All I Want for Christmas Is…Spit?

Yep, you heard right.  I want the spit of as many of my cousins as possible so we can test and compare our ancestral DNA.

I have been on a quest this year to gather the DNA of the oldest family members in my family and my husband’s family before it is too late.  With the recent drop in price of Family Tree DNA’s autosomal “Family Finder” test to $99, it is becoming more affordable to confirm family connections through the use of DNA.

I am a completely addicted genealogist.  But I fear that I am going to become an even more addicted genetic genealogist if I continue on this path!

So far I have had my own autosomal DNA tested with all three of the major testing companies:  23andMe, Ancestry DNA, and Family Tree DNA.  I’ve also had my maternal grandmother, father, and aunt (father’s sister) tested.  I even paid to transfer the raw DNA files from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA for my grandmother and father so that we could “fish in more ponds,” so to speak, and double our matches with people who may have only tested with one company or the other.

Because I’m female, I cannot take the Y DNA test to investigate my patrilineal ancestors, so I had my dad tested with Family Tree DNA instead.  I could have had my brother tested, but it’s always preferable to test the oldest living generation in a particular family line so that matches to common ancestors are not clouded by more recent mutations.  For this reason, I’ve also opted to have my husband’s father tested first, before I eventually test my husband.

DNA SwabsOn my wish list for testing are male descendants of my Swedish Anderson line (maternal grandfather’s surname).  I have a few candidates who could provide me not only the Y DNA sample, but also the autosomal DNA in the same test swab.  Similarly on my husband’s side, we’d like to get his uncle (mother’s brother) tested to capture the rare McCrossen Irish line, which was his mother’s maiden name.  My maternal grandmother’s brother had several male descendants who we could also test for my Italian Campagna line, which was my grandmother’s maiden name.  As you can see, the list goes on and on.

I have other cousins on my radar who I don’t even know yet.  I’m actively doing descendancy research from the levels of my 2X great- or 3X great-grandparents to find living males today in branches of the tree where I don’t already have a representative sample.  Why all the emphasis on males, you might ask?  Since females inherit two X sex chromosomes and males inherit both an X and Y sex chromosome, I prefer to find males to test so I have the option of testing both their Y and autosomal DNA.  In the absence of a viable male to test, I can still test a female’s autosomal DNA, but will not be able to trace the surname as easily (as surname patterns typically follow the male or Y DNA).

I am still happy to receive autosomal DNA samples from cousins, as it will help me to triangulate my matches with individuals who are predicted cousins, but do not have a recent matching surname that obviously jumps out from both our trees.  By using two or more autosomal DNA tests from cousins, tools are available to narrow down from which branch of the tree the cousin matches, making the search for the common ancestor much easier.

It can be a bit overwhelming to process one’s autosomal DNA results, since it’s not uncommon to have several hundred or even a thousand matches in the predicted 3rd to 8th cousin ranges.  By having two or preferably three cousins to compare results from a particular branch, I can utilize tools such as the chromosome browser provided by 23andMe or Family Tree DNA to see which segments of our DNA overlap.  Then, rather than trying to search through all branches of my entire tree, I can focus on the branch where I know the same segments of DNA have been inherited by myself and my cousins.

If I get my Christmas wish, I’ll be busy in 2014 pouring over spreadsheets of information to connect the dots (or should I say strands) in the DNA.  I’m excited about the prospect of meeting new cousins who may have unique family information, photos or artifacts.  Thanks to DNA, I just might break through some of my dead ends in 2014.