Newsletter - 10th July 2016

DNA Special


You've got your DNA results - what next?

Looking for shared surnames

How far back is our common ancestor?

Why place names are more important than surnames

How common matches can lead to common ancestors

Why you should ask your cousins to test...

... and why you should ask your cousins if they have already tested!

Time to update your My Details page NEW FEATURE

DNA and ethnicity: follow-up

Family Tree DNA tips

More DNA tips & techniques to come

Mother wins right to use dead daughter's eggs

A new way to search for war deaths

How Newfoundland soldiers forged lasting link with Scotland

Britain's oldest person dies, aged 113

New CEO takes over at Findmypast

Try out Findmypast with a half-price World subscription ENDS FRIDAY

How has Brexit affected genealogists?

Peter's Tips

Stop Press


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You've got your DNA results - what next?

The best thing about taking an autosomal DNA test is that you'll get hundreds, perhaps thousands, of matches with cousins - but how on earth do you figure out how you're related to all of them? I know from the emails I've had that for most researchers it's quite a conundrum, so I'm going to tell you what my strategy is....


But first, a reminder that anyone who takes an atDNA test thinking that it's easier than doing conventional research is likely to be sorely disappointed. Believe me, finding 'lost cousins' by completing your My Ancestors page is a LOT easier, as well as being infinitely cheaper. The time to turn to DNA is when you've gone as far as you reasonably can using paper records.


If you've just taken a DNA test and are waiting for the results you've probably got in mind some particular 'brick walls' that you'd like to knock down. At the last count I had about 70 'brick walls' in my family tree, but it tends to be the more recent ones - in the late 1700s or early 1800s - that are most frustrating, because they're the ones that have been outstanding the longest.


Let's suppose that, like me, you've got a great-great-grandmother who suddenly materialises in London on her wedding day. There are no confirmed sightings of her before that, and despite following every clue her birth and baptism simply can't be found.


I have 16 great-great-grandparents, so each of them is the gateway to 1/16th of my family tree. On average I've inherited 1/16th of my autosomal DNA from each of them, and - again on average - about 1/16th of all my DNA matches will be with cousins from that part of my tree. Since Family Tree DNA currently shows that I have 837 matches, that's around 50 for each of my great-great-grandparents.


Great - I've got 50 chances to knock down that annoying 'brick wall'! But wait a minute, how do I know which of those 837 matches are the ones I should be looking at? Indeed how can I know how any of my DNA cousins are actually related to me?


Looking for shared surnames

There's one obvious way to work out how you're related to your DNA cousins, and that's to look for familiar surnames in their tree. The first problem with this strategy is that not everyone uploads their tree, so you would have to email the other person; the second problem is that in most cases the surname of your common ancestor won't appear in both trees - indeed, it might not appear in either tree!


In conventional paper-based research we tend to spend more time working on males lines than female lines for one simple reason - males generally keep their surname when they marry, females usually don't. This makes it so much easier to research male lines, and as a result we don't discover a true cross-section of living cousins, or of deceased ancestors. However, unlike Y-DNA (which tracks the male line), autosomal DNA is passed on by both mother and father, which means that your DNA cousins are a much more representative sample of your living cousins.


The further back the common ancestor, the less likely it is that you'll recognise any of the surnames in your cousin's tree, or that they'll recognise any of the surnames in yours. Surnames will rarely tell you which ancestral line you share with a DNA cousin for the simple reason that most of your DNA matches are many generations back, as I'll explain the next article.


How far back is our common ancestor?

One of the most useful pages on the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) website is headed up Cousin statistics - you'll find it here.


The first table shows the chance that two cousins will be matched by their DNA:





Family Tree DNA Family Finder

First cousins




Second cousins




Third cousins




Fourth cousins




Fifth cousins




Sixth cousins



Remote (typically less than 2%)[2]

Seventh cousins



Eighth cousins



Ninth cousins


Tenth cousins



Looking at this table it's all too easy to jump to the conclusion that most of your DNA cousins will be close cousins - but you'd be wrong, because you have many more distant cousins than you do close cousins.


