Monday, October 5, 2015

Oh Ancestry, or How I DNA: Part Two

Last week, I shared an overview post of my family's DNA results from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). This post is devoted to AncestryDNA's results.

To review, here are the tests for me and my family:


When Ancestry had a sale, I ordered two $79 "spit" kits. I took one, and since I had not yet tested my mom, she agreed to take the second one. I have a full Ancestry account and was able to link both tests to my account. Mine shows as me, and hers shows as "managed by me."

Ancestry provides the same basic information: ethnicity, matches from their testing database, and their own "hints," "circles," "new ancestry discoveries," and recently, "shared matches." Additionally, since I have tested my mother, I can sort my own matches against "mother" by selecting that sort option.

(+) Ancestry's biggest connection feature is their Hints, via family trees. In your list of DNA matches, some will show the Ancestry "shaky leaf" hint. These matches share DNA with you AND have a discernible match through a tree in Ancestry's database. However, just because there is a match doesn't guarantee that that is the actual DNA connection. Use it as a hint and only a hint. In some cases, Ancestry also shows a DNA Circle. These are links based on both DNA and multiple trees (albeit through a computer algorithm) that may also give you connections to pursue.

this is a good hint that matches what I already had - yay!

The above graphic is one of my hints that is also my only Circle (cue the sad violins). There are four people in this circle: me, my mom, and two other descendants. This is a tree hint to one of the descendants. I have done a large amount of research on my branch of the Maxson family and am comfortable with this connection. This is a great way to review other sources or connect to other researchers.

(-) Every rose has it's thorns and AncestryDNA has bunches, in my opinion. First, Ancestry is basing the hints to your DNA connections on it's trees. Argh! Online trees can be a notorious means of error dissemination. Therefore, proceed with caution! The DNA doesn't lie, but the trees - perhaps. But many do not have a tree of any kind or keep it locked:

no help here

Which brings me to drawback #2: the messaging system. Ancestry employs a blind messaging system so that you need to connect within Ancestry (not by email). The system is often broken and there are loads of instances where messages don't get though. That's a problem. And some people choose only to test for ethnicity or at the request of a family member and will likely not ever reply. You also cannot search by tree name or by tester name. Huh?! Kind of a big drawback, but that is a site-wide concern, not just DNA.

Finally the biggest and most egregious issue is NO CHROMOSOME BROWSER OR SEGMENT DATA! We can only rely upon the data in the form Ancestry chooses to share with us. I consider that a huge fail. The other two companies provide actual segment comparison tools as a means to analyze and compare connections. Really, this is the basis of DNA testing! I wish that Ancestry would provide this option, even though perhaps only a small percentage of testers might utilize it. It can't be more difficult than offering up silly circles and new ancestor discoveries. 

Addendum: New Ancestor Discoveries

Holy cow, what a weird thing to waste your engineering resources on, in my opinion. I now have four of these and they make be laugh harder every time I see them.

I'll keep the Circle and ditch the rest...

I clicked on the NADs, even though my sensible inner voice told me not to. I looked at the trees of the first two. The names and especially the locations have no connection whatsoever to my tree. In fact, they even made me start to question my own research. But I am not going to fall into that trap. I am confident in my own genealogy (what the heck, I have REAL documents, pictures and family stories!). 

On closer inspection, all four of these NADs are in the 13,000+ family tree of DNA relative Bob. Now Bob is only a 5th-8th suspected cousin, which is already beginning to stretch the usefulness of DNA and it's predicted amounts (you know, from ACTUAL DNA segment research). So somewhere waaaay back, Bob and I have common DNA. It could be a very small segment that we were both fortunate enough to inherit, but we will never know because Ancestry WON'T GIVE US THE DATA! And it still doesn't mean that any of these people are the reason Bob and I share DNA. Oy.

I appreciate Ancestry for the clues, but my kingdom for some data! If you can afford to, or are all-in with Ancestry, by all means, test! But if you are hoping for serious genetic genealogy, you will be disappointed.

Off to lower my blood pressure! Thanks for reading.

Next time, I'll offer some pitfalls to avoid with your DNA results.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

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