Thursday, 30 November 2006

Save on DNA tests

In the last post I looked at the trend in prices for Family Tree DNA’s Y-DNA tests since they entered the market in mid 2000. Here's another perspective on how prices might change, and how to save. The bottom line is that while some reductions in analysis costs will likely occur the easiest way to save, while getting results promptly, will continue to be by taking advantage of group project rates.

How do I come to this conclusion? Leaving aside credit card costs, which will be a small percentage of the total bill, the costs can be divided between per sample and per marker amounts.

Per sample costs are for collecting and administering the sample, maintaining the database, shipping and storing the sample in the long term. That's not to mention costs of advertising and technical support. Also the initial stages of the lab procedure, extraction and amplification of the sample are independent of the number of markers tested. The only way these costs are likely to decline is through finding internal efficiencies or reducing service.

Warning – arithmetic ahead!

The other part of the cost is dependent on the number of markers tested, and technology is likely to impact that. At FTDNA rates the difference between the cost of a 67 and 37 marker test, 30 markers, is $US 3.00 per marker. At the same rate for all 67 markers that’s $US 201 out of the price of $US 349. The difference is $US 148. That’s for the individual rate and covers the per sample cost and, presumably, a little profit.

At the group rate for a 67 markers test of $US 269 the difference is $US 68. Applying $US 3 per marker to the 12 marker test leaves $US 113 at the individual price, and $63 at the group price. The range $US 60-70 is an estimate of the per sample cost.

The difference between the 12 and 37 marker cost declined by $US 0.80 per marker with the FTDNA price reduction of Spring 2006. While there would appear to be some scope for additional reductions, prices are likely to be driven by competition and market forces. Based on FTDNA's history of three price changes over six years, the most recent in Spring 2006, don't expect a price adjustment soon.

Finally, some people don't know they don't have to join a surname project to get a discount price. Group discount prices are available by joining an existing regional project, particularly noteworthy for those with an uncommon surname where it might be difficult to establish a viable surname project.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Ancestors in the Attic: week 7

Sadly, the program this week slipped back to where it started.

The first story concerned a query as to whether a Canadian's McAdam ancestors were related to royalty, and evolved to whether there was a relationship to John Louden McAdam, who devised "a simple and economical system of construction which brought speed, efficiency, and comfort to the roads," and became the modern tarmac road. In attempting to establish the relationship the program relied on the IGI.

The researcher turned to Burke's Peerage to eliminate any linkage to royalty, then to the International Genealogical Index (IGI) to examine the link to John L McAdam. The IGI is a finding aid, not a definitive source. Were the Scottish Old Parochial Records not searched? Perhaps they yielded nothing; probably not good television. But to accept the IGI, especially entries based on patron submissions, and then turn speculation that two people of the same last name living 11 Km apart in the IGI into a relationship to be celebrated is not good genealogical practice.

According to the Dictionary of National Biography "McAdam, John Loudon (1756–1836), builder and administrator of roads, was born in the west-coast town of Ayr ... on 21 September 1756. .... His father was a minor laird and his mother a niece of the seventh earl of Dundonald ..." So if you're going to accept the tenuous link of the IGI then you may as well go all the way and claim a link, if not to royalty, at least to Scottish nobility ... and all the benefits that go with it.

Are DNA test prices changing?

Perhaps you've seen news about DNA breakthroughs, technologies that mean analysis of what previously took the dedicated effort of major labs can now be done by a high school student in her bedroom. Maybe things haven't gone quite so far yet, but the trend is right. So are prices for DNA tests likely to fall? Let's start by checking the history of commercial Y-DNA tests, specifically those marketed to the genealogy community by Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA became the first company to target the genealogy market in North America with a Y-DNA test, 12 markers for $US 219, in mid 2000. By early 2002, much delayed from the original announcement, Oxford Ancestors were offering a 10 marker test for $US 220. In June 2002 FTDNA, having captured the early adopter premium, reduced the price to $US 149. In August 2002 FTDNA started offering 25 marker tests for $US 209.

