Way back what feels like 3 centuries ago, I watched a webinar by Blaine Bettinger called LucidChart and Other Tools for Genetic Genealogy. He talked about a few different third party tools, some of which we might not think of when we think of genealogy, such as a charting program called LucidChart. Sometimes we need to make charts in genealogy, in order to see things more clearly, or to make family trees for blog posts and presentations. I finally got around to checking out LucidChart, since they offer a limited use of the program for free. You can use it on a variety of platforms and that appealed to me because I use my iPad a lot. However, it is not a very intuitive program and I consider myself to be pretty technologically adept. I was finally able to create a few text boxes but the ability to connect them with a simple line was beyond me. No matter whether it was on the iPad or PC, I could not get the lines to do what they were supposed to, nor could I move them where I wanted them or get them to be the correct length without dragging them out in silly ways.
Other genealogists I know have successfully used a similar program called Scapple. It is available on Mac and PC and also offers limited use of the program for free. I found this program to be incredibly intuitive and easy to use and had a family tree comparing DNA matches set up very quickly. Here’s a little tutorial of the very basics you will need to set up a family tree.
Step 1) Double click anywhere to create a “note” (basically a text box), which you can then edit. I started with John Smith. If you right click on the note “John Smith”, you will see and option to “Apply Note Style.” I made him in a blue bubble.
Step 2) I made John Smith’s wife, Mary Jones following step 1, but I made her bubble pink. Now to connect John and Mary. If you hold CTRL and click on each note, then right click, you’ll see “connect.”
Step 3) Back to step 1, this time creating their son, John Smith Jr. Following Step 2 again, I connected him to his parents.
The cool thing about when they’re connected is that no matter where you move John Smith Jr, he stays connected.
If you CTRL click on multiple people, you can move them around together. For example, here I clicked on John Smith Jr and Mary Jones and dragged them over.
However, if there are a lot of people you want to move, you can also hold down your left mouse button and highlight everyone you want to move and then drag them over to wherever you want
A free trial of Scapple last 30 days of use (so if you don’t use it everyday, you can extend the 30 days over a period of time). I don’t know that I’d use Scapple all that much, but for Windows the price of the program is 24$ which I consider reasonable. When I run out of free trial, I will certainly consider buying a license.
When you start to add multiple children to a family, it can get kind of messy:
Since you can’t make connections between the lines, it was suggested in the Scapple forum to make a note in between two connected notes (you don’t even have to disconnect them, you can just click on the line connecting two notes and it will make a new note in between them). Then you can connect all the children to that note. For example, here I connected John Smith and Mary Jones to a note “m.” with no colour, and then connected all of their children to that note.
Most people know GPS as “global positioning system,” the device in their phone/car that gets them where they’re going. Today I’m going to write about the acronym as it applies to genealogy: it stands for Genealogical Proof Standard. While it will get you where you’re going if you follow it —much like your car’s GPS — since I was using the baking analogy in my last post (1) about improving your genealogy skills, that’s the analogy I’m going to use here.
While the GPS is used by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (2) as a way to evaluate genealogists’ work when they apply for certification, it is not just a tool for professionals or those who want to work at a professional level. Even if we consider genealogy “just” a hobby, we still want to end up with good results! The same is true in the baking world.
As a hobby baker, I want to make things that taste good, even if I don’t want to sell my cakes or win baking competitions. I could say that I just want to enjoy the process of baking, without worrying about getting weighted down with baking standards, but that sounds ridiculous. Anyone who has ever tried to bake something knows the importance of following a recipe and measuring ingredients properly — my first experience with this was that time as a child when I accidentally used 1/4 c. of salt instead of 1/4 tsp. Thankfully I’m a much better baker now.
The GPS is not there to make our work more onerous but to make sure our results are good, much like a recipe is not there to get in our way but to ensure our results are edible. The product of genealogy is like the product of baking. If our sources are ingredients, then the GPS is the recipe that tells us how to evaluate those ingredients and use them for the best outcome. Genealogy isn’t about collecting as many sources as we can any more than baking is about collecting as many ingredients as we can. Nor is genealogy about creating the biggest or longest family tree we can any more than baking is about making the biggest cake, without paying any heed to the ingredients that go into it.
