whole list of surnames to pick out the ones in common. There is also the tree section on the right hand side of the page.

A second tab entitled “maps and locations” has a summary column as well as a map with coloured indicators identifying your family tree locations (blue) and those of the DNA match (mustard). Any shared locations are immediately recognisable, as the pointer for these is green.

A word of caution though – the maps are not entirely accurate. I uploaded my tree via a Family Historian GEDCOM file. The Ancestry programme has some fundamental discrepancies because my descriptors do not accord exactly with the Ancestry format. For example some of my Yorkshire ancestors are placed in the Isle of Man, Kent and the North East. I have corrected this.

Of less importance, but useful to know, is that if a vague location descriptor is attached, such as England or Ireland, the pointer will appear in the middle of the country. Or some may have assigned a county level rather than place-specific location. For example I have seen several matches with County Mayo as a location, (including a couple on my tree), but no further detail as to where in Mayo. So do not take the pointers at face value.

Worth using is the “Note” box. I am entering brief details about the DNA match’s tree and any obvious connections. It is also helping me keep track of the reviewed matches.

Example of Ancestry DNA relationship/confidence levels and my notes

Example of Ancestry DNA relationship/confidence levels and my notes

However my initial enthusiasm soon evaporated as it began to feel more like an exercise in futility. Of the 44 4th cousin matches six have private trees, although some of these do have public trees elsewhere on Ancestry; 11 have no tree; and five have less than ten people in their tree. Possibly some of these are individuals trying to find their DNA roots. Though this means straightaway a significant proportion are rendered relatively meaningless for my DNA purposes, at least for the immediate future.

When I first embarked on this journey I did wonder about linking my hitherto private tree to the test. I have for several years steered clear of putting my tree in the public domain, for privacy/copying reasons, having had my fingers burned years ago when I had a public Genes Reunited tree. It was a horrid experience and that copied information is still out there on a website.  It is not something I ever wish to repeat. So I get perfectly why some trees are private. Others may, for personal family sensitivities, decide against a public tree. It is after all an individual decision.

However in the end I decided to do a reduced, skeleton-form tree specifically for DNA test purposes. My reasoning for doing this is  having a private tree might cause people to by-pass me; it might be of assistance to other potential matches and facilitate contact in the interest of a shared goal; it could eliminate protracted fishing-questions; and it hopefully will  minimise the risk of wholesale copying, my big fear.

Anyway, back to the DNA results. Of the remainder of mum’s matches with trees of more than ten individuals, a couple are of peripheral interest and I may in due course make contact. At least though there is something concrete to base any contact with the tree-owners on. For the other matches on this first page there is no obvious connection.

I will go through the remaining 56 pages of matches over the coming months. But I will prioritise my search focusing first on those with larger, accessible trees.  I will also make more judicious use of the location/surname search filters as this will indicate common data  even in private trees, although in the latter cases just at the top level. And hopefully, as I become more familiar with what the site has to offer, my frustration will decrease.

And I have not entirely given up hope. My mum’s shared ancestor hint is a distant cousin match with a “good” confidence rating. This appears on page four of the matches. There is a tree attached. And, from this, the match is at 6th cousin level. It does not break down any brick walls for me, but it is a start.

So, in summary, I am finding that genetic genealogy is no silver bullet to break through brick walls. It is more of a long game and another tool in the genealogy box. Hopefully DNA match success rates for me will improve as more and more people, especially from England and Ireland[2], sign up. I am even considering doing the test myself.

But the bottom line is you are still reliant on people linking a meaningful tree to their DNA test; or those with private trees responding to messages; and those trees being accurate. 


[2] Only available here at the start of 2015