Graphing DNA

My geminate Shelley from Twigs of Yore blog has been giving us all lessons in how to graph or group our Ancestry DNA matches. She’s done a great job of simplifying each step so it’s hard to make mistakes (but it occasionally happens, due to user-error).

In following this process I was lucky on a few counts:

  • I have only 64 matches for 4th cousins or closer
  • I have readily identifiable cousins in the short list at 2nd or 3rd
  • Overall I have about 1000 matches.
  • My ancestors mostly come from different countries or regions so I expected little overlap between groups/graphs.

As a result I have yet to need to do much to play with graphs which are crazy busy with lines. As yet, I haven’t updated my matches download, so I haven’t tackled the deletion of duplicates. I decided to take the process one step at a time.

Having followed the process, I ended up with 12 graphs in my screen (see below). There are another 12 as well which I can focus on, but they have only one or two linkages, and no identified cousins, so I’ve left them for the time being.

Graph 1 DNA

A quick glance showed me some decidedly interesting clusters within particular graphs connecting cousins who I know to be on particular lines. I decided to use the Kunkel graph as my example here, partly because I’ve followed up some of the connections and because I had known cousins in the mix.

KUNKEL DNA Matches relnships2

With Shelley’s guidance I removed names from the graph, cut and pasted the graph into Photoshop, and added some relationships. For these lines to link up, I’m assuming (yes, I know!) that they belong to one of my Kunkel lines but it’s important to realise that some links might be through the other surnames on that line: Happ (Dorfprozelten, Bavaria) Gavin (Kildare), Murphy (Wicklow), O’Brien and Reddan (Clare). Is this a logical assumption?

The known 2C and 3C cousins in the single graph above are on different branches, descended from George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien. The a2C cousins are on my Kunkel-Gavin branch while the b3C cousins are on the Lee branch, and the c3C are on another branch. Interestingly some of those intersect with matches who seem to be descendants of my Mary O’Brien’s sister, Bridget Widdup from New South Wales.

I find it fascinating how the DNA “lottery” varies so that some will match while others don’t. Similarly some link to the cluster in the coloured lilac area (more anon). What I need to remember is that they also match me, since these linkages derive from my results. What the graphs introduce are links which may be weaker for me and stronger for other cousins. Shelley reminds us that when we search ICW on a match, it only gives up to 4th cousins on that match. These graphs extend the links beyond that.

I’m most intrigued by the lilac cluster, all from the USA as far as I can tell. Many include the surname Kunkel, though unfortunately many do not know where their Kunkel ancestors were born. As you can see from the size of the dots there are strong links with a couple of these in particular. Despite emailing and working on their trees I’m still no wiser about where they fit into my Kunkel family but it seems inevitable that they do, because of the geographic separation. It seems likeliest that they tie to the Kunkels who lived in Laufach or Neuhütten in Bavaria, where my own earlier ancestors came from, and it fits that they would be at the 5th cousin or upwards range. I am fortunate that I should be able to identify relevant 4th cousin families – provided they are shown on a match’s tree.

Has this helped me? Yes, I think it has, because it’s identified where the strong links are. It also lets me target matches who I might otherwise ignore because they’re too far down the match ladder. The clustering with known cousins on particular lines gives the researcher confidence that they are focused on the correct area of their tree.

As always it’s not easy when the matches you want to look at have private trees (or don’t respond), no trees or minimal trees, or when the background information just can’t be found easily. I do feel some sympathy for American researchers because with Australia’s semi-centralised civil registers, it generally makes it easier to track ancestry (more assumptions behind that). On the other hand the US has decennial census records (apart from that very annoying 1890 census) and wider naturalisation information. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

I wonder how often people use the local church records to find where their ancestor may have come from – if the register even states that. Without that one strategy I’d never have found my Kunkels in Bavaria. How appropriate that I wrote that post in response to a geneameme by Shelley all those years ago!

Thanks Shelley for coming up with this bit of Excel magic to help us out. Thanks also to my cousins who’ve tested, either at my request or off their own bat.



Health inheritance

It’s all in the genes as they say (and I wrote about that here from a personal perspective). That being the case I have a fair chance of making old bones – provided I pass the next danger zone of the early 70s. I have no wish to last to 100 but quite a few of my ancestors have reached the 80s or late 80s, and some more distant ancestors even made it past 90 back in the 19th century. So much for the predictions that we will live longer today.

This pie-chart represents the distribution of my ancestors’ ages at death. The chart works clockwise starting with the over 80s.

Longevity percentage

Helen Smith is a huge advocate for doing a family health inheritance chart and after much procrastination I’ve finally done mine and will provide them here…it’s easier to see by splitting them into Dad’s line and Mum’s line. Comparing the places with the family tree on the previous blog makes it clear how many of my 2xgreat grandparents made the migration here from elsewhere.

Health chart Dads line

Health chart Mums line copy

Thanks Alex from Family Tree Frog blog for the Aussie descriptor “alive and kicking” which I’ve used for Mum and me. I was surprised when I downloaded my longevity details from my Relatively Yours program, that both my paternal grandfather and grandmother lived to the same age, and Dad was very close. Also my ancestor who died in London in 1926 was a world-traveller who had been living and working in Queensland and New South Wales for over 50 years.

