Counting Chromosomes
A blog of random musings on genealogy, genetics, science, and history

The popular online service for autosomal DNA matching and comparison,, has been facing not just pressure from the impending GDPR regulations, but also an unfortunate media backlash.

Forensic Genealogy is a term now moving into the mainstream media

Interest in and concern about the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), taking effect May 25, has rapidly escalated over the past several weeks, even for U.S.-based organizations, commercial or not. Small genealogy organizations and websites are feeling the pressure, so much so that some, notably,, and, are closing permanently.

The popular online service for autosomal DNA matching and comparison,, has been facing not just pressure from the impending GDPR regulations, but also an unfortunate media backlash over how law enforcement are using the tools to focus on investigating cold-case violent crimes. The now month-long media blitz began April 27 when Paul Holes, a retired investigator with the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office,

Marketing ethnicity/admixture as the primary reason to take an autosomal DNA test is, frankly, a bit disingenuous at best; at worst, it might be interpreted by some as deceptive.

Traditional kilt, Scottish Gaelic: fèileadh
first recorded in the 16th century

Q: My AncestryDNA test results came back, and they don't make much sense compared to our family history. My mother's father was Italian. His grandfather came to America from Italy, but I'm not showing anything at all that looks like that side of the family in my results. Should I take another test at a different company?

A: Thanks for the question. You're touching on a matter that is of concern to me, one that I believe is the primary downside to the marketing tack that AncestryDNA employed, that all others had to follow or see their market shares get eaten alive, and for which serious genealogists are paying the price. Marketing ethnicity/admixture as the primary reason to take an autosomal DNA test is, frankly, a bit disingenuous at best; at worst, it might be interpreted by some as deceptive. The whole "traded my lederhosen for a kilt" nonsense.

Red hair and freckles
Her parents both have brown hair. Is that proof DNA skips a generation?

Q: I've been in touch with a gentleman who says that he is related to my deceased father's family line. His family tree shows this—six generations back—but on GEDmatch he doesn't match me, my two siblings, or two known 1st cousins. He told me that DNA will skip a generation, and insists that if I don't match him I'll probably match his son, whose test results, autosomal and Y-chromosome, are pending. I have no male immediate family members to test the Y-chromosome. I know we don't all get the same DNA from our ancestors, but aren't we limited to the DNA of our parents? Nothing new could show up in his son that he doesn't have but that his father, the son's grandfather, did, correct?

A: Assuming the gentleman and his wife aren't related—e.g., their great-grandparents were a case of two brothers marrying two sisters, making them double 2nd cousins and allowing differing autosomal DNA segments to pass down from both lines—you are absolutely correct. Without pedigree collapse in our trees, and relatively recently generationally speaking, there should be no surprises in the son's results. I'm going to digress a moment before addressing the skip-a-generation thing.

Oxford Ancestors
Oxford Ancestors Ltd. to remain in operation

Important Update to This Article

On 3 May 2018, seven weeks after this article was first published, Dr. Bryan Sykes announced that Oxford Ancestors would not be closing as had been previously communicated. He posted the following to the company's website:

I have just received some very good news. Our labs at the University, which were threatened with closure for up to a year from July 2018 owing to redevelopment of the Science Area, have now been reprieved. In light of this I am very pleased to announce that Oxford Ancestors will remain open for business as usual.

I wish Oxford Ancestors new life and continued success. EW

Clustering dendrogram from the study
Click image to read article at PLOS Genetics

Large-scale DNA studies focusing on Ireland are seeming to appear almost back-to-back. Last December in Scientific Reports, Gilbert, O'Reilly, Merrigan, et al. published "The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland." From that abstract:

The extent of population structure within Ireland is largely unknown, as is the impact of historical migrations. Here we illustrate fine-scale genetic structure across Ireland that follows geographic boundaries and present evidence of admixture events into Ireland.

Less than two months later, we had a new peer-reviewed article published by Ross Byrne, Rui Martiniano, Lara Cassidy, Matthew Carrigan, Garrett Hellenthal, Orla Hardiman, Daniel G. Bradley, and Russell L. McLaughlin in PLOS Genetics:

Titled "Insular Celtic Population Structure and Genomic Footprints of Migration," this study used haplotype-based fineSTRUCTURE

MyHeritage DNA Test Kit

MyHeritage made a big splash at RootsTech last week highlighting its new chromosome browser which initial reports indicate is nicely constructed, robust, and includes a true triangulation feature. The debut of the browser was in conjunction with the announcement of major improvements in the MyHeritage matching procedures and algorithms.

The announcements came not at RootsTech—which wrapped-up last Saturday in Salt Lake City—but a few weeks earlier on the MyHeritage Blog. It was at the massive RootsTech though, this year estimated to have had over 14,200 paid attendees, where attention on MyHeritage became front and center.