In Spring 2003 FTDNA prices were increased, by $US 10 for the 12 marker test and $US 20 for 25 markers. A 37 marker test was added in February 2004 for $US 289.

In April 2006 the FTDNA range was expanded again to what was eventually set as a 67 marker test for $US 349. At the same time the price for the 12 marker test was reduced by $US 10, and for the 37 marker test reduced by $US 30.

That's two decreases and one increase. Do you see a price trend? Note that the prices quoted are the rates for those not testing through a group project.

Come back for a second part to the analysis in the next post.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Which DNA testing company?

Following up on yesterday's posting on how many Y-DNA markers to test in exploring your genealogy, the next question newbies ask is which company to choose to do the test. The folks at the International Society of Genetic Genealogy have compiled a convenient table comparing the major companies here.



Its easy to compare cost for the number of markers tested using the plot above. The companies included are Family Tree DNA, both individual and group project (P) rates , DNA Heritage, Relative Genetics, Oxford Ancestors, and the Genographic Project sponsored by the National Geographic Society in the US.

You can draw a fairly straight line between the points, except for the Family Tree DNA individual tests and the extraordinarily expensive 10 marker test offered by Oxford Ancestors. Looking at points falling below the line makes it clear that Relative Genetics, shown with an open circle, offers the lowest cost test, 18 markers for $US 95.

Cost and number of markers are not the only factors. Do you want the company to keep your DNA so you can order additional tests as the science advances and your, or your descendants, needs develop?

What reputation does the company have in being responsive to the client? Few folks get much insight from a tabulation of their analytical results. Most genealogists can benefit from a bit of advice to facilitate understanding the data. I only have experience with FTDNA and have found they routinely answer queries promptly, although not always accurately when it comes to responses on the timeframe to deliver delayed results.

Finally, although there are now several free public databases you can use to compare your results with others and so find genetic cousins, the FTDNA proprietary database which provides automatic matching for their clients is the largest, meaning a greater chance of finding a match. That's a major advantage and, along with reputation and ease of access, likely accounts for the company being able to make the claim that "nine out of ten genealogists choose FTDNA."

Monday, 27 November 2006

How many Y-DNA markers to test

At the meeting of the BIFHSGO DNA group last Saturday we had ten people, a mix of folks who had experience with a test and those considering it. For the latter the biggest question was how many markers to test. Who wouldn't ask when you are looking at the difference between $US 99.95, plus $US 7.55 shipping and handling and tax, for a 12 marker test through the Genographic Project, and $US 349 for a 67 marker test through Family Tree DNA?

There are good reasons to start with a 12 marker test. If your deep roots, for times before the adoption of surnames, are of most interest then a 12 marker test is all you need. Two recent books on DNA in Britain, by Sykes and Oppenheimer, are based on 12 or fewer markers. By testing through the Genographic Project you will get a clear explanation of your results, and contribute to a worthwhile anthropological project.

You also have the opportunity to add your data to the large Family Tree DNA database and order additional tests without having to take another sample. The large database is important as the chances of finding a genetic cousins are better. According to the FTDNA web site, if you match exactly on 12 markers with someone with the same or variant surname then there is a 99% chance you have a common ancestor within the period in which surnames have been used. Finding that match might motivate you to upgrade. That is just what happened with a man in Australia with the same surname as me. He tested through the Geneographic Project, transferred his information to the FTDNA database. When we found a 12 marker match he decided to upgrade to a 37 marker text.

For anyone with an interest in DNA, whether for anthropology or general genealogical interest, a Genographic Project kit would make a great Christmas gift.

However, if you are looking to establish, or to disprove, a specific relationship within the period of surnames you need to test a larger number of markers. The closer the match on a greater number of markers the more certain you can be of a recent common ancestor. The less alike the DNA the more unlikely there is to be a common ancestor.

A final word; there are other respected commercial testing companies besides FTDNA. Some analyse more markers at less cost than FTDNA. However, none of them have as large a database as FTDNA. That's important if you're looking to discover genetic cousins.