Here's another table used on the ISOGG page, which is taken from a 2012 paper by Brenna M Henn , Lawrence Hon, J Michael Macpherson, Nick Eriksson, Serge Saxonov, Itsik Pe'er, and Joanna L Mountain. It multiplies the chances of identifying cousins of different degree by the average number of cousins of that degree:



However, the figures they use for the number of cousins of each degree don't reflect the rate of growth of the British population in the 19th century, which in England & Wales averaged 1.3% per annum, or about 50% per generation (for simplicity I've ignored migration). You may recall that I mentioned some time ago that Ancestry DNA had published some statistics on cousin numbers, and I've incorporated them into my own table, which also draws on the table from the 2012 paper. Note that I've added my own guesstimates for the numbers of 7th and 8th cousins:


Degree of cousinship

Expected amount of IBD (cM)

Chance of detecting cousin

Expected number of cousins

Expected number of detectable cousins
















































These are very different figures, and that final column is very revealing - it suggests that we're typically going to find around 30 to 40 times as many 5th to 8th cousins as we are 1st to 4th cousins, even though the chances of our more distant cousins sharing detectable segments of DNA with us is very much lower.


I should warn you that these numbers are only rough estimates, but they demonstrate why, if you have British ancestry - as most readers of this newsletter do - you're likely to get so many distant matches.


There's another factor that can increase the chances of finding distant cousins - intermarriage in small communities. Communities can be isolated geographically, ethnically, by religion, or by social class - the last two explaining why three of the major players in the Great War were countries whose heads of state were grandsons of Queen Victoria (indeed, according to this BBC article, in 1914 there were 7 of her direct descendants and 2 of her Coburg relations on European thrones).


At one level matches with distant cousins are a bad thing - it makes it much more difficult to work out who the common ancestors were - but, at the same time it ultimately allows us to use DNA to research back further than would otherwise be possible.


Why place names are more important than surnames

As we've already noted, the chances of finding surnames we recognise in the trees of our DNA cousins are small - so what other options do we have?


People didn't move around as much in earlier centuries - so geography is likely to be a much better guide than surnames (which, on average, changed every other generation). Even when people did move, they tended not to move far, at least until the Industrial Revolution took hold - so you're much more likely to find that your DNA cousins have the same places in their tree than the same surnames. Usually it won't be the same parish, but knowing that your cousin's ancestors and your own were (say) 20 miles apart in the 18th century strongly suggests where in your tree the common ancestor is likely to be found.


Note: you're fairly unlikely to find the same parish mentioned in both trees - for the simple reason that when we run into a 'brick wall' it's usually because we can't find our ancestor's baptism in the parish where they married (or their marriage in the parish where their children were baptised).


Of course, the common ancestor could be several generations back from your 'brick wall' ancestor, so even when you've found a geographical overlap you've still got research to do - but at least you've got a better idea where to look. And geography isn't the only tool in your armoury - the techniques I describe in the following articles are even more powerful!


How common matches can lead to common ancestors

Let's suppose that you've tested with Family Tree DNA (or transferred your results from another company) - if so, you'll have a page that looks something like this:



The graphic shows my top 5 matches, one of which is with my brother, and two with known cousins (the fourth match is with a cousin who I found using DNA). If I click any one of my matches, so that it is highlighted in yellow, then click the in Common With tab, I'll get a list of all the DNA cousins that I share with the highlighted cousin.


Sometimes when you do this, one of those common matches will be with a known cousin - in which case you can deduce, with a reasonable amount of certainty, that the connection with your DNA cousin is on one of the lines you share with your known cousin.


Note: when I refer to a known cousin in this context I'm talking about someone whose connection to you is known - it could be someone you've known since childhood, someone you found through LostCousins (or another site), or someone you've found previously as a result of following up your DNA matches.


But it's not necessary to share your DNA cousin with a known cousin in order to learn more about how you match - in most cases you'll be able to make deductions by looking at the surnames and geographical locations in the trees that have been uploaded by your common matches. The extent to which analysing your common matches will help inevitably varies - for example, if you both match someone who lives in Germany and has only German ancestors, you can be reasonably confident that you and your DNA cousin have shared German ancestry (although your most recent common ancestor might have lived elsewhere).


