Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tips for Newbies on 23andMe

NOTE in April 2013, 23andMe completely changed the format of their website, so much in this post is already redundant.  Betty T

Since so many friends & relatives have recently decided to get their DNA tested with 23andMe, I thought it might be time to go over a few tips to help make the experience a smooth one!

1)  MAKE SURE YOUR NAME IS ON YOUR PROFILE.  To access your profile, click on link "My Account" in the upper right hand of the webpage. It's a pull-down menu. Choose "My Profile".  The first item is your name. Do not remove your name.  You would not believe how many people remove their names, thinking that this might preserve their privacy in some way!  What it does instead is make you completely invisible to anyone else on 23andMe.  No one can find you, no one can invite you to share & compare DNA.  If you signed on to 23andMe for genealogical purposes, this is NOT what you want!!!

2) MAKE SURE YOUR NAME IS SEARCHABLE  Once you are on your profile page, and see your name as first item, look to the right hand side.  You will see a pull down menu that says either "Only my connections" or "All of 23andMe".   You should choose " All of 23andMe".  Some people may choose the first because they are  concerned about privacy issues, but remember, this is a private website, and the total number of 23andMe members right now is about 150,000 people who had to pay to join the website.  No one outside of the 23andMe community can access your profile information via the Internet.  

Choosing "only my connections" makes sense for underage children, disabled family members,  or people who are interested only in 23andMe's health results, and don't want to share for genealogy purposes.  

3) ADD SURNAMES & LOCATIONS WHERE YOUR ANCESTORS LIVED on the same profile page as above.  At the minimum, put in the surnames & locations of your grandparents.  If you have the time & inclination, put in the surnames & locations back to your gg grandparents--five generations.  Any information that you add will be helpful!   

However--it might be a good idea to leave off your full birthdate. 

4) BE SURE TO FILL OUT THE “WHERE ARE YOU FROM” SURVEY  This asks you for the birth locations of your parents & grandparents.  The information you provide helps 23andMe with their Ancestry Composition tool.

5) WHERE DO I FIND PEOPLE WHO SHARE MY DNA?   That would be on your Relative Finder, which you can find in the menu at the left hand side of the webpage.  It gives you a list of all the people whom you match on 23andMe. At the moment, I have over 1200 matches.  Only a few are close family members.  If you have Ashkenazi,  Colonial New England or Colonial Virginia roots, expect a lot of matches. 

You can invite your Relative Finder matches to share & compare DNA via the links on the right side of the Relative Finder webpage.  You will also see Public Matches, people who have opted to make their entire profile public on 23andMe (as I did).  You can invite them as well.

Another way to find people who share DNA is to use the search box at top left of the webpage.  If you are looking for a specific surname, the results will show all the people on 23andMe who either have that surname or have listed it in their surname list. You can click on their profile and invite them to share. 

6) MY RELATIVE FINDER MATCH ACCEPTED MY INVITATION!  HOW DO I COMPARE OUR DNA?  23andMe has two different tools for comparing DNA.  The quick & easy way to compare yourself with your Relative Finder matches is to use "Family Inheritance", which is in the menu at left side this page under Sharing & Community.

If you click on that link you will get a visual representation of 22 chromosomes plus X chromosome. Your name will be at the top on one side in a pull down menu, and there will be another pull down menu on the other side. There you can chose the name of the person you want to compare. If you actually share DNA with the person, there will be a light blue mark on at least one of the chromosomes--with close relatives there will be LOTS of blue marks! Very close relatives like parents or siblings will share both light blue marks (half identical) and dark blue marks (fully identical). Only identical twins will have all dark blue on every chromosome--showing that their DNA is fully identical!

For a more in-depth comparison, you can use “Family Inheritance Advanced”, which is included in “Ancestry Labs”,  under “My Ancestry” in the menu left side this page.

There you can also get a either a visual representation or a numeric representation of the chromosomal location where the DNA match occurs. To get the numeric representation, you have to click on the link that says "view in a table". 

The cool thing about “Family Inheritance Advanced” is that you can compare yourself to more than one person at a time.  This becomes important as you get more & more matches, or add close relatives. 


--23andMe tests only autosomal DNA, which is accurate back 5 generations. The matches can be from either the maternal or paternal side of your family.

--It is entirely possible to share ancestors with others and yet no DNA. This is especially true with 4th cousins--distant cousins.

--It is entirely possible for one sibling to share DNA with a Relative Finder match, and another sibling to share absolutely none!  Such is the random nature of DNA.

--Do not decline an invitation to share & compare DNA simply because the other person does not list any familiar surnames, or has a different haplogroup than you do. It is entirely possible that the person inviting you does not have a complete family tree (who does?) or that the match is through a collateral family line of which neither of you may be aware.  

Haplogroups are interesting only in an anthropological sense, and have little relevance to more recent genealogy.  The only exception to this is the Y-DNA haplogroups of males with the same surname.

Next post will be about using 23andMe’s Ancestry Composition tool.

Have a great day!


© Betty Tartas  2013


Barbara Poole said...

Betty, Your post was filled with useful information. I'm saving it and printing out as well. Thanks always.

Julie said...

Thanks for such a great and timely post. Expecting the results of 3 kits within the next few weeks and now I feel like I have a place to start. Look forward to the next post on the composition tool.

Anonymous said...

Any advice on how to figure out/interpret the results "health wise"? thank you.

Betty said...

Thanks Barbara & Julie;

Anonymous I am only writing about the genealogical aspects of DNA testing in this blog. If you have questions, try the 23andMe forums on their website.