12 steps to identify your common ancestor

+9 votes

I've just published a video (watch it here) on a methodology to get the most out of your DNA test in combination with family trees and maximize your chances to identify the common ancestors (CA) and most recent common ancestors (MRCA).

It’s also a short introduction to our app though you can certainly use a lot of the steps without our app. This example is specific to DNA tests from 23andMe as you are provided with the necessary tools to perform triangulation (only MyHeritage offers this as well, both FTDNA and Ancestry don't offer it).

The main principle is collaboration, like here on WikiTree. While collaboration on DNA tests is limited only to keep your profile open to sharing (though 23andMe has a limit on how many matches it will show to you - so matches further out in time might still vanish over time) our app let's DNA cousins who all have inherited ancestral DNA from the same common ancestor work together on each other family trees to identify how they are related to each other.

We will also plan an integration with WikiTree in the future, especially on two areas:

- automatically retrieve the relevant information to display a DNA testers family tree from WikiTree (as we find and display MRCA's automatically)

- provide an automatic DNA confirmation text that respects the privacy of testers but at the same time shows enough information that WikiTree users can add this to their respective ancestor profiles

It would be great to hear from the community on those two ideas, especially on the second point. How can we post that our ancestor is confirmed by DNA (by triangulation of autosomal DNA) without violating the data privacy of living DNA testers? Shall we just give the chromosome and start/end position and how much centiMorgan and SNP's are shared?

Disclaimer: I'm the author of "Your DNA family"

in The Tree House by Andreas West G2G6 Mach 6 (62.7k points)

2 Answers

+8 votes
The video clearly explains the benefits of the tool.  This is a fantastic concept.. BUT..

The constant problem I observe is peoples concerns with privacy and possible data theft.  Mergers and acquisitions are always a problem in trying to keep our data secure!  Don't get me wrong, any tool that can simplify the process of finding our MCRA is greatly appreciated.  The problem is again another site having access to our data!  How many times must we put our trees out there (on another sharing site) with all the input of every ancestor?

Another problem is that the app is still is asking me (the user) to do a lot in the way of research to find that MCRA. Triangulation, or which chromosome, and overlapping areas do all three cousins match on?  I am on 23andme, and their Beta Tree tool has benefits.  I see they now are giving hints to suggesting how you may match to others on their site.  When user A and user B can communicate through the 23andme messaging app, it certanly helps to see if they have a common surname or share grandparents or GG's to limit the sometimes endless possibilities of MRCA.  No doubt, collaboration is the key.  But if 23andme user communication is the problem, then no gain will be improved with this new app shown in the video.

I love the possibility of the app, and wish this type of tool were automated already within 23andme.   We already have our beta tree info within the 23andme site with our links to our ancestors self entered.  We already have our 23andme DNA info within the 23andme site.  These computations could already take place, and linking of MCRA's could already be suggested for 23andme reported matched users provided the 23andme users have entered into the beta tree, their ancestors up to there GGrand parents.

Did you get a notification from GEDMATCH where they said they believed they were hacked?  I'm not sure what info a hacker would hope to extract from that site, but no doubt, our data is constantly under attack by bad actors.  The fear of hacks will keep tools as good as they are from reaching their full potential until we can make absolutely certain our data, is our data, and it is secured.  I'm  fairly certain my trying this new app and waiting for others to also join me to collaborate will stall with the fear of data malfeasance.  DOA.
by Kirt Fetterling G2G6 Mach 1 (15.8k points)

Hi Kirt,

Thanks for kicking off the discussion with your answer. You bring up some good points and to increase clarity, let me respond separately:

#1 Privacy and data theft

These are obviously two very important points for every company. Data theft has happened at Billion Dollar unicorn companies like Adobe, eBay, Equifax, Marriott International, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Zynga and Twitter (just recently). Garmin got a data breach as well just last week.

Did any of these companies not invest as much money and resources into their security? Still they got hacked, like Government agencies and even Foreign Minister email accounts.

So we can never rule data theft out, it’s a cat & mouse game. I can’t comment specifically on GEDmatch or their new owners precautions but yeah, **** happened.

When it comes to Privacy there’s always a contradiction between what people interested in DNA genealogy want (eg. Find out who their birth father is) and what others want to protect. We’re doing our best with a very limited view of what we show to each of our users. You can see a lot more at 23andMe itself. You should try to check your own name at one of these paid websites in the US that have crawled the web and collected every possible information about you and are selling it! A valid point but I only have to type in your name at Google and a plethora of private information comes up.

#2 “How many times must we put our trees out there (on another sharing site)”

Well, DNA genealogy works only when “DNA” and “Genealogy” is combined. That’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve as IMO most people who test don’t get much out of their DNA test other than the ethnicity report which is good for 5 minutes of small talk at the next party. But combining your family tree and the family trees of your DNA cousins (verified by triangulation) is a powerful combination.

All of a sudden you new links and hints, like in my own case to Scandinavia though my genealogical tree doesn’t indicate that. I’ve found relatives in Tonga, so I read and found out that Germans went there and started a lot of business. I guess that’s where our lines connect. Can I find these things out just by doing genealogy? I strongly believe in sharing “my research”. Most of the info is on my own website, at FamilySearch, at WikiTree, at Geni, at Ancestry and at MyHeritage. Why? Because that increases the chances that I will learn something new, a new connection shows up. Would I like to have only one place? Yeah, but that quite frankly would be FamilySearch.org as it has the largest tree and user base.

#3 “Another problem is that the app is still is asking me (the user) to do a lot in the way of research to find that MCRA.”

