Monday, May 26, 2014

Family Finder Checklist


  Family Finder Checklist

If you are new to Family Finder product from Family Tree DNA, here's a handy checklist that might help you move along a little more quickly.

I think the first thing that strikes Family Finder participants is the absolutely huge amount of work yet to be done. The second thing that strikes them is that although FTDNA will provide the data, along with some brief analysis and basic tools, the bulk of the data remains in uncharted territory.

Because of the very large amount of work left yet to do, I would like to review what the goals are in DNA testing, and what it is that folks expect to get out of the testing. Then briefly review some of the things that can be obtained from the data that you may or may not have pursued.

As for the goal of DNA research, there are a couple of things that I have noticed abut the DNA participants. For the most part, there are mainly three items that people are looking for:

1) Information about their heritage. What, in general, can the DNA tell us about our ancestral origins?
2) Is there any way that the DNA can confirm Native American heritage. Believe it or not, a lot of folks have asked me that question.
3) Can the DNA confirm or deny relationships where no paper trail exists? For many, this is equivalent to getting beyond the end of the paper trail, which usually ends in a brick wall. For most, this is getting further back to their origins, but for some, this also means confirming a relationship when the paper trail just does not quite fit.

As with all DNA, the most important item is to find your matching DNA. For Y-DNA, this means finding your matching STR and SNP haplotype group. For mtDNA, this means finding your matching Full Genome Sequence haplotype group. For Family Finder, this means finding your matching Centimorgans and starting and ending locations.

It all starts with downloading your data.

After you have checked out your genetic origins, what's next?

Family Tree DNA provides a chromosome browser with limited functionality. Basically, it allows you to compare your autosomal results to about 5 other people in a browser that displays matching locations on the chromosome. However, when you have literally thousands of matching segments to sort out, this is of limited value. What you want to do first is download your data.

There are two types of data to download from FTDNA. One is your raw results. The second is your matching chromosome browser results. You will want to download your raw data in order to use other utilities, such as uploading to, for example. You will also want to download all of your matching chromosome browser data so that you can work on matching DNA segments from a spreadsheet at home.

Next Step: Upload your GEDCOM file.

You will want to update your GEDCOM file for all of your lines, and upload the file to Family Tree DNA. This will be useful for people that match your chromosome segments for two main purposes.

1) To determine which ancestor the matching segment applies to (or which it does not apply to), and
2) To map the ancestor to your Master spreadsheet to in order to track your progress.

Use the Utilities on the Internet


You will find it helpful to locate and sort matching data by chromosome, starting location, and size of matching segments (in CentiMorgans). The web site DNAGedcom will do this for you and can return the results in a nice graphical display. The results come in the form of HTML, which you can save off to your desktop at home. They also include data from 23andMe, so you get results from more than one vendor. Very useful in quickly locating areas to work on.

Once you have your autosomal data from Family Tree DNA, sign onto DNAGedcom and upload your data.

You will want to run the "Autosomal Segment Analyzer" and start searching for common ancestrors by using the largest segments.
Those that align along the diagonal should be recognizable common ancestors. You may notice that not all segments fall along the diagonal, and this may be an example of endogamous relationships, and will usually be difficult to track down.

Therefore, you want to focus on the largest matching segments along the diagonal.

DNAGedcom Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer
DNAGedcom Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer



Also very helpful is the GedMatch web site. This web site does not provide the same sorting function that I like from DNAGedcom, but it gives me something else that DNAGedcom does not. In fact, it also provides utilities that FTDNA does not. By far, my favorite on this site is the 'Admixture' utilities. These utilities provide two views, one for 'Admixture Proportions,' and another for 'Admixture Chromosome Painting.'

The Admixture Proportions can approximate the proportions that you get from the National Genographic Project (minus the supporting information that Geno 2.0 provides). If you have not yet tested with Geno 2.0, ad would like a preview using your autosomal data from FTDNA, then it is worthwhile to take a look at this Gedmatch utility.

But, what impresses me the most about Gedmatch is it's ability to pick up my Native American heritage (from the Family Finder data), whereas Family Tree DNA may not do this. Although you are using data from FTDNA, this utility can help you identify something about the heritage of your matching segments. I use the Admixture Chromosome Painting feature to map out the segments containing Native American heritage, and add a column on my Master spreadsheet so that I can identify matches that may contain Native American heritage.

