Tests, tests everywhere there’s tests…Part 1

testsIf you can’t tell,  I’m a child of the 60s and 70s. I hope 5 Man Electric Band doesn’t mind me messing with their lyrics.

Yes,  every time you turn around it seems like ads for DNA services are all over the place. The first reason is obvious. Genealogy is the second most popular hobby after gardening. Genealogy websites are the second most visited category of websites.  Genealogists and genealogy companies have figured out that  DNA has a tremendous positive impact on solving family mysteries and getting to the truth. I can’t imagine trying to unravel some of the mysterious I have solved in the last 6 months without the help of DNA.

The second reason you’re  seeing so many ads is because they are working. Spit in a tube and find out suddenly you’re  Native American or Scottish versus German.  People take the test to see the pie chart of where their ancestors came from. They also might look for a couple of family members or other easy things.  The majority will never complete a family tree or do any serious genealogy work on their past. But they can be very useful…especially if their DNA  can be compared to yours with a chromosome browser. I’ll cover more on that later when we start talking about how to do matches.

The third reason is less obvious but is the real driving force behind this growth – the value of the  DNA databases. Ancestry has over 3 million in their database and it won’t surprise me to see that number hit  5,000,000 before the end of  2017. 23andme is running counter ads focusing on finding out about yourself as much as you can. Frankly,  I’m glad to see it. More people testing means more matches and eventually a match will solve a mystery. But have no doubt about it,  those databases are incredibly valuable. They could give the tests away and still make money… It would just take longer.

I’m going to conver the main  DNA testing companies in this post. I’ll cover strengths and weaknesses. I’ll even make some recommendations based on what you are trying to accomplish by testing.

Ancestry HQAncestry is the largest supplier of consumer based Autosomal DNA testing in the world. They currently have over 3 million DNA samples in their database.   They also focus on genealogy and selling their subscription service while selling the DNA kits. Ancestry has massive amounts of searchable records to assist in genealogical research. I do most of my work on  Ancestry but they are not without problems.

Things I Like:

  • The largest database of autosomal test results. Lots of  matches. (As of March of 2017, I have over 36,000 total identified cousins on Ancestry with 1500 4th cousins or closer)
  • Shared Ancestor Hints –  They compare your tree with the trees of your matches and try to find the common ancestor.
  • Ability to download raw data DNA
  • Massive searchable genealogical database
  • Ability to share your results with others
  • Ability to manage multiple tests with just one account (Possibly changing)
  • Reasonable responses from other users when contacted
  • Generally good customer service.  Two of my kits were lost in the mail and they replaced them without question.

Things I Dislike:

  • No chromosome browser –  Ancestry so far has resisted all the numerous requests for a chromosome browser feature. I’ll cover why it’s important in another post on matching but trust me – they need a browser.
  • Their internal messaging system between customers sucks. Messages never arrive at times and they require the person log in to get their messages.  Here’s an idea –  just use email. It works.
  • Tinder –  Ancestry uses their own proprietary software to analyze and compare DNA between customers. I’m not huge fan of how it works. Gedmatch,  23andme and Family Tree DNA all have matching algorithms that don’t require valid segments to be split apart, etc.
  • No ability to upload raw data from another company
  • Only offers autosomal testing


Family Tree DNA is basically a one stop shop for DNA testing and genealogy. They offer autosomal, mtDNA and Y DNA testing and the ability to create and manage your genealogical tree. The also offer projects administered by volunteers based on DNA and broken down by surname, location or haplogroup. I’m co-administrator of the Adams surname Y DNA project as an example. As of February 2017, they have about 850,000 DNA samples on file. They also have the largest database of Y DNA test results available.

Things I Like:

  • Comprehensive testing available. All your tests can be done in one location.
  • Projects – Well run projects like the U-106 group are a huge benefit.
  • Chromosome browser
  • Ability to upload other autosomal DNA results so you don’t have to test twice. Only $19 one-time to unlock all of the features of Family Tree DNA once you upload including the chromosome browser. A Bargain.
  • Extensive DNA database – especially Y DNA
  • Uses e-mail to contact matches
  • Probably the most responsive group of users of any of the three major testing companies

Things I Dislike:

  • Research must be done elsewhere for genealogical records


23andme is the last of the big three. They launched with the idea to provide medical information based on DNA results. They ran into some issues with the FDA and had to suspend selling DNA kits until they fixed the issues. The resulting fix removed the offensive material  but also hurt their marketing efforts.

Things I Like:

  • Their collection of tested points gives the most medical information available on an autosomal test (Ancestry V2 comes pretty close)
  • They have separated their product into just the test and genealogy info or a combination with the reduced health reports.
  • A reasonable number of people tested (1.2 million)

Things I Dislike:

  • Easily the least responsive group when requesting information to help with genealogy.
  • Anonymous users
  • Anonymous users (yes – I dislike it that much)
  • Interface – my least favorite by far

Before I proceed with the rest of the companies in part 2 of this post, I’m going to make some recommendations based on what you desire out of the test.