Anyone who took a MyHeritage DNA test, and anyone who uploaded DNA data from another service, will now receive more accurate DNA Matches; more plentiful matches (about 10x more); fewer false positives; more specific and more accurate relationship estimates; and indications on lower confidence DNA Matches to help focus research efforts.
     —MyHeritage Blog, 11 January 2018

Jonny Perl
Jonny Perl, DNA Painter
at RootsTech 2018 in Salt Lake City

DNA Painter, the autosomal DNA visualization tool for genealogy created and developed by Jonny Perl, has not only been gaining thousands of users in its seven-month existence, but on March 2 in Salt Lake City it was announced as winner of the 2018 RootsTech DNA Innovation Contest.

Jonny, a web and applications developer in England, has been involved in genealogy for over ten years, but took his first DNA test in December 2016. He admits that he was skeptical of DNA testing initially, and accordingly had delayed testing himself for years. After he saw his results, he was less than completely satisfied with the way they were displayed, and thought that there had to be a better way.

He became involved with a UK-based Facebook group discussing DNA and genealogy, and credits that with helping move his understanding of DNA rapidly past the basic and intermediate stages. He began looking at ways to group and display chromosome mapping and segment sharing more intuitively and visually and, in July 2017, invited just a few people to have a look at what was working on as, essentially, "alpha" testers. Jonny readily admits that if we'd seen the application at that stage, we would not have been impressed.

David Threlkeld
David Threlkeld

We've lost a Threlkeld cousin. He passed away February 5, 2018 in his sleep, and evidently peacefully, at the age of 56.

David Threlkeld was my second cousin. We discovered each other only last August. A mutual relative told him of me, and he telephoned on August 29. This was just as Hurricane Harvey began to move north leaving in its wake catastrophic flooding that would come to be ranked as, by far, the most rainfall of any tropical cyclone on record in the United States. And the scammers were already at work: predatory and typically unlicensed contractors, roofers, and "disaster recovery specialists" knocking on doors and calling to try and squeeze money out of those suffering most from the hurricane's aftermath.

This is how I knew within the first several seconds that Dave was a kind and patient man. If he gave his last name when I answered, I didn't hear it. So he got my gruff, unsolicited-sales-call, full-on challenge voice...which on the vocal scale registers as an over-loud Darth Vader.

That didn't faze Dave's friendliness a bit. He explained who his father was and who had given him my number and, as soon as my dim lightbulb sparked, we reset and then talked for almost 45 minutes. He had already tested with AncestryDNA, and was enthusiastic about a Y-chromosome test with Family Tree DNA and joining the Threlkeld DNA Project.

Threlkeld House, Shelbyville
The Threlkeld/Weakley House, Shelbyville, Kentucky

If you happened to visit Google Images today you noticed that, quietly and with no fanfare, Google has removed the "View Image" button from the results of image searches. I know many genealogists—and you may be one of them—who regularly use Google Images to search for new instances of photos depicting geography, structures, and particularly people of interest to you. It's convenient, lets you preview the images, and of course employs the robust Google search engine.

Beginning a few hours ago, though, you no longer have the easy option to click on a button and view an image at full resolution in a new web browser window. That's good for businesses, publishers, and artists that make money from their products; not so good for genealogists who simply want a century-old photo of a great-grandmother to put in a family tree.

There is a rather singular reason for the change which we'll touch on in just a moment, but the result is an implication that people can no longer download an image, or an intention

DNA Central

It's been four weeks to the day since Blaine Bettinger first posted on his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, about the upcoming April launch of DNA Central. Now, April isn't that far away.

I've followed Blaine's Blaine's contributions to the genetic genealogy community for years, and have already told him that I will be the first in line when the doors open. There are a number of "Citizen Scientists" who regularly offer their expertise to the millions who have now taken genealogy-driven DNA tests, and Blaine's one of the best. From his January 25 blog post:

This new subscription-based site will have blog posts about the latest and greatest, how-to content (including a "What Next?" series), short videos (such as the "3-Minute DNA" series), webinars, and forums. We'll also have monthly giveaways and much more. It's everything you need to finally understand and apply the results of your DNA testing!

Visit that blog post to find a link to subscribe to receive DNA Central announcements, or you can click here to go directly to the subscription form There is no cost or obligation to subscribe to the mailing list.

Q: Why the title, "Counting Chromosomes?" Will the blog only be about DNA?

Not only about DNA...though much of it no doubt will be because DNA testing is the most important new tool for genealogy. As to the name, that's mostly a marketing thing.

I wanted something catchier than "My Blog," so I went looking at as many genealogy blogs I could locate for ideas. And there are a bunch of them. Some titles are creative and memorable, some...not so much. I also wanted a title I could put a license plate on, if you will: register an internet domain name with that title.

Having done some branding work for companies in the past, the next thing I did was compile an extensive list of synonyms and words related to my core subjects. Then I started brainstorming, rearranging the words, mentally adding prepositions, that sort of stuff. You can get some spectacularly bad results this way. Nobody wants to read "Getting into Genes," "Genes Treed," or "Mr. Rogers Nucleotide." It's okay to laugh at my expense; I do it all the time.