Usually it won't be quite so obvious - nevertheless, if you combine all the hints from the different matches you may well have a pretty good idea where the match is, even if only geographically.


Note: although I used Family Tree DNA in the example above, you can carry out similar comparisons at GEDmatch.


Why you should ask your cousins to test...

The more known cousins who have tested, the more likely it is that when you find a new DNA match, you'll share that match with one of your cousins.


But which cousins should you ask to take an autosomal DNA test - should they be close cousins or distant cousins?


When distant cousins test you're narrowing down the possibility of shared matches. For example, a 4th cousin - someone who shares your 3G grandparents - shares only 1/16th of your tree, so when you find a DNA cousin who matches you both you can reasonably assume that the match is on that part of your tree. But the chance that you'll both have a detectable match with a specific individual who is (say) a 6th cousin to both of you is quite low - probably less than 1%. On the other hand, you'll have quite a lot of matches with 6th cousins, and roughly 1/16th of those will be with from the relevant part of your tree - so the odds aren't as bad as they first look.


So when distant cousins test your chance of finding common matches is lower - but the value of the matches is higher.


The closest relative I could ask to test was my brother, and whilst you might think that because we share the same parents we get all the same matches, that isn't the case. In fact my brother only shares about half of my matches - so between us we have around 50% more matches than either of us does individually. This is because between us we have 50% more DNA - for whilst we have the same parents, we each inherited a different subset of their DNA.


Knowing that my brother and I match with the same DNA cousin tells me nothing about where on our tree the common ancestor might be (because my brother and I have the same ancestors). But it does increase the total number of matches by half.


... and why you should ask your cousins if they have already tested!

Combining the statistics that various DNA testing companies have released about the number of autosomal tests they have carried out suggest that over 3.5 million people around the world have tested. Although this is a very small percentage of the world population, I would guess that most of them live in the English-speaking world, and that most of them are researching their family tree.


If that's the case, then bearing in mind that Ancestry had less than 2.5 million subscribers, there's a good chance that many of the cousins you already know through your research have already tested.


Now, I don't know about you, but I don't keep in touch with my 'found cousins' as regularly as I probably should. If I have their postal address I send them a Christmas card and a 'round robin', but we tend to email each other very intermittently.


The point I'm making is that you probably have several cousins who have taken autosomal DNA tests, but haven't thought to mention it to you. Why not get in touch with ALL of your cousins who are researching their tree to find out whether they (or a close relative) have tested?


Time to update your My Details page

There's a new field on your My Details page where you can specify whether you've taken an autosomal DNA test or not - or if it's something you're seriously considering. Right now the only people who will see what you enter are you and me, but at some point in the future that information will also be available to the other LostCousins members you've been matched with:



This will make it far easier to keep track of which cousins have tested - and it's yet one more reason* to recommend that cousins you find through other sites join LostCousins!


DNA and ethnicity: follow-up

I recently pointed out the very different ethnicity estimates that my brother and I got from Family Tree DNA (you can read the original article here). I ended with the rhetorical question "We have the same parents, so how can our ancestry be so different - of course, the answer is that it can't!", which some people interpreted as if I'd written "how can our ethnicity estimates be so different" (which isn't the same question at all).


The answer to the latter question is simple - we inherited different parts of our parents DNA. And that's one of the problems with ethnicity estimates, you'll get different results depending which sibling tests.


You'll also get different results depending which company you test with. When my brother tested with Ancestry they said he was 20% Irish, though not one of the ancestors I've found so far comes from Ireland - we don't even have any Catholic ancestors (which would be a possible pointer towards Irish ancestry).


So which of the three ethnicity estimates should we believe - well, my answer is NONE OF THEM! At best they'll confirm what you already know, or think you know, at worst they'll send you off on a wild goose chase. Testing your DNA in order to discover your ethnicity is like buying a lottery ticket in the expectation of winning the jackpot - the odds are against you.


Note: there will be rare occasions when an ethnicity estimate helps to confirm or deny a family rumour about an ancestor who married a slave, an Eskimo, or a Red Indian princess (and yes, I do know we don't call them that any more, so please don't write in!). But these instances will be few and far between - like lottery jackpots.