Heredity – If you just want to know what your ancestral make up is, any of them will do. Understand that autosomal DNA varies greatly and your results will always be a best guess. Ancestry is rolling out some new features this spring that may make them the clear winner. I’ve seen preliminary results of their new features and they are impressive. If you already know for sure that your lineage has a large portion from the British Isles, you might want to read my part 2 post where I cover Living DNA.

Medical Info – I would go with 23andme and use their genealogy only version (the cheaper one). It doesn’t come with the health reports but you can run the raw data through Promethease and get all the results for $5. I’ll cover Promethease more in detail on a post about tools. If you want a combo of genealogy and medical, I would use the Ancestry test. In 2016, Ancestry changed their test and added a whole bunch of medically related snps.

Genealogy -I would go with Ancestry and then upload the raw data to both Gedmatch and Family Tree DNA. I use all three daily.

Adoptee or birth parent – all of them. If you can’t afford that, do Ancestry first, upload to Family Tree and Gedmatch and then test at 23andme as soon as you can afford to. Also, I would strongly recommend joining a Facebook group called DNA Detectives. It’s all about helping people find the birth family members. Gedmatch is a must.

Next post, I’ll cover some of the other companies that offer testing.




The Great Paternal DNA Quest

An innocent enough comment made by my sister last summer led to a great journey in my genetics and genealogy research. It also may eventually lead to me breaking down a “brickwall” that surrounds my third great grandfather Alfred Adams. Beside that, it’s a great story.

One of the things that genealogists always bemoan is the regret over missed opportunities to talk to our parents, grandparents and in my case great-grandparents about their ancestors. I’d give anything to have 2-3 days with my grandparents and a tape recorder. With the advent of DNA testing and genetic genealogy, genealogists are now realizing how important testing older members of our family is.

I’ve covered it in greater detail in other posts but the type of DNA that most people test for is called autosomal DNA. It is made up of Chromosomes 1-22. (X and  Y DNA are handed down differently to males and females) Autosomal DNA is split apart down the middle, chopped into segments,  mixed around and then recombined with every new baby. Each of us inherits 50% of our DNA from each of our parents. But that’s where that rule ends. The 50% I got from my dad could have been 90% from my paternal grandmother and only 10% from my paternal grandfather. My sister could have had 30% from my paternal grandmother and 70% from my paternal grandfather. The same thing takes place on the maternal side. We get 50% from each parent. It’s random what the percentages are once you go past the parent to child level. That process is what allows us to evolve as species and it keeps us all from being twins.

All human beings have about 3.2 Billion nucleotides (points)  on their 23 pair of chromosomes. Over 95.5% of that DNA is identical in every person on earth.  It’s the  4.5% that makes us unique as individuals.

These testing companies take a “snapshot” of about 700,000 individual locations on the 23 sets of chromosomes that are known to have differences between people. These are called single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs.  They use those SNPs to determine genetic matches among other test takers, to breakout your heritage and to identify traits and potential health issues.

Autosomal DNA is very good at identifying people with common ancestors out to about the 3rd-4th cousin range. After that, it’s hit or miss if enough DNA will remain to be able to detect the match. When you are trying to identify a connection via DNA, the closer in generations you can get – the better off you are. Since I’m trying to find out where our earliest known Adams ancestor came from, any movement upward the family tree toward my third great grandfather Alfred will help.

adams line

The comment my sister made back last summer was that she wondered if the hospital still had any of the blood samples or biopsies from when my dad was admitted prior to his death in 2014. It had never crossed my mind.

The next day, I started making phone calls. Not only did the hospital have biopsy sample blocks and slides on my dad, they also had some samples from my mom from back in 2007.  She passed away shortly after those samples were taken. We found out what the requirements were to obtain those samples (they vary by hospital, city and state) and we went through that process. In Arizona and that particular hospital it was incredibly easy.

I knew that we were probably only going to have one opportunity to extract and process this DNA (if we were lucky) and I didn’t want to waste it. With the advancements in genetic processing and testing,  I’m fairly certain that within the next few years we’ll all be getting our entire genome mapped. Not only that but the prices will drop to about the same as what is currently being charged by the big 3 (Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) to test just those 700,000 points.

I decided to have my parents’ entire genomes run. I contacted the folks over at http://www.fullgenomes.com to see what they recommended. They (Justin Loe) suggested a lab that handles paraffin embedded samples and extracts DNA from it. That lab, http://www.omegabioservices.com , and  Dr. Weining Tang worked wonders. My mother’s sample was unusable because it was only pathology slides and those had been fixated. My dad,  however,  had a section of tissue that had been preserved using paraffin infusion. That process degrades the DNA but Dr. Tang felt they  could extract enough quality DNA to be able to use it for the  whole genome test that FGC was going to run on it.

