Family History Matters 
 The blog of the GSV 

DNA and family history

DNA and family history

“Exotic” DNA in your DNA profile?

Expiry Date

Do you have some fractions of “exotic” DNA in your DNA profile? Has that been a bit of a surprise to you? Should you take these small parcels seriously, or are they a bit of an anomaly that it is best to ignore? Are you surprised, disappointed or puzzled by your ethnicity results? Or when you think about it, do they begin to make sense?

The British in India discussion circle talk by Alan Rhodes, “Fractions of ‘exotic’ ethnicities” will be on Tuesday, 18th June 730 – 9.00 pm by Zoom. All GSV members are welcome. Free of charge. Don’t forget to log in and register.

Alan’s talk is likely to be of interest to other GSV members who have small amounts of “exotic” DNA in their profiles or would like to better understand their unexpected ethnicity results. While the context is the mixing of Indian genes with European genes, the focus of Alan’s talk will be applicable to other ethnic mixes.  If you are interested, do join us!

Alan plans to cover:

  • What is ethnicity?  And how is it calculated? Why do results change from time to time? Why does ethnicity differ from site to site?  Why do siblings’ ethnicity results differ?
  • Why do ethnicity results often only partially or barely reflect known ancestry?    
  • What do ethnicity results show and how do you read them?
  • Are traces of ‘exotic’ ethnicity real parts of my inheritance?
  • How can we use ethnicity to trace our family history?
  • The session will present several case studies using ethnicity to research family history.

There will be a chance for questions but Alan would like to point out that he cannot give detailed responses to specific questions about participants’ DNA profiles.

The British India Discussion Circle is for GSV members researching their family history in India between 1599 and Independence in 1947.

Do you have questions about DNA tests and results?

Expiry Date

Jenny Redman will lead a discussion on 20 Oct at 1.30pm: DNA testing and your Family History: Why, How and When. She will look at how DNA testing can help you find your family story and how to do that testing.

Are you nervous about security and privacy issues? Jenny will cover these in this session. There will be plenty of time for questions.

This event is free for members and visitors as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival. It’s presented via zoom and you need to register on the website under Activities.

Would DNA help solve that Brick wall?

Expiry Date

Would DNA help solve that Brick wall?

Our online program, Using DNA for Family History, starts again on Tuesday March 29.

Find out how to understand your DNA results, use those results to extend your family tree, and break down brick walls.

The online sessions are presented by Alan Rhodes and involve a presentation, followed by time for questions and discussion. Detailed handouts on each session are provided prior to the session.

These sessions, presented at 11am -12.30 on Zoom, involve a presentation, followed by time for questions and discussion. Detailed handouts on each session are provided prior to the session. They are relevant to which ever testing company you have used.

The early sessions assume people are just starting their DNA and family history journey. You can either follow the whole series of sessions or jump in as you wish, for particular topics. Look at the GSV Events Calendar for the details of each session.

This series of lectures was very popular when presented over the last two years so booking is essential. See GSV Activities on the website for a full list of topics and dates.

If you have not yet done a DNA test and wonder whether you should, why not look at the GSV’s three webcasts, listed in the GSV catalogue?

They cover the basics:

  • Should I do a DNA test?
  • DNA Ethnicity results
  • DNA and family history

If you decide to test, it is strongly recommended that you do so as soon as possible and you should have your results in time to get the best value from the program.

The sessions start in late March so there is still time to have your results for the early sessions.

If you have any questions about the sessions or how they might help you, email us at

Jenny Redman

3 February 2022

DNA Discussion Circle meets in January. GSV closed 22 Dec - 1 Jan

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

Even though lots of things don't happen in January after our hectic Christmases, life actually keeps on going!  Just like the DNA DISCUSSION CIRCLE  which will have a meeting in January on Wednesday 9 th. at 10.30 am - 12 pm, as shown in our latest Ancestor journal in 'Around the Circles' (but unfortunately missed out in the 'What's On in January' section. Our apologies. 

You can find out more about this interesting discussion circle on our website HERE.


Later in January the Early English (the Discussion Circle, that is)  will meet on Wed 23 and London Research on Thurs 24. 

The following week on THURSDAY 31, Stephen Hawke will talk on New Poor Laws - post 1834.

