Did you get a DNA kit for Christmas?

Cousin Connections

Everyone I know seemed to have gotten a kit recently! Wondering what it will reveal? Will it produce cousins you didn’t know you had?

I did a test a few months ago purely out of curiosity so that I’d know what it entailed. As a genealogist I have been asked more and more lately whether it was a good idea, what would it reveal and would it produce cousins and family trees without having to do any research (ah, the answer is no by the way, you still need to do your research). I usually referred people to articles or other sources so I thought it was time I dipped my toes in!

Little did I realise it would be just as absorbing as document research!

I’m lucky that I’m a genealogist living in Ireland and have been able to trace my family, both maternal and paternal, back at least 4 generations to the same part of Ireland, Tipperary and Kilkenny borders, to where my Dad now lives.

My grandparents on both sides married local people. I didn’t expect any unknown branch of the family to materialise but with both paternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents having the same surname (no, not cousins!) it was going to be a challenge working out who was who! That’s the unique and quirky side to Irish Genealogy, family name origins evolved in regional clusters and people often married people from the locality.

The Big Reveal

Now, I’m no expert in the science of DNA analysis, but I am fascinated by the results and matches I received. I had done an Autosomal DNA test which is the most popular and tests both males and females.

My Ethnicity and Ancestry

I had been given a gift of a DNA test kit so it was not that I chose a particular kit over another but purely convenience. The ethnicity result was no big surprise, ‘80-100 per cent Irish, with links to Munster, Ireland’, but then I uploaded the raw data to another site and they said I was ‘95 per cent Irish, Scottish, Welsh; 4 per cent West Asian; and 1 per cent Greek’! From what I understand from reading sources,  the accuracy of results such as this are dependent on the size of the testing ‘pool’ with a particular DNA kit site.

Cousin matches revealed

The other important feature, and much more interesting, is the relationship results or cousin matches. Only one of my first cousins had done a test and I knew who he was so the first entry was fine. After that the next closest matches were 7 possible 3rd-4th cousins with a confidence rating of ‘extremely high’, then the next 40 were classed as 4th-6th cousins with a rating from ‘very high’ to ‘high’. There were a lot more but the chances of making connections would be low so I focused on the 47 which is still a lot to go through, and I have only started, but that’s the life of a genealogist, we love a challenge!

Examining the DNA matches

I started going through each ‘cousin’ to see what we might have in common. The thing about these tests is they don’t separate your mother’s side from your father’s side, they are just listed in descending order of centimorgans ( basically, this is a unit of measurement, which estimates the number of generations to a common ancestor). Some had either listed their family surnames, and/or given access to their family trees so I had to look and see if there were any clues or shared matches. Because of my profession, I wanted to find the connections for myself and prove who they were. Some turned out to be my father’s paternal side, some his maternal side, and a few were on my mother’s maternal side with only one of her paternal side.  To find even more matches there is a third-party site called Gedmatch where you can upload your raw data and cross reference with kits from other test sites if the tester had uploaded them there too. More matches to go through!

Traditional genealogy research v DNA research

Document research is time-consuming in itself but now that I have all these leads in DNA matches I’m only feeding my genealogy addiction! This could be a long running saga! I have plans to create a spreadsheet with workbooks for each family side, matches and any detail and sources that will help identify the family connections. I have been in contact with some of the matches and we have shared information that has explained or broken through a brick wall where genealogy research had come to a standstill. That is the ultimate prize – finding living relatives!

At the end of the day, DNA tests are just another tool in your genealogy toolbox so bear that in mind, to have a complete picture of your family history you should support your research with documents sourced as well as DNA test results. If you would like to find out more, the book I would recommend is ‘Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy’ by Blaine T. Bettinger; published by The Family Tree books.  There are also a number of websites and facebook groups that could explain the science behind DNA testing better than I can.

While I’m still learning as I go, if I can guide you or use my experience as an example, do get in touch and leave a comment if you found this article useful. I plan to do follow-up articles on my DNA cousin research as it progresses so if you ‘follow’ my blog site you’ll be kept up to date!

Bye for now,

Noreen

Website: Hibernia Roots

Facebook:  Hiberniaroots

Instagram:  nhiberniaroots

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