To briefly summarize, for me, the Family Finder product did not identify any Native American heritage at all, but Geno 2.0 shows me to have 2 % Native American. The Gedmatch utility has helped my break that down into Native American components: 

   - Native American (i.e., Harrapaworld analysis says Oklahoma Cherokee)
   - Berigian, and
   - SouthEast Asian components.

Pretty sweet.

GedMatch Chromosome Painting Example
GedMatch Admixtur Chromosome Painting - Harrapaworld view


An example of Chromosome Painting from GedMatch, with the color coding insert. Here, I am using the Harrapaworld view so that I can identify the Native American segments. For me, I would expect to see Native American segments, originating components from:

 - NE Asia
 - SE Asia
 - American (or Amerindian, Oklahoma Cherokee)
 - Beringian
 - Siberian

What I can then do with it is add descriptions of the segments on my Master spreadsheet that match the Native American locations, in the hope that I will be able to identify the Native American segments (start/end locations) with specific ancestors.

Look at an Existing Example of Ancestor Mapping from Tim Janzen:

Tim Janzen provides an example of his autosomal spreadsheet online.
If you are mapping your chromosomes and specific regions of your autosomal chromosomes
to specific ancestors using data from 23andMe and FTDNA's Family Finder.
Tim has been working on this for his mother's phased data. He has uploaded a zipped Excel file that shows his mother's chromosomes correlated with the ancestors she received them from to his Dropbox account at:

Tim also has a phasing utility (for two parents and a child), similar to David Pike's utility (below). Instructions to Tim Janzen's phasing utility:

Phasing Utilities

David Pike provides some utilities for examination of autosomal data.
David A. Pike, PhD, FTICA, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Memorial University of
Here's a link to his utilities:

Get familiar with the terminology

You will find that the best place to start is with the matches that have the largest value in Centimorgans. Then, you will want to sort those largest matches by chromosome start and ending locations. That will help you triangulate which starting and ending location matches to a particular ancestor. And you will want to record your findings as you progress.

Get familiar with what is meant by IBD (Identical by Descent), IBS (Identical by Segment), ICW (In Common With), phasing, triangulation, CentiMorgans, etc. You will make the most progress if you start with the largest matching segments, and track which ancestor matches to those larger segments.

Keep a separate 'Master' spreadsheet.

In order to track you progress, you will want to keep a record of your work in a separate spreadsheet. This is because you don't want to lose track of the work that you have already done, and because there are new people signing up for autosomal DNA every day. So the data containing your matching chromosome browser results will continue to be updated. You will want to keep your results separate from the updated data.

Visit Helpful DNA blogs

There have been several blogs that have posted helpful information about autosomal DNA. The three that come to mind who have been most helpful to me have been Roberta Estes, CeCe Moore, Debbie Kennett, and on the technical side, Dienekes' blog.

Roberta Estes maintains "DNA Explained'
On the bottom right of her screen she lists "Categories" which is helpful in looking up information about how to use Family Finder, what to expect from it, etc.

CeCe Moore maintains a blog with some helpful information. CeCe Moore is an independent professional genetic genealogist and television consultant.

Dienekes Pontikos and provides a blog is dedicated to human population genetics, physical anthropology, archaeology, and history. Dienekes' Anthropology Blog often carries short notes about the technical studies in the field of human DNA, and is interesting to read for the scientific content.

Sign up for the Autosomal DNA email lists


Anyone with DNA (i.e., anyone!) who would like to ask questions, discuss methods and share results of DNA testing as applied to genealogical research:


A mailing list for the discussion of the various aspects of autosomal DNA testing for genealogical purposes:

Finally, keep a record of your matches

It is important to track your progress. Keep a running record of those that agreed upon a Common Ancestor.
The best way to do this is by having a column on your Master spreadsheet for a Common Ancestor for the matching segments.
Tim Janzen shows an example of 'How To' do this. Personally, my Master spreadsheet is split up by:

a) Chromosome
b) Sorted by matching segment Starting and Ending locations.

This is in the style that you see from the Autosomal Segment Analyzer from DNAGedcom's "Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer."

Expect this step to take time.

Expect this part to take time. Jim Barrett says that he now has 200 ancestors identified and mapped out on his Master spreadsheet.
This was done one ancestor at a time, comparing matching segments and contacting the matching participants. Jim says that you will have some false starts and other problems along the way, so expect it to take a long time to map out all of your ancestors' matching autosomal segments.