Blog

I am often asked by clients where they should search if they cannot find a record in the British Library or The National Archives, or online at sites such as the FIBIS database, Family Search, Find My Past, Ancestry, or India Office Family History Search. The answer I have to give is, contact the church in India.

Emma Jolly, in the article St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. My DNA: Living DNA Results

    Recently I was sent a complimentary test by a new British ancestry DNA company, Living DNA.

    The company, based in Frome in Somerset, has just launched in the UK, but is working with experienced mathematical genomicists like Professor Simon Myers of the University of Oxford (one of the team of academic researchers (https://www.gensci.net/) from various UK universities who in partnership with Living DNA developed the autosomal ancestry test) to help interpret customers’ results.

    “This is a whole new approach to DNA ancestry testing, and it is highly personal. No other method – either in scientific literature or in the field of personal genomics – can identify the ancestry of a single person to the level of regions within the UK.”

    Dr Dan Lawson, University of Bristol

    As such, Living DNA claims to have developed the world’s first DNA test which allows people to break down their British ancestry to any of 21 regions in the UK, and that shows how their worldwide ancestry from 80 population groups has evolved over history.

    The 21 regions covered are:

    • Aberdeenshire – Aberdeen and the surrounding areas of Northeast Scotland
    • Central England
    • Cornwall
    • Cumbria
    • Devon
    • East Anglia
    • Ireland
    • Lincolnshire
    • North Wales
    • North Yorkshire
    • Northwest England
    • Northwest Scotland
    • Northumbria – “a unique genetic signature that can be detected within the region today”
    • Orkney
    • South Central England
    • Southeast England
    • South England
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland – “There is a shared genetic signature for the areas now known as Northern Ireland and the Southwest of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway. The areas are divided by a watery barrier, yet historical migrations across the sea have led to a shared genetic legacy between them.”
    • South Wales Border
    • South Wales
    • South Yorkshire

     

    This test uses the latest GSA Illumina chips, and their algorithms have been developed in partnership with members of the team behind the landmark People of the British Isles study of 2015. Living DNA is keen to stress that this is a geographic test, focusing on where people have lived, rather than on ethnic diaspora/population community groups such as Jewish Askenazi.

    The aim of the project is to show how we are all connected and the company is keen to use DNA testing to help combat racism by demonstrating that race is only socially constructed – there is not genetic foundation for the concept of race. To that end, the company is working in schools on projects with Show Racism the Red Card.

    “Compared to other ancestry tests out there, Living DNA is like viewing your family history on a high definition TV. By combining the latest DNA testing technology with the most robust academic research, we can give users the most accurate picture of their estimated ancestry.”

    David Nicholson, managing director, Living DNA

    Claiming to be the most academically robust on the market, the test does not use admixture but examines the way DNA is linked together. The aim is to bring academic work to individual consumers around the world, including family historians. As the test is new, results will be updated continually and results amended over time. This is particularly the case for areas where samples are currently low, such as with the area of southern Ireland.

    For my test, I did not need to send a DNA sample. I simply submitted my raw data (taken from a prior genetic genealogy test). The test works autosomally, reading from the 22 of the 23 chromosomes that make up each person’s DNA using technology based on the Living DNA Orion chip (comprising software and unique reference databases). Autosomal DNA is inherited randomly from our ancestors, meaning that siblings can show a different inheritance in this test. One brother may have inherited more DNA from a Welsh 4x great grandmother, for example, than his sister. Thus the test provides a unique insight into each individual’s geographic inheritance.

    Map showing the distribution of my DNA.

    Professor Myers told me that while the team is able to quite precisely identify regional contributions within the British Isles, the genetic differences they are identifying are also very subtle. Most people’s ancestors are likely to come from a more geographically diverse set of locations in the 6-10 generation period than are exactly traceable using genealogies. In general, it’s harder to precisely pin down contributions that make up only very small amounts of DNA geographically, because they give less data for analysis.
    On first glance, my results make sense compared with my known ancestry. They indicate that I have 90.7% British Isles DNA, which matches roughly with results from other autosomal tests.
    In comparison, my Ancestry test indicated 85% Great Britain, Family Tree DNA suggests 72% British Isles, while DNA Land has me as 76% Northwest European (which covers Scottish Argyll_Bute_GBR and British in England; Icelandic in Iceland; Norwegian in Norway and Orcadian in Orkney Islands).