Family Tree DNA tips

If you’re looking at another researcher's family tree at Family Tree DNA it's important to be aware that in 'Family View' you're limited to 4 generations. I always switch to 'Ancestry View' which can have up to 15 generations, and switch on 'Detailed View' so that I can see at a glance where everyone was born.


More DNA tips & techniques to come

The tips and techniques that I've described so far are sufficient to get you started, but there's so much more to DNA for the real enthusiast.


In future articles I'll be writing about chromosome browsers, triangulation, and the possibility that your DNA matches somebody else's purely by chance - which could mean that your DNA cousin isn't a cousin at all.


Mother wins right to use dead daughter's eggs

It's a very sad story - and it would have been a controversial outcome whichever way it was decided. The Court of Appeal has decided that a mother can take her late daughter's frozen eggs to New York so that she can give birth to her own grandchild. You can read more about this difficult case here, on the BBC news site.


A new way to search for war deaths

I've long used the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site to search for relatives who died in the two World Wars, but it was only this week that I realised that it was possible to search by place name (by entering it in the Additional information box). If you're interested in local history as well as family history this could be very useful, but I'm sure there will be many other applications - house history could be one.


However, my wife spotted that there's an even better way to search the CWGC database by address at the WalesOnline website - not only can you search by street name (as well as by the name of the town or village), the results show the names and addresses, so you don't have to click on individual entries.


How Newfoundland soldiers forged lasting link with Scotland

Eight hundred members of the Newfoundland Regiment went into battle at Beaumont-Hamel on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme - but the next morning at roll call only 82 answered. You can read more about this tragic story and how Scotland is involved in this BBC Scotland article.


By the way, this week I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Gary Sheffield talk about his magisterial book Douglas Haig: from the Somme to Victory, and I believe I managed to persuade him to write an article for this newsletter.....


Britain's oldest person dies, aged 113

On Friday Gladys Hooper, Britain's oldest person passed away - she celebrated her 113th birthday on 18th January. Last year she was the oldest person in the world ever to have a hip operation - at the age of 112!


By a sad coincidence, the oldest person in the USA, Goldie Michelson of Massachusetts, also died the same day - and she was also 113, though she was a few months older than Gladys, having been born in 1902.


Still, I'm sure that most us would settle for living to 113 - I'd love to make it to 102 so that I can see myself on the 1951 Census!


New CEO takes over at Findmypast

Jay Verkler, former CEO of FamilySearch, has been appointed as interim CEO of Findmypast.  He takes over from Annelies van den Belt who has stepped down after three years.


I've never knowingly met Mr Verkler, but he has a lot of experience - as CEO of FamilySearch for a decade from 2002 to 2012 he oversaw the period of transition from paper and microfilm to digital and online records. The announcement suggests that his term of office will be just 6 months, but remembering back to what his predecessor achieved in her first 6 months we could still see a lot of changes!


One thing is missing from the announcement - it doesn't mention that he's interested in family history. But it's hard to imagine that with a background like his, he hasn't researched his own family tree!


Try out Findmypast with a half-price World subscription EXTENDED???

You can save 50% on a 1 month Findmypast subscription when you follow the appropriate link below:


A World subscription can be used at any of Findmypast's four sites, and gives access to all of Findmypast's 8 billion records and newspaper articles with the exception of the 1939 Register (which is only available to subscribers with a 12 month Britain or World subscription).


If you're an Ancestry subscriber it's a great opportunity to get access to a massive collection, which includes many records which are exclusive to Findmypast - so you can fill in those annoying gaps in your tree! But to make the most of your initial month you'll need to hit the ground running, so see this article from March which explains how to get the most out of the Findmypast site.


Of course there are some records, such as censuses, that are also available at other sites but most of the record sets aren't online at any other sites: for example, highlights from the British collection include parish registers for CheshireDevonHertfordshirePlymouth & West DevonShropshireStaffordshireWestminster, most of East Kent, large parts of Yorkshire, and much of Wales (all exclusive to Findmypast). Findmypast also has partly indexed register images for Lincolnshire, whilst Leicestershire and Rutland parish registers will also be going online at Findmypast later this year.


