About This DNA Testing Thing…

About This DNA Testing Thing…

by Kerry Scott on 30 November 2010

That post I wrote yesterday on the 23andme sale on DNA testing (which has been extended through Christmas, by the way) got me going.  I had done that test about six months ago, but I didn’t spend much time on the site other than to read the health-related stuff.  It looks like they’ve made some changes to the Relative Finder feature, though, and the more I poke around, the more fascinated I am.  People with a far stronger grasp of DNA testing than I have are using this to establish connections to all sorts of relatives (and in some cases, they’re finding out that they’re not related to the people they thought they were).

So I’m curious.

Would you want to connect to distant cousins via DNA testing?

Would you be offended if someone were listed as, say, a second or third or fourth cousin…but didn’t want to connect with you?  (Because the forums on 23andMe are full of people who are offended by that, which boggles me).

Would you want to try and find a connection with someone who was a very distant cousin (say, further out than a 5th cousin)?  How much time would you spend trying to track down the connection if it wasn’t immediately apparent?

Have you used a service like this?  Any success stories?  Surprises?  Cautionary tales?  If you actually know what you’re doing, what sort of resources would you recommend for those of us who are cluefree as to how all of this works?

I haven’t done much with my results (for a variety of reasons), but I’m curious as to how other genealogists are using these tools.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Demerly November 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I purchased a kit when they had a sale last year. But I didn’t have to buy that monthly subscription thing (a better deal without it, imo). I was overwhelmed with the information at first, but have enjoyed going back and perusing it at will. Also love that as new studies come in, they update your risks (and send you an email saying so).

I was initially leery of the cousins thing – what if a spammer (or someone worse) tried to connect with me? How do I know they’re legit? I have messaged one or two, but I really don’t have a lot of family history, so unlike some of those folks, I can’t say I had a great, great uncle who lived in Miles, Washington and worked at a mill. Y’know? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to connect with someone when I have little info to offer.

Nice to know I don’t carry certain mutations (like that one for ovarian cancer), and that my biggest health risk is psoriasis. Even if I did have a “big deal” risk, I think I’d appreciate knowing.

Oh, and I have an increased risk of a non-fatal heart attack if I drink more than 2 cups of caffeinated coffee a day. What did my friends say when I told them I should probably quit coffee? “I wouldn’t.” Which begs the question, would you change your lifestyle given this information? I think a lot of folks would not. Which defeats the purpose entirely.

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Kerry Scott November 30, 2010 at 4:02 pm

The health tests are a whole other kettle of fish. Mine didn’t have any big surprises, and I’d want to know if there was stuff I should be watching for…but I understand why people feel otherwise. To be honest, I don’t put a huge amount of stock in most of the health tests anyway. It feels a little horoscope-y to me (although I don’t know enough about DNA testing to know whether that’s a rational view on my part).

I was leery of the cousin thing too, but I’m having fun learning more about it, and I’m really curious to see how people are using this and what their experiences have been.

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Lucie November 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm

No Family finder test available from any lab at this tie can show a relationship closer than 3rd 4th or 5th cousin. mutiply that by 40 years per generation and that tells you how distant that relationship is. until these labs have a tremendously huge database, relationships will be all quite distant.

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Kerry Scott November 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm

There seem to be quite a few people there who have first/second cousin connections. There are also folks who have discovered non-paternity events (NPEs)—for example, full siblings who turn out to be half-siblings, etc. I don’t understand the technology well enough to know the differences between vendors and tests, but based on the forum posts I’ve been reading this morning, there seem to be some closer connections being made there.

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Susan Tiner December 1, 2010 at 11:45 am

Kerry, I ordered a Family Finder test at http://www.familytreedna.com/ on Nov 9, before you wrote about the place offering a discount. So I paid full price, but oh well. Anyway, I’m still waiting for the results to post but will blog about it when they’re available. In my case, I’m hoping to see some relationship to the Carnalls on my father’s side. A paternity test would be more accurate, and I’ve offered to sponsor my younger brother to take it if he’s interested. I’m looking forward to the Family Finder results to see what they show. I wouldn’t be at all offended if someone didn’t want to contact me. I’m not sure about connecting with distant cousins — what do you think about it?

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Kerry Scott December 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm

To be honest, I’m not sure yet. A guy who is estimated to be a 5th cousin contacted me, and neither of us are seeing any common surnames so far. That’s of limited value, research-wise, because a 5th cousin is pretty distant and we might never make the connection (although it’s interesting). It’s hard to know how much energy to expend looking for the link.

That said, I did this test the last time they had a sale, so I only paid $99. I’m definitely getting $99 worth of value out of it (in fact the health stuff alone is worth that for me). I wouldn’t pay $499…but that’s partly because I don’t work full-time anymore, so $499 is a lot for something like this for me.

In your particular case, Susan, I’d probably contact the distant cousins. It might help you nail some of this story down (especially if some of the cousins had done genealogical research…how cool would it be if you found the third cousin in the Carnall family who has all of the family papers?)

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Susan Tiner December 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I paid $293. It’s a lot for me too, but we are frugalmeisters in so many ways that an occasional splurge is affordable.

It would be great to find a living Carnall who could help me finish putting this puzzle together.

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Dee December 6, 2010 at 8:47 pm

My dad used familytreedna and my aunt used dnaheritage. We used them solely for genealogy purposes.

In the first case, we are still chasing the elusive parents of William Burris, born about 1782. Dad has very strong matches on 67 markers with 2 other Burris men. We have been dissecting each other’s family trees since June.

Dad’s results are likely to come in handy for two new sets of “found” cousins, who are likely descendants of my g-g-g-grandfather’s 20+ yeara affair and second family a half mile down the road from the family compound (I blogged about that discovery). One set of cousins is more likely to take us up on the offer to compare than the other set, which includes a man close to 80 who is still having a hard time digesting all this.

My aunt’s results confirmed long held family lore that my g-g-grandmother’s mother was native. We had some contemporaries in our midst who swore my grandmother was a misinformed, though well-intended fool who didn’t really mean to lie.

And she didn’t.

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Kerry Scott December 7, 2010 at 6:02 am

In fairness to the 80-year-old, that IS a lot to absorb. I can see why people sometimes have a hard time absorbing the information they discover with this stuff. It’s complicated.

You’re the first person I have heard of who actually confirmed that there was a native connection—usually I hear of people finding that the story WASN’T true. That’s a nice bit of vindication for your grandmother.

Reply

Sharron Clemons December 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I purchased a kit when they had a sale last year. But I didn’t have to buy that monthly subscription thing (a better deal without it, imo). I was overwhelmed with the information at first, but have enjoyed going back and perusing it at will. Also love that as new studies come in, they update your risks (and send you an email saying so). I was initially leery of the cousins thing – what if a spammer (or someone worse) tried to connect with me? How do I know they’re legit? I have messaged one or two, but I really don’t have a lot of family history, so unlike some of those folks, I can’t say I had a great, great uncle who lived in Miles, Washington and worked at a mill. Y’know? I’m not sure how I’m supposed to connect with someone when I have little info to offer. Nice to know I don’t carry certain mutations (like that one for ovarian cancer), and that my biggest health risk is psoriasis. Even if I did have a “big deal” risk, I think I’d appreciate knowing. Oh, and I have an increased risk of a non-fatal heart attack if I drink more than 2 cups of caffeinated coffee a day. What did my friends say when I told them I should probably quit coffee? “I wouldn’t.” Which begs the question, would you change your lifestyle given this information? I think a lot of folks would not. Which defeats the purpose entirely.

Reply

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