Monday, January 25, 2021

The Story of Bernadette - Part 13: Let's Try FamilyTreeDNA

researching genetic genealogy online
By 2019 a number of NPEs had made contact asking for help and guidance. They reached out to me through various channels and I was happy to offer assistance as a search angel. Some of their cases were quickly solved through close family matches appearing in their DNA results. For others, I uncovered promising clues to their birth lineage. But concrete answers were still beyond our grasp, requiring further detective work on my part.

In comparison, Bernadette’s research was slow and dragging, yielding no useful information. I wasn’t giving up, but I must admit my enthusiasm was waning and I wondered if we would ever find conclusive DNA evidence for her birth parents.

With her health quickly failing, Bernadette was now in hospice. It had been many months since our last communication, although I was still in contact with her son.  Sadly in the autumn of 2019, Bernadette passed away at the age of 95. She had lived a long life, marked with many questions and suspicions about her birth family.

At this point, I could have stopped my investigation. But I felt Bernadette’s children and grandchildren disserved to know their maternal heritage along with possible medical history associated with their maternal grandparents. I pressed on, believing DNA would eventually yield answers to Bernadette’s family mystery.

The next tool in my genetic genealogy cache was FamilyTreeDNA. One of the oldest DNA testing companies, FamilyTreeDNA allows the upload of raw DNA files to their database. After your results are logged in and appear on your profile page, you then pay a small fee to unlock the rest of the company’s tools and perks. Since the fee is less than paying for another test kit, it’s worth the money to gain full access to their database along with other benefits.

Truthfully, I had little hope of finding a close DNA match here. FamilyTreeDNA’s database is small in comparison to other major testing companies, but it was worth a try. With Bernadette’s results included in a third database, we had exposure to a whole new group of potential DNA matches.

I uploaded Bernadette’s raw file and paid the fee to unlock her results. As I had suspected, there were no close matches, although the results were better than at GEDmatch. Her closest match was 168 cMs – a third cousin who I had already identified related to her paternal grandfather’s line. In total, Bernadette had 287 DNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA. Compare this amount with AncestryDNA’s database containing 3,069 shared DNA matches, with a few new matches being added every day.

One interesting plus included in FamilyTreeDNA results is X-match testing on the 23rd chromosome. AncestryDNA does not test for X-matches.

The X-match found on our 23rd chromosome is related to a person’s gender. Females inherit a pair of X chromosomes: one from their mother and one from their father. Males inherit an X chromosome from their mother and a Y chromosome from their father. This means there is the possibility of identifying the maternal lineage of a male DNA match through the X chromosome as he would certainly inherit this through his mother. However the male cousin’s mother would be inheriting two X-chromosomes one from each parental line, making it much more complicated to identify a specific lineage past this level.

Where an X-match can be most beneficial for an NPE is in the identification of a male sibling or half-sibling. If an unknown male sibling appears in FamilyTreeDNA results based on the amount of shared DNA, they will share an X-match if they have the same birth mother (or birth mother and birth father in the case of a full sibling) as the tester. If the match results for an unknown male sibling does not contain an X-match but still has the required amount of shared DNA to be classified as a half-sibling, then the tester and the male match share a birth father but not a birth mother.

Female DNA matches containing an X-match really aren’t helpful as the X-match appearing in results could have been identified with either a paternal or maternal line, opening too many lineages to trace. This was the case with the X-matches that turned up in Bernadette’s results – the matches were all female with the exception of one distant male DNA cousin.

Well it was worth a shot to look into this lone male cousin, although I knew he was too distant for the X-match to make a difference. He was not connected to a tree at FamilyTreeDNA. On a hunch I thought his results might also be at AncestryDNA. Although Ancestry does not show X-matches, perhaps this distant cousin could provide other clues. I switched over to AncestryDNA, logged into Bernadette’s results and did a search for the surname of her male X-match.

Success! There he was! And he had an extensive Ancestry family tree attached to his results along with a “common ancestor” match shared on Bernadette’s tree. From this information, I easily identified him as a third cousin, twice removed and a descendent of Bernadette’s paternal grandfather’s line.

Although this match was further confirmation of Bernadette’s paternal lineage, it offered no new information concerning his X-match. As I traced his tree through his mother’s line to the possible inheritance of the X chromosome, we again ran smack into the problem of endogamy! Going back just a few generations on the maternal side of this male cousin’s tree, I found surnames associated with all four of Bernadette’s supposed grandparent lines!

OK – so no close matches found at FamilyTreeDNA to positively identify birth parents. But evidence was growing that Bernadette’s birth father was most likely the man who had raised her.

Time to move on to the next DNA tool.

researching genetic genealogy online


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