Plan your January and see the website to book and find out what other Classes and focussed research assistance is available (Scotland and Ireland).



DNA uncovers sperm-donor fraud

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

A recent report ('The fertility fraud' by Jacqueline Mroz published in The Age 24 August 2019) reminded me of the tricky questions facing the family historian today. 


An American woman used DNA tests and found to her surprise that her biological father was not a sperm donor in California, as she had been told, but rather her mother's fertility doctor who had fraudulently donated his own sperm. These modern cases are not rare apparently - and of course unrecorded sperm 'donors' are not new. 


A few years ago I wrote of my experiences compiling family descendancy records -both in the GSV Library (John Ebbott of Badharlick: descendants in Australia and Edward Needham Barlow and descendants). This article below was first published in Fifty-plus NewsDecember 2014/January 2015.


Who is in the family?


   While compiling and editing a descendancy record of my mother’s family I have been prompted again and again to consider who gets to be recorded in the family? As one family member asked, ‘what are the protocols?’

   If two people were once in the family, as a domestic partnership, what should you do?  At what stage of a relationship is a ‘partner’ recorded for posterity. An 80-year-old friend who divorced many years ago, has since had a long-standing partnership of over 20 years.  There were no children from this relationship but it was certainly significant to them both. A family ‘tree’ will capture relationships with progeny, but should such relationships without descendants be shown? Will this person’s significant partner be shown on the family record? 

   A defacto relationship is legally defined as a couple for those over 18 years of age – of opposite or same sex - who are living together on a ‘genuine domestic basis’, and who are not ‘related by family’, that is as siblings or as parent or child. A couple can still formally register as a partnership, that is, in a domestic relationship, even if not living together, as long as neither are already married or registered in a partnership. The partnership starts when the couple can show that it did. But if some family members tell me they are ‘partners’, then they are in my history. So I added ‘ptnr’ to ‘m’ (married) in my abbreviations list.

   If a marriage has ended – especially when there is a second relationship to be recorded – then I can signify a divorce (‘div’) – if there actually was one – or ‘sep’ for separation. Partnerships are less clear cut. So I leave it up to the individual concerned to decide which partnerships – and separations - have been ‘significant’ in their ‘family history’.

   Children of the family is a bit more complex. And it has always been thus, as kings of England and many others in history have found! 

   Biological children of the couple is simple enough. ‘Children of the marriage’ as it says on the Death Certificates. But the position in the family can be obscured, as famous actor Jack Nicholson found out later – his parents were actually his grandparents and his sister his mother. But at least he was in the right family. Adopted children are also part of the family. Should this status be recorded? Does the adopted child know or want it widely known? Privacy and publicity must also be considered

   And blended families are increasingly common. That is, increasingly acknowledged as such. So step-children need to be recorded and the parent in the couple to whom they were born.

   This can give rise to a family group with various ‘family’ or last names – children may retain their biological father’s name for example. 

   Now things get even trickier. My favourite enriched family record involves a person who was married, had children, then divorced. This has been followed by a publicly proclaimed same-sex partnering, and then a child of that partnership by IVF.

Recently I read in The Age, that a couple using IVF technology may also have the genes of a third person ‘in the mix’ to kick-start the conception. So my family history ‘tree’ could be looking more like a bush. 

   So who is in the family? Everyone the family says is in. That’s easier.


Check the rules on websites, eg. BDM Vic.and get help understanding your family's DNA.The GSV hosts talks and Discussion Circles for members. Find these Events on our website

Making sense of DNA - new events coming up

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

Today I was sent two enormous lists of names and details resulting from a distant cousin's Y-DNA investigation. He has not much idea what it all means and I certainly don't, not having ventured into this field yet. 


So maybe I better jump on to the DNA-events that the GSV is offering to help me make sense of this. Go to our website here to see details


All these events are able to be accessed from your own home - so plan some family history time online at the GSV.


DNA webcasts

For an interactive offering the GSV has the following Webcasts for members. (Of course non-members can quickly on the website HERE.)


  • 'Should I Test?'

A DNA test can help you extend your family tree, finds cousins and perhaps break through a brick wall in your research.  What is involved in taking a test? Which test should you take? What company? Is it safe?  This webcast will provide guidance on all these questions.