Friday, 24 November 2006

DNA and Genealogy

A meeting of folks interested in genetic genealogy is being held at 10 am tomorrow, Saturday 25 November, in room 154 at Library and Archives Canada. This is a first meeting following on my presentation Family Secrets Revealed by DNA Analysis given last September at the BIFHSGO annual conference. Mostly it will be a round table to share experiences and address questions.

There will be additional opportunities to hear my presentation in Trenton (ON) in February, Ottawa and Montreal in June next year.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Ancestors in the Attic: week 6

I enjoyed this week's episode, despite the continued frenetic activity of the host. Am I the only one who finds his attitude toward the genealogists rather demeaning?

There was one nit to pick. Viewers should be made aware that they don't go to LAC Preservation Centre in Gatineau to see CEF WW1 soldiers records as has been suggested twice now. Rather the records are ordered from storage there and delivered to the main building at 395 Wellington in Ottawa. That takes a day.

A hidden gem this week is a collection of links to online letters and diaries on the program web site, links compiled by Fawne Statford-Devai. Find it here.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

All those genealogy blogs

According to The Genealogy Blog Finder there are 411 genealogy blogs in their collection. This is one of them. Of the other 410, in more than 20 categories, some will be familiar, Dick Eastman's for example. Others are just getting started. Try a few, you never know what you're going to get ... kinda like box of chocolates!

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

How to magnify online images

Are you finding online census images and other original genealogy record images increasingly difficult to read? I am, so I've taken to using technology to help. Here are some ways to do it; not news but perhaps news to you.

You can get a free magnifier add-on for IE7, but reportedly it is spyware. If you're not using the excellent Firefox browser give it a try. It has an add-on called ColorZilla that allows you to zoom the entire screen up to 1000%. That's far too much for most purposes. 200% or 300% is usually sufficient. You can scroll the image to see it all. From the Firefox browser follow the menu items tools, then add-ons, then extensions. Alternatively Google for ColorZilla for information.

There's also a built in magnifier in Windows XP. It opens a window showing a magnified version of part of the main window. I use it to magnify the image near the cursor but there are other options. You can open the magnifier window by clicking Start, pointing to All Programs, then Accessories, then Accessibility. Then click Magnifier. There's also keyboard access by pressing CTRL+ESC, pressing R, typing magnify, and then pressing ENTER.

Now if only they'd invent a technology to read difficult handwriting!

Monday, 20 November 2006

Surname Frequency

Want to know how common, or uncommon, your name is? Try this extract of an Office of National Statistics database containing a list of surnames in use in England, Wales and the Isle of Man in September 2002. Access is totally free. The list contains almost 270,000 surnames, shared by 54.4 million people.

With it I found that the name Reed ranked 166th amongst surnames with 37217 entries, Reid was next ranking 168th, and Read ranked 226th.

According to the documentation experience suggests that multiplying the result for your surname by 0.93 will give a good idea of the living population for your surname, and multiplying by 3.5 will give the population since the start of parish registers in the 16th century.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Trends in Genetic Genealogy

An item here earlier in the week showed that the number of monthly postings on the Rootsweb DNA list is increasing, while those for some other major Rootsweb lists are declining. Are there other indications of increasing interest in genetic genealogy?

Family Tree DNA, the largest commercial DNA testing company for genealogy, includes statistics on its front web page. Since April the statistics have been dynamically linked to the company database; before that they were rounded estimates.

The company has reported total records in its database since April 2004. In the year to April 2005 these grew 48%. In the 12 months to April 2006 either the methodology changed, or business grew, dramatically, by 211%. For the 8-1/2 months from April to mid November 2006 the growth was 41%, an annualized rate of 57%.

Data for the number of 12 marker haplotypes and number of surnames have grown at about half the rate of the number of records. I think this means that more genetic cousins are being tested rather than entirely new 12 marker genetic territory being found, encouraging for those of us hoping to find more genetic matches.