I received the results last Friday. Let me warn you. A full genome is a ton of data. The raw data file was  39 GB in size. That’s the equivalent of a three hour movie in 1080P (Blu-ray)  quality. It’s a mountain of data.

I extracted out the  Y DNA and mitochondrial data first.  I found out that my paternal grandmother was U5 (U5b2a1a1),  one of the oldest Maternal haplogroups.  I already had done my  Y DNA so I wanted to look for any changes that happened between my dad and I.  Those minor mutations are what make branches in the  haplotree. Myself, my father and my son have all been mapped.

All this really was neat info but it wasn’t helping me do what I wanted to do. I wanted to get a generation closer to Alfred Adams to see if we could break through that brick wall.

I knew the solution wasn’t difficult.  I just had to write a program that would search through that huge mountain of data and pull out the data on just those SNPs that are tested by Ancestry, FTDNA or 23andme and create my own file. I could then upload that file to gedmatch or even potentially family tree DNA. Thankfully, none of that was necessary.

About a month before I got my raw data, Thomas Krahn wrote an open source script to do just what I wanted. I worked with him for about a day to figure out what I was doing wrong and we got it working for me. I now had a raw data file in a format that both Gedmatch and Family Tree DNA would recognize and allow me to upload. His script is at https://github.com/tkrahn/extract23

Thomas also has another role that I want to recommend. He’s over at a company called https://www.yseq.net/index.php Thomas and YSeq have been leaders in SNP and SNP Panel testing for a while and now are even offering full genome sequencing. My family group uses their services to offer a low cost SNP test to potential Adams cousins to see if they’re related. Every interaction I’ve had with Tom or Astrid has been outstanding.

That sentiment carries over to all three of the gentlemen I mentioned in this post – along with everyone that worked on this project for me. Hopefully, the last step in truly a fairy tale ending is me finding out who Alfred’s daddy was. Time to go to work.


P.S.  – If you are a male with Adams as your surname and if you’d like to see if our lines converge, the test at YSEQ is $17.50 plus $5 shipping. You can order it at


P.P.S. There is a website called Gedmatch that offers a central repository and matching service for DNA results from differing companies. They also have a number of tools for DNA / genealogical usage. One of those tools (Lazarus) allows you to recreate a person’s DNA if you have enough close relatives tested. Before I found out about my dad’s biopsy sample, I had tested a whole slew of close family members and run the Lazarus program to create a partial copy of my dad’s DNA. I was a able to get the kit up to 2600 cM before I started introducing errors into it. (I’ll cover that later in a separate post) When I checked the Lazarus kit against my dad’s actually DNA, I only had a total of 75 cM that didn’t match. Not too shabby.

Living DNA Results Part 2

Autosomal DNA results are very good out to about 4th cousin range. After that, the randomness of DNA and the smaller amounts of DNA remaining make it more challenging. That being said, I’ve been able to use DNA along with traditional geneology to prove connections to 10th and 11th cousins. Living DNA specifically states that their results are really useful out to 4-5 generations. Unfortunately for me, I have to go back to 4th great grandparents and beyond to get to immigrants into the United States. I would imagine that my results are skewed somewhat because of that time lag but it is interesting to see where they say we come from. I’m having my dad’s DNA tested as well to see what it tells me.

They break this down by global, regional and sub-regional levels. They also will have three levels of accuracy. One is very conservative, one is moderate and the last will be more speculative. Currently, only the middle setting is working.

The global setting and regional are both about the same for me – since I’m primarily European.








I’ll post the next three and then cover the data. These are all the sub-regional maps and percentages.

sub reginal














Europe 100%

Great Britain and Ireland 72.8%

East Anglia 16.3%
South Central England 9.3%
Northwest England 6.6%
Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland 6.1%
Devon 5.6%
North Yorkshire 5.6%
South England 3.9%
Northumbria 3.6%
Cumbria 3.1%
Central England 3%
South Wales Border 2%
South Wales 1.3%
Ireland 1.2%
Cornwall 1.2%
Aberdeenshire 1.1%
Great Britain and Ireland (unassigned) 3%

Europe (North and West) 26%

France 26%
Europe (unassigned) 1.2%

This definitely agrees with the Y DNA distribution I’ve seen for L-1 (My Y DNA subclade) so I tend to agree with it. We have a number of British lines Terrell, Harrison, Reed, Luster and Hilton among others.

I shared the entire results and you can see their format at –

Griz’s Living DNA results

I’ll compare and contrast my dad’s results when they come in.


P.S. This message from the Living DNA site seems they’re having some issues differentiating between East Anglican and some Germanic/Danish/Netherlands (Frisian) DNA. Thus my East Anglican is way over-reported. That brings me some comfort because that was skewing things the wrong way.


Living DNA Results Part 1

I took another DNA test recently put out by a company call Living DNA. They worked with a study called People of the British Isles to more completely map out the genetic variations found over the British Isles. This is the first test that attempts to show you where in Britain you originate.