    Within the Living DNA’s 90.7% British Isle results, my genetic breakdown is as follows:

    • South Central England 18.2% [update Aug 2017: 19.3%]
    • Central England 14.3% [update Aug 2017: 4.5%]
    • South Wales Border 9.8% [update Aug 2017: 23%]
    • North Wales 9% [update Aug 2017 8.8%]
    • South Wales 7.6% [update Aug 2017: 9%]
    • Northumbria 6% [update Aug 2017: 5.5%]
    • Cornwall 4.7% [update Aug 2017 4.3%]
    • East Anglia 4.4% [update Aug 2017 2.3%]
    • Devon 3.6% [update Aug 2017 2.5%]
    • Northwest England 3.2% [update Aug 2017 2.5%]
    • Southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland 2.6% [update Aug 2017 2.7%]
    • Cumbria 2.6% [update Aug 2017 2%]
    • Orkney 1.6% [update Aug 2017 1.4%]
    • Aberdeenshire 1.1% [update Aug 2017 2.8%]
    • British Isles (unassigned) 1.8% [update -]
    • Southeast England [update Aug 2017 1.3%]

    As I have recently been learning Welsh in order to help with family history research (as well as visits to Wales), I was pleased that, according to these results,  the Welsh contributions adding up to 26.4% indicate that I am 1/4 Welsh. In these results,  the “Welsh borders” also includes some English regions bordering Wales (such as Shropshire where I have known ancestors). However, Professor Myers clarified that usually, Welsh ancestry is not mistaken for other places. 5/32 of my 3x great grandparents were born in Wales. Others may have had Welsh ancestry which has been picked up autosomally. [August 2017 update: my Welsh contribution now adds up to a whopping 40.8%. It remains to be seen how much of this is from the English border counties . . . ]

    Description of the Central region from the Living DNA website.

    Regarding my ancestors from Central England, this area seemed a bit vague. The description references Mercia, which in the past included Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Shropshire. Of my 32 3xgreat grandparents, 15 were born in this region. The test broadly divides Central England into two zones, one more Northerly and one more Southerly.

    I was a little confused by the definition of the “S. Central England” region (which would also include Gloucestershire, Somerset, Oxfordshire etc.), as I do not have any recent ancestry from those counties. However, Professor Myers told me that Wiltshire, where 2 of my 3xgreat grandparents were born, heavily overlaps and they would expect/hope for ancestry from Wiltshire to be attributed to this region (and sometimes also to S. England). I told him that I had ancestry from Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, also, and he suggested that this might contribute more to the N. Central England region, but that as these regions are neighbouring and also extremely similar genetically, some overlap is expected.

    Two of my 3xgreat grandparents are from Norfolk and my genetic connection to them has been proven through another genetic DNA test. East Anglian DNA is very similar to that of Germany – indicating that of all the British regions, this is the most Anglo-Saxon. Others contain the presence of Vikings, Jutes, Danes, Normans and, of course, Celts. Although, my East Anglian results are only small here, they fit with the small percentage contributed by these Norfolk ancestors. Professor Myers explained that as my Norfolk-born great, great grandmother, Maria Pymer Jolly, is separated from me by four generations of random inheritance (or non-inheritance), this means I won’t always get exactly 6.25% (the percentage presented by a 2x great grandparent) of DNA from her. She might genuinely have only given me 4-5% of my ancestry – with other ancestors being over-represented instead. He went on to say that the test is not *so* precise currently that the proportions for these small contributions are exactly accurate.

    For me, the oddest results were those indicating that I have ancestry from Cornwall and Devon. I wondered if within the 10 generations, I might have South Western ancestors who moved the relatively short distances north to Wales or Wiltshire. Plymouth in Devon, but on the border of Cornwall, is just 143 miles from Devizes, where one of my 3x great grandmothers was born, for example. Newport in south Wales is just over 60 miles away from Devizes. Professor Myers agreed that this interpretation of local movements seems very sensible, as the test is reasonably confident there is some ancestry from these regions at some point.

