How I Used DNA to Find My Cousin's Great-Grandfather

+12 votes
216 views

Hey all,

In August of 2019, after having taken a Y-DNA test, I found a distant patrilineal cousin with a different surname to mine. Curious, I emailed him asking about how this might be possible. He replied stating that his paternal grandfather had taken the surname of his great-grandmother, never knowing the identity of his father.

Immediately, I knew I wanted to help my cousin find his great-grandfather. Yesterday, I finally succeeded in this task.

I've just written an article explaining the full story of how I was able to do this: https://umarbutler.com/blog/2020/1/11/how-i-used-dna-to-find-my-cousins-great-grandfather/. I hope you all can enjoy it!

WikiTree profile: John Grimsley
in The Tree House by Omar Butler G2G2 (2.4k points)

3 Answers

+4 votes
I haven't heard of Genetic Affairs before. That looks interesting, I'll have to give it a try.
by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (535k points)
apparently this is a subscription pay service, and requires to use your own account login info for your DNA sites (Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, 23andme)
Yes, unfortunately so. It's paid because of the server requirements for scraping DNA websites (I would assume they also have to use VPNs to avoid getting ip-banned). And again, it requires login details because it uses web scraping.

You do get 200 free credits, however. That's enough to use the AutoTree (which includes AutoCluster) four times.

Also they have partnered with MyHeritage so that you can access it through MyHeritage DNA. However, they don't provide MyHeritage customers with free credits :(

The only other tools I know of for clustering and tree comparison are DNAGedcom and GEDmatch Genesis, respectively. Both of those services are paid. DNAGedcom uses web scraping whereas Genesis relies on the GEDmatch database.

Also I should add, if you're an AncestryDNA customer you need a subscription for the AutoTree function to work :(

EDIT: You can also access AutoCluster through GED Genesis for free.
Dennis, are you going to try it?  It doesn't look expensive.

Omar, does using Genetic Affairs require you to install any software on your own computer?  Other than the e-mails the company sends, do you have to download anything (especially large files that take hours to download)?  Those are the two issues that have stopped me from using some of these services in the past.
Hey Julie,

Nope it's all done on the web! You get an email with a zip file which contains HTML files. They're all of very small size so that's not an issue either.
By the way, if you do use it, I'd suggest setting your minimum cluster size to 1. This way, if you're using AutoTree, you can compare family trees for all matches.

Evert-Jan Blom's Genetic Affairs is the original auto-clustering tool...and he's a good guy, besides. No application or software installation required. It likely will, however, require some playing around with the results to get the shared cM amounts in ranges that can be usefully displayed. A broad range that includes small amounts can result in a chart that is so overpopulated as to be illegible.

The utility also includes optional automated monthly runs to notify you of new matches from a given source (e.g., FTDNA) within the thresholds you've set. And the cost is dirt cheap. You prepay for credits, and each report costs a certain number of credits. I bought $25 worth in the fall of 2018 and still have almost a thousand credits left. Evert-Jon is definitely not over-pricing the service.
wink

Thank you both, Omar and Edison.  I'll try it!  And yes, Edison, I'd already thought about adjusting shared cM segments.  I have a lot of close relative on Ancestry, and I really don't need someone to tell me how I am related to my mother, for example, or all my first cousins (or even the second cousins).
OK, I'm signed up and awaiting my e-mail.  I didn't even have to give them a credit card number.

The e-mail from Genetic Affairs came about five minutes later.  It was easy to use and understand.  I'll attach an image of my cluster analysis here.  There is a list of names attached for each cluster, and it also notes their Ancestry tree size.  First impression:  It isn't telling me anything I didn't already know.  But I have worked on my personal DNA analysis for several years now, and already have my own 100-page list of DNA matches separated into groups of shared matches (which is what this is). So for people who haven't analyzed their matches, this is very convenient.  GEDmatch offers a similar service, but of course has a smaller user base.

See the huge pink group in the middle of my chart?  Perversely, it's my biggest mystery.  I don't think my answer is in the trees of those matches.

GEDmatch's cluster service is actually licensed from AutoCluster.

To be honest, I haven't been able to learn anything new from AutoCluster either, but that's because 1. my family tree is much much more extensive than those my cousins, 2. I have already identified MRCAs for a lot of my matches, and 3. I have a lot of non-European DNA (because of how mixed I am) and a lot of my non-European matches don't have extensive family tree (because of how difficult it is to do research without access to digitalised sources).
No wonder the autoclusters format looks just like the one on GEDmatch!

It took me a while to figure out how to get the autotrees.  When I finally did, they were a disappointment.  For my big mystery group, they were just a bunch of little fragments.  I had already done much more extensive connection of the various people the old-fashioned manual way (although relying on other Ancestry trees).

For people who have not spent months of their lives analyzing their DNA matches, I think this website offers a good service for a cheap price.  But still, it takes a great deal of study to really understand one's ancestry and one's matches.  While I don't doubt that some day, someone will manage to create a true one-world tree based on genetics, the current products are a long, long way from that.
+5 votes
Very nice article. Congratulations on being able to connect family members!
by Michael Smith G2G6 Mach 7 (74.0k points)
+3 votes
Nicely written article, and good work.  But I would not call what you've done "incredibly easy," as you have!

A couple questions:  Does Genetic Affairs's AutoTree tool work more or less the same way as Ancestry's ThruLines (with the same pitfalls)?  Edit:  In fact, now that I've looked at the Genetic Affairs website, it looks to me like they may just be pulling the AutoTrees directly out of the Ancestry ThruLines.

Did you find an explanation for when the surname in your cousin's line changed from Butler to Grimsley?  

And a comment:  It looks to me like you could have skipped the "What are the odds?" step, because your cousin's strongest matches with the Grimsley surname are clearly in the John James Grimsley line.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (321k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
> Does Genetic Affairs's AutoTree tool work more or less the same way as Ancestry's ThruLines (with the same pitfalls)?  Edit:  In fact, now that I've looked at the Genetic Affairs website, it looks to me like they may just be pulling the AutoTrees directly out of the Ancestry ThruLines.

I don't think they're using ThruLines because family trees came up for people and 'common ancestors' that weren't already present on his family tree.

>Did you find an explanation for when the surname in your cousin's line changed from Butler to Grimsley?

No, not yet. I actually wrote an article exploring the relationship between the Grimselys and Butlers here: https://butler-rawlings.umarbutler.com/index.php/2020/01/11/on-the-grimsleys-of-leicestershire/

>It looks to me like you could have skipped the "What are the odds?" step, because your cousin's strongest matches with the Grimsley surname are clearly in the John James Grimsley line.

Yea that's true. I just wanted to see if he could've been the son of John's father (which could've made sense since John didn't have my cousin's grandfather with the same woman as my cousin's matches, however, I later found out that Jeremiah died before that would've been possible anyways).

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