One of the most irritating things about my genetic make-up is that it is a huge black hole called 87% British Isles on Ancestry. First off, the typical native of Great Britain only shows up as 60% British. How the heck did I get to 87%?  Especially since the majority of my lines go back to colonial times. Secondly, both my wife and I test as 4% Irish according to Ancestry. My son shows up as 16%. I’m not sure how he can be more Irish than his mother and I combined.

With all of that uncertainly in my life, I plunked down another chunk of change on this new test. My first impression is that I like it. It gives you a lot of information for the price.

Here are the main sections of the report. I copied these directly off the Living DNA page so you can see what they provide. Part 1 is the Y DNA and Mitochodrial Results –

Fatherline (Y-DNA) History

Haplogroup: R-U106
Subclade: R-L1

The Genetic Migration of your Fatherline

Our analysis show us your haplogroup is R-U106. It is a descendant of the peoples of the Rhineland and the Low Countries. They first reached Britain with the arrival of the greatest revolution in our human history – the coming of farming. However, more of your Germanic DNA marker likely came to Britain with the first Viking attacks in the late 8th and early 9th centuries.

Haplogroups can be associated with geographic regions, and can also be used to trace the ancient migrations of early humans.

This map shows where your haplogroup is most commonly found today. It’s important to note that we are using maps with modern nation states as they are the most familiar, however there will be overlap in surrounding areas, as they are politically created borders that become lines on a map. Frequencies are mere estimates from published literature. Please therefore use these as a guide and for information purposes but understand their limitations.

  • Netherlands 30%
  • Germany 21%
  • England 20%
  • Denmark 20%
  • South Germany 19%
  • Scotland 18%
  • Norway 13%
  • Switzerland 13%
  • Poland 7%
  • France 7%
  • North Italy 6%
  • Wales 5%
  • Ireland 5%
  • Spain 3%
  • Hungary 3%
  • South Italy 1%
  • Russia

Motherline (mtDNA) History

Haplogroup: H1
Subclade: H1b

The Genetic Migration of your Motherline

Haplogroup H is predominantly European, originating before the last glacial maximum.

Your motherline H1 is a daughter of maternal lineage H–the most commonly found signature in Europe. H1, in turn, is the most common subclade (daughter branch) of H in western Europe.

Your motherline haplogroup is a collection of related family lines you are connected to through your mtDNA. It is a direct female line you can trace back along your entire ancestry. You share a common ancient ancestor with all the people who share your haplogroup.

Haplogroups can be associated with geographic regions, and are also used to trace the ancient migrations of early humans.

This map shows where your haplogroup is most commonly found today. It’s important to note that we are using maps with modern nation states as they are the most familiar, however there will be overlap in surrounding areas, as they are politically created boarders that become lines on a map.

Frequencies are mere estimates from published literature. Please therefore use these as a guide and for information purposes but understand their limitations.

  • Basque 28%
  • Portugal 26%
  • Cantabria 24%
  • Andalusia 24%
  • Morocco 20%
  • Spain 19%
  • Sweden 18%
  • Norway 18%
  • Galicia 18%
  • Sardinia 18%
  • Finland 18%
  • Denmark 18%
  • Estonia 17%
  • United Kingdom 16%
  • Ireland 16%
  • Slovakia 15%
  • Russia 14%
  • Volga-Ural-Finno Ugric 14%
  • Catalonia 14%
  • Tunisia 13%
  • France 12%
  • North Italy 12%
  • Tuscany 11%
  • Hungary 11%
  • Czech Republic 11%
  • Austria 11%
  • Sicily 10%
  • Ukraine 10%
  • North Caucasus 9%
  • Romania 9%
  • Netherlands 9%
  • South Italy 9%
  • Poland 9%
  • Croatia 8%
  • Macedonia 7%
  • Greece 6%
  • Germany 6%
  • Balkan 5%
  • Lebanon 4%
  • Turkey 3%
  • Daghestan 3%
  • Albania 3%
  • Lithuania 2%
  • Iraq 2%
  • Ossetia 2%
  • Jordan 2%
  • Armenia 2%
  • Georgia

These are completely accurate based on other tests that I’ve taken. It’s amazing that they provide this level of information in one test…especially for the price. If you are of European descent and you don’t really care about building family trees and all that, this one test will give you the most comprehensive amount of information on your origins that is available today.

Now onto the real meat and potatoes of this test – the global, regional and subregional results based on autosomal data. Living DNA Results Part 2

Genetics and DNA Basics Part 1

In order to understand all of the information on this site, you’ll need an understanding of genetics and the ways we can use DNA to confirm relations that we’ve plotted through standard genealogy. If you care nothing about genealogy, these pages may still be of interest to you. We’ll cover genetic basics, the three main types of DNA testing and what they are useful for and how they generate your heritage reports.

