Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bridge to the Past - DNA Testing Our Oldest Living Family Member

This spring my paternal grandfather had a milestone birthday – 95 years old. All four of his grandparents were immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1890s.  His paternal grandparents, Anthony Murosky, Sr. and Eva Zielinski, arrived separately from Lithuania. The couple met in Forest City, Pennsylvania and were married.

His maternal grandparents, Vincent Bukowski and Franciska Kwiatkowski, came from Poland with three young children. These four individuals are currently the oldest known ancestors on his side of the family. These families unfortunately did not leave many clues behind. At this time there are no definitive information on what cities they were living in before departing for the United States.

The Test

In attempt to learn more about these families I tested my grandfather with the AncestryDNA kit. This DNA test looks at an individuals’ autosomal DNA. The autosomal DNA provides an understanding of the individual’s inheritance as it will show DNA inherited from their mother and father. 

My grandfather is the oldest living person in the family on his paternal and maternal sides. He is the closest link to the oldest known ancestors. When evaluating his results there are only four starting variables - making it plausible to learn more about each of the four lines he descends from.

The AncestryDNA test kit arrived shortly after ordering by mail. The instructions are easy to follow. The kit arrives with a bar code, which needs to be activated online. A saliva sample is collected from the test individual. The sample is then placed in the pre-paid mailer provided in the kit. Simply place the sample in the mailer and take it to the post office to send it in. The test lab uses the activated bar code and never knows the name of the individual tested .  The bar code system is one of the methods AncestryDNA uses to protect the identity of individuals tested.  To learn more about the AncestryDNA privacy policies please visit this link. Once the sample is received at the laboratory for processing Ancestry.com (Ancestry) will send you a notification.

The Process

Ancestry has developed 26 ethnicity regions.  Each of these regions has a DNA reference panel. Ancestry sequences the DNA sample and runs numerous separate analyses to compare the sample to reference panels for each of the 26 regions. The goal of the analysis is to identify how the sample compares to the typical person living in the regions. The results determine which combination of the ethnicity regions makes up the DNA of the test individual.

The Results

The results indicate that my grandfather is 100% Eastern European. A 100% match to one region is rare but occasionally occurs. The results suggest that his ancestors lived in the same location for several generations.

The countries in the Ancestry Eastern European Group include:  Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia.

Linking Family

After DNA for an individual is tested, AncestryDNA begins to search the DNA database (which grows each day) to identify other individuals with similar genetic markers. These individuals may be parents, grandparents or cousins. The process used will attempt to predict the relationship between the individual tested and the DNA match.

It is highly recommended that the DNA sample be linked to an individual in a family tree. Using data from the family trees it is possible to identify the common ancestor between the individual tested and the match. In some cases the common ancestor may be unknown. Working together the researcher and match may be able to identify the ancestral line and/or the common ancestor that links the two individuals together.

Making Connections

After reviewing the results the next step is to begin to review the AncestryDNA matches to determine if it is possible to identify the ancestral line and/or the common ancestor between the tested individual and the match. What is very exciting is my grandfather has several matches – meaning he shares a common ancestor with other individuals that have been tested.

2nd cousins

In my grandfather's results the first grouping of matches identifies 2nd cousins. The current results have identified two second cousin's with my grandfather. In this example Vincent Bukowski and Franciska Kwiatkowski are the common ancestors. The two cousins are descendants of Catherine Bukowski - my grandfather's aunt.

4th cousins

The next grouping of matches in my grandfather's results identifies potential 4th cousins. This grouping is very interesting as it identifies a relationship between one of my grandfather's unknown ancestors and the individual with the match.  The common ancestor could be my grandfather's 3rd great grandparent or 4th great grandparents who was most likely in Lithuania or Poland (but could also have been living in one of the other countries in the Eastern European group).

This example of a 4th cousin match is best illustrated by the graphic below. The green boxes represent known information:  my grandfather, his parents and his grandparents. The white boxes represent my grandfather’s unknown ancestor’s line. The red box represents the ancestor that is the link between the test individual and the match.  The grey boxes represent the connections between the common ancestor and the match. The blue box represents the match. In some cases the match may know the names of the individual who populate the grey boxes and possibly the red box. In other cases they may not.



I am currently working with some of these 4th cousin matches in attempt determine which of the four lines the match occurs on. These matches may provide some insight into what regions the families may be from. In time these matches could also uncover additional ancestors.

It should also be noted that the match could be another variation which places the test individual and the match the same number of degrees away from each other. Fourth cousins are 10 degrees apart. What do the degrees mean? The degrees compared to the graphic above are listed below.
  • Individual Tested - 0 degrees
  • Parent - 1 degree
  • Grandparent - 2 degrees
  • Great-grandparent - 3 degrees
  • Great-great grandparent - 4 degrees
  • Great-great-great-grandparent - 5 degrees [The common ancestor]
  • Great-great grand (Aunt or Uncle) - 6 degrees
  • 1st cousin (3x removed) - 7 degrees
  • 2nd cousin (2x removed) - 8 degrees
  • 3rd cousin (1x removed) - 9 degrees
  • The Match - 10 degrees.

Other relationship types that are 10 degrees apart include: 3rd cousin (2x removed) and 2nd cousin (4x removed). The match could also be to a 5th cousin. To lean more about cousin relationships view the blog post First Cousin 2x Removed, Second Cousin - What does it mean?

Distant cousins

The third grouping is for matches that may be 5th cousins or greater. For individuals with tree details for several generations it might be possible to identify the common ancestor. In my grandfather's case, with limited knowledge, it may be difficult to understand the common ancestor or line.

To learn more about the Ancestry.com DNA test works please visit this link.


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