If you’re like me and overwhelmed by DNA and this new wealth of information for genealogists, I am going through my experience with the Research Like a Pro with DNA e-course to help those looking for a way to get started! This is the sixth post in the series.
In the fifth step of the RLP with DNA process, Locality Research and Ethnicity, I began the research phase of my project by learning about different localities pertaining to my project. Now, it is time to learn about the different tools and methodology I can use in my research with the added advantage of DNA. My research objective for this project is:
“The objective of this research project is to use DNA and genealogical records to determine the biological father of Mary Ella Parker born on 22 August 1877 in Baldwin County, Alabama. Mary Ella died on 28 December 1950 in Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia. The test taker is 3 generations from the research subject and atDNA will be applicable, however, 3rd-4th cousins may not share very much DNA which could make verifying the exact relationship difficult. The community of the research subject also experienced pedigree collapse, so there may be multiple MRCAs with the test taker. mtDNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken maternal line and Y-DNA is not useful in this case as it is not an unbroken paternal line.”
At first glance, this lesson in the e-course can be very overwhelming. They go over the myriad of DNA tools available to the up-and-coming genetic genealogist. Wow. I was feeling so proud of myself for grasping the concept of a centimorgan and then all of a sudden we’re talking about things like segment triangulation! However, the RLP process has not let me down yet, so I decided to slow down and look at what was actually being asked of me as I learned this new process with DNA.
The assignment for this lesson in the e-course was just to read about the DNA tools and experiment with a few of them to figure out how they could help with your research objective. This seemed much more manageable to me than mastering the tools all at once, so I started to explore some of the tools talked about in the lesson.
Note: For my e-course project, I am using the autosomal DNA of my mother-in-law, Lesley Kotter. She has permitted me to use her name and DNA in the project and these blog posts. Her matches will be privatized.
Genetic Affairs AutoCluster
One of the tools that had been mentioned in past lessons but that I hadn’t tried yet was an AutoCluster through Genetic Affairs. The way this program works is it takes your information from FamilyTreeDNA and organizes your matches into clusters (based on shared matches) with the idea that each cluster should represent a branch in your family tree. I decided to perform an AutoCluster through Genetic Affairs just to see what it looked like and what it may tell me. I set the number of centimorgans (cM) fairly low as I am trying to go back 3-4 generations. The output of the AutoCluster is below:
As you can see, there are quite a few small clusters and then a few larger ones. I started looking for any of the matches with who I had discovered the MRCA and found that almost every one of the large clusters had a descendant from the Deese family! Previously, when doing the Leeds Method and my initial clustering method of looking at shared matches on Ancestry, I had found that there must have been some pedigree collapse with the Deese descendants marrying descendants of the other lines in my mother-in-law’s tree. Oh boy, it looks like I am going to have to learn a lot about how to sort out the Deese matches from the Parker descendants that I am interested in
Genetic Affairs AutoTree
Going along with Genetic Affairs, I decided to also try the AutoTree program. AutoTree takes the information from your AutoCluster and identifies common ancestors between your shared matches to help you discover the MRCA between you and a match. This process is called pedigree triangulation.
The AutoTree report was able to connect two matches from FamilyTreeDNA straight into my mother-in-law’s pedigree, but they were both on her maternal line, while this project is focusing on her paternal line. However, the analysis also provided me with a table of common ancestors and common locations found in matches’ trees. Looking through these helped me identify which matches were not on the side I was researching and also gave me some names to note as possible common ancestors that I didn’t know yet. Unfortunately, the surnames of Parker, Barnes, or Beck did not come up, but there is definitely more to learn as to how these matches are related.
GEDmatch Matching Segment Triangulation
I also decided to perform the segment triangulation on GEDmatch. Segment triangulation was something that totally intimidated me, but after listening to the lecture and doing the reading for the course, I felt like I understood the concept a little more and decided to try it out. Robin really helped me grasp the concept in her post The Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of Using DNA Segment Data where she said:
“If you examine the DNA segments that you share with your DNA matches and know how you are related and which common ancestor(s) you share, you can assign the segments to that ancestor. After the segment has been “assigned” or identified as belonging to a specific ancestor(s), you can compare the segment data from additional DNA matches. If the new DNA match(s) also share the same segment on the same chromosome, it indicates which ancestral line you have in common and helps you learn how you and the new DNA match(s) are related.”
I started by doing the segment search available on GEDmatch to have the matches sorted by which segments they shared with my mother-in-law. I then performed the segment triangulation tool on GEDmatch and searched for some of the matches I knew the MRCA of. Comparing the segment info for known matches and matches I hadn’t figured out yet was really exciting because it helped me realize that this was strong evidence of how the match was related!
After going through these exercises and poking around on some other websites and tools, I found myself trying to expand my education at this point in the process. There are so many things to learn when it comes to DNA tools and methodology and I was most likely not going to learn it all right now. So I read a few blog posts, watched a few tutorials, tried some things out for myself, and overall got a lot farther than where I was at the beginning of the lesson. I still have a lot to learn, but that is why I’m taking the e-course to Research Like a Pro with DNA!
Some of the resources that helped me the most with this phase of the project were: