Recap: The 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference

Last month, over 400 genetic genealogists from around the globe congregated in Chevy Chase, Maryland for the inaugural International Genetic Genealogy Conference hosted by the Institute for Genetic Genealogy founders Dr. Tim Janzen and CeCe Moore.

With a keynote address from geneticist and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, Dr. Spencer Wells, the conference kicked off a weekend of lectures, seminars, and workshops covering everything from the latest genetic genealogy products to using the full gamut of DNA tools to sift through the ashes of burned county history to resolve genealogical questions.

While there, I had the pleasure of delivering a lecture on using DNA to demolish the brick walls that often populate African-American family trees.

I could draft an extensive report of the event, but why should I when you, from the comfort of your home, can view, experience, and enjoy the conference for yourself?

Hangout with 23andMe: Genetic Genealogy Basics


23andMe will host a Google+ Hangout on Air, Genetic Genealogy Basics, on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 12pm PST (3pm EST) with 23andMe Ancestry Ambassador CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist and 23andMe Product Manager, Laurie Kahn.

This episode will kick off a series of ancestry-related 23andMe Hangouts discussing 23andMe’s ancestry features, including:

  • Interpreting your Ancestry Composition
  • Connecting with DNA Relatives
  • Understanding Paternal and Maternal lines

Join the Hangout here: or watch later on YouTube:

Have questions for CeCe or Laurie? Post them in the comments on the Hangout on Air page or follow the discussion on Twitter on the 22nd. Use the #23andMeHangout hashtag for live questions.

Life Skills for Genetic Genealogists: How to Copy and Paste a Web Address

I ask my DNA matches to supply me with a link to their online family trees as soon as we begin communicating; comparing family trees is crucial for identifying the common ancestors from whom we inherited our shared DNA. 

An increasing number of such requests go unfulfilled because neophytes admit that they do not know how to copy and paste a web address. For those among us who struggle with this issue, here is a video tutorial on copying and pasting web addresses.

DNA research has become a game-changing force in family history, forever transforming the genealogy landscape. Luckily, one genetic genealogist has mapped the dynamic terrain for us all.

Emily D. Aulicino’s Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond, a comprehensive and accessible guide to unlocking the family secrets hidden in our DNA, delivers a much-needed user manual for genetic genealogy neophytes and experts alike.

In this invaluable volume, Aulicino reviews the relevant rudiments of human genetics before instructing readers on how to use online and offline tools to interpret Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal DNA test results from companies such as Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA. Every genealogist should add this indispensable work to their library. Anyone providing genealogy instruction or coaching must mandate this crucial book sit at the top of students’ required reading lists.

I highly recommend acquiring a copy while you still can and listening to Emily discuss her work on Bernice Bennett’s Research at The National Archives and Beyond! Blog Talk Radio show Monday, February 3, 2014 at 3PM Eastern.

Family Tree DNA Genetic Genealogy Webinars

Catering to both genetic genealogy novices and experts, Family Tree DNA has scheduled a slate of free webinars for January. Hosted by Elise Friedman of Relative Roots, these interactive seminars cover everything from Family Finder's new X chromosome matching feature to DNA project administration:

Family Tree DNA Feature Launch: X Chromosome Matches in Family Finder
Time: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 @ 12pm Central (6pm GMT)

On January 2, 2014, Family Tree DNA launched an exciting update for Family Finder: X chromosome matches!  This webinar will provide a brief overview of the new tools on the Matches and Chromosome Browser pages for viewing and analyzing your X chromosome match information.

myFTDNA: Managing Your Personal Account at Family Tree DNA
Time: Thursday, January 9, 2014 @ 12pm Central (6pm GMT)

Learn your way around your personal myFTDNA account at Family Tree DNA! We’ll cover basic account settings, where to locate your results when they come in, how to upload a GEDCOM (family tree), how to update your Most Distant Ancestor information and map coordinates for your ancestral location, how to join projects and account privacy. (Note: This webinar does not cover interpreting your results. We have other webinars dedicated to understanding your results!)

