DNA Triangulation, What?

Triangulation is a term derived from surveying to describe a method of determining the Y-STR or mitochondrial DNA ancestral haplotype using two or more known data points. The term “Genetic Triangulation” was coined by genetic genealogist Bill Hurst in 2004 Triangulate

Here is a 3-step process for Triangulation: Collect, Arrange, Compare/Group.

  1. Collect all the Match-segments you can. I recommend testing at all three companies (23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA), and using GEDmatch. But, wherever you test, get all of your segments into a spreadsheet. If you are using more than one company, you need to download, and then arrange, the data in the same format as your spreadsheet. Downloading/arranging is best when starting a new spreadsheet. Downloading avoids typing errors, but direct typing is sometimes easier for updates. I recommend deleting all segments under 7cM – most of them will be IBC/IBS (false segments) anyway, and even the ones which may be IBD are very difficult to confirm as such. You are much better off doing as much Triangulation as you can with segments over 7cM (or use a 10cM threshold if you wish), and then adding smaller segments back in later, if you want to analyze them. NB: Some of your closer Matches will share multiple segments with you – each segment must be entered as a separate row in your spreadsheet. The minimum requirement for a Triangulation with a spreadsheet includes columns for MatchName, Chromosome, SegmentStartLocation, SengmentEndLocation, cMs and TG. Most of us also have columns for SNPs, company, testee, TG, and any other information of interest to you. Perhaps I need a separate blog post about spreadsheets… ;>j
  1. Arrange the segments by sorting the entire spreadsheet (Cntr-A) by Chromosome and Segment StartLocation. This is one sort with two levels – the Chromosome column is the first level. This puts all of your segments in order – from the first one on Chromosome 1 to the last one on Chromosome 23 (for sorting purposes I recommend changing Chromosome X to 23 or 23X so it will sort after 22). This serves the purpose of putting overlapping segments close to each other in the spreadsheet where they are easy to compare.
  1. Compare/Group overlapping segments. All of these segments are shared segments with you. So with segments that overlap each other, you want to know if they match each other at this location. If so this is Triangulation. This comparison is done a little differently at each company, but the goal is the same: two segments either match each other, or they don’t (or there isn’t enough overlapping segment information to determine a match). All the Matches who match each other will form a Triangulated Group, on one chromosome – call this TG A (or any other name you want). Go through the same process with the segments who didn’t match TG A. They will often match each other and will form a second, overlapping TG, on the other chromosome – call this TG B. [Remember you have two of each numbered chromosome.] So to review, and put it all a different way: All of your segments (every row of your spreadsheet) will go into one of 4 categories:
  • – TG A [the first one with segments which match each other]
  • – TG B [the other, overlapping, one with segments which match each other]
  • – IBC/IBS [the segments don’t match either TG A or TG B]
  • – Undetermined [there are not enough segments to form both TG A and TG B                            and/or there isn’t enough overlapping data to determine a match.]
  • NB: None of the segments in TG A should match any of the segments in TG B.
  1. At GEDmatch – the comparisons are easy. Just compare two kit numbers using the one-to-one utility to see if they match each other on the appropriate segment. The ones that do are Triangulated. You may also use the Tier1 Triangulation utility or the Segment utility. I prefer using the one-to-one utility and Chrome.
  1. At 23andMe you have several different utilities:
  • – Family Inheritance: Advanced lets you compare up to 5 Matches at a time. You may also request a spreadsheet of all your shared segments; sort that by chromosome and SegmentStart, and check to see if two of your Matches match each other. The ones that do are Triangulated.
  • – Countries of Ancestry: Sort a Match’s spreadsheet by chromosome and SegmentStart, search for your own name, and highlight the overlapping segments. The Matches on this highlighted list who are also on overlapping segments in your spreadsheet are Triangulated (the CoA spreadsheet confirms the match between two of your Matches)
  1. At FTDNA it’s a little trickier, because they don’t have a utility to compare two of your Matches. So the most positive method is to contact the Matches and ask them to confirm if they match your overlapping Matches, or not. The ones that do are Triangulated. An almost-as-good alternative is to use the InCommonWith utility. Look for the 2-squigley-arrows icon next to a Match’s name, click that, and select In Common With to get a list of your Matches who also match the Match you started with. Compare that list of Matches with the list of list of Matches with overlapping segments in your spreadsheet. Matches on both lists are considered to be Triangulated. Although this is not a foolproof method, it works most of the time. And if you find three or four ICW Matches in the same TG, the odds are much closer to 100%. Remember, every segment in your spreadsheet must go in one TG or the other, or be IBC/IBS, or be undetermined. If a particular Match, in one TG, is critical to your analysis, then try hard to confirm the Triangulation by contacting the Matches.
  1. AncestryDNA has no DNA analysis utilities. You need to convince your Matches to upload their raw data to GEDmatch (for free) or FTDNA (for a fee), and see the paragraphs above.

Comments to improve this blog post are welcomed.

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