You'll see this offer elsewhere - it isn't exclusive to LostCousins - but you'll only be supporting LostCousins if you use the links at the start of the article (if they don't work for you, see the notes at the start of this newsletter).


Note: your monthly subscription will be automatically renewed at the normal price unless you change the auto-renew setting under Personal details in the My Account section of the site. You can do this at any time.


How has Brexit affected genealogists?

Even if you have no interest in politics or economics, I'm sure you will have noticed that two weeks ago the UK voted to leave the European Union. The most immediate effect was a big fall in the British pound against other currencies - against the US dollar it set a 31-year low.


For anyone outside the UK who is buying subscriptions, certificates, books etc that are priced in pounds this is really good news: for example, a LostCousins subscription that would have cost US$15 last month will now cost about $13. Similarly a birth, marriage or death certificate that would have cost you $14 last month will now cost about $12. There are also useful savings for researchers who live in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, mainland Europe - indeed, just about anywhere other than the UK.


Unfortunately for those of us in the UK (which means two-thirds of the readers of this newsletter) it works in reverse - foreign holidays will cost more, and so will the cost of imports such as wine from the New World, cheese from France and, inevitably, fuel (since oil is priced in US dollars). And, if Genealogy in the Sunshine goes ahead in Portugal next March, as I hope, that will also be more expensive.


But since this is a DNA Special edition, perhaps most relevant is the increase in the cost of Family Finder tests, which will now cost around £91 including shipping, £10 more than before. This is much closer to the cost of an Ancestry DNA test, which costs £99 in the UK including shipping (though if you order more than one test at the same time there is a £10 saving in the shipping charge).


However, price isn't the only consideration - there are other factors to take into account, such as the limited functionality if you discontinue your Ancestry subscription (Family Tree DNA doesn't have subscriptions), and the lack of tools to analyse your matches.


Peter's Tips

Last month I had a good moan about BT, who tried to shock me out of switching to Sky by telling me I could lose "up to £194.28" in prepaid line rental (as you may recall, this was totally untrue).


They eventually seemed to accept that I was leaving, but then sent me a parting gift - an invoice for £67.92 for the following month, which they promptly took from my bank account! So which part of "I'm leaving" don't they understand?


But don't let BT's incompetence put you off buying their BT8500 and BT8600 call-blocking phones - only today I received an email from Judey in which she wrote: "I'm thrilled with my BT call blocker phone which I got on your recommendation."


Incidentally, there is little difference between the two models - my advice is to buy whichever is cheapest in the configuration you need (all include a digital answering machine, so you can cancel 1571, saving over £2 a month). And if you're shopping on Amazon (as I usually do), look at the deals offered by third-party sellers, especially for items in damaged packaging.


If you like saving money and spending money then you might want to consider signing up for a free one month trial of Amazon Prime now, so that it includes Prime Day (12th July), when there are lots of discounted deals. I bought several things from the UK site last year (and yes, for the benefit of my wife - who is reading this - they were things I actually needed!), so I'm hoping that this year will be just as good. You can support LostCousins by using one of the following links to sign up for your free trial:    


Working from home I don't pick up many colds, but when they do strike - as one did this week - they're pretty devastating. Hopefully today will be the low point (but then I thought that yesterday, and the day before); so if I'm a little slow responding to emails, and perhaps a little grumpy, please forgive me - I feel awful!


Stop Press

The Findmypast offer above should have ended on Friday 15th July, but when I checked today (12.49pm 16th July) it was still available - so get in quick!


That's all for now - but if you're still mystified by DNA, please see the series of introductory articles I published last year:


Understanding DNA #1: your genetic inheritance

Understanding DNA #2: mtDNA myths

Understanding DNA #3: the truth behind DNA tests

Understanding DNA #4: how DNA is inherited

Understanding DNA #5: choosing the right test

Understanding DNA #6: choosing the right company

Understanding DNA #6: choosing the right company (continued)



Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


© Copyright 2016 Peter Calver


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