DNA is a Miracle

>> Sunday, December 28, 2014

DNA is a miracle for those trying to find birth family members as well as those genealogists looking to get through brickwalls.

At DNAadoption.com and its associated yahoogroup, DNAadoption, we have been helping people solve those impossible searches for birth parents and birth siblings where either nothing is known about them , or where a limited amount is known. This includes adoptees, those who do not know their fathers and donor babies.

The demand for help on these cases is huge. The people who can help is limited so DNAadoption takes the approach of educating people to do their own search as much as possible. We provide classes, documents, tools (through our tool website DNAgedcom.com), methodologies, and answers to questions for those who are searching.

The Methodology involves testing with at least one of the 3 major companies, and then organizing the results to show where there are overlapping DNA segments. In general, the closer the relationship, the longer the segment. 

As mentioned before, there are two sides to a helix and the address numbering sequences are the same, so in addition to the overlapping segments, it must also be determined who is In Common With (ICW) whom. I call this having a blood relationship with each other. This determines which people are on one side of the helix and which are on the other side. These are paternal and maternal side, but there is no clue at this point as to which side is which.

To follow through with the people identified in this manner as being blood related as well as sharing inherited DNA segments, it is necessary to explore the trees of these matches, If the searcher can establish an intersection between the trees at some time in history, then the ancestors of these matches are likely to be the ancestors of the searcher as well.

I have covered most of this recently but there is a new avenue to be approached to augment this, I am finding more and more matches with the help of the testing at AncestryDNA. Unfortunately, AncestryDNA does not provide visibility of the DNA segments and numbers behind their matches. so an adoptee or someone who does not have a good family tree, must upload their data to FTDNA ($39 fee) and/or to gedmatch.com so that we can interpret these numbers into relationships. This is particularly important as we get into the closer relationships. We just had a case where Ancestry identified a match as a first cousin, but when analyzing these numbers, we realized that it was an aunt. At that point, identification of the birth father as the brother of the match was straight forward. AncestryDNA insists that most people do not want to have to work with the numbers, but in failing to provide the facts behind the match they are doing adoptees and those whose trees involve unexpected parental events, such as a father who was not the mother's husband, a great disservice. In my opinion, the reason why AncestryDNA insists on sticking to this approach can only be because of some hidden financial motive in an unknown business plan. Pressure from the community has not convinced them to change their ways. Ancestry has now tested a half million people, and they hold huge amounts of data that belong to the person testing and refuse to reveal it.

Recently Ancestry decided to develop algorithms that eliminated 2/3 or so of a person's matches. It may not have mattered to the genealogist, but to the genetic genealogist trying to uncover birth families, these smaller matches, many of which were documented to fit into an adoptee's ancestry line were important clues in the search. It is shameful that these were taken out of the matches without consideration of proven common ancestors.

Now comes the plus of Ancestry's extensive testing. This is converted to a plus by the independent development of tools to help analyze what data we have.

DNAgedcom.com which is run by the partnership of Rob Warthen (developer), Karin Corbeil (support) and Diane Harman-Hoog (analysis), is stepping up to provide a set of tools which can reveal relationships. As of the current stage of development, someone using DNAgedcom.com, can download data from FTDNA and 23andme to analyze the DNA segments. Programs written by KItty Cooper and Juan Pizarro organize the data into a spreadsheet form, The new additions to this site, facilitate uploading gedcoms and the Ancestors of Matches and Matches files produced by the Chrome Ancestry DNA Helper, into a database where ancestors can be matched, compared and searched for pertinent data. This ability is referred to as Gworks on DNAgedcom.com

This gives us a lot more insight into the flow of surnames in the trees of DNA cousins and has already revealed some birth family matches.

So now we are using the DNA to set up an investigative framework and Gworks to explore that framework. This is proving to be very powerful.

FTDNA made changes to their infrastrucure which broke our downloads process and at the same time, Gedmatch.com decided to offer a tiered system of programs. In doing so, gedmatch removed a key program output for our identification of ICW matches - changing it from a free file output of several thousand matches to a subscribe charged output of about 400 matches.  This has hurt the way adoptees can work with this data. At the same time, FTDNA really stepped up to the plate and is now providing an API through which Rob and his programmers can download more reliable data. Thank you FTDNA! But all these changes happened at the same time and necessitated our suspending our classes until the process could be redefined and new documentation written. Classes should resume for Autosomal DNA in the near future and we have just added an Y-DNA class to start this month.

So I see a lot of progress and hope for great work and results in 2015.


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