If you’re convinced that following a recipe is a good way to ensure success, here’s the recipe for good genealogy. The GPS has 5 components (3):
1. Reasonably exhaustive research. This means we looked in all the places where we would expect to find sources. I like that the word “exhaustive” is tempered by the word “reasonably.”
2. Complete and accurate source citations. I’ve talked about why citing your sources (4) is important, but it’s also important to note that the easiest way to know if someone has successfully attained the first criteria is by reviewing their citations.
3. Analysis and correlation of the collected information. One of the first things to do is to comb through the sources and check if they’re derivative or original (5). There are other criteria for evaluating sources that I hope to discuss in future posts.
4. Resolution of conflicting evidence. Do all the sources agree? If they don’t, can you satisfactorily resolve any conflicts?
5. Well-reasoned, written conclusion. This is the final product, our cake. It doesn’t have to be fancy, academic or ready for publication. It just has to be written. Otherwise we are leaving our research as a jumbled collection of ingredients for the next person to pick up, which is a real shame if we’ve gone to all the trouble of following the first four steps.
Both genealogy and baking can be challenging sometimes, but in both subjects, having the right recipe will help us achieve our goals. Happy researching!
I’ve organized this post so that it goes from the very basics to things that require more advanced skills. Once you’ve mastered the earlier stuff you should be ready to move onto the more difficult stuff.
Try Lost Cousins’ Masterclass. While you’re there, if you have ancestors on the 1880 UK, Canadian or American census, make an account and enter those family members to see if you can connect with your Lost Cousins. You can sign up for the newsletter which is both informative and entertaining, especially if you have ancestors from the UK.
Make a family tree! Ideally the tree is connected to your DNA results at the site where you did your DNA test, but there are many places online you can build a family tree, some of which are completely free. I wrote a post about where you can do this. Here’s an interesting post from the DNAgeek that talks about how you can colour code your tree using the colours used to tag your DNA matches on Ancestry.
Figure out who your DNA matches are! Use shared matches to classify people by family -if a DNA match shares DNA with a known cousin, then they must somehow be related to the same branch of the family that cousin is on. Make notes and, if you’re using Ancestry, colour code your DNA matches. Here’s another post by the DNAgeek that talks about this feature. You may even want to send a message to the match, especially if they have no family tree and there are no shared matches. Here’s a post I wrote about how to do that. Connecting with cousins is my favourite part of DNA testing!
Here’s a post I made about clustering. It will give you the basics of clustering and why it might help you. Try the Leeds Method to do manual clustering, or check out places online that are doing automatic clustering, like Genetic Affairs.
Consider joining a surname project. Some surname projects are for YDNA and mtDNA results, but some are for autosomal results and there are gathering places (like Facebook pages) for people who have a surname in their tree.
Read my two posts on DNA here and here. If you understood the concepts In those posts and want to delve more deeply into those topics, read this book.
Learn about centimorgans (cM). You can verify that your known matches fall in the correct range or see what the most likely relationship is for unknown matches here. This is probably the tool I use the most when working with DNA.
Download your DNA and then upload your DNA to other sites. Here’s a great post from Roberta Estes with links to other posts on how to download/upload your DNA from/to various sites.
If you originally did your DNA test with Ancestry, you won’t have access to a chromosome browser. But once you transfer your DNA to other sites that do, you can learn about chromosome browsers and how they can help further your DNA research.
Once you’ve got chromosome browsers down pat, learn about triangulation.
Once you understand the principle of triangulation, you can give it a try. If you need a way to keep track of all your overlapping DNA matches, check out DNAPainter. You can watch a YouTube video of how to use it here, and read a post that explains very clearly how to use it here.
Rootsfinder is a third party tool that does a number of things. It also has a clustering tool, and a way to paint your matches. You can try out a basic plan for free.