    For the 1.8% unassigned (British) ancestry, he explained that this means Living DNA thinks the ancestry is from the UK, but in their evaluation of uncertainty in my results (where they essentially reanalyse my genome after “resampling” its parts, a standard statistical approach) this 1.8% could not be confidently pinned down geographically. After a second look at the data, Professor Myers said his “best guess” for the 1.8% is actually Southern England, which could fit with my Wiltshire ancestry.

    My 2x great grandfather, William Jolly, was born in Montrose, Forfar (now Angus) but his parents were from Kincardineshire, which Living DNA places in Aberdeenshire and/or Northwest Scotland as it falls right at the border of the two different regions). It is possible that the evidence of ancestry in South west Scotland & Northern Ireland, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, and possibly Cumbria, all comes from this part of my family tree.

    There is still more research to be done on my tree by more and more analysis by Living DNA on my genetic data. However, the results so far appear to be a positive start to understanding my British genetic ancestry.

    Living DNA’s test itself is run on a custom-built “Living DNA Orion Chip”. It is one of the first bespoke DNA chips in the world to be built using the latest GSA technology from market leader Illumina, and tests over 656,000 autosomal (family) markers, 4,700 mitochondrial (maternal) markers and 22,000 Y-chromosomal (paternal) markers.

    A lifetime membership to Living DNA costs £120, including a swab kit, the DNA ancestry test itself and access to a personalised, interactive results platform. Test results typically take 8-12 weeks before they are available, and a bespoke coffee table book of the results costs an additional £39 plus postage and packing. A membership also includes free lifetime updates to people’s results as new ancestry research and population groups are added to the platform and as science evolves.

  2. Genetic Genealogy: My AncestryDNA Results

    Genetic genealogy is becoming increasingly important to contemporary family history research. When a paper trail fails us, a DNA test may provide the missing piece to the puzzle of an illegitimacy, unofficial adoption, or unclear ethnic origins. Recently there have been well-publicized accounts of foundlings discovering a parent and of others finding biological ancestors previously unidentifiable in historical documents.

    AncestryDNA-kitPaper documents are essential to family history research. The birth/marriage/death certificates, censuses, wills, church records, newspaper reports and so on tell us (or give us clues about) the identities of our ancestors. But where the “wrong” father’s name is given on a birth certificate, or no clue exists as to parental identity, genealogists can become stuck.

    With improved accessibility and competitive pricing of family history DNA tests over the past five years, the potential of genealogy has been transformed. You may not know the identity of your father, for example, but through DNA testing you could discover a relative of his, or establish his ethnic origin. To this end, AncestryDNA launched its tests in the UK early this year. I received the results of my tests this week and have analyzed them below.

    Autosomal DNA

    There are three main types of DNA test for family history research:-

    • Y-chromosome (Y-DNA)
    • Mitrochondrial DNA (MtDNA)
    • Autosomal

    Y-DNA is used to research the paternal line. The test can be taken by males only. The MtDNA test can be taken by men or women but is used to research the maternal line only. The autosomal test can be taken by men or women and tests the DNA inherited from autosomal chromosomes. In a nutshell, this is DNA inherited from all of our ancestors back to our 3rd great grandparents and some of the DNA inherited from ancestors up to the 10th great grandparents. For a detailed account of autosomal DNA see this ISOGG Wiki.

    In family history, we can use autosomal DNA primarily for three aims:

    • to find matches with our genetic cousins
    • to identify our recent ethnic origins
    • to find information on our health.

    The largest companies that provide tests for the first two of the above aims are Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), AncestryDNA, and 23&Me. I tested with FTDNA in 2012. FTDNA provides Y-DNA and MtDNA tests alongside their autosomal test, which is known as Family Finder.

    The third of these aims, health information, is provided commercially by the company 23&Me. Otherwise, raw data from Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA tests can be uploaded for free to Promethease, but care should be taken with this as no analysis of results is provided.

    AncestryDNA tests only for autosomal DNA. Currently, the company does not offer any Y-DNA or MtDNA testing.

    The AncestryDNA Test

    Taking the test was relatively straightforward. I did have to activate the kit by using Ancestry in Chrome rather than my usual Firefox browser, but other than that there were few problems. Unlike FTDNA, which requires a cheek swab, for the AncestryDNA test I had to spit several times into a vial. I then had to fasten the lid tightly without breaking it – which I found quite tricky. Eventually I managed it and then posted off to Ireland.

