Can I get your number?

I’m a numbers guy. I like to know how I’m doing against my goals and track statistics to see trends. I have an app on my iPhone that tells me how many cigarettes I haven’t smoked since I quit 6 months ago (3500-ish) and how much money I can redirect into my genealogy habit as a result (about $1000!!). I have apps to track my weight, my money, etc… It’s probably one of those things that has bled over into my personal life from work where “if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. There’s something Pavlovian about it for me.

The one area that was for the most part safe from statistics was genealogy, until I read Crista Cowen’s “What’s Your Number?” post. I mean, I know about how many people are in my tree (5070 as of today), but that doesn’t really say anything about how I’m “doing”. What does that even mean in this context? I’m not doing any of this just to collect a bunch of names and dates. I want to know who I come from and where they came from, so I can go there and walk where they walked and hopefully eat some delicious desserts (to immerse myself in the experience, of course). But, I like this statistic, lets check it out.

As Crista outlines, in 10 generations each of us has 1,022 direct-line ancestors. Count up how many you have documented in each generation, add ‘em up and divide by 1022 to get your percentage. So how am I doing?

Not too bad, 10.6% overall. On my maternal grandmothers’ line I can’t get past my great-great grandparents (yet) so that takes quite a few possibles out very quickly. Fortunately, my paternal grandmothers’ family have been in America for around 300 years and left a nice document trail. The great thing is I now have a renewed focus and motivation to work on the lines that are sparse. Sometimes I get caught up in peripheral lines (making the tree wider, rather than deeper), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this is a number I’ll keep looking to improve.

Out of curiosity, I ran the numbers for my wife’s line and it came out slightly better at 12%. Her paternal French-Canadian lines are fairly well documented (Berube and Michaud). Her maternal lines are more recent (mid-to-late 1800’s) Irish immigrants, thus a little harder to track down.

I’d also highly recommend reading The Legal Genealogist’s entertaining blog post “More lost than found” on this same topic. So, what’s your number?

Source: Crista Cowan, “Family History All Done? What’s Your Number?,” Ancestry.com Blog, posted 16 Aug 2012 (http://blogs.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Aug 2012).

Tech Tuesday – DNA Test Results, Surprise!

I’ve wanted to have a DNA test done for years, but the technology that was available (Y-DNA, and mitochondrial or mtDNA) was expensive and limited. Briefly, Y-DNA tests a direct paternal line, mtDNA tests a direct maternal line. Each test starts at around $150 and goes up from there and the results are only telling you about a very specific line in your family tree.

On this past season of the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr., Dr. Gates introduced a DNA part to the show where he would show a very simple pie chart that represented the persons ethnicity. The type of test he uses is an Autosomal (auDNA) test. From my very basic level of understanding, you get a much more complete picture because each autosome (1/2 of a chromosome pair) has segments of DNA that are passed down from each prior generation. More about Autosomal and genetic testing here.

Around November 2011, Ancestry.com sends me an email that says for $9.95 shipping and handling, I can be in the Beta test of their new Autosomal DNA test. So I signed up, got my kit, swabbed my cheek and sent it in. And waited, and waited… Finally, in April 2012 I get the notification that my results are in!

At this point, I had certain expectations based upon what I know of my family history. I have always self-identified as Irish/Italian. My immigrant ancestors are from Ireland, England, Italy, Poland and Germany. I have documents that show this, so I feel very confident that my DNA results will show this makeup. Well, not quite, here’s a screenshot of my results:

The numbers on the map represent birth locations from my actual tree.

Scandinavian? What the…. I’m thinking – there’s a mistake, my results were mixed up with someone else’s. I don’t have one ancestor from that part of the world, not one. So I start doing some research on the web and find that others were seeing similar results. I’m  not sure about the 7% Persian/Turkish/Caucus either.

I call Ancestry customer support and the helpful rep tells me that first- the results could be showing information from hundreds and hundreds of years ago and second- as more people take the test, the more accurate the results will be and that percentages can change a little. I think, like a lot of people, my expectations were that the test would show maybe 200 years back at the most, although I didn’t have a specific number in my head. It would be Irish/Eastern Europe/Italian/English, confirming exactly what the birth certificates show. Apparently, DNA doesn’t really care what we think, it just is.

So the more I read about it, the more comfortable I am that the test is accurate and that ultimately the results are showing “deeper” ancestry than is possible by using records alone. Vikings got around apparently. Right now I’m reading Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland by Brian Sykes to learn more. Spoiler alert: the genetic roots of Britain and Ireland are significantly Scandinavian!

Maybe that’s why I had such blond hair as a kid and why I can actually stand to shop in Ikea? Ok, I really don’t like shopping at Ikea, but I do like this song. It’s interesting to learn new things that challenge what you’ve always thought about yourself, although I don’t think I’ll change my “Irish/Italian” self-identification just yet.

Ancestry also compares your results with other members results to find potential “cousins”.

I haven’t found a connection with anyone as of yet, although I’ve found many cousins via the traditional genealogical methods. I’m hopeful that as more members take the test I’ll see more matches.

You can order a test or read more about the AncestryDNA program. I’d recommend it, you might learn something new!

Have you taken a DNA test? Did the results surprise you? Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.