21 July 2018

Learning DNA and Getting Help with Analysis Tools

More people are jumping into DNA testing and genetic genealogy who are not experienced in DNA or genealogy before taking that first DNA test. Joining a social media group or a mail list or forum provides exposure to many programs and tools, terms, and techniques that make it seem like a fire hose is aimed at you at full blast.

It is great to jump in. It is great to ask questions to learn. But you never know how much the person answering you knows. And they may not even know they are giving you information that is not completely accurate because they misunderstood your question.

Below are some places to (1) learn more about DNA and (2) get better help when one of the DNA tools does not work as you expected.

To learn the basics of DNA you can

Start small when learning something new and build up to higher levels. This applies to studying DNA using the recommendations above and to learning new tools.

When learning a new tool or process test first with a small dataset. For example, when I first downloaded the version of Progeny Charting Companion that creates DNA analysis charts, I created a small RootsMagic database with only four DNA test takers and the direct lines back to their shared ancestors (as shown in the chart above). I created a dummy CSV file with the minimum amount of data needed for those test takers' DNA data (as defined in the Charting Companion's help files). I used this small dataset to play with the charts offered by Charting Companion until I understood how the options worked to get the output I desired. Once I was comfortable using the tool I then accessed my full RootsMagic database after adding the new facts needed for DNA charts to work properly (like DNA kit numbers for each test taker).

After you begin using a new tool, it may not always work as expected and you may need help. To get better help when one of the DNA analysis tools does not work as expected (most of this applies to any program or app)
  • read the instructions (built-in help files, a user's guide, how-to instructions on the program's website)
  • really read the instructions—do not just scan them—and be sure you followed every step carefully, including the steps that are linked into or referenced from the first help page you access (most problems are due to not following instructions; trust me on this, I worked tech support and trained computer users for much of my "life before genealogy")
  • if you followed the instructions carefully and still have problems, make note of any error messages displayed (or failure mode) and step-by-step what you did just before the failure or error
  • use Google or another engine to search for the error message or failure mode (if the program uses Facebook to offer technical support, use Facebook's "Search this group" feature)
  • if potential solutions are found try them
  • if no solution is found by searching or the solutions found do not work for you, then post a message asking for help; include
    • the tool name and version of the tool you are using (also indicate if you recently updated the tool)
    • the error message received or exactly what you saw that was not "right"
    • the step-by-step list of what was done before the error message was received or the program failed
    • whether you are using a Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, or other device and the version of that operating system
    • whether this is something that worked in the past or this is your first time to try this procedure

These recommendations should help you get better technical support and help you learn new programs and DNA analysis more productively.

Update 23 July 2018: Fixed minor typo, added NGS online training courses, and added to disclaimer royalties for courses and books.

All statements made in this blog are the opinion of the post author. This blog is not sponsored by any entity other than Debbie Parker Wayne nor is it supported through free or reduced price access to items discussed unless so indicated in the blog post. Hot links to other sites are provided as a courtesy to the reader and are not an endorsement of the other entities except as clearly stated in the narrative.

Debbie Parker Wayne receives royalties for the NGS course she authored on autosomal DNA analysis and books for which she is an author or editor.

To cite this blog post:
Debbie Parker Wayne, "Learning DNA and Getting Help with Analysis Tools," Deb's Delvings, 21 July 2018 (http://debsdelvings.blogspot.com/ : accessed [date]).

© 2018, Debbie Parker Wayne, Certified Genealogist®, All Rights Reserved

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