    A few weeks later, I found my AncestryDNA results by checking on the DNA tab on the Ancestry website. Below is the page showing my results. For privacy reasons, I have removed the images of my genetic cousins which sit below the “DNA Matches” heading.

    AncestryDNA main page

    The results are all summarized on this one page. On the left is a pie chart showing a broad estimate of my ethnic origins. By clicking on this option the full breakdown is revealed.

    Cousin Matches

    On the right in the screenshot above is the section revealing my DNA matches. The last point on the far right suggests that I have 19 4th cousins or closer. In fact, when I click on these cousins, they are all suggested “4th-6th cousins”. The confidence of these cousins being within this range is only “Extremely High” for one match but “Very High” for the other 18. I have 37 pages of matches. Most are in the 5th-8th range, and are thus difficult to match with my known ancestors.

    DNA tests for family history do not tell you how you are related to a match. You have to work that out for yourself. The test can be used to confirm a relationship with a second cousin, for example, whom you may have found through your family history research or from a shaking leaf on your Ancestry tree. A second cousin should almost always (99% probability) show up as a match in an autosomal DNA test. There is a 90% chance that a 3rd cousin will show up, but far less probability for a 4th cousin. This is because while the two 4th cousins could inherit DNA from their shared ancestor, this may be from different parts of distinct chromosomes. For this reason, care should be taken when using the test to match with those cousins who match distantly on paper. On the other hand, you could find that you share DNA with someone who shares a far more distant ancestor, like a 10th great grandparent. For these reasons, it is helpful to ask as many of your known cousins to test: it is difficult to predict beyond 2nd cousins who will show up in your autosomal DNA matches.

    One of the benefits of AncestryDNA is that, in theory, you can correspond the ancestry of your matches with your own ancestry using the Ancestry Family Trees. Unfortunately, this only works if both you and your match have uploaded a detailed family tree . . . and if the corresponding ancestor has been added. Of my “close” 19 genetic cousins, only 12 have added a family tree. Of those 12, 6 have added less than 100 ancestors to their tree. I have contacted 4 of these matches to see if we can find a common link, but have received only one reply so far. This can be one of the frustrating aspects of genetic genealogy.

    On the FTDNA website, you can use phasing to work out the possible branches on which you match your relative. Below is a screenshot from my Family Finder matches showing the option to click on “In Common With”. After clicking this, a list of all the cousins who match with this relative (in this example, it is my father) will appear. Family Finder also includes details of the amount of shared centimorgans (cM) and a chromosome browser which reveals on which chromosome(s) you are connected to each cousin.

    FamilyFinder pageIn contrast, AncestryDNA has a “Most Recent Common Ancestor” feature. When you review your matches you will see whether some of the proposed cousin matches have trees attached to their results. Once you click into this (provided they have made their tree public), you will be able to see a list of common surnames across both your tree and theirs.

    DNA CirclesLinked to this, Ancestry has a “DNA Circles” section to identify another user who is a DNA match and has the same ancestor in his/her tree. Using the circles you can add a third person who also has matching DNA, or a fourth. The idea behind this is that it is more likely that you’re all related because you’re descendants of a particular ancestor. However, as you can see from the screenshot of my Ancestry results above, I am yet to be included in any circles.

    Another feature for finding common ancestors is the maps and locations tab which allows you to find matches using a location perspective (i.e comparing the people in your tree versus your potential matches).

    So far, it seems that AncestryDNA has good potential for identifying my genetic cousins. One oddity I have found concerns a match who appears in both my Family Finder and my AncestryDNA matches lists. He is clearly the same person as not only does he have the same name, he has exactly the same photograph. For privacy reasons, he shall remain anonymous here, but what is notable is that on Family Finder he is identified as a 2nd-4th cousin, whereas on AncestryDNA he is only a suggested 5th-8th cousin. There is a big difference between the two. I have been in email contact with this cousin but we are yet to prove the link between us. Until then, it is uncertain whether Family Finder or AncestryDNA is the more accurate in measuring our cousin relationship.