First off, I’m not a geneticist, professional genealogist or anything remotely resembling an expert on any of the items I’m going to discuss. This is a hobby for me and I’ll try to explain this stuff in terms that I and hopefully you can understand. Any inaccuracies or mistakes are entirely my own. I’ll try to cite where I get information but I’m also not an academic. I’ll make mistakes.

Genetics is basically the study of the building blocks of all life on Earth. The structure or function of any plant or animal life is determined by its DNA. Human DNA structure is a double helix. It looks like a ladder that has been twisted. dna helixThere are 4 building blocks of DNA that are abbreviated A T C G  that combine to form base pairs.  In the 23 pair of chromosomes that we carry, there are roughly 3.2 billion of these base pairs. Over 95.5% of those base pairs are identical in every human being. It’s that remaining 4.5% that makes each of us unique. Every human being alive today traces their ancestry back to a common male ancestor in eastern central Africa about 100,000 years ago. We are all cousins.

The chromosome pairs are numbered 1-22 basically in order of size. Chromosome 1 is the largest, etc. The 23rd chromosome pair are the sex chromosomes. Men inherit a X chromosome from their mothers and a Y chromosome from their fathers. Women inherit X chromosomes from both parents. The image below shows a normal human genome. Clicking on the image takes you to the site I obtained it from.

human karyogram


Chromosomes 1 through 22 are called the autosomal chromosomes. That means that every generation, the DNA from both parents is sliced apart, chopped into segments and then recombined. It’s that process that helps life evolve and it also keeps us all from being twins.

The only standing rule that governs our DNA inheritance is that we get 50% of our DNA from our fathers and 50% from our mothers. That same percentage does not necessarily follow upstream to our grandparents and beyond.  Here’s a hypothetical example using my family.

dna passdownEach of my parents received 1/2 of their DNA from their parents. I color coded this to make it easier to see. If you look closely, you’ll see that myself and both my sisters also received exactly 50% of our DNA from each of our parents. What’s different is that in each case, our parents grabbed different amounts of DNA from their parents to make up the half they sent to us. In this hypothetical example, I got far more Adams DNA than did my sister Pam. My sister Deb got the largest amount of Austin DNA.  This example is important because it points out why it is a good idea to get as many family members tested as possible.

I can also use the above diagram to discuss the ethnicity reports that the testing companies generate. They compare certain base pairs along your genome for markers that are known to originate from a certain area. The problem is that the randomness of DNA makes those tests less accurate. Let’s assume that in the above example, that Adams was 100% Scottish. Luster was 100% English from London. Austin was 100% Irish and Clack was 100% French ( from Le Clerc).  The ethnicity reports on myself and my siblings would be roughly:

  • Me
    • British  Isles – 40% (25% Adams[Scottish], 10% Luster[British], 5% Overlap)
    • Ireland –  20% (10 % Austin[Ireland], 10% Overlap)
    • France – 40% (Clack)
  • Pam
    • British  Isles – 50% (5% Adams[Scottish], 35% Luster[British], 10% Overlap)
    • Ireland –  30% (25 % Austin[Ireland], 5% Overlap)
    • France – 2o% (Clack)
  • Deb
    • British Isles – 55% (20% Adams[Scottish], 20% Luster[British], 15% overlap)
    • Ireland – 35% (30% Austin[Irish], 5% overlap)
    • France – 10% (Clack)

The overlap I mention above is that the geographic areas that the testing services use overlap each other. Even someone that is 100% British might test 10% Irish due to these overlap areas. As you can see, there is a large variance between the results between three siblings. In the real world with literally hundreds of ancestors providing a portion of your DNA, the differences are even more pronounced. At the current level of technology, the ethnicity reports you get from Ancestry, 23andme or Family Tree DNA are good to the continent level. Once you zoom in closer than that, the speculation goes up pretty quickly. By looking at Y DNA, autosomal results from multiple close family members, mitochondrial results on both my mother and paternal grandmother, a new DNA test called Living DNA that Debi and I both took and just received results on and most importantly the known paper trail on our ancestors- Here’s what I’ve come up with for us as good estimates –

Britain & Wales – 47 %. Primarily from the northern, western and coastal areas of England. Our male haplogroup L-1 were a sea going people from up around Belgium to Amsterdam to Finland. They migrated the the British Isles as part of the multiple invasions of Great Britain – primarily the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Invasions. They primarily stayed in coastal locations. A significant portion of our British DNA comes from Northumbria – the area on the border with Scotland.

Scottish – 15%. Our Clans include Clan McRae and McLeod, Campbell, Stewart, Bruce and potentially Adams (Brick wall around 1800).  Other than Adams, some of our closest Y DNA matches are Bells, Elliots and Grahams which were all Scottish border-reiver families.

Irish – 10%. Beside the Scots/Irish lines we have, we also have Irish origins for our Austins, Baileys, Kellys and Woods in our ancestry.