DNA – Place and People

Over the weekend I spent some time trying to make sense of a close DNA match that I have on Ancestry and GedMatch. I have a small private tree on Ancestry (reluctantly) and I was able to quickly add names, thanks to my prior research. On Family Tree DNA I use both names and places as my information, and again have added a basic family tree.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time and it seems to me that place is at least as important as names. That might seem strange when we are tracing family, and genetic matches will show we are kin. However, with marriage among extended families of siblings, it can be easy to overlook, or simply not know, all the relevant names.

I find that by being able to narrow down common locations, even counties and countries, it enables me to focus on more likely links. Not being a big Ancestry fan I was interested to discover that they have a mapping option on their match links which is actually quite useful.

One thing led to another and I prepared this fan chart which focuses on where children of any given couple were born (click to enlarge). So, if all the children were born in Australia, then it’s going to be beyond that time-frame if I have a US match (unless they have an identified link). This differs from a normal fan chart which identifies the person and may include where they were born – rather it’s where their children were born.

DNA People and Place

Once back to my overseas families, I can identify where their children may have migrated, and in some cases the dispersal can be quite extensive: US, Australia, England, Ireland, Canada. This helps me to focus on where my matches might overlap.

I’ve also added in the maternal lines which generate X-DNA, as that can narrow the search down as well. Because I’ve got Mum’s DNA tested, I’ve been able to phase Dad’s DNA using mine and Mum’s, again narrowing down which side of the family is relevant.

horizontal chart extract

Thanks to a suggestion from another blogger (sorry, I’ve forgotten now who it was – it may have been this one), I’ve also drawn up an extract of  my horizontal pedigree chart which basically maps geography and names in a similar way – the colour coding is in the bottom line. This extract excludes the dates that I send to DNA matches.

A similar, graphically simple chart, initiated by J Paul Hawthorne of Geneaspy blog, is doing the rounds among the Facebook genealogy community this weekend but that focuses on direct lines of ancestry. This is great for snapshot view of your ancestry but only illustrates where one branch of the descendants scattered to around the world, something my fan chart attempts to overcome.

Places of origin

Having said all that, it still often seems difficult to make those ancestral connections. It seems to me there are a couple of potential pitfalls with the matches:

  1. The DNA has recombined in such a way that one segment has been preserved intact for longer than expected transfers so we’re related more distantly than the testing company projects.
  2. The matched person may not have been able to take their research back as far due to more limited information on certificates and the like.
  3. Perhaps those shaky leaves have led to mistaken lines of ancestry. Yes, I’m being judgemental. Because I’ve used certificates and registers to take mine back, generation by generation, I’m 90+% confident of what I’ve documented. Furthermore, DNA matches confirm at least some of these lines….the rest I’ll work on progressively using known links.
  4. There’s a Non-Paternal-Event (NPE) ie an unknown illegitimacy or obscured parentage.

Have you found place to be valuable when making your DNA connections?

Can you add anything to the list I’ve put forward above as explaining why it’s difficult to make the ancestral linkages?

Does my fan chart make sense to you?

DNA Mysteries and Mazes

By Forluvoft (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Forluvoft (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite my blog drought and house obsession, I have spent some time on my DNA results which I only recently uploaded to Gedmatch. I had been ambivalent in the past but it is actually very useful, especially for Ancestry results which don’t come with as much info, and for which I have fewer matches (which may change with the spread of Ancestry testing).

Why is it that those with whom you have the best matches don’t reply to your emails?

I’ve resisted putting my family tree online anywhere but have slowly been adding one to Family Tree DNA. (hmm another “bitty” job) Instead I’ve been sending out a horizontal family tree, inspired by a post I read a little while ago. This lets me add my families’ places of origin as well as names.

Which raises another question: why do so few people think place is irrelevant? After all it provides a good clue on where families may originate and overlap especially when the match segment is too great to be explained by endogamous populations.

My best decision in terms of testing DNA has been to get some older generations tested. To my surprise my mother quickly agreed to be tested which helps me know which side of the family my matches occur on. Nora, my 3rd cousin once removed (on Dad’s side) in Sydney also agreed to be tested.

Both of these samples have turned up matches which don’t match me, which is very helpful.

Mum’s sample produced a good cousin match with a lady in Canada, her brothers and an Irish cousin. We’ve narrowed down our likely connection through my Callaghan family in Wexford. Like so many others we’re hanging out for the release of the Irish parish registers on 8 July…only a few days days to go!! (I think some people are in for a shock at just how challenging these images can be to read)

What is bewildering is this particular family’s matches is there’s also some overlap with Mr Cassmob’s DNA – even though his ancestors are not known to come from Wexford or other identified geographic overlaps.

And then there’s the matches with Nora’s DNA. One seems to link to the McNamara family from Broadford Co Clare. I know that my O’Briens were connected to this family in some way, because when one daughter married, the registers show she and her McNamara husband were third cousins.

And the match with Nora to someone with Co Kerry ancestry. Much will depend on where her Kerry family lived. If they were in the north it may not be such a stretch.

Image from wikipedia.

Image from wikipedia.

So DNA testing tends to bring even more questions than you had already it often seems. When you get an obvious match it’s all too easy but the very ones you want to know about are the ones that keep you scratching your head in confusion.

DNA can lead you on a merry trail through a maze to identify your distant kith and kin links.