Did I miss any DNA basics? Are there other third party tools you like to use? Let me know in the comments!
I was fortunate enough to know my great-grandma, who was born on this day 118 years ago today. We spent lots of time with her as children until she moved to the other side of the country, and even then she came back to visit and we vacationed there a few times. I even got to celebrate her 100th birthday with her! My favourite memory of that event was my great-aunt speaking about what a great mother-in-law my great-grandmother was, and how they had never had a fight, to which my great-grandma responded, “There’s still time!”
When I started doing genealogy I was able to learn more about her and her life and I loved her even more. In fact, I think it was because of her love for her family and her family history that her daughter caught the genealogy bug and passed it onto me!
Ethel was one of eight children, the oldest girl. She had one other sister with whom she was very close, and often made trips to visit. Apparently the only time they ever fought was when Edna borrowed Ethel’s silk stockings without asking! (1)
5 of the 8 Lockhart kids (2)
Her parents had grown up near a Hudson’s Bay Company post and had come to the city as young adults. They passed on their love of nature to their children. Ethel loved the outdoors, and spent her time canoeing and swimming in the Summer and snowshoeing in the winter. (3)
Ethel and her soon to be husband, Bert (4)
Ethel came of age in the roaring 20s, and was a bit of a rebel. She bobbed her hair and wore a Jantzen bathing suit, which was a considered shocking at the time. (5)
Ethel in her Jantzen (6)
She wanted to become a teacher, but her parents couldn’t afford the tuition, so she worked at Eaton’s in the mailing room. (7) I wrote in Happy Birthday, Bert! how she met and married her husband.
When they lived at the Winnipeg Swim Club, she created a warm and welcoming place. Maybe a little too welcoming, as she once told a bunch of kids crashing a meal for the umpteenth time, “Don’t you have families to go home to?!” (8)
I also wrote about how they found and built their property, and how it flooded. The first time it flooded in 1948 they had to scrub all the mud from the house. When it flooded again in 1950, my great-grandmother said, “Well, at least we don’t have to clean this time!” (10)
She was a vital force, helping to bring money into the home by growing seedlings to sell in greenhouses and later working selling cosmetics door-to-door. Her brothers bought her a car so she could visit and care for her aging mother until her mother came to live with her. She worked the property, turning it into a beautiful park-like space. (11)
Ethel plowing (12)
She did not slow down, even after her husband passed away. It was only in her 80s that she finally moved from her beloved home into an apartment. Even in her 80s and 90s she was well enough to travel, visiting her sister in California, and making a few trips to Hawaii.
One of my favourite photos: Ethel scuba diving in her 80s. I hope I am as healthy if I reach that age! (13)
Ethel knew how to make a house into a welcoming home for her family and friends. She loved cooking and making fancy treats. Here I will leave you with her recipe for lemon pie that she passed on to me:
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
1 c. sugar
1 c. boiling water
Add 2 tbsp. cornstarch
Cook till clear
Add butter size of walnut
Add 2 egg yolks
Remove from heat. Pour into already baked pie shell.
1 conversation with SR
2 Andy, Ethel, Edna, Bob and Lawrie, photograph ca. 1911; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
3 conversation with SR
4 Ethel and Bert, photograph ca. 1925; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
5 conversation with SR
6 Ethel in her Janzen, photograph ca. 1925; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
7 Ethel’s memoirs
8 conversation with SR
9 Ethel and friends at lunch, photograph ca. 1930; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
10 conversation with SR
11 conversation with SR
12 Ethel plowing, photograph ca. 1945; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
13 Ethel scuba diving, photograph ca. 1988; digital image ca. 2018, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
Have you seen the Disney movie Coco? I learned a lot about the traditions of the Día de Muertos such as the ofrenda. I love the ritual involved in remembering and honouring ancestors. I think this is especially important when the ancestor in question has no direct descendants to remember them, like my third great uncle, George Thomas MacBean. George was a military man, a bachelor with no children. He was killed in WWI during the Battle of Flers–Courcelette on 15 September 1916 (1). Thanks to really great archives, I am able to learn more about him over a hundred years later.