Family Tree DNA Results Explained, Part 3: Family Finder
Time: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 @ 12pm Central (6pm GMT)

An information-packed webinar focusing on how to read and understand your Family Finder results. Learn about autosomal & X DNA inheritance, how Family Finder determines your relationship with your matches, how to use the Chromosome Browser, and much more!

Mind the GAP: Beginner’s Guide to the Group Administration Page at Family Tree DNA
Time: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 @ 12pm Central (6pm GMT)

Family Tree DNA has over 7,000 surname, geographical, heritage and haplogroup projects. All of these projects are run by volunteers who have a passion for genetic genealogy. This webinar provides an in-depth look at the many tools available in the GAP for project administrators. If time permits, we’ll also discuss member recruitment and other project administration topics.

Advanced Topics at Family Tree DNA, Part 1: Y-DNA
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 @ 12pm Central (6pm GMT)

This advanced webinar goes beyond the Family Tree DNA Results Explained webinar series, providing more in-depth detail about the genetics and usage of Y-DNA testing.  We will cover the following topics: NIST standards, compound markers, palindromic & multi-copy markers, genetic distance models, modal values & triangulation, micro-alleles, recurrent SNPs & SNP discovery projects.

Recorded On-Demand Webinars

Introduction to Family Tree DNA
Any Time Recording
This FREE Online Seminar will help you learn the basics about Family Tree DNA’s Y-DNA, mtDNA and Family Finder (autosomal DNA) tests. Elise explains what each of these tests can tell you about your ancestry and how to decide which test to order based on your personal interests and goals. She shows the basics of personal myFTDNA account where all of your results are reported as well as example results from each test.Elise will also gives a brief overview of our group projects and other resources available at Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Results Explained, Part 1: Y-DNA
Any Time Recording

In this information-packed webinar, Elise focuses on how to read and understand your Y-DNA results. Learn where to find your Y-DNA results in your personal myFTDNA account, how to read your Standard Y-STR Results and what they mean, how to analyze your Y-DNA matches, what your Y-DNA haplogroup means and much more. She also provides tips for making the most of your Family Tree DNA experience

Family Tree DNA Results Explained, Part 2: mtDNA
Any Time Recording

In this information-packed webinar, Elise focuses on how to read and understand your mtDNA results. Learn where to find your mtDNA results in your personal myFTDNA account, how to read your mtDNA Results page and what the results mean, how to analyze your mtDNA matches, what your mtDNA haplogroup means and much more. She also provides tips for making the most of your Family Tree DNA experience.

Blogs to Follow: Mordecai Female Academy


Penny L. Richards’ Mordecai Female Academy blog traces the lives of approximately 500 alumnae of a long-defunct, family-run Warrenton, North Carolina private school that, from 1809-1818, provided daughters of Southern planters a rudimentary education. The blog has become a treasure trove for genealogists tracking families based in the South during the years of the Early Republic.


Richards, pulling from reams of the Mordecai family’s gossipy correspondence, injects a warm flavor into the sometimes cold, bland soup of surnames and vital records populating online pedigrees, supplying character references and intriguing tales that help descendant-researchers add context to their ancestors’ profiles. Posts on the Mordecai alumnae in my family tree helped explain a dark chapter in my family history.

Two of my great-great-great-grandaunts, Sarah “Sally” Duke Christmas and Jane Yancey Christmas (sisters of my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Yancey Christmas), attended Mordecai. So did their sister-in-law, Elizabeth “Betsy” Chapman Davis. After her stint at Mordecai, Betsy married - defying her parents - one of Sarah’s and Jane’s three brothers, Thomas H. Christmas, a divorcee, in February 1817.


