23andMe DNA Kit

My introduction to genetic genealogy was with 23andme.com. I ordered my kit, spit into a little tube, mailed it off and waited impatiently.  It takes several weeks for the autosomal results to be complete.  I anxiously sign in to start this fantastic journey! Setting up your profile is an integral part of being able to locate other relatives in your relative database.  23andme will automatically enter your ancestral locations, then you can edit this to add where you know your ancestors came from more specifically.  If you know where your grandfather was born, enter that in your profile, etc.  What I see as the most important part of your profile is the surname list.  The larger your list, the more cousins are going to be able to find you when they search.  For the surnames you are most seeking, put them in all caps, I’ll tell you why later.

You need to decide whether you are going to allow others to send you “share” requests, or if they must send you a message first and introduce themselves.  A share must be accepted before you can compare inherited segments of a chromosome, it does not happen automatically.  When I first started I chose the second option, but soon learned that it was not really threatening my privacy at all, and was actually much easier and quicker to get to what I wanted… to identify relatives.

23andme will not share your email address with other users.  If you wish to contact a DNA match, you must send a message through the 23andme message option, then if you choose to share your email with them you can do so.

On the home page you will see your Ancestry Composition, options for viewing your DNA Relatives list, Message Boards, how to download your Raw Data, Video tutorials, Surveys and optional Family Tree.

Ancestry Composition tells you where your ancestors came from. It tells me that I am 58.4% British/Irish.  Not a big surprise to me as I knew that my grandfather was born in England, and 3rd great grandfather in Ireland.  But then it breaks down all the rest of the little segments down to <0.1% East Asian and Native American.  Ending up with 99.6% Broadly European.  Knowing what I know about my family, I think that of the three companies that I have tested with, 23andme is far more accurate than the others.


You can download your Raw Data for future use on other websites.  I have used mine for health reports on promethease.com, gedmatch.com, Genome Mate data base, even transfer data to FamilyTreeDna.com at a reduced cost.  I am sure there is more, but this has been my experience so far.

The Video Tutorials are good and will give you a basic introduction to understanding DNA and chromosome analysis.  Personally, I think there could be a lot more added to it, and they may do so in the future.

Survey’s really don’t really seem to benefit us much in our search, but I am sure that they help in the long run, and they are kind of interesting.

When I first started with 23andme you could start a family tree here for others to view.  I never did plan on doing much with it, since I already had an extensive tree on Ancestry.  Before I could get to far with it they changed the format to “My Heritage” and there is an additional fee, comparable to a membership with Ancestry.  Since I don’t use it, I can’t really give it a review.

What I would consider the heart of 23andme is the DNA Relative list and chromosome browsers.  The list will give you the basic profile of each of your DNA matches.  If you have set your profile to private, it will not give the name, otherwise you will see the name, the amount of chromosomes shared, projected relationship, and all the information you put in your profile plus your maternal haplogroup and paternal haplogroup if you are a male.  It will give you the option to “Send an invitation” or “send a message.”

To search surnames you can enter them into the search box at the top of the Relatives list, or you can go to Ancestry Tools at the bottom of each page and select Profile Smart Search.  This is why you want to put your most desired surnames in caps, because this search engine will zero in on those names and show you everybody in your list that also has those surnames (and others) in their profiles.

Once your invitation has been accepted you can start trying to locate your most recent common ancestor(MRCA).  The first of course was comparing surnames, but now you get to dig a little deeper.  Go to Family and Friends>Family Traits and it will take you to your first chromosome browser.  The is a drop down list and you select yourself, then whoever you are comparing with.  This can be turned around if you want to compare two of your DNA matches to each other instead of yourself. This one does only a one to one match and cannot be run on iPad as it needs flash player.

The other browser is found in the Ancestry Tools > Family Inheritance.  It allows you to match yourself, or someone else to 5 different people.  This is the best way to form family groups, by matching chromosomes overlaps.

To protect the privacy of my matches, I left the spaces open, but these are drop down menus.


All 22 chromosomes are listed in this graph, but not shown here.  Each person that you have chosen above will be assigned a color.  The green in this graph represents a close relative and the bar indicates how many segments he matches me. If you notice on chromosome 13, there is a long green line with a red line under it.  This indicates an overlap in chromosome match, so most likely, green and red are also related.  Take a look now at chromosome 8, I have a large match with green, and the small purple line on the left side of the chromosome shows a  match to me, but since it does not overlap the green, it is not related to green.  There is an area in between these two graphs not shown here because it has identifying information of my matches, but it also lists how many centimorgans (cM), or the size of the match.


There are other fun things in the Ancestry Tools list mentioned earlier.  These tools are things that are in the process of development and could be improved or eliminated at any time, so take advantage of them when you can.  I have had fun with the DNA medley.  They look at your genotype and create a unique melody.  Just a fun thing to do in between serious searches.

All of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the message boards.  There is  just about every topic that you could imagine available for your scientific quest for roots. I hope that this has helped you or sparked your interest in genetic genealogy.  23andme has become the largest DNA testing company with over one million people tested already!  All the tools in the world are only as good the amount of people available for comparison, and this one has it!


When it All Comes Together…..Or Not

Have you ever had a brick wall, and no matter what you do you cannot get any information on that person.  I have two, and they are both on the Maxwell side of my family.  My great-grandmother Lydia Jane (Jennie) Canniff Maxwell, and Arvilla Dibble Maxwell my 2nd Great-Grandmother.  My 3rd cousin Chris has been looking for Arvilla for 30 years and the only thing we can come up with is a possible father in New York.  It’s crazy, but she just seems to be dropped out of the sky in to our world.


