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2016 DNA retrospective

Here we are, in the last days of 2016, so it’s time to stop for a moment, and reflect as part of a year-end review.

top10.dna.2015As has been true in other recent years, this has been a pretty amazing year for DNA testing and its use in genealogy.

Not long ago, people would shake their heads in bewilderment at the very thought of trying to use DNA testing to help link people together who should be linked, or unlink them when they really shouldn’t be.


It’s so much a part of mainstream genealogical methodology that most folks today would wonder what’s wrong with us if we haven’t done DNA testing as broadly and as widely as possible.

But it’s still a developing field, and things surely are in a state of flux, as shown by this year’s top posts.

So… even though today isn’t DNA Sunday — c’mon, be serious — yesterday was Christmas Day! — we pause to review the top DNA stories for the year.

Let’s do the Top 10 countdown:

At Number 10 for 2016:

Opening a can of worms (26 June): “It was one of those cases where the first child takes something less than nine months to produce and all subsequent children take a full nine months. The marriage was on the 16th of October 1902. The birth of the first child — a son — was on the 13th of May 1903. Seven months later. And therein lies the tale — and it opened a can of worms that, it appears, will lead to the first use of DNA to upset a hereditary title in Great Britain.”

At Number 9:

MyHeritage DNA matching & terms of use (22 May): “The genealogy website MyHeritage announced this week that it’s launching a new DNA matching service. Using raw DNA files from testing companies such as Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA or 23andMe, and family tree files uploaded by its users, the company will match users to others in its database. And before you even think about doing this, make sure you understand the terms of use — and that you do NOT have to agree to the Consent Agreement to participate.” And see the update at MyHeritage DNA terms changed (27 May).

At Number 8:

And more DNA doings (27 November): “There are more and faster developments in the DNA world than ever before, these days. It seems like hardly a day goes by — and certainly never a week that goes by — without some new tool or concept or both being available to help with figuring out how to use DNA to advance our genealogical research.”

At Number 7:

Family Tree DNA changes: a work in progress (10 July): “There are changes underway at Family Tree DNA to the way that matches are presented, particularly Family Finder autosomal matches. As long as you have certain close relatives who have tested — first cousins or closer — and as long as you link those close relatives in your family tree, then as long as other matches match both you and those close relatives at a level that allows a confident conclusion that the match is coming from that side of your family, your Family Finder matches will be designated as maternal or paternal. That can be a useful tool, once it works as fully as it might. But we’re not there yet, and the change to make this reporting system work has caused other issues that need to be addressed.”

At Number 6:

AncestryDNA alert (19 April): “There are changes coming soon — possibly very very soon — to the matching system at AncestryDNA that may make some of the folks who’ve tested there lose some bits and pieces of information they have now. This isn’t going to be altogether a bad thing, since the theory is that most of the things that will drop out of sight will be bits and pieces that are unlikely ever to lead to a common ancestor. In short, the hope is all of our matches will be better, stronger and more accurate. But there are some aspects that will be problematic, and folks need to act now to minimize any collateral damage from the change.”

At Number 5:

Review: New Guide to DNA Testing (25 September): “Informative. Understandable. Solid. Any time The Legal Genealogist can say those three things about a book — and particularly about a book on a topic that can be as hard to comprehend as DNA testing — you know we have a winner. And that’s clearly what we have with Blaine T. Bettinger’s new book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, recently released by Family Tree Books of Cincinnati, Ohio, the publishing arm of Family Tree Magazine.”

At Number 4:

Those percentages, revisited (1 May): “Take a careful look at the chart below showing the ethnicity estimates of four people based on their autosomal DNA testing. All four were tested at the same company, all four analyzed against the same reference populations. You can click on the image and look at it in a bigger form to study it better. … Now ask yourself: what’s the relationship (if any) among these four people?”

At Number 3:

Blurring the lines (5 June): “So The Legal Genealogist is in Toronto, Canada, for the 2016 Ontario Genealogical Society Conference, and wow… more than 700 registered and very enthusiastic attendees have made this a truly wonderful conference. My own presentations have focused on methodology and resources and ethics and ethics and ethics and… Do you get the idea that maybe ethics is an issue these days? It really is, for all of us, as we sometimes struggle with what we should and shouldn’t be doing, as genealogists and as genetic genealogists. But here’s the bottom line: every ethical code throughout the entire genealogical community requires that we protect the rights of living private people to be living private people. And that expressly and explicitly includes our DNA cousins.”

At Number 2:

Circling the DNA clues (7 August): “Reader Wadeanne Nardo is confused by her DNA results on AncestryDNA. ‘Could you please explain to me,’ she asks, ‘what a DNA circle and NAD (New Ancestor Discovery) is.’ It’s easy to see why Wadeanne is — and many others are — confused by these. If you read through the explanations on AncestryDNA, it’s easy to be left with more questions than answers. Personally, I love the way Diahan Southard refers to DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries. She calls them parties where your genetic code is your ticket. But when and how your ticket gets punched can be pretty confusing.”

And the Number One DNA post for 2015:

Those percentages, if you must (14 August): “It just doesn’t seem to matter. No matter how many times The Legal Genealogist says that the ethnicity estimates part of autosomal DNA tests are not a whole lot more than cocktail party conversation,1 that’s what so many people keep coming back to … Folks, really. Really. Really. You can’t rely on DNA tests to give you exact percentages of your ethnic origins beyond the continental level (European, versus African, versus Asian).”

On to 2017… with end-of-year sidetrips still to come through some other top posts…

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