Prior to finding Ms. Richards’ blog, I read newspaper articles reporting Thomas’ bloody shootouts with Dr. Stephen Davis and Richard Davis, both cousins of his 2nd wife, Betsy. The first battle left Thomas wounded, the latter killed Richard and, ultimately, Thomas. The State of North Carolina charged, convicted, and executed Thomas H. Christmas for the murder of Richard Davis. Neither newspaper articles nor court documents explain what instigated this hostility.

The Mordecai family’s many detailed notes regarding Betsy paint her as a battered wife seeking respite at relatives’ plantations (including those of Stephen and Richard) from Tom’s abuse. The Mordecai letters reveal that Tom’s barbaric treatment of his wife raised the ire of her family, inciting the violence that ended two lives and forever changed several others.

As adults, two sons of Tom and Betsy, Dr. James Yancey Christmas and Obediah Christmas, endured eerily similar trials. Dr. James Yancey Christmas shot and killed his brother-in-law, claimed self-defense, and endured no further prosecution. His brother, Obediah Christmas, charged with and sentenced to death for killing a slave, narrowly escaped execution on a court technicality. The brutal temperament that rattled through this household clearly haunted the next generation and begat more bloodshed.


This story demonstrates how Ms. Richards’ unique research provides invaluable eyewitness accounts of how families interacted in their communities, filling in gaps where government or media-generated documents cannot. I highly recommend descendants of Virginia and Carolina families follow the Mordecai Female Academy blog. Who knows what will turn up next.

Using 23andMe: How to Cut Red Tape to Demolish Brick Walls

23andMe’s DNA Relatives (formerly known as Relative Finder) has a major advantage over competing products: database size. With approximately half a million users, the DNA Relatives feature gives genetic genealogists an impressive number of opportunities to retrieve the answers they seek. Theoretically.

Despite the database size, getting responses from matches using 23andMe’s permission-based system - a system that requires a user to send introductions to each individual match one at a time - often proves inefficient and exhausting, as pointed out by Roberta Estes of DNAeXplained

Genealogists need DNA Relatives matches to provide access to matching DNA segment data and to exchange pedigrees. Otherwise, no user can determine how they relate to their DNA matches. While 23andMe allows customers to send a maximum of three introductions to each match, many introductions receive no response or are declined.

Some users decline introductions without understanding what their new found relatives are after. Other users attempt to accept introductions but, because of technical errors, are not given the option to accept. Others still decide to momentarily decline all introductions, thinking they can defer acceptance for a later date. But 23andMe’s rules state that, like diamonds, declines are forever. Or so we thought.

Here is a strategy for overturning disheartening declines and circumventing the DNA Relatives three-strikes rule.

Note: Implementing this tactic will reverse all declines and leave accepted genome sharing invitations intact, but will also destroy any unanswered introductions. One must re-send all unanswered introductions. If the profile had more than 1000 matches prior to using this strategy, then the profile will have less than 1000 matches after taking the actions prescribed below; 23andMe’s DNA Relatives cap will remove the smaller matches.

If you do not wish to lose any matches, then do not follow these steps.

  1. While logged into 23andMe, go to Account Settings.                                                                                                                                          image
  2. Click the Privacy/Consent tab.                                                                                                                                                                   image

  3. Click “I do not want to participate in DNA Relatives.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       image      
  4. Log out of 23andMe.
  5. Log into 23andMe.
  6. Repeat steps 1-3, removing the check from the checkbox next to “I do not want to participate in DNA Relatives.” This will repopulate the DNA Relatives feature for the associated profile.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   image 

  7. Log out of 23andMe.
  8. Finally log back into 23andMe.

The next day, you can send new introductions to those matches who previously declined and to those relatives who had yet to respond to your three previous introductions.

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Using AncestryDNA: Steps for Success

AncestryDNA, like 23andMe and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder, analyzes one’s autosomal DNA to identify ancestral origins and genetic relatives across all of one’s family lines. AncestryDNA began an early beta in November 2011, releasing thousands of free kits to loyal subscribers, including me. I accepted my beta invitation and submitted a DNA sample for analysis in November 2011, but only received my results July 5th, 2012. Was it worth the wait?