The table below shows the data on which these figures are based

Date Records 12 marker haplotypes Surnames
01-Apr-04 19000 7800 7000
01-Jul-04 22000 8000 8000
01-Oct-04 24000 9000 9000
01-Jan-05 27000 9000 9000
01-Apr-05 30000 10000 10000
01-Jul-05 35000 11000 10000
01-Oct-05 40000 12000 15000
01-Jan-06 60000 15119 28921
01-Apr-06 83451 17147 46598
21-Apr-06 85226 17436 47377
20-Aug-06 104985 19905 53157
17-Sep-06 110176 20398 55288
15-Nov-06 117420 21236 57149

Thursday, 16 November 2006

Ancestors in the Attic: week 5

To the list of misleading if not simply incorrect statements perpetrated by this series we can add another. The senior genealogist claimed that he was a cousin three times removed of the host by virtue of a marriage between their respective great grandfather's cousins.

The terminology "removed" relates to the number of generations different two people are from a common ancestor. If anything these two people are of the same generation, not three times removed. However, the point is moot as there is no common ancestor -- no genetic relationship. They are only cousins to the extent that a remote link by marriage makes them so.

Several web sites explain this, try here.

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Trends in Online Genealogy

Back in June I posted about a declining trend for interest in genealogy as evidenced by the results of a Google Trends search on "genealogy". This is consistent with a widely reported decline in membership in family history and genealogy societies.

Here's more evidence. Rootsweb hosts many email discussion lists. You can browse the lists by month, and the total number of posts per month in each list is given. The decline in number of postings is clear for most of the larger groups.

ROOTS-L with 1010 postings in October has not had over 1200 postings since March 2004 and not over 2000 postings since October 2002.

GENBRIT had 2254 postings in October 2006. The last month it exceeded 3000 postings was March 2006, and the last month over 5000 was March 2005.

LONDON with 757 postings in October 2006, has enjoyed less than 1000 postings since July 2006, less than 2000 since March 2005, and less than 3000 since March 2002.

The exception is GENEALOGY-DNA with postings in an emerging area of interest. Eight months of 2006 have had more than 2000 postings, a level it first reached in March 2005. It first exceeded 1000 postings in March 2003.

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

First World War Medal Index Cards

Much of the British documentation on WW1 soldiers was destroyed, but medal cards survived. You can already download copies of the front of each card in PDF format from The National Archives website for £3.50.

After TNA finished scanning the Western Front Association (WFA) took possession of the original cards. A proportion have address information, not previously available, written on the reverse side. Now the WFA have obtained
equipment to enable full colour scans to be made and a team of volunteers assembled. The WFA will de-archive the card, scan it on both sides, and email or post a copy to you for £5 (donated to the Western Front Association). A web-based application form is due to go online at www.westernfront.co.uk, or you can apply in writing to WFA, PO Box 1819, Stockport, SK4 4WN. This is a great way to support the WFA and get an enhanced product.

This item based on a posting by Your Family Tree.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Ancestors in the Attic: week 4


The first segment of this episode was the most interesting genealogy. A WW1 military tag, including the letters “...OSTER”, number114816 and "5th CMR"was found in a field in England. We are told CMR stands for “Canadian Mounted Rifles.

There is decent documentation (a, b) on the program web site including images of the entire military file.

Using the Library and Archives Canada web site it is no major challenge to find Fred Foster, attestation number114816. The military file shows Fred was born in England, so how did he wind up in Canada, and why did he name a friend as his next-of-kin rather than his family?

Much more detail on the story is here, which is not referenced on the program web site.

According to the program web site "... Fred was most likely a Home Child." It goes on to say "We check the Home Child database at Library & Archives Canada and find a listing for Fred Foster. " This is misleading! There are other Fred Fosters in the database, but this Fred Foster arrived in 1911, a year not yet entered on the database. He was in a party of about 35 that came through the US, all past school leaving age.

The British records tell the earlier part of the story, a birth registration for Frederick Hothersoll J Foster in the Marylebone registration district in the last quarter of 1892. In the England 1901 census eight year old Frederick Foster, born Paddington, London, is a step-son in the home of George Oxley, his wife Eliza, mother-in-law Eliza Rule and brother-in-law Alfred Rule. All the Rules were born in Surbiton or Kingston, Surrey. In the Ancestry.com transcription Rule is interpreted as Hule. Eliza's marriage to George Oxley is registered in the first quarter of 1900 in the Westminster district.