Looking for your Canadian ancestors who fought in WWI? Check out these links:
Canadian Virtual War Memorial (all fallen Canadian and Newfoundland soldiers who have died in battle since Confederation are remembered here) (3)
If your Canadian ancestor who fought in WWI, WWII or the Korean Conflict had no known grave, you can register (4) to help identify them. If newly discovered human remains of Canadian war dead are found, you will be contacted and, using DNA, the remains could be identified as your ancestor. Since George is on the Vimy Memorial with over 11,000 other soldiers with no known burial place (5), I have registered for this project.
Another great site is The Canadian Letters and Images Project. This website is “online archive of the Canadian war experience, from any war, as told through the letters and images of Canadians themselves.” You can look through what has already been submitted, or, if you have documents and images from a Canadian ancestor who fought in a war, you can submit it to the project. (6)
Finally, Regimental Rogue (7) has an amazing website. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of your ancestor’s military service, this is the place to start!
I was really proud of my post How to Order Records from the GRO (1) until it was pointed out to me that GRO records aren’t original records, they are copies of the original records. The copies were made at the end of each quarter, so they date back to almost the time the original record was created. However, anyone who has ever played broken telephone knows that errors can crop up once information is being copied.
When we are evaluating sources to come to some kind of a conclusion (see my post Sources, Evidence and Proof (2) for more on that) one of the first evaluations we make is whether the source is original or derivative. An original source is, well, original. A derivative source is anything that was copied (transcribed) from that original record. Obviously we can trust the original source more than a derivative one since we know that errors could have been introduced when making the transcription. An exception to this would be extremely good copies, such as a clear microfilm, photocopy or digitized image. We’ll save talking about evaluating the information in the source for another day.
Given this, I decided to send away for the original record. Although the original district was Warrington, the area now falls under the district of St. Helens. 14£ and a few weeks later, I now have a copy of the original birth record. Upon inspection, it doesn’t look like any errors were introduced when the GRO copy was made. Given how similar the copies are, I wouldn’t be surprised if the registrar made the copy very soon after the original was made. In fact, the only difference I can see is the signature of his mother -she had lovely penmanship!
3 Cropped image from St. Helen’s, General Register Office, photocopy of a entry of birth for Herbert Garner, born 30 September 1903; an entry in the register of births in the registration district of Newton in Makerfield, Warrington; digital image 2019, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
4 Cropped image from England, General Register Office, PDF copy for an entry of birth for Herbert Garner, born 30 September 1903, registered October quarter 1903; a copy of an entry in the certified copy of register of births in the registration district of Newton in Makerfield, Warrington; digital image 2019, privately held by Jennifer Wiebe, Montreal, Quebec, 2019.
A lot of people ask in the Genealogy Squad Facebook Group (1) about genealogy education (usually with a goal of becoming a professional genealogist). Since this is something I’ve looked at, I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post detailing various educational opportunities and how I’m planning on working my way towards becoming a professional genealogist. However, education is something every genealogist should think about, (aspiring) professional or not, so we can keep up with the latest tools and technologies and continue to expand our skills and knowledge.
I’m going to talk about informal educational opportunities, then different certificate programs and finally about certification. This is by no means going to be an exhaustive list; check out Cyndi’s List (2) for more options. One important thing I want to mention before getting started is the difference between getting a certificate and certification. These are two different processes, and while getting a certificate can be a step on your path towards certification, it doesn’t mean you are certified. Likewise, one can be certified without having any certificates in genealogy.
