Tracking Back

a website for genetic genealogy tools, experimentation, and discussion


Welcome to Tracking Back, a website for the exploration of genetic genealogy and population genetics.

The emphasis here is on getting the most out of personal Y DNA data by applying original algorithms to create informative graphics. If you're like me, you find large tables and spreadsheets more exhausting than inspiring. DNA is an intrinsically digital medium for information, and so its patterns are ideally suited for computer analysis and visualization.

There are tools to explore. Some let you simulate DNA patterns to better understand what is and is not reasonable to expect from your own DNA data. Others let you copy-and-paste data from Family Tree DNA to visualize what can be inferred from the patterns of hundreds of men and women.

The Research Reports are my own observations and explanations. They describe my intentions, conclusions, and sometimes get into considerable depth about the math and algorithms. Most of them are directly related to the tools at this site. Formal publishing is, at the moment, too slow and troublesome to be worthwhile.

A gallery of static images is a useful way to share large graphics and examples.

This is not a blog, for several reasons. First, this website features original and complex software which common blog hosting sites do not support. All of the software runs client-side, on your computer or tablet. I do not maintain a server or database, which also means that there are no GDPR or privacy concerns here — you can investigate whatever data you bring but nothing is stored and no one else can see what you're doing1. Also, my interests are in the advancement of methods and visualizations and I do not specialize or restrict the tools and discussion to any particular region or haplogroup2. Addressing your personal ancestry questions is Ok up to a point but not the focus here; there are plenty of other sites for that. But if you're interested in the science and math, or have an idea for something else that could be done with DNA data, by all means click the contact button below.

I am grateful for the feedback and interest received from the very engaged crew at David Langton's FTDNA England GB Groups EIJ project, from Maurice Gleeson who has been patient and supportive as I've climbed my own learning curve, and from Iain McDonald who has asked deep questions and challenged my thinking.

Questions, comments, requests ?   Contact Me
Rob Spencer

  1. Don't be concerned about security. Your browser may say that this site is not secure (because it uses the HTTP instead of HTTPS protocol). HTTPS is a very good idea if you send personal data to a server, but since you don't, it doesn't matter.
  2. As a scientist, I find questions of identity and ethnicity to be simplistic and naïve. The answer depends on "which branch?" and "when?". In my case, if when = now, I'd say a retiree from Connecticut. If when = 1800 on my paternal line, I'd say a farmer from Vermont. If when = 1600, then a sheep herder in Bedfordshire England. In the Roman era, probably north central Europe; in Mesolithic era, in the Balkans. And if when = 35,000 years ago or before, then my ancestors were African hunter-gatherers, like all of us.