My Great Grandmother Jennie, pictured above, was born in 1862 in Hastings Ontario.  Apparently her parents died when she and her brother were 7 and 8 years old and they were both raised by different people.  Jennie by the Fox family, and brother Jonas, or Thomas Jonas was raised by the Stratons. In the 1871 Census of Hastings Ontario, Canada they are listed with the respective families in the same area, possibly close neighbors.  There is no other record of Jennie until her marriage to my great-grandfather William Henry Maxwell.  She bore 10 children between 1880 and 1903, with my grandmother Cora Myrtle being the last child.  According to my aunt who was born in 1928, they lived with my grandparents and other family members when they were elderly and Jennie “lost her mind.”  The way it was described to me and for the lack a diagnosis in those years, I believe she may have had Alzheimer’s disease.  I so much want to learn more about her, but that is the sum of everything I know about her.  The Canniff’s were a large family in Ontario, large enough that there is a town named for them, Cannifton, Ontario.  But do you think that I can connect even one of them to my Jennie?  I found an e-book about the Canniff’s online, so I have started a separate  tree for them, hoping to find her.  There also happens to be a Flagler connection, so I have been following that also.  In one document it lists her parents as Jonas and Lillie, but this has not been actually proven.  One of her children was also named Jonas Canniff Maxwell.

One day I was on 23andme and I did a random search for the surname Canniff in my DNA matches, and lo and behold, there it was!  Someone who has a great-grandmother with the surname of Canniff.  Caroline Canniff!  In this particular tree there is also a Jonas Canniff married to Letty Flagler!  Then just the other day I came across another DNA match with the surname Flagler!  I still have not been able to connect them, but I feel like that wall is being chipped away, a little at a time.  And I actually have two DNA matches that I can connect to her!

One of the things I have learned from my search in to Caroline Canniff and Thomas Jonas Canniff, is that I think one of the ways we have all gone wrong, is by limiting myself to Canada for the search.  Many family members of Caroline’s immigrated to Michigan, as did Thomas Jonas.  It just so happens, that my 2nd Great Grandfather William Maxwell hung out in Michigan also, and many of his children were born there.  Could Jennie’s parents have lived in Michigan and immigrated to Ontario?  The mystery is waiting to be solved!

Genetic Geneology and Fantastic Finds


A determining factor in delving back into genealogy was the advent of reasonably priced DNA testing.  I tossed it around in my head for a couple of years…. no need to rush in to anything, right?  Well, it was something that was well worth waiting for, and by the time I got around to it they had a lot of the bugs works out.  I had a lot of unanswered questions and thought I might find the answers here.  The first company I tested with was 23andme.  It is a great site for beginners, as I could not have been any less knowledgeable about how this all works together.  They not only do the testing and provide you with a very long list of matches, but they also have video tutorials and tools to help you understand the whole genetic research process.  I really can’t say enough good stuff about this site.  The one drawback to it is that in order to compare genome’s with someone you have to get their permission.  And while you would think that we are all seeking, there are some that just really aren’t ready to go public with what couldn’t possibly be any more personal than your genetic make-up.  After 6 months, I still have some 2nd cousins that have chosen not to share their information with me.  But, that is their option and I respect their right to remain silent.  You can share only what information you are comfortable with.  In the beginning I was a little shy and didn’t add much at all.  Eventually I opened up enough to add surnames to my profile so that others could seek common families, then I set it so that others could send an invitation to share genomes without having to send an introductory letter first.  I am now sharing genome information with over 70 second to distant cousins.  They give you two different options for actually comparing  matches on each gene.  There is a one to one comparison, and another advanced tool to help you compare any of your sharing cousins with up to 5 other people.  This is how you determine which ones to put together in family groups.  If you match two different people on over-lapping segments on one gene, then they likely share common ancestor.  It is a long time-consuming process, but sometimes it comes together very fast.  The key is to get people to accept your sharing request.  My first discoveries were from the Maxwell side of my family.  I have to say though, it wasn’t a real surprise because I already knew that they had tested there.  The big surprise was from two of my 3rd cousins whose great-grandmother is a sister to my great-grandfather. One of them I have a very high match enough that she is identified as a 2nd cousin and not a 3rd, and the other I have NO match to!  We’ve both tested with other companies now, but still no match, so it wasn’t a mistake.  It just happens that the one I have no match with inherited more of her mother’s Italian genes than of the Irish Maxwell genes that I have.  And the other just happened to inherited more of the Maxwell genes than normal to show such a high much for the two of us.  This is where all of the great video tutorials come in handy, to help you understand it all.

In the beginning of my association with 23andme they had a tree that you could fill in so that others could compare.  Now they have partnered with Heritage.com for their trees and it is an extra expense, so I have not chosen to use that option.  Even if it was free, I would not have used it that extensively since I have put all my work into my Ancestry.com tree and don’t feel like doing that all over again.

Below are the great-grandparents that I share with the two cousins I found on 23andme.  William J. Maxwell b. 1835 in Ontario, Canada and Arvilla Dibble b. 1844 in New York.  The young girl pictured is Sara Maxwell, the last born of their 12 children. William J.’s parents were William Maxwell b. 1797 and Elizabeth Toner b. 1797, who immigrated from Ireland in 1831.  Arvilla is the brick wall of this particular generation.  Some seeker cousins have been looking for her family for more than 30 years.  But (the infamous connecting word), that was before DNA testing and I suspect that we will have a break-through one day soon.


I continue to research on 23andme and have made some small discoveries, but even the small ones are another step towards filling in all the blanks in my life profile.  I have made some great new friends of distant cousins, and each one offers more individuals to my growing tree.  In the next couple posts I will share information on the other two companies I have tested with and some very surprising and exciting finds!