Hmh, by “the app” you cannot mean our app. Maybe you mean 23andMe because we do exactly what you would like to have. Present everything on a silver tablet with minimal user effort. You just click cards and the magic happens. We sort your thousands of matches neatly by side, chromosome and start/end position ensuring that they can indeed overlap and thus map. We then go (on a simple click) and put thousands of comparisons (yes, you read that right) on the 23andMe website, retrieve the results and they decide based on that if you do have a triangulated group at the locus you’re matching or somewhere else on the chromosome.

#4 “But if 23andme user communication is the problem, then no gain will be improved with this new app shown in the video”

Yes, user communication is a problem. I’m not happy with it either but you know, I get a 10% response rate. Why? Because I deliver valuable information in my message. Now if I make this even more valuable by offering them basically a part of their genetic family tree, done for free by volunteers like you and me, isn’t that an even bigger motivation to respond and join?

So IMO it’s pretty simple, the more reasons and value you deliver, the more likely someone will respond. And yes, our app does exactly that.

#5 “I love the possibility of the app, and wish this type of tool were automated already within 23andme.”

I guess that might not been 100% clear in the video but our app is fully automated with 23andMe. But it seems you rather want to see 23andMe offering those things? Well, I was waiting and hoping as well, just like you. Until I decided to no longer wait for something that will never happen. 23andMe is interested in selling you a DNA kit. That’s a one-off sale. Ancestry is the same, just that they have at least another recurring sale from their subscription, like MyHeritage. So tell me, why should 23andMe invest in building such tools? It’s a multi-billion dollar company, they can easily do that in a couple of months.

#6 “Did you get a notification from GEDMATCH where they said they believed they were hacked? “

Yep, I know that. The hacker(s) went for email addresses and passwords, like in most security breaches. They are being sold in the Dark Web because there are enough people out there who use the same password at different websites. So once again, the only thing that is certain in life is that we die. Nothing else is. You seem to be very certain that WikiTree and Facebook are never been hacked, hence you use those services. I guess the people at Twitter and LinkedIn thought the same.

One last comment, there is no “trial” for our app. I’ve invested a large 6 digit amount of dollars over the last couple years to build it. There are server costs and yes, even when you do nothing your data costs a lot of money being stored. We do have a free “Guest” account though (if you have done a 23andMe DNA tests) but for that someone paying needs to invite you to join for one or more triangulated groups that you both are in. It’s very limited, you can work with them on that one (or more) TG’s and on the family trees of all the other DNA cousins. In the sense of collaboration. Not everyone wants to know about all his DNA matches.

I hope I could address and clarify a lot of your valid points. Like I wrote, I wish everyone would answer my messages at 23andMe and elsewhere. I wish everyone would share their family tree and not sit on it like it’s their biggest secret. I wish that with our app we can help adoptees, children of sperm donors and orphans find out who their genetic parents and close relatives are.

I hope we get other good answers and comments like yours, Kirt.
Out of curiosity: the Company is registered in Singapore. https://www.iubenda.com/terms-and-conditions/97099753 If it would be EU dataprotection would be set pretty clear. What is the law in Singapore?

Thanks Michael for that excellent question. Will add it to our FAQ later.

The data privacy law in Singapore is very strict and our company is required to have a Data Privacy Officer.

For all the details please go to the Government's website for the Personal Data Protection Act 2012

0 votes
Hi Andreas, I signed up to be a beta tester a long time ago but never got invited.  Is the $66 subscription fee a six month fee, meaning the cost is $11/month?  How does it work as far as collaboration with others?  Does everyone have to pay the $66 semi-annual fee, or am I able to invite people to view and collaborate on our shared segments and they don't have to pay the fee?
by Darlene Athey-Hill G2G6 Pilot (458k points)
Hi Darlene,

thanks for your question.

We had more people who signed up for the Beta test than needed (its no difference if the same problem is reported once or 10x). But we do have another member of WikiTree already as a paying customer, hence we want to have a closer relationship as WikiTree is all about collaboration which I think is key in our hobby!

The $66 is a current promotion for the 6 months subscription and your math is correct. Due to PayPal (which we use) taking a nice cut it's not making any sense to go with a smaller amount as their percentage of their cut would only increase.

As a paying user, you can invite any of your DNA cousins for free (as a "Guest"). It's similar to how the "Guest" works at Ancestry, they can create/edit family trees, import GEDCOM/Ahnentafel, participate in the discussion forum that is created specifically for every TG.

A lot of people have tried to build up a secure forum for their TG's. In our app, it's all automatic, you get 1 for each TG. So that you discussion is focused on that specific common ancestor who's DNA you all inherited. That's why the introduction post is so important. For the "Guest" that can only see the TG that they share with you (so close relatives see actually more TG's) and for yourself it's the summary of everything that has been uncovered about the CA. It can be edited of course and amended and serves as a sticky note.

The main feature that "Guests" can't do is import their own matches or do automatic triangulation on their own data. That is were most of our cost comes from.

But they can click on "Possible triangulation" and "Confirm Cousin" cards if 23andMe "hides" that match to you and its hopefully still visible/matching to them.

Please also keep in mind that each discussion forum for a TG is private and secure. We do have a very tedious identification & verification process when you join. So imposters and hackers can't do nothing as only those with a valid 23andMe DNA tests are allowed to join (this rule applies also for "Guests"). All the messages posted or the family tree information is only visible to the DNA cousins in the specific TG.

What I (or a DNA cousin) write in one TG isn't available to any other of my TG's. While this means a bit of copy & paste for me it ensures that information is kept "on topic" and most of all, private. As you know, we're dealing with information about living (mostly) people and there are always DNA cousins who do seek information on their birth father or even biological parents.

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