    Ethnic Origins

    Family Finder estimates that my ethnic origin is 87% European. This is broken down into 72% “British Isles”, 10% Eastern European, and 5% “Western and Central Europe”.  What it did not identify was any Indian ancestry. For my mother, however, the test identified 2% “Central South Asian” which includes some of the area covered by India during the period of British rule. This was an interesting discovery for us as we had no suggestion from paper research or from family rumour that we had any Indian ancestry.

    On Ancestry, the test has picked up Indian origins in my test. “Asia South” is recognised as providing less than 1% of my DNA and the Caucasus of West Asia also provides less than 1%. This fits with me having half of my mother’s 2% Indian ancestry and I was impressed that the Ancestry test had identified this from my personal DNA.

    Regarding my European origins, Ancestry identifies me as having 85% from “Great Britain”. Separately from those, 5% is “Irish”. In the Ancestry test, “Irish” is regarded as separate from British ancestry. From Y-DNA testing we know there is some Irish ancestry on my Scottish JOLLY branch. However, contrasting this with the paper trail suggests that 5% may be too great an estimate. Nevertheless more work needs to be done on this and it is possible that there is Irish ancestry on one or more other branches of my tree.

    Conclusion

    For DNA tests to be useful for family history research, more people are needed to test. The larger the pool of testers, the more likely it is that those of us who have taken tests will find matches. As shown by both Family Finder and AncestryDNA, most of my ancestors in the past 15 generations are from Great Britain. It is probable, therefore, that I will match with more testers if they or most of their ancestors originate in Britain. That AncestryDNA has only recently launched in the UK is exciting for users like myself. I am looking forward to finding more matches over time as more Britons take the test. I just hope that when they do, they take the opportunity to add as many ancestors as they can to their Ancestry trees and that they respond to online messages.

    On that note, if anyone reading this blog recognizes me in their matches on either Ancestry or FTDNA, I would be very delighted to hear from you!

    In this post I have touched only briefly on the very complex science of genetic genealogy. For a clear and comprehensive account of family history tests and the genetics behind them, I recommend Debbie Kennett’s DNA and Social Networking (The History Press, 2011).

    UPDATE APRIL 2016

    Since I posted this, I have received two Ancestry DNA “hints”. These are indicated in the DNA section of my Ancestry profile by the shaking leaf symbol. In the examples on my profile (see screengrab below) the two matches were suggested to be a 4th cousin and a “distant cousin”. Ancestry user names have been removed from the screengrab below to protect privacy.

    Hints page Ancestry DNA

    Both of these Ancestry users have proved to be identifiable cousins thanks to the information in their (and my) online trees. As you can see in the above image, both of my newly-found cousins have high numbers of people in their online Ancestry trees. I also have several thousand people recorded in my Ancestry tree. Using the information we have inputted, the Ancestry DNA technology was able to identify our mutual ancestors (as shown in the screengrabs below).

    This screengrab shows that my match here was correctly identified by Ancestry as my 4th cousin. We share Norfolk ancestors, Clark Pymer and Ann Oxborough.

    Update Ancestry DNA Mar 2016 screengrab

     

    Ancestry DNA blog update

    The second screeengrab shows that this ancestor, Emanuel Billingham (1750-1837), is further removed from my cousin and myself. Here Ancestry is able to identify that my match is my 5th cousin 1x removed.

    I was hoping that there would be a way of confirming that these two Ancestry users were my cousins, as there is on FTDNA. Unfortunately, the only method appears to be through the Ancestry DNA Circles I mentioned above. In order to create an Ancestry DNA Circle (or for one to be created for you), there need to be three confirmed matches. So far, I only have two for each ancestor.

    Thanks to Debbie Kennett for pointing me to this Ancestry DNA blog which explains in detail the requirements for Ancestry DNA Circles: http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2014/11/20/new-ancestrydna-technology-powers-new-kinds-of-discoveries/

     

     

Latest From Emma's Blog

Photo Restoration Services

Recently, I was contacted by Nick Harris from Photo Restoration Services offering to demonstrate his skills on some of my […]

[Read more]

Book Review: Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors

Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians by John Wintrip (Pen & Sword, 2017) Last […]

[Read more]

From Twitter

Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists