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Using Autsomal DNA Testing to Identify An Adoptee’s Roots

The Mystery

Helen Marley Johnson, my great-grandmother, was born to unidentified parents on March 3, 1889, in Oswego County, New York.  Although I didn’t really know Marley, I remember meeting her when I was very, very young, just before she died in 1983.

Copyright Blaine T. BettingerMarley lived in Oswego and Jefferson counties for all her long life.  She was married twice, had two children, and today has numerous descendants located throughout the United States and the world.  However, by the time Marley was 13 years old, she had been adopted by at least three different families, eventually marrying into the last family that adopted her.

Since I began my genealogical research more than 20 years ago, I’ve worked to find the parents of Marley Johnson, without much success.  I have a plethora of data about the entire remainder of her life, but almost nothing about her ancestry.  For example, although I’ve found her birth certificate, it lists her mother as Minerva Johnson (a name that may or may not be real, and which I’ve found nothing on) and lists her father as “unknown.”

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2

DNA Heritage Ceases Operations and Transfers Database to Family Tree DNA

DNA Heritage, a popular genetic genealogy company intiated in 2002, has ceased operations (although pending orders will be fulfilled).  The company’s website announced today that it is in the process of transferring their database and domains to Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA, meanwhile, has announced that it records in the DNA Heritage database will only be placed into FTDNA’s database if the owner agrees to opt-in.  FTDNA has a series of FAQs related to the transfer available here.

The full text of the announcement is below:

As of April 19 2011, DNA Heritage has ceased its operations and is in the process of transferring the domains DNAHeritage.com and Ybase.org to Family Tree DNA.

All the tests in progress will be processed by our current lab and the results will be delivered to our customers.

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4

Additional Native American Haplogroup Discovered by Genetic Genealogists

Robert Estes of DNAeXplain announces the discovery of a previously-undiscovered Native American haplogroup.  Up to the current point, research had found only two Y-DNA haplogroups in the Native peoples of North and South America – C3b and Q1a3a (aka Q1a3a1).  However,  new research described in the accompanying paper (here (pdf)) uncovers a third haplogroup found in Native peoples.

From the paper:

“For the past decade, since the advent of genetic genealogy, it has been accepted that subgroups of haplogroup C and Q were indicative of Native American ancestry. Specifically, subgroups C3b and Q1a3a, alone, are found among the Native peoples of North and South America. Other subgroups of haplogroup C and Q are found elsewhere in the world, not in North or South American, and conversely, C3b and Q1a3a are not found in other locations in the world. This makes it very easy to determine if your direct paternal ancestor was, or was not, Native American. Or so it seemed.”

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2

Welcome Post-Standard Readers!

On Sunday, the Syracuse Post-Standard featured a story about personalized genomics and medicine entitled “Future medicine: Patients with genetic codes will seek personalized care from doctors” by Amber Smith.  The article discusses several of the recent advances in the field of genomics, including the many DTC (“direct-to-consumer”) tests available to consumers, and what that will mean for medical care now and in the future.  Smith writes:

“Interest in personal DNA analysis is growing, as the number of genomic retailers multiply. Navigenics is the first to obtain a license in New York state, last December, and other companies are going through the approval process now. A course at Syracuse’s Upstate Medical University prepares doctors for the new medical world, where patients arrive for appointments not just with symptoms and complaints, but with a list of personal genetic variants — and concerns about what it means.”

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New Study Analyzing DTC Genetic Testing Released Today

PLEASE NOTE:  This post is a parody, and has two purposes: (1) simply for the sake of light-hearted fun; and (2) to provoke conversation with geneticists and researchers in this field (not that it will do so anyway!).  So many of the recent studies about consumer reactions and/or guidelines for DTC testing have been released without any data at all, or have been studies involving a handful of test-takers.  I believe that further studies are absolutely vital, but they should be an in-depth analysis rather than the curt and superficial write-ups that have been done to date.  Rather than contribute to solving issues related to DTC testing, these incomplete studies add to the confusion surrounding the field.