Genealogy can be really expensive, and not everyone has the money or time to invest in formal courses. Fortunately, there are a lot of learning opportunities available for free or for much less expensive than a formal course. For instance, there are a lot of genealogy blogs and webinars that can be read or watched for free. Even Legacy Family Tree Webinars (3) which offers webinars for a fee, has webinars that are free, and some webinars are free as they are presented and for a limited time after. FamilySearch has classes and webinars (4) and Ancestry has an Academy (5) full of articles and videos to watch. Useful informal learning opportunities available at a cost include study groups such as NGSQ study group (6) (there is no fee for the group itself, but you will need to join the NGS (7) in order to participate -and the NGS also offers classes with its membership, some for free, some at a cost) or ProGen (8) study group (if you are thinking of becoming a professional genealogist, you will definitely want to participate in this one). There are many books and magazines you can buy or subscribe to, depending on your area of interest. Membership in a local genealogy society may not be free, but they may have access to many books, journals and other tools available for free as well as offer lectures and conferences in your area of interest. Attending larger conferences, like Rootstech (9) and NGS (10) can also be a good educational opportunity. For people who are not near any societies or who would find it difficult to travel to a conference, there is even a Virtual Genealogical Association (11).
When we start to think about more formal coursework, the cost and time investment increases. There are week long intensives, either in person or virtual, such as SLIG (12) GRIP (13) and IGHR (14). One of the reasons why people would want to take a certificate course (either online or in person) is that you don’t know what you don’t know. While a person could piece together enough courses to gain a deep understanding of genealogy topics, it’s obviously a lot easier to have the courses laid out for you and know that a respected institution will cover all the topics you need to know. I will mention two such Institutes, although many exist: Boston University (15) offers an intensive 15 week online course, and the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (16) is where I’m working towards a certificate in Canadian records (40 courses). If you have 15 weeks to spare, I’ve heard good things about the BU course. While it will take me much, much longer to finish my courses at NIGS, I like that I can do them at my own pace (which is currently one course per month, although most courses allow two months for completion, and you can do as many courses at a time as you can handle).
Go me! (17)
Switching gears a little, I’m going to talk about certification. It bears mentioning again that certification is a different process than getting a certificate. Getting a certificate is a learning process; certification is a process that can pursued once enough genealogical knowledge has been obtained. There are a few certifying bodies; the two big ones are BCG (18) and ICAPGen (19). Locally, I also have the Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie (20) which certifies Quebec genealogists to do French-Canadian research. While certification isn’t necessary to do genealogy work professionally, it does ensure that a genealogist meets certain standards, as a portfolio has to be submitted and judged to meet the requirements before certification is granted. For the genealogist, it can be point of pride; for consumers, it can be an easy way to ensure you are hiring someone with expertise. One day I’d like to be certified by the BCG, and anyone who’s interested in exploring BCG certification should consider taking the Certification Discussion Group (21) course. I’m currently taking it even though certification is a long way off (and I’ll probably take the ProGen course before as well). I’m learning a lot about the requirements so I can prepare myself well in advance and tailor my education (formal and informal) to be more prepared when I’m ready to pursue certification.
I think it’s really wonderful that there are so many different ways we can educate ourselves in this day and age. Whether I do something in person or online, with a group or on my own, everyday I can achieve my goal of going to bed a little less stupid. If you value this as well, I hope this post was helpful in pointing out opportunities to you. Let me know in the comments about your experiences with both formal and informal genealogy education!
When I was ordering my great-grandad’s birth record from the GRO, I noticed that it was almost his birthday! He was born 116 years ago on this day, in a place called Newton-In-Makerfield, now known as Newton-Le-Willows, at 11 Liverpool Row (1). This street was part of a housing project for the Vulcan Foundry (there’s an old picture of one of the streets if you scroll down here (2)). Given that his dad was a blacksmith at the time, it makes sense that he would be working at the Foundry, and indeed, I believe I found a picture of him on this website of Smiths and Strikers taken in 1901(3). Here’s another great site to learn about Newton history (4).
He was baptized at Emmanuel Church, located in nearby Wargrave (5)
Bert was the middle child of 3 siblings. I have admired this picture of the three of them since I was a kid.
Emily, Billy and Bert; Siblings (6)
In 1911, Bert’s dad Alfred decided to come to Canada. The rest of the family followed shortly after. Shortly after that, Bert’s mother died.