  • DNA Ethnicity Results
  • DNA and family history


Live presentations on Zoom


Over the coming months we will also present a series of live presentations on ZOOM covering a range of topics on genetic genealogy.  These will be from beginner to more advanced topics, about 30-minute presentations followed by time for online questions and discussion.  We hope this will make GSV’s presentations more available to members unable to travel and to regional members.


DNA Genetic Genealogy Study Group


Convener: Maureen Trotter. This new group has been started for intermediate to advanced genetic genealogy users. It is a self help group for people who are familiar with DNA terminology and available software tools, and who would like to work in a small study group where participants meet to continue to hone their skills in genetic genealogy. Participants will have completed the GSV DNA for beginners classes or have a similar knowledge base. The study group will meet on the first Tuesday of the month, 10.00 am to 12.00 pm. Maximum attendees of 14 per meeting.


DNA Discussion Circle


This circle DETAILS HERE is for GSV members who would like to find out how DNA may assist them in furthering their family history. DNA can be used to confirm or establish links in your family tree as well as identifying your particular genetic origins.



And there is leisurely background reading to help you get up to speed. The past nine issues of our Ancestor journal has featured a series of articles - 'DNA News and Notes' - beginning with 'How did the DNA craze start?' by David Andreassen in June 2018.  Members can still read these past issues online.


So it might be refreshing to take our focus from viruses (30-200 nm) -that may be 1,000 to 10,000 time smaller than a grain of salt - to DNA molecules with a diameter of 2 nm or 2 billionth of a metre. Though if you could stretch the spiralled DNA out in a straight line it is about a metre long! Plenty on offer to keep you occupied.


Lots of DNA coming up at GSV

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

Our series on DNA and family history are starting back at the beginning this month.


The first session starts on March 30 - Using DNA for Family History.


This introductory presentation by Alan Rhodes is intended to help people get underway and start their DNA journey. Alan will give you the essential DNA basics and explains how a DNA test can set you on your way to finding cousins, common ancestors and solving family history mysteries and more. This session and the series over the next couple of months guide participants in getting best value out of their DNA test such as Ancestry and My Heritage.


This talk will be presented online via Zoom. 

30 March 2021, 11:00 am to 12:30


$5 GSV members. $20 non-members. Maximum 45 participants.

Bookings are required and can be made online via the Register Now link. You will receive an email with the Zoom link.


Then the series continues.


27 April - Using DNA matches

Your DNA matches are the key to using DNA in your family history.  This presentation demonstrates the essential strategies to work out how you are connected to your DNA matches, to identify ancestors and extend your family tree.  The focus is on Ancestry but the strategies are relevant no matter which company you have tested with.


25 May - Ancestry's 'Thrulines'

The 'ThruLines' feature provides you with another way to view your matches and potentially identify new ancestors.  The presentation demonstrates how to use 'ThruLines', verify the suggestions and extend your family tree.


It is worth noting that people who have actually progressed a bit will benefit from revisiting theses sessions.


DNA webcasts in your own time

A reminder also that GSV Members can listen to the 3 introductory DNA webcasts on our website.


And if reading is still your thing...

In our current Ancestor journal go to the regular section 'DNA News and Notes' in which Philip Crane explains how he married conventional genealogical research techniques to his DNA results to make sense of the relationship to one of his ancestors.


There is lots of DNA at GSV.

Zoom in on your DNA in 2021

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date


Understandably we have been focussed on virus particles lately - and the pandemics that may cut across our family histories.

But now it is again time to zoom in on the smaller molecule that affects us all - DNA.

These molecules are about 2 millionth of a millimetre in size - a metre long if we unravel one - and 30 to 70 times smaller than a Covid virus particle.


There is no need for a degree in microbiology! We have lots of experts who can help us decode this fascinating world.


Our program of DNA Zoom talks commences on Tuesday 9 February.

The talks are presented by Alan Rhodes and proved very popular in 2020.

The first four sessions for 2021 will be on advanced topics following on from last year’s program.  These talks are for people who have some experience using DNA for family history and/or have attended the 2020 program of DNA talks. The topics covered will be Autoclusters (9 Feb), Gedmatch part 1 and 2 (23 Feb and 9 March) and Y DNA (16 March)


New to DNA? What's it all about?

From the 30 March there will be fortnightly Zoom sessions for those new to using DNA for family history.  These sessions will introduce you to all that you need to use DNA in your family history.  The sessions are relevant whether you have tested with any of the major testing companies such as Ancestry and My Heritage.  