So, ASHG geneticists, if you can see the humor in things and are willing to accept challenges to your way of thinking, read the post below!  Otherwise, click here: http://www.ashg.org.

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4

Exploring New Scientific Research With My Genotype In Hand

This morning, a single tweet sent me on a 2-hour tour (more, if you count drafting this post!) of my genome.

In the tweet, Mary Carmichael expressed interest in a potential book regarding the orchid/dandelion theory recently described in a December 2009 article in The Atlantic “The Science of Success.”  Before this morning, I was not familiar with either the article or the theory.

The introduction to the article, reproduced below, does a good job of summarizing the main thrust of the very long (but extremely interested and worthwhile) report:

“Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere.  A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care.  So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success.  With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.”

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1

Family Tree DNA’s 6th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy Announced

From a Press Release issued by Family Tree DNA on August 11, 2010:

FAMILY TREE DNA’S 6th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON GENETIC GENEALOGY FOR GROUP ADMINISTRATORS TO BE HELD OCTOBER 30 & 31, 2010 IN HOUSTON

HOUSTON, (August 11, 2010) — Family Tree DNA, the world leader in genetic genealogy, will host its 6th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy on October 30-31, 2010, at the Sheraton North Houston in Houston, Texas. Each year, world renowned experts in genetics and science present cutting-edge developments and exciting new applications at this two-day educational forum which draws attendees from Family Tree DNA’s Group Administrators from around the world. This year’s conference will focus on the new Family Finder test which allows customers to find relatives across all ancestral lines.

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A Review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder – Part II

Last week I wrote about the results of my Family Finder autosomal DNA test by Family Tree DNA (see “A Review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder – Part I“).  The Family Finder test uses a whole-genome SNP scan to find stretches of DNA shared by two individuals, thus identifying your genetic cousins (and will soon include the Population Finder analysis of admixture percentages).  I currently have over 33 genetic cousins in Family Finder, and I’m working with them to identify our common ancestor(s).

The Affymetrix microarray chip used by FTDNA includes over 500,000 pairs of SNPs located on the X chromosome and the autosomes (no Y chromosome SNPs).  Via SNPedia:

FamilyTreeDNA uses an Affymetrix Axiom CEU microarray chip with 3,269 SNPs removed (563,800 SNPs reported) for autosomal and X (but not Y or mitochondrial) ancestry testing for $289. Other sources have cited 548011 snps. This platform tests 1871 of the 12442 snps in SNPedia.

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Using Genome-Wide SNP Scans to Explore Your Genetic Heritage

Mary Carmichael, a science editor for Newsweek, is in the midst of a week-long dilemma.  This Friday, after reading a series of articles written by members of the DTC genetic testing community, she will decide whether she should purchase a genome-wide SNP analysis.  Although the decision might be a simple one for some, in light of the recent critique of DTC genetic testing in the media, in the literature, and by the government, it is certainly understandable that Mary is looking for further insight into her decision.

Today, Mary is asking “What Can I Learn From At-Home DNA Tests?” and has gathered answers to her question from a wide variety of writers and scientists, including myself.  Since the Newsweek site only has space for a brief introduction to each topic, this post is meant to be a more in-depth answer what Mary could learn about her ancestry from a DTC test.

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A Review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder – Part I

Since late 2007, several “direct-to-consumer” or “DTC” genetic testing products have entered the marketplace, many of which offered some degree of autosomal ancestry analysis (including 23andMe, deCODEme, and Pathway Genomics, among others).

In early 2010, genetic ancestry testing company Family Tree DNA announced that it would begin offering a new genetic genealogy product (see “Announcing Family Finder – An Autosomal Test From Family Tree DNA”).  The new product, called “Family Finder,” is one of only a very few autosomal genetic genealogy tests available to consumers.

The Family Finder test uses an Affymetrix microarray chip that includes over 500,000 pairs of locations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in your autosomal DNA.  Once the SNPs are analyzed, FTDNA detects linked blocks of DNA that indicate a common ancestor.  The number and size of these linked blocks is used to determine how recently or closely two people are related.  From the Family Finder FAQ page:

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