There are too many important elements in the AutoTree report to cover in-depth in a blog post, so this article will highlight key features. I recommend that you try AutoTree and explore all of the exciting ways this tool can help you in your research.
Another hot tip is that the AutoTree tool is also available at GEDmatch.com for use with DNA kits that users have transferred to GEDmatch from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FTDNA, and MyHeritage. The Tier 1 Tool is called “Clusters With AutoTree, Closest to Single Kit Version.” This tool is fairly intuitive to use, and I won’t explain it here, but I definitely recommend you use the tool if you have transferred your DNA results to GEDmatch.
Before you order an AutoTree report, I recommend that you add or continue to build a family tree in Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). Link some of your known DNA matches to your family tree. If you are unsure of how a DNA match is exactly related because you don’t know who the ancestor is that you both share, try this tip. You can add a placeholder in the family tree, such as “Unknown 2nd great-grandparent” then add the DNA match’s parent, grandparent, etc., and link them to the unknown 2nd great-grandparent. This is the method I used in my friend’s FTDNA account to connect a DNA match that had a good family tree, but we don’t know the exact connection to the shared common ancestor. You can learn more about the FTDNA “Family Matching” algorithm and “bucketing” that helps assign DNA matches to your paternal or maternal side of the family it in Nicole Dyer’s blog post, FamilyTreeDNA Family Matching and Bucketing.
How to access AutoTree at Genetic Affairs
To start, open the Genetic Affairs website. There is a Genetic Affairs manual that explains more about each tool on the website, including AutoTree on page 36. On the page that opens after you log in, choose “Run AutoTree.” Then choose the Family Tree DNA profile for the person whose DNA you are using. The following page will open.
Click on “AutoTree AutoCluster.”
When the next page opens, choose the upper and lower amounts of centiMorgans (cM) that you want to include in the analysis. Then click on “AutoTree identify common ancestors from trees.” The analysis and report cost 100 credits, which is about $1 US. I chose the parameters 400 cM to 20 cM for the following examples.
I ordered 2 files – one for myself, and one for a friend. You can see some of the differences in our results that were dependant on the number of DNA matches, and how many of them have family trees associated with their DNA profiles. A note on the screen told me to check my email after approximately 20-30- minutes, but the actual delivery time was much faster – only took 6 minutes.
Contents of the report
The file came as a download link and a zipped file. This image illustrates the items that are included in the AutoTree report. After unzipping the files (using PeaZip on my computer), click on the .html file to open an AutoCluster image.
In my FTDNA account, I had previously built a family tree and linked DNA matches to the tree. FTDNA uses its proprietary “Family Matching” algorithm to assign DNA matches to either the paternal or maternal side of your family tree. The assignments are based on phased DNA, in other words, DNA segments that correspond to either the maternal or paternal copy of the DNA tester’s individual chromosomes. The P (indicating paternal side) and M (indicating maternal side) letters in the AutoCluster were imported from Family Tree DNA.
The “Christmas tree” in some of the squares indicates that the two DNA matches represented in the square, and the DNA tester (in this case, it was me) share a common ancestor.
Hovering over the “Christmas Tree” in the graph opens a pop-up box that lists the DNA matches in the cluster and the comparison between two specific DNA matches who share an identified common ancestor.
I have fewer matches at FTDNA within the AutoCluster parameters of 300 cM on the high end down to 20 cM on the low end than my friend does.
Methodology of creating the AutoTree report
The AutoTree program compares the family trees attached to the DNA matches’ profiles and identifies ancestors that are shared among the people. The AutoTree report states the following, and I will separate the steps and add bold font to highlight them:
“By comparing the trees from the members of a certain cluster, we can identify ancestors that are common amongst those trees.
– First, we collect the surnames that are present in the trees and create a network using the similarity between surnames.
– Next, we perform clustering on this network to identify clusters of similar surnames. A similar clustering is performed based on a network using the first names of members of each surname cluster.
– Our last clustering uses the birth and death years of members of a cluster to find similar persons. As a consequence, initially large clusters (based on the surnames) are divided up into smaller clusters using the first name and birth/death year clustering.”
After those steps, Genetic Affairs tries to reconstruct a genealogical tree. Typically, partial trees are reconstructed. With additional time and effort, the family trees can be manually connected. My favorite way to connect family trees of DNA matches is in Lucidchart. See my blog post, Seeing the Big Picture: 3 Ways to Chart Your DNA Matches for more information about how to do this.
I have fewer DNA matches with family trees than my friend, whose report included multiple reconstructed family trees.
The AutoTree reconstructed trees can help you identify the common ancestors among the rest of the DNA matches in a specific cluster. Some of those matches may have incomplete family trees. Clues from the reconstructed trees may identify surnames and family connections to help you build the incomplete trees back to the shared common ancestors.
An exciting aspect of AutoTree is that it not only works for people who have unknown ancestors, it also works for people who don’t know anything about their biological heritage.
Reconstructed family trees for mtDNA and Y-DNA matches
AutoTree can reconstruct family trees for mitochondrial and Y-DNA matches(!) The following image with Y-DNA matches and their shared ancestors is shared with permission from EJ Blom, the creator of Genetic Affairs.
Information in the AutoTree report’s Excel file
The Excel file included in the report has detailed information in each tab of the spreadsheet. The various tabs list all your DNA matches, a combined AutoCluster chart, location clusters that group DNA matches, and the locations where their shared ancestor lived, shared ancestors, locations, dates, and links to the DNA matches and their family trees. When the information from the family trees is combined and displayed in the spreadsheet, you can search for surnames or locations.
By seeing the data displayed in the spreadsheet, I was able to make some connections, and have a clearer path of how some DNA matches are connected to surnames of interest in my friend’s research project. I’m excited to have a new direction to explore to connect DNA matches from Family Tree DNA to my larger family tree in Lucidchart that has DNA matches from each company.
I like using AutoTree because it is faster than opening up each family tree associated with my DNA matches. It streamlines the process of connecting DNA matches to shared common ancestors. The correlated data in the AutoTree report can save you hours and hours of time by giving you a headstart on building family trees and identifying shared ancestors.
I recommend that you try AutoTree for your Family Tree DNA test results at Genetic Affairs, and “Clusters With AutoTree, Closest to Single Kit Version” in GEDmatch Tier 1 Tools. I think you’ll like both tools, and find that it will save you valuable hours of research and analysis time.
Best wishes in your research!
Great article and photos for illustration. I wish the “christmas tree” symbol looked less like “MM” since it confuses me that it is not an “M” denoting the Maternal side. Didn’t they use a green tree icon before?
Thank you for the positive feedback. It’s a bit hard to see, but there is a green tree under the MM. EJ Blom, the developer of Genetic Affairs, is aware of the issue and has plans to fix the code. In the meantime, the extra letters in the box make it darker. It makes the intersection of the two DNA matches look enough different that I can tell that there is something more to investigate in the two matches family trees.