Germany/Denmark – 10% We have two separate lines that are clearly German but we also have a number of Norman lines in England. The Tyrell (Terrell) line came to England with William the Conqueror and they held continuous knighthood for over 500 years.

Scandinavia – 8%. Again part of the Viking background of my paternal lineage.

France – 3%. The Clack line goes through England but they were originally French. We have also have Ancien and Bonnett as surnames of French origin.

Iberian Peninsula – 3%. This one has me stumped. Both my sister and I show 3%. My dad shows even more, so it’s valid. I just have no idea how it got there. More research needed.

Eastern Europe – 3 %. Our last known immigrant to the United States came from Hungary around 1810-1815. His name was George Fisher (Sagics) and he was a legendary scoundrel. I’ll devote at last one full post just on him.

Native American – 2%. We have a number of possible paths for that but two known sources are my 10th great grandmother Princess Matoaka Pocahontas Rolfe and my 5th great grandmother Nancy Ga Ho Ga Lightfoot.

Next post we’ll cover the three other types of DNA tests that are used in genealogy and how they can help you. I’ll also cover matching more in detail and how to use your Ancestry/23andme/FTDNA results to help grow your family tree in a later post.


Genetics and DNA Basics Part 2

The X and  Y factor

One of the most useful DNA tests available is only available for males and it tests the Y chromosome. The  Y chromosome is passed down from father to son virtually unchanged. Combining that stable exchange of DNA with the western tradition of using male dominated surnames,  Y DNA is very useful for breaking through brick walls,  determining family groups and for determining migration patterns.

There are two main types of Y DNA tests –  STR,  which stands for single tandem repeat,  and NGS where they look at the entire Y chromosome looking for minor mutations called SNPs. Both are very useful and while they overlap in areas of coverage,  generally STR tests are really useful for research in the past  200-1000 years. NGS tests will tell you the entire history of your lineage path from Africa to today.  SNPs also can be identified that are unique to a specific family group and can be used as an inexpensive screening tool to determine if two family groups are related.

As I said,  STR stands for single tandem repeats and they are known locations on the  Y chromosome where those nucleotides repeat.  An example would be a spot on the  Y chromosome where  CAAC is repeated numerous times in a row. CAACCAACCAACCAACCAACCAACCAACCAACCAAC would have a STR value  of  9.  Those known locations can be compared and family relations can be determined by that comparison. The standard Y STR tests are done with  37, 67 and  111 markers. Obviously the more markers tested,  the better the accuracy. Custom STR tests are also some of what law enforcement uses to determine genetic evidence in cases.

In our family,  here’s an example. We belong to what’s known as the  Adams 004 family group and we have roughly 20 males that have been tested with sufficient markers to know that we all share a common male ancestor Adams. We’re still on the quest to determine whom he is. We all closely match each other on at least 37 of those markers. How closely we match and on what markers can help narrow down the time-frame for us to look for that common ancestor.

The second type of  Y DNA test looks at the entire Y chromosome and maps it out completely. It compares what it finds against a base genome and points out minor mutations along the chromosome. Those mutations,  or SNPs,  are used to determine branches in the haplotree for humans. Using those tests in combination with standard archeological methods, scientists are gaining a greater understanding of the human migration patterns out of Africa. The text is also very useful in determining male haplogroups.  We have determined that we are part of  R1b-U106 and below that R-L1. We’ve even determined a number of SNPs that are unique to our family group and are very useful to use as a screening tool to determine if other male Adams are cousins of ours or not. If you’re a male Adams and have a family history that originated in Scotland,  Ireland, North Carolina or  South Carolina – give me a shout to see if we are related.

Mystery X

The X chromosome presents more mysteries to me than solutions. I’m sure genealogists with far more experience than I have can figure out how to use it in genealogies but it befuddles me. I’ll cover what I know.

Men receive a Y chromosome from their fathers and an un-recombined X chromosome from their mother. The reason it’s un-recombined is because there is no paternal X chromosome to recombine with. So my entire 197.1 cM of X chromosome was passed down to me from my mother.

Women get X DNA  from both their parents. The odd part is that sometimes those chromosomes recombine just like regular 1-22 chromosomes do. Sometimes, they don’t. There doesn’t appear to be any hard and fast rule.

The graphic below will illustrate my point.

This is a list of my closest X DNA matches ona website called gedmatch. (I’ll cover that in another post) I have two different DNA profiles on gedmatch so the first match is to myself – a full 196.1 cM. My youngest sister is my next closest match. She and I share 78.2 cM of X DNA. That means she got 314.0 cM of X DNA from my father and only 78.2 from my mom.

My middle sister Pam was even stranger. She had three children – all males. So her X DNA should have been passed down to her children un-recombined. In theory, all three of her children should share the exact same amount of X DNA with me. Nope. Two out of the three do – at 23.5 cM. Her youngest son, however, matches me at 37.9 cM. Very weird. The other thing you’ll notice is that there are 11 other matches up there that share roughly as much X DNA as my nephews do. None of these people are close cousins – the closest is estimated to be 4 generations until we hit a common ancestor. As I said, X is weird.