In the March quarter of 1892 there is a marriage for Eliza Rule and John Foster registered in the Marylebone district. A death registration at Marylebone of 37 year old John Foster in the 3rd quarter of 1896 looks about right. Its not clear whether Fred's mother died before he went to Canada, although there are several promising death index entries that would have left him without either parent and no siblings to tie him to England at a time when Canada was seen as the land of opportunity.



Friday, 10 November 2006

Yarmouth in New York


If you're looking online for illustrations for your family history there are plenty of places to go. I start with Flickr, Google Images or a library or archives web site local to the place of interest.

I was surprised to find a web site providing free and open access to over 520,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library. From the NYPL you'd expect items to be well catalogued, and they are. There are historic images of Ottawa and even the coat of arms of my home town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk from a cigarette card.

Looking to illustrate an event in a particular war, other event or year? Search here, although as I found when searching 1812, you may not agree with the description of who is described as a hero or the victor.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Abdel Tutu Chen McSteinberg - - 100% English

Do your family history studies find you researching in places you never imagined they would lead? If our names truly reflected the diversity of our origins, rather than a myopic version, we might all have names like the above. That is the conclusion from a study reported in the Daily Telegraph based on autosomal DNA tests conducted by DNA Print Genomics of Florida. The article is here and is based on a study conducted for Channel Four in the UK to be broadcast on November 13.

Although I don't question the diversity of our backgrounds I am skeptical about this test. The technique is proprietary and has not, as I understand it, been subject to peer review. What assurance does one have that there is any more basis to it than astrology?

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Hidden Lives Revealed

Between 1869 and the 1930 more than 100,000 young immigrants from the UK travelled to Canada under programs operated by various philanthropic organizations. The best known was founded by Dr John Barnardo. Another was commonly known as the "Waifs and Strays" operated by the Church of England.

Hidden Lives Revealed is an archive of original material about the organization, and children in care of this organization, now known as The Children's Society, in late Victorian and early 20th Century Britain.

Mentions of emigration and Canada are carefully obscured from documents such as annual reports reflecting continuing sensitivity to this aspect of the organization's work.

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

The Boat Race Turns Digital

Since 1829 Cambridge and Oxford Universities have been battling in a boat race. Since 1845 the venue for this 16- 20 minute aquatic sprint, an English rite of Spring, has been the River Thames between Putney and Mortlake. Cambridge has the overall series lead 78-73. Lamentably, Oxford have won four of the last five races.

So what's this about a digital race, and what is the relation to genealogy?

In the Cambridge boat we have the Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. There are over 50,000 searchable text pages and 40,000 images -- Darwin's complete publications and many of his handwritten manuscripts. There is also the largest Darwin bibliography and the largest manuscript catalogue ever published. More than 150 ancillary texts are included, ranging from reference works to reviews, obituaries, descriptions of the Beagle specimens and related works for understanding Darwin's context. Free audio mp3 versions of his works, a machine reading of the text, are also available. If your genealogical interests have morphed into genetic genealogy you may find some background of interest.

The Oxford Digital Library is powering the Oxford boat.

This web site offers central access to digital collections of Oxford libraries and informs you about ODL services, funding activities, digital library technology and developments. Access to the present Beta content is here. I had hopes that there might be something of interest to the genealogist amongst the maps, but unless the focus of your family history is the Oxford area you will likely not get a lift from that section.

Monday, 6 November 2006

Historic Maps for Genealogy

Have you seen the ad on TV: a man is walking along with his GPS enabled cellphone, a friend takes it from his hand and he freezes not knowing which way to turn? When its handed back he continues on his way.

The value of maps is something neophyte genealogists quickly discover. How do I find that cemetery? What are the surrounding parishes I need to search as I can't find my ancestor in the home parish records? Which building now occupies your ancestor's address from the 1880s, it surely wasn't a multi-storey car park then?

As most of my searching is in the UK, especially England, I keep to hand a current UK road map, I have a 2006 version of the AA Easy Read Britain map. In Basingstoke last month I saw the 2006 version at drastic discount now the 2007 edition is on sale. Also I keep to hand the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Although expensive it is a good Christmas list item.