On the surface,’s foray into autosomal DNA analysis appears flawless. AncestryDNA’s simple, elegant user interface exceeds expectations in an industry where competitors once delivered far less visually appealing products. Seamlessly weaving family tree data into its tree-matching analysis, AncestryDNA appears to permit users to discover genealogical connections with ease.

However, upon close examination, AncestryDNA’s seams begin to fray. Their sorting and filtering mechanisms have limited functionality. Often, their tree-matching system inexplicably fails to highlight matching surnames, locations, and ancestors when comparing the family trees of some member matches.


AncestryDNA has yet to install a chromosome browser or provide matching DNA segment data. Without those crucial product features, no AncestryDNA customer can definitively determine how they are genetically related to their matches. AncestryDNA offers “Shared Ancestor Hints” that display a common ancestor who appears in both trees and may have contributed the DNA one shares with one’s match, but as CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist illustrated with multiple examples, customers cannot “simply be told that a certain common ancestor is responsible for a DNA match and be expected to take AncestryDNA’s word for it.” Our analysis requires genetic data and tools to analyze that data.

Ancestry ought to supply the requisite features in the future; their competitors already do. Until then, genetic genealogists can employ third-party web applications to leverage AncestryDNA’s advantage - their dense thicket of extensive family trees - and retrieve the requisite matching DNA segment data for analysis. Here’s how:

Note: You must upload your raw DNA data file to, install the Google Chrome web browser, and have access to/working knowledge of a spreadsheet application (preferably Microsoft Excel) before attempting to execute the following strategy.

  1. Install Jeff Snavely’s AncestryDNA Chrome Extension. image

  2. After installing the extension, click “full scan” on the top left side of “Your DNA Home Page” image
  3. Once the scan is complete, click “Download Ancestors of Matches” on the right side of “Your DNA Home Page”image
  4. This will produce a spreadsheet listing each of your matches and each of the ancestors in their trees.    image

  5. Sort the spreadsheet by name, then surname, then fullname, then surname again.
  6. Review the spreadsheet for ancestors that repeatedly appear.
  7. Go back to AncestryDNA. Star and annotate each of the matches who have the recurring ancestors listed in their trees.                                                                                                                              image

  8. Send each of the starred matches a message requesting they upload their raw DNA data to, a site that permits AncestryDNA, Family Finder, and 23andMe customers to see matches from all three of the companies - and the matching DNA segments. Include a link to Shari Simonds’ informative comic to reinforce the significance of uploading one’s data to GEDmatch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           image                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  9. Once the matches have all uploaded their raw DNA data to, use GEDmatch’s Chromosome Browser tool to compare matches who all share an ancestral line with each other. You want to see if those matches cluster on the same DNA segment and/or on the same side of your family. Matches who cluster on the same DNA segment - match you and each other on the same segment - inherited the shared DNA segment from the same ancestor. You can “tag” the common ancestor to that DNA segment. image

Following these steps, using an array of third-party resources, enables us to surface evidence that verifies known ancestral lines and identifies previously unknown ones. While we await AncestryDNA’s upgrade, the initiative, ingenuity, and generosity of volunteer app developers continue to forge a path to discovery for the genetic genealogy community. Be sure to show these tech angels your gratitude by donating to their PayPal accounts whenever possible.

Introducing The Roots Corner Bookstore

In response to the rapid flood of resource requests I have received about genealogy and genetics, I have started an online bookstore stocked with the primers everyone should read:

On October 28, 2013 at 3PM Eastern, join me and CeCe Moore as we discuss Strategies for Using Autosomal DNA - Part II on Bernice Bennett’s Research at The National Archives and Beyond on BlogTalk Radio