These talks were fully booked in 2020 and will include session summaries and further reading, emailed to all participants prior to each session.


Webcast at your own leisure

GSV also has three free webcasts for members to introduce them to DNA and family history.  These topics covered are ‘Should I do a DNA Test’, ‘DNA and Ethnicity Results’ and ‘DNA and Family History’.

See GSV Activities on the website for the full list of topics and dates and book into the sessions.


A cousin of mine emailed a few days ago to tell me he is still finding lots of us through our DNA connections by using 'clustering'. I have to admit I have enough trouble keeping in touch with the ones I find just on social media! I hope he hasn't invited them all to cluster at my place![Ed] 

A study of family history and DNA testing - you can be a part

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date



DNA testing and the re-framing of histories and identities in contemporary society.


A research project at the University of Newcastle, Australia.


A research team at the University of Newcastle in Australia (Drs Shaw, Donnelly, Burke and Parkes from the School of Education) are conducting research into family history and DNA testing and its impacts on people’s understanding of themselves and their place in history. They are conducting an online survey, which is expected to take about 20 - 30 minutes and would welcome your participation if you have utilised DNA-testing in your research.


The Research Team is hoping that GSV members and others will take up this invitation, using the link below to take part in this survey:


The purpose of the research is to investigate the use, role and impact of DNA testing in exploring and understanding individual national and global histories and identities. This study is an Australian-first and will provide an exciting opportunity to be involved in a new worldwide project about exploring the past.


Dr Debra Donnelly, Senior Lecturer at the University's School of Education, and principal, researcher for this study said that 'My colleagues and I have become interested in DNA testing and its impact on ideas of history and family heritage. The project is just beginning and we plan to collect data survey data for a few months. We will then analyse the data and likely there will be phase two interviews and case studies.'  


Participants will be asked to reflect on their experience with DNA testing and to provide some general demographic information. The survey will be online for 4-6 months. Links to a plain English report of the findings will be emailed to participating family history societies, so we hope to provide some feedback possibly in this blog.



Ethnicity and DNA-testing

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

This week Patsy Daly from the GSV's DNA Discussion Group cautions us about the meaning of ethnicity as presently estimated by DNA-testing companies.

GSV is holding a Seminar on DNA for Family Historians on Saturday 11 November at which Patsy will present more information about the DNA-testing available, as well as case studies. You can book for this at


Your ethnicity?

The major DNA testing companies, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and My Heritage, each offer an estimate of ethnicity in the DNA results they give to family historians.

Most of us measure this ethnicity estimate against the expectations we have, arising from our knowledge of our family trees.

But this is actually quite inappropriate, as an ethnicity ‘estimate’ is just that – an approximation or an educated guess. No company is able to calculate our ethnicity by following all our family lines back to a certain point in ancient times. More's the pity!

Our ethnicity estimate is based on our ancient origins – thousands of years before political boundaries were set. Consequently, a map of our ethnicity may cross current political boundaries. Indeed, even our ethnicity categories may overlap those boundaries.

Nor is there a link from the estimate of our ethnicity back to the family tree that is founded on family stories and written records of very recent times. In fact, our ethnicity is estimated by comparing our own DNA sample against a reference panel of DNA samples. As each testing company gains more experience and has access to a greater number of DNA results, our ethnicity estimates will be refined and changed. Don't expect your ethnicity estimate to be set in concrete.

Because each of the three major testing companies may use difference reference panels and use different procedures our ethnicity estimate may vary from testing company to testing company. In addition, testing companies may not yet have enough samples in their current reference panel to identify some non-European ethnic groups. For example, at present those with Australian indigenous ethnicity may only be identified at a higher level - as Micronesians.

An estimate of our ethnicity depends upon the DNA we received from our parents, but while our ethnicity estimate may be like that of our siblings, only in the case of identical twins is it precisely the same.

Overall, it is probable that our ethnicity estimate is only accurate at the continental level, so while it is interesting to see how nearly an ethnicity estimate matches our expectations it is, at this stage, probably more worthwhile to compare our ethnicity estimate with those of our DNA matches. It is in this comparison that we might find the answers to questions of relationships.



My Heritage

Family Tree DNA