These days your favourite internet map sources may be sufficient. I use Google Earth, Google Maps, Mapquest, Multimap and the Ordnance Survey get-a-map. Despite its poor image quality the old Maps site for the Ordnance Survey is a keeper.

What I would really like is a site that let me click on a location on one map and be taken to the same location on a variety of other maps for different years. Is this something Google might try?

While it doesn't seem that Historic Map Works will quite do this, it goes quite a way in the right direction for detailed historic maps. It claims to be "the first GIS-linked, address-searchable map of 19th and early 20th century America. You can search our collection of over 100,000 antique property maps. Our collection of contemporaneous directories can be searched by family names, occupations, or addresses from the past 250 years." The site's current offerings, available to view free for the remainder of the year, are mainly for the US Eastern seaboard. Some Canadian, mainly Ontario, additions are promised.

Friday, 3 November 2006

Ghosts of the Great War

At this time last year well known Ottawa Citizen journalist Tony Atherton led a project on the First World War with students at St Mark's School in Manotick. Does the war have any relevance for these teenagers or is it mostly lost in the mists of time, another subject to be studied?

Tony will describe the project, and how it tried to bring to life the contribution of those who served through research on some of the student's relatives, during a presentation at the BIFHSGO monthly meeting on Saturday 4 November, at Library and Archives Canada. Tony's presentation starts at 10 am. There is another presentation earlier.

At 9 am Christopher Watts, visiting Ottawa from The National Archives at Kew, will speak on "First World War British Army Service Records." Chris, who last Sunday headlined a successful all day session with the Toronto Branch of OGS, is author of “My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman,” “My Ancestor was in the British Army”, “Tracing Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea” and “Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen. ”

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Ancestors in the Attic: week 3

The most interesting segment this week was about a WW1 soldier, Herbert Bessent. The first name is variously Herbert and Hubert, and the last Bessent and Bessant. He won the Military Medal at Passendale, but according to family information abandoned his wife and children in Toronto, then married again in England before his first wife died. A descendant of the first marriage, Laureen, was wanting to find out where he was buried.

Its difficult to get all the information from the fast moving program, but fortunately Laureen has a Rootsweb posting with some of the information including his middle name, Arthur, not mentioned in the program. The first marriage in Toronto can be verified with Ontario marriage records from ancestry.ca. The award of the Military Medal shows up in the London Gazette.

In the program it was claimed that Hubert's death occurred on Christmas Day 1963 near Bristol, but the death index shows a registration in Weymouth which is in Dorset a fair way from Bristol. Dorset is also mentioned on the program web page in the Rootsweb posting and an earlier Rootsweb posting which specifies death at Dorchester, not far from Weymouth.

Unable to find a grave the program panel concluded, without any substantiating evidence, that the body must have been cremated. One wonders whether funeral director or crematorium records were searched, whether they were searched in the right location, and if a death notice in a local paper was sought.

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

Saskatchewan Homestead Index

This file locator database contains 360,000 references to those men and women who, under the terms of the Dominion Lands Act, took part in the homestead process in the area now known as Saskatchewan between 1872 to 1930.

To encourage settlement in the west the Government of Canada offered a free homestead of 160 acres for a $10 registration fee. In order to receive the patent for the land the settler had to be a male 21 years of age or a woman who was the sole support of her family. Before being granted a patent the applicant had to be a British subject or a naturalized British subject, had to reside on the homestead for a period of time, usually six months of the year for three years, make improvements to the land by cultivating at least 30 acres of land, and erect a house worth at least $300. The database also contains information on those who received Métis Scrip, South African Scrip, or WW1 Soldier Grants.

You can search by name or legal land description; the latter allowing you to identify the neighbours on that section and adjacent sections.

Using the file number found in the index, the researcher can access microfilm copies of the files at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and through its Family History Centers.

The file may contain information about the settler such as nationality, place of origin and family makeup, although names of other family members are seldom given. There may also be various sworn statements and information about the homestead itself including required agricultural improvements on the land before ownership was granted; in some cases, correspondence about matters concerning the homestead may be included.