Emily, Alfred, Billy and Bert in the front (7)
Alfred remarried, and not long after that, enlisted to fight in WWI. The children were sent back to live with family in England. They returned to Canada after the war. Alfred and his wife had 5 children together, who looked up to Bert.
As a young man Bert enjoyed spending time with his friends, going to dances and enjoying the outdoors. He didn’t have much formal education, but he loved to read. Here is is in a costume he made for one of the parties he went to.
He met his future wife Ethel at a Policeman’s athletic ball, and together they enjoyed the outdoors.
Ethel and Bert (9)
Ethel and Bert on the Roof (10)
In April of 1927, Bert took Ethel out for a canoe ride and proposed while the Victrola played their favourite songs.
Bert and Ethel in a canoe (11)
They got married at St. Thomas Church (pictured below) on 21 May, 1927 (12).
At the beginning of their marriage they lived at the Winnipeg Swim Club, which is where they started their family.
One winter, there was a tax sale for a piece of property. The white snow covering the property was a blank slate for the two dreamers. They bought the property and proceeded to build a house.
But life sometimes has other plans, and the property flooded twice, first in 1948, then in 1950. The 1950 flood carried their house down the river.
Flooded House (16)
But they rebuilt.
They worked hard on their property, creating beauty from nothing, building gardens, planting trees and growing plants. Bert would fall asleep reading seed catalogs.
The House (18)
Their property was a place for all of their family to gather, from Bert’s siblings and their children to his own children and grandchildren. He had a beautiful Hudson’s Bay Company coat he would wear each Christmas to pass out presents.
Bert at Christmas (19)
He retired from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1968 after 48 years of work.
Bert’s Retirement (20)
He and his wife loved to travel. They often took road trips to visit family in California. They were also fortunate enough to travel to England to visit Bert’s family there.
I never knew my great-grandfather, but I love how his memory continues to live on through stories and pictures. Happy Birthday, Bert!
Happy Birthday Bert! (21)
1 England, General Register Office, PDF copy for an entry of birth for Herbert, born 30 September 1903, registered October quarter 1903; a copy of an entry in the certified copy of register of births in the registration district of Newton in Makerfield, Warrington.
If you’ve seen my book review on Organize your Genealogy, you’ll know that my intentions are to collect all my documents in Google Drive and create links to them in OneNote. Well, I’m pleased to say I have begun that process and I will write more about it in another post. One of the benefits of doing so is that I realized that while I had my great-grandfather’s baptismal record, I did not have his birth registration. I knew exactly where I had to go to find it -the website for the General Register Office (GRO). If you’re not familiar with this place, according to their website, “The General Register Office (GRO) is based in Southport, Merseyside and holds records for all births, deaths and marriages that have been registered in England and Wales from 1837.”1
If you are looking for birth, marriage, and death records for an ancestor born in England and Wales, head on over to the GRO website and create an account. For births (from 1837-1918) and deaths (from 1837-1957), you will then search the index to find the registration you are looking for. Once you have located the correct registration, you click on what kind of certificate you want. Note that the cost varies depending if you want it mailed or just a PDF, the type of certificate, and how fast you require it. This time I ordered the PDF (previously when sending away for documents this wasn’t available). I can tell you I am just as happy with the PDF copy as I am with the certificate copies that were mailed to me. Just make sure to download it and save it somewhere once you’re notified that it is ready, as it will only be available for 3 months. Since there were 5 males born with the same name as my great-grandfather, it was helpful to have the maiden name of his mother listed so I could pick the correct one. Apparently the death records also contain the age at death (thanks to the person who commented on my post over on Facebook for the tips!)
If you are looking for a marriage record, first you’ll have to search the index somewhere else to find the GRO index reference number (I recommend FreeBMD, it’s free). If you don’t search for the GRO reference, you’ll likely be charged an additional fee for the GRO to search for you when you send away for the certificate. From the PDF “The GRO Index Reference Number” on the GRO’s FAQ page: “A GRO index reference number typically comprises of a year, a quarter and the reference number that is shown in the indexes – for example ‘March 1954 2a 222’.”2 Once you’ve acquired the information, you can head back to the GRO website and click on “Place an Order.” Once you click the applicable radio buttons (including “I know the GRO reference number”) and enter the year, you’ll be taken to a page where you can fill in a form with the particulars.
