Saturday, 16 June 2012


Before we take a look at my DNA, I would like to add two books to the reading list. Both are recently published, and although they relate to UK families the principles explained are universal. In order of publication: "Surnames, DNA & Family History by Redmonds, King and Hey"; publisher: Oxford University Press, and "DNA and Social Networking" by Debbie Kennett; publisher: The History Press.

I would read the second first since it does not presume that you have some previous knowledge of  DNA. They approach the use of genealogy DNA in different ways. Redmonds, King and Hey demonstrate its use in helping to determine the origin of surnames and whether they may have a common source. Kennett is more concerned with the testing procedures and the interpretation of the results, so they complement each other very well indeed.

I'm afraid that FT-DNA is the only testing company with which I am familiar, so my observations will continue to relate to their projects. Hopefully, before taking the Y-DNA test you joined/created your surname group - if only to get the discount - but now is the time to use it! Your results will be forwarded to your group administrator who will usually display them in comparative tables with others of the same surname and haplogroup. That for part of the R1a1a Ferguson group is shown below:

Here you can see the results for the first six markers for 4 persons, out of the 10 Fergusons who share the R1a1a haplogroup. Obviously, they are all the same, as indeed they are at 12 markers. But, at 37 markers only 3 are exactly the same, and at 67 none of us (although one member has not tested after 37 markers). Whether it can be said that people are related depends on the difference in the number of markers, the greater the difference then the further back in history you have to go to find a match. Of these 4, only 3 are likely to have a common ancestor within 8 or 9 generations, when determined at 37 markers.

From the results of the above FT-DNA will determine the probable haplogroup to which you belong, as I said, they calculate mine to be R1a1a which is called "Norse". I found extending my test from 37 to 67 markers made little difference to the comparative results at 37, in fact I had a change of only 1 marker when compared with the others. Chris Pomery recommends that 37 markers is sufficient in the vast majority of cases.

I am currently having some of my SNPs tested and will go into details of what they are next time.

© Ron Ferguson 2012

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Genealogy and DNA 2

Whenever I start to look at a new subject my first port of call is usually Google, actually any search engine will do, but I tend to use Google. Such a search for "genealogy DNA" took me to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), and to their forum DNA-NEWBIE. Both are free to join, the objects of  ISOGG include education of which the forum is part.

It must be said that the name of the forum somewhat belies its content. As a newbie, I was looking for simple answers to basics questions, and too often these answers went over my head, although now and again punctuated by a ray of light! Nevertheless I do recommend both, and by sticking with the forum I did pick up much, even if I did have to use Google for terms which I did not fully understand.

Through the forum I first came across autosomal DNA (auDNA) which is found in the 22 chromosones which, unlike the 23rd, do not contain the sex determining ones. This DNA contains a mixture of auDNA of both the father and mother, and as such is available for both male and female testing. I suggest a visit to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation to see a video of the four types of DNA.

It would seem that there are two main companies involved in auDNA testing 23andme and FT-DNA's Family Finder although at the time of writing may be moving in this direction. Reading between the lines of the DNA-NEWBIE forum, I gained the impression that 23andme is probably more concerned with inherited illnesses rather than genealogy. As a result many of those tested keep their results private.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed from mother to daughter, but is present in both sexes, so whilst a male can follow his paternal and maternal lines back, a female can only follow her maternal line. Because of the (western) norm of a daughter taking her father's surname, there is no continuity in surnames as there is in the male Y-DNA line. I will not be going further into the mtDNA, nor the auDNA, at the moment, but who knows where I am going!

I was also fortunate to buy a copy of "Family History in the Genes" by Chris Pomery, published by the National Archives 2007. Unfortunately this is now out of print, but currently have 6 used copies available. Hopefully an updated version will be available in the future.

One recommendation is common to all sources, that is to join a DNA surname society for the name being researched. Not only does that usually mean a reasonable discount on the testing costs, but, perhaps more importantly, a depth of knowledge on the surname in question, and easily accessible lists of members with the same surname and comparative DNA results. Whilst it is possible to make your results private, I can see no point in so doing; surely the whole point is to see to whom you may be connected.

© Ron Ferguson 2012

Friday, 20 April 2012

Genealogy and DNA

Y-DNA, mtDNA, autosomal-DNA, SNPs, STRs, Haplogroups, Clades.... Is there no end to this, and what on earth are they! Join me on the search for elucidation.

The Journey

As a newcomer to this aspect of genealogy, my aim is to take you on my "warts and all" journey from first considering DNA testing to wherever it may lead. I am writing in real time, I have had one test, and am awaiting the results of another, and will never be more than one step ahead of my reports.

Hopefully during this process you will learn as I do, and avoid making some of the mistakes which I shall undoubtedly make during the process - So here we go!


Like most of us, I have been aware of the possibility of  DNA testing for a number of years, but did not consider I had a need to undergo testing. I had no known living direct line family from another branch of my tree to prove an ancestral connection, and to determine where in the world my genes originated was not a major concern. However, last year I found my 5th Great Grandfather, Samual Furgison (sic) who married in Pardshaw, Cumberland, England in 1756; where he was from, and when he was born are two big unknowns.

Our family gossip has it that we came from Scotland, in particular Dumfries, but, for me, 250 years and 5 generations seems to be too long a time for much reliance to be placed on this 'Source'. So how did Sam get to Pardshaw? Time to think of DNA! Just where did my Fergusons come from?

As my name correctly indicates, I am male, and was already aware that men have Y and X chromosomes whilst women have two Xs, so clearly for the male line the Y chromosome needs to be analysed. If my sisters wished to have their paternal line tested then they would have to get me to test mine, or if they didn't have a brother, then a male 1st cousin, or other male descendant from the grandfather's line, to test their's.

The Test

The selection of the testing company was the easy bit. FamilyTreeDNA has the largest number of  published individual results and, therefore, the widest number of comparisons which one can make. The next question is how many markers to have tested.  These are Short Tandem Repeats (STR) variations in which can help determine whether or not there may be a relationship between individuals. Historically 12 markers were tested, but this is now considered too small, 37 is the most common, 67 rapidly growing in selection, and 111 the latest. I selected the 37 marker, although I would now select the 67, and am awaiting the results of the upgrade.

Collectively the markers are used to specify, or imply, the Haplogroup. So, what did my 37 marker test show, am I really of Scots descent, or Irish where many Fergies originate. My results show that my haplogroup is R1a1a, I'm a 100% Norse, a what?? a Viking!!!

Disclaimer: Other than paying them hard cash, I have no connection with FamilyTreeDNA!

© Ron Ferguson 2012