The bottom line for me is that I use X DNA for one thing and one thing only – it lets me know for sure that the match is on my mother’s line. If you’d like to know more about X DNA and its weirdness, Roberta Estes has an excellent genealogy blog. Here are two of her articles about X DNA.

That Unruly X….Chromosome That Is

Using X and Mitochondrial DNA Charts by Charting Companion

What about mitochondrial DNA?

“Although most DNA is packaged in chromosomes within the nucleus, mitochondria also have a small amount of their own DNA. This genetic material is known as mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

Mitochondria (illustration) are structures within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use. Each cell contains hundreds to thousands of mitochondria, which are located in the fluid that surrounds the nucleus (the cytoplasm).” from  – mtDNA Basics from NIH

Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on to children by their mother. The difference is that women pass mtDNA to both their sons and daughters. Since only women pass on their mitochondrial DNA, it allows us to trace the female lineage much like we do with males and the Y DNA. The problem is that each generation, the surnames change. Add to that fact, mtDNA is less specific at the haplogroup level (requires coding regions to narrow down) and you have a fairly blunt tool to use for genealogy. I’ve looked at mine and the earliest known female ancestor I have is potentially Martha Perrin born in Henrico, VA in 1694. In my list of matches, there isn’t a single surname that is in common with me. The closest match I have on FTDNA has as his earliest known female ancestor a lady that was born in Virginia in 1810. The next 7 or 8 next closest matches I have list no female ancestors. Only slightly more than 50% of my mtDNA matches even list a female ancestor and most don’t go back past about 1800. For me, I use the female haplogroup for overall migration patterns and that’s about it. Earlier in this post, I linked to Roberta Estes blog. She has some hints on using mitochondrial DNA and how to chart it all out.

My next post, I’ll cover the major testing companies and options out there.


New U106 Y DNA super panel test

A DNA testing company announced yesterday that they had completely reworked their U106 panel. In terms of male haplogroups,  R1b or M-343 (Same Haplogroup. Old name versus new name) is considered the western modal Haplogroup.  It is the most common male Haplogroup in Europe and by proxy,  the United States. There are two main branches of R1b –  P312 and  U106.  This test will take someone who is  U106+ and then drill all the way down to their terminal subclade for $99. To get that same information,  I spent significantly more money that that.  It is easily the best deal going if you know you are U106. If you take this and you turn up  A11475,  contact me.

Here’s where you can see and order the test.

YSEQ U106 Panel


Loads of kits

Ancestry announced a couple of interesting items today. They have by far the largest database with over 3 million DNA samples on file. They sold 1.4 million DNA kits in the 4th quarter of 2016. They sold over 390,000 more kits in the 4th quarter than they did in all of 2015.

  1. Lastly, over the Thanksgiving weekend sale, they sold 560,000 DNA kits. The vast majority of those have not even finished processing yet. That means folks on Ancestry are about to get 500,000 more matches. I’ll cover more about that in my next post.



Getting started

I’m sure that you’ve seen the commercials about DNA testing and people finding out all sorts of interesting twists about their family. Although it is a dramatization, it does happen. I can guarantee you that if you dig hard enough into your family’s background, you will probably find some skeletons. With the advent of DNA and matching algorithms, people that test find out all sorts of things.

Here’s a positive example. In June of 2016, I was looking for a hobby that I could do while caring for my wife with Alzheimer’s. Since most of genealogy work is done online now, it seemed the perfect fit. My mom had done a bunch of family research back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Heck, our family even had someone make a book about one of our relatives,  George Fisher. That book contained most of the genealogy for my father’s side so I figured I knew most everything already. I was watching a commercial for Ancestry and thought, let’s do this. I ordered kits for my wife and myself. As soon as I did that, I also started an account with Ancestry and started to recreate my family tree.

The first thing I did was add my mom and dad. I noticed this little green leaf thing next to my mom’s name. I clicked on it and I see this –

This was a picture of my mother at 1 year old. The note on the back was written by my grandmother Peggy (Carly Ethyl Clack) to a J.B. & Cleo. I had no idea who they were or who this person was that had this photograph. The note on the back was talking about my mom and asking if they knew if “Harry” was well. Harry was my grandfather (Harry Andrew Austin) and he had disappeared while my grandmother was pregnant. The note was filled with pain and I just had to learn more.

I contacted the person who had posted it and it turns out I have a whole bunch of close family I never knew anything about. My maternal grandfather had a brother James Austin that went by J.B. His son was still alive and he had two adult children. His granddaughter Julie (my 2nd cousin) had scanned that photograph and posted it.

This was a wonderful example of what can happen when you start on this journey. Julie and I have met in person and I’ve talked with her dad numerous times. We’ve grown very close just over the past few months.

