BanyanDNA Beta is Here!

Sonja Sarantis

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BanyanDNA is a new tool to help you analyze your DNA matches, especially for complicated relationships. But there is something cool EVERYONE can use it for. And here are key tips for getting started.

When using DNA for family history, one of the important steps you take is to check that your genetic relationships to your matches are consistent with the genealogical relationship you’ve assigned them on your family tree.

What does BanyanDNA do?

BanyanDNA is what happens when two motivated genetic genealogists (Margaret Press and Leah Larkin) take some computer code from 2019 and convince two talented software engineers and a mathematics PhD to take up their cause. The resulting tool helps you visualize your family tree and analyze your relationships to matches. One thing it does is alert you if your amount of shared DNA does not support the genealogical relationship shown. Everyone can use BanyanDNA for this purpose!

You can also use BanyanDNA to test hypotheses about complex family relationships within the same tree. Below is a complicated example of the House of Targaryen Family (remember them from Game of Thrones?). Dr. Leah Larkin, co-founder and one of the Product Managers of BanyanDNA, shared this example in a BanyanDNA Q&A session this past weekend.

A view of BanyanDNA

BanyanDNA supports:

  • Spousal/partner relationships such as most recent common ancestor (MRCA) couple;
  • Half relationships; and
  • Pedigree collapse (when the same ancestor appears in more than one position on your family tree, such as when cousins marry, and their shared grandparents then show up both on the maternal and paternal sides of the family).

Are you excited to know more? Are you ready to dive in? Here’s a video tutorial from Larkin, followed by a step-by-step process for getting started on BanyanDNA.

How to use BanyanDNA

When are ready to try BanyanDNA for yourself, click on the purple “launch app” icon in the top right-hand corner.

Look for the "Launch app" button in the top right corner to get started.

You are then offered the options of trying out the tool for free, with a Free Account or selecting a Premium Account.

BanyanDNA account options

Sign up with your preferred option and then you are ready to start your New Project to build your tree. If you have chosen to subscribe to the Premium Account, a new feature enables you to upload a GEDCOM file. (Keep in mind that this GEDCOM upload is part of the beta testing, and you will likely need to edit and move things around a bit once imported to get your tree looking like what you are used to seeing.)

Screen to import a GEDCOM file

BanyanDNA: Top Tips

A great feature is that by clicking the mask icon, you can anonymize names in two different ways, either by selecting “truncate” (which keeps the first names of the people in your tree); or “replace” (which replaces names with a temporary placeholder name e.g.,: Person 1, Person 2 and so on).

A view of the Anonymize option

When building a tree for the first time, it did take me a little while to get used to it. If you get stuck at any stage from building your tree, editing it, to inserting a hypothesis or understanding the calculations, check out the FAQ and Glossary, which are great! They solved my queries pretty quickly and are very easy to understand and use.

When you have inserted the amount of shared DNA, that person gets a DNA icon on their box so you can easily identify the people in your tree for whom you have DNA matches.

Running the calculations only takes a couple of seconds and then you can view each hypothesis individually to see the statistics generated by the analysis.

Below is the expanded screen from Hypothesis 3 above:

Note, the names do not appear automatically anonymized. (Keep that in mind if you share screenshots of the calculations.) The column to focus on is the number of standard deviations “Num.SDs.” This indicates how far the actual shared cM amount varies from the expected amount, based on the tree relationship. you are looking for numbers ideally below 1. Anything above that is the DNA saying this is a less likely scenario.

This is a very exciting new tool to add to the toolbox we already have for working on genetic genealogy puzzles. Coming down the pipeline, we understand that there will be even more to get excited about such as a further development planned to deal with DNA relationships that are affected by endogamy. (Read a comparison of endogamy and pedigree collapse.)

BanyanDNA’s development board includes lots more, like lineage trackers for YDNA, mtDNA and X-DNA, which can be highlighted/searched for in your tree and will help identify target testers. If you are interested in staying in the know – sign up at the BanyanDNA Facebook Group and have fun getting to know the new tool!

Do you have a complicated family tree? Take our Endogamy & DNA Course, which helps you start teasing apart multiple relationships, pedigree collapse and endogamy.

Learn More and Enroll in the Endogamy & DNA Course

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  1. Karen Fontaine

    what is the cost for this?

    • Diahan Southard

      The basic version is free, and they also offer a premium version for $75 a year.

  2. Bonnie Bossert

    My understanding from their posts is that it was a team of people that created Banyan, not just Dr. Larkin.

    • Diahan Southard

      Yes! Dr. Larkin is one of the 5 team members to create and develop this new tool!

  3. Cherry Kinnunen

    My father’s mother & my mother’s great grandmother are sisters. Is this endogamy,
    Tree collapse, or what? Also my father, does not match in DNA with others with his last name, but a different family name even though birth certificate & headstones have his surname.


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