For marriage certificates, there are no PDF copies, but you’ll eventually get some exciting mail! I always feel fancy when I get a letter that says “Royal Mail.” I highly recommend scanning your document and storing it somewhere where it won’t get damaged (not to mention somewhere where you’ll be able to find it again!). If you’re writing a source citation for these certificates (and you should!) check out this question on Evidence Explained.
Edit: another Facebook user has pointed out that these are *copies* of the original register that was sent to the GRO quarterly. For that reason, he prefers ordering BMD records from the local register office. To figure out which locality your register was located in, check out this page, and there is a list of local registry offices with contact information here. While you cannot get a PDF, the cost is the same as from the GRO to have a certificate posted to you.
In my post DNA in a Nutshell I mentioned that centimorgans (cM) are a unit of measurement used to measure the amount of DNA you have. The more centimorgans you share with someone, the closer you are related to them. For example, you share around 3500cM with your parents, but only around 880cM with your great-grandparents. Since there’s a range of cMs for various relationships, sometimes it might be hard to pin down the exact relationship you share with an unknown DNA match. This DNApainter Shared cM tool will not only give you the range for each relationship, when you enter a cM amount, it will also tell you which relationship is the most likely. If you’re curious about different kinds of cousins, check out my post What is a Cousin?
The DNA we share with someone is not one long chain, it’s broken up into pieces called segments. First, it is divided between our 22 autosomes, so at the very least it should come in 22 segments. However, since not every part of our DNA is tested (since it’s not useful at this point in time to do so, although there are companies that do it), it’s likely that we’ll share many segments with people. Unlike cM amounts, the amount of segments we share with people doesn’t currently have any hard and fast rules about how it relates to relationships. Presumably if you share a lot of segments with someone, you’ll also share a lot of cMs with them. But let’s imagine a scenario where you have 2 unknown DNA matches. You share the same amount of cMs with both of them but it’s split up into multiple segments for one person and one long segment for the other. It would make sense, especially if it’s a lot of cMs, that the one long segment is a closer relationship because over long periods of time these segments split up. However, we don’t have enough information at this time to know for sure whether or not the amount of segments is meaningful.
How do we know how many cMs we share with a DNA match? Let’s take a look for each company.
Ancestry used to hide its cMs deep in the match profile, but since their changeover of their DNA page this year it’s much easier to see. Here’s the cM amounts I share with my mom and my dad from the main DNA page:
And if you’re looking for it on the on the match page:
FamilyTree DNA doesn’t give you segment information, but they do include the size of the largest segment. You can use the chromosome browser (I talk more about the FTDNA chromosome browser here) to count the amount of segments you share, but keep in mind FTDNA counts very small segments. Read this post to find out why that’s a problem. You’ll also note that the amount of cMs I share with my mom differs from Ancestry. This is also normal, as each company has their own algorithms for figuring out what counts as shared DNA.
Last, MyHeritage, from the main DNA page:
And when you’re reviewing your DNA match:
MyHeritage gives you both the number of segments and the size of the largest segment. They also give you the amount of cMs as a percentage as well as in cMs. I haven’t done my DNA with 23&me, but I do know that they usually give you your DNA as a percentage rather than in cMs. DNApainter Shared cM tool to the rescue!
Just click on “show %” and it will open up a second box underneath for you to put your % in. The amount of cMs will automatically show up in the top box.
If you’re new to DNA, I highly recommend practicing using the DNApainter Shared cM tool to check out what relationships it gives you for the amount of cMs you share with your DNA matches. You can try it out for known matches to get the hang of it and then see if you can figure out how you and an unknown DNA match might be related! Try it out with some of your more distant matches, the ones you share less than 50cMs with to see how many more relationships are possible than with a closer match.