Here comes the word of caution. DNA is rigid and unyielding. We may not always get all the answers from DNA we want but generally it doesn’t lie. If you can’t take all the news that comes, both good and bad, then don’t test. You could find out that your parent is not really your parent. You could find out that you’re adopted and were never told. You could find out that members of your family have done things you’d rather not know about. You could find out that you’re the product of rape or incest.

Here’s the bad example. I have a substantial number of DNA matches with people that are mostly African-American. It is clear that a lot of those situations came about due to slavery and my ancestors being slaveholders. It’s not easy to face that truth, but it’s there regardless. The nice thing is that I’ve become friends with a bunch of my cousins as we search for common ancestors and how we became related.

Genealogy and genetics are truth finding exercises. If truth bothers you, I’d suggest matchbook collecting or some other hobby.

You’re still here and reading. I guess I haven’t scared you off…good. My next post, I’ll cover how to get started, how to pick a DNA testing company (if you are going to test) and a neat app that you can download now to give you a sneak peak at what awaits.



Jim “Griz” Adams

fran&jim_adamsMy real name is James Luster Adams Jr. but I’ve gone by Griz for about 40 years. I’m a retired Air Force Officer and pilot. The beautiful woman beside me is my bride of 37 years, the former Frances Ann Mast. Fran was diagnosed at 57 with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and I’m fortunate to be able to be her full time caregiver.

My mother started me on this genealogical journey. My maternal grandfather disappeared before my mother was born and I believe that fueled her desire to know all about her family. I heard stories from a child as to how we were descended from Pocahontas. I heard stories of ancestors fighting in the American revolution, the War of 1812 and of course the U.S. Civil War. All of this and an Ancestry commercial in June of 2016 led to this site. I’ve been tested at all four autosomal DNA companies and have had numerous other DNA tests including Y 111 Marker, Big Y tests and Mitochondrial done.

My parents were professionals – an Air Force officer and a Civil Engineer. We traveled continuously while I was growing up and I’m certain that has fueled some of my world view. We are all connected and once you get into genetic genealogy, that view is just reinforced. I was born in New Mexico and have lived all over the United States and was fortunate to also live in Germany as a child.

My family history is mostly southern colonial. We had ancestors at Jamestown. My 10th great-grandmother is Princess Matoaka Pocahontas Powhatan. My 9th great-grandparents John Churchill and Hannah Potus were some of the first settlers in Plymouth following the Mayflower landing. Hannah arrived in 1633 and John in 1643.  Their daughter married Thomas Doty, son of Edmund Doty, one of the Mayflower Compact signers.

What this all means is that we’ve been in the United States a long time. Our most recent immigrant ancestor, George Fisher (Georgius Sagics), came to the United States from Hungary around 1800. Almost every other line we have starts in the early 1700s with numerous ones starting in the 1600s. Large southern farming families that have been here since the 1600 and 1700s translates into a ton of matches on Ancestry. As of 2/15/17, I have over 34,000 identified cousins on Ancestry DNA. I mention that because I match a lot of folks and I get a fair amount of requests from people trying to figure out our connection. Here’s all my genealogical info if you’d like to see if we’re related.

  • Ancestry User Name – JamesLAdamsJr
  • Ancestry Tree – http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/105041073/family
  • Male Haplogroup – R1b->U106->DF96->L1->FGC52382->FGC52379
    • FTDNA U106 Project – https://www.familytreedna.com/my/group-join.aspx?group=R1b-U106
    • FTDNA L1/S21 Project – https://www.familytreedna.com/my/group-join.aspx?group=NULL439
    • FTDNA Adams Y DNA Surname Project (Co-Administrator)- https://www.familytreedna.com/public/adams/
  • Mitochodrial Haplogroup – H1b1-T16362C
  • Paternal  Grandmother Mitochondrial Haplogroup – U5b2a1a1
  • Wife’s Mitochondrial Haplogroup – J1c8
  • Gedmatch Numbers
    • Me
      • A223700 (Ancestry V1)
      • A366822 (Ancestry V2)
      • M280235 (23andMe)
      • T049622 (FTDNA)
    • M300507 (My father James L. Adams Sr.)
    • A242368 (Fran Adams – Ancestry)
    • LL869783 (Lazarus Kit for my sister Pam. 3683 cM. Extremely Accurate)
    • I manage a number of other kits for family members. If you match any of those, use my contact form to get more info.
  • 3rd Great Grandparent surnames –
    • Paternal – Adams, Leopard (Lippert), McRae, McLeod, Terrell, Hilton, Brock, Six (Sixt), Luster, Norell, Nixon, Rawls(Rawles), Davis, Fisher (Sagics), Anderson, Sansing
    • Maternal – Austin, Creech, Lairson(Larison/Larrison), Billingsley, Smith, Berry, Parks, Clack, Wilson, Ramsey, Frazier, Reed, Miller, Harrison, Ireland

If you need to contact me, send an e-mail to

email address

(There is a dot between Colonial and Family)