So I haven’t been as prolific with writing as I’ve been promising. But I do have a small development on the family tree front, and I didn’t even lift a finger.

A few days ago, I got a message through 23andMe from a DNA relative, wanting to share ancestry reports.

Sometimes it piques my interest, because I’m always curious to see who contacts me and how much we’re actually “related”. But I’ve always tempered it with the fact that our DNA matches are usually less than 1 per cent. So I’ve always taken it with a grain of salt.

Last Thursday was different.

When I opened 23andMe and looked at the DNA comparison, it wasn’t less than 1 percent. It was just over 4 percent.

It still doesn’t sound like a lot. But considering the only other family member to submit a sample – and score much higher percentage-wise – was my brother, I wasn’t going to dismiss this.

I agreed to share my ancestry results, then took a look at some of her information. One of the family surnames in her profile – Jenkins – belongs to my maternal grandmother. That provided a bit more proof to me that we were related. But to what degree?

I showed the result to a co-worker (who’s also of Jamaican descent and currently obsessed with untangling her family roots). She showed me this really cool thing that I’d never heard of, called DNA Painter, where you take the number of shared DNA material (measured in cM), plug it into a box, and it tells you what your probable relation is. It gives you a number of possibilities – so it’s not exact – but it guesses as close as it can, based on the information. It’s a really cool tool!

This morning, my relative sent a message. She mentioned how surprised she was that we matched with such a percentage. She’d also looked at my information, and said what I already thought: we were related through the Jenkins family line. But then she mentioned the name of her grandmother (which tweaked something in my brain, and I have to confirm that with my mom), and named the town her grandmother was from.

Oh, we are DEFINITELY related, I thought. So I responded, and told her my grandmother’s name.

Bingo. My grandmother’s name apparently has come up in conversation with her family.

So our grandmothers were sisters — we’re second cousins! (Or half-second cousins, if DNA Painter is correct, since I don’t know who my relative’s grandfather was.)

She lives in Philadelphia, and one day very soon, I’m going to give her a call.

I guess it all just goes to show you that when you’re doing family research and you have a long lull or hit a brick wall, once in a while, something – or someone – reminds you that it’s worth it.

Another Test, Another Result

Apologies (once again) for the silence on my end. It was a very busy March, including a hectic work schedule that really didn’t leave me with enough time or motivation to write. But I’m back for the time being.

On the family research front, it’s pretty much at a standstill. My aunt went home to Jamaica in the new year, but she’s been dealing with personal stuff. One of my cousins went home last week for a visit. She’s currently still there, and I’m hoping she might have time to do what her mother hasn’t. I’m keeping my expectations low at this point.

Meanwhile, I decided to do an ancestral DNA test with another company to see if (a) I could get any more detailed results in terms of where part of my lineage may have come from, and (b) see if I would end up with the same result in terms of which maternal haplogroup I belong to.

There was a holiday special, so I bought an autosomal DNA test and a mitrochondrial DNA test (there’s a similar test for male family members, which traces lineage through the Y-chromosome).

Unlike the previous test – which involved spitting into a vial – for this one, I had to scrape the insides of my cheeks with a swab.

The autosomal test was ready in about four to five weeks. It was a longer wait for the mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) test results – somewhere around seven to eight weeks.

I wish I could say that the results were worth the wait. It was a bit underwhelming and not that easy to understand.

The one thing I learned from my mtDNA results: My haplogroup matches the results from the previous mtDNA test I did – with one exception.

Attached to the haplogroup designation was a second set of letters and numbers. Did this allude to a specific region or subgroup?

It took me a couple of tries at digging for similar questions on the forum boards. From what I understand, it might be some sort of mutation in my DNA that doesn’t precisely match the sequence for the specific haplogroup I belong to.

Perhaps this means that technically, I don’t belong to the haplogroup, but it’s the closest designation for my maternal DNA? (Amateur genetic genealogists, feel free to correct me if I’m completely wrong.)

When I checked my genetic matches, there were more than half a dozen other people who had this same designation/mutation as me. In fact, one of those matches (who lives in Barbados) contacted me a mere two hours after my test results were emailed to me. He asked me about the haplogroup we belonged to and if I understood what it meant. Unfortunately I barely understood my results at the time and couldn’t tell him a thing. (I’ve since emailed him about our shared mutation, but I haven’t heard back from him.)

As for my ancestral DNA test, I checked the “origins” map, which put me at 89 per cent African and 10 per cent European. That part was consistent with the other test. The head-scratcher is the European portion of my lineage, which the test results place in … Norway. There was a blurb about how members of that particular cluster are kin to other Europeans of the north. Maybe it’s plausible. But – as with all these tests – certain things you have to take with a grain of salt.

The only thing I’m really disappointed with is the lack of clear explanation of what my results really mean. Unless I’m a novice member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, all the numbers and letters in my DNA don’t exactly make me salivate with excitement. Perhaps it’ll become a bit clearer with time and more internet research.

It was worth a shot.