Ancestry Needs Another Push – Chromosome Browser

ancestry push

It seems that the genetic genealogy community is constantly doing battle with Ancestry in regards to Ancestry’s mediocre and at times, outright faulty autosomal DNA product, AncestryDNA.  AncestryDNA, similar to Family Finder at Family Tree DNA and the 23andMe test, matches you against others who have taken the test for “relatedness” across all of your ancestral lines.  I wrote a primer about autosomal testing in an earlier article, another comparing the various company offerings and a third comparing the actual results.

While we were excited this week that Ancestry has finally lived up to their promise to provide our raw data files for download, albeit many months later,  they have made a decision apparently to NOT provide a chromosome browser, their logic being, according to genetic genealogists who spoke to Kenny Freestone, Ancestry’s product development manager this week at Rootstech, that their primary focus is to keep things simple for the newer users.  Just so you know, if you’re an Ancestry user, not only have they just called you “stupid” but they also insinuated that you are unable to learn and to be anything other than stupid.  Are you insulted?  I surely am.

Ok, let’s forget, for the moment, about the fact that Ancestry just insulted us and let’s look at why having a chromosome browser is important.

This is very simple.

Just because you have a paper genealogy match with someone, especially a distant DNA match, does NOT mean that is how you’re related to them. 

Ancestry does a good job of linking up people who match by connecting people in their trees.  But that doesn’t mean that connection is how they are genetically related.  Plus, we all know about the, ahem, “quality” of Ancestry trees.

ancestry push 1

Here’s an example.  This is a match to someone through my ancestor, James Claxton and his wife Sarah Cook.  However, what if I’m also related to this person through the Estes family too?  Or an unknown line?  Just because the paper connection is to James Claxton doesn’t mean the genetic connection is to him as well.  This person has over 11,000 people in his tree.  If we are from the same geography, it’s likely that we match on multiple lines.  What if we match on paper on two or three lines?  How do we know how we are genetically related – through which line or lines?

At Ancestry, you don’t – you can’t – because they want to “keep things simple.”   Let me translate – they would rather leave you with a vague “feel good” notion about who you are related to, even if it’s not true, than give you the tools to discover the truth.

We need a chromosome browser to let us see how and if the DNA we share with these people is really from the Clarkson/Claxton family or the Cook family, or if maybe it’s from another line that isn’t shown on the pedigree chart being displayed by Ancestry.

Let’s move to Family Tree DNA to see what a chromosome browser does for you.  At Family Tree DNA, three of my Vannoy cousins have tested.  By using the chromosome browser to look at their DNA compared to mine, we can identify some segments as “Vannoy” segments – meaning they unquestionably come from that line.  We do that by using triangulation. It’s easy.  Using 3 or more relatives from a particular line, if three or more match on a particular segment, you know that segment is from that family line.

ancestry push 2

I’ve selected three cousins to compare to my results, above, and their results will be displayed using these colors.  Below, you can see that on chromosome 15, all 4 of us match on a significant sized matching segment.  That means that this segment is definitely “Vannoy.”  How does this benefit us?

ancestry push 3

Well, it benefits us in two ways.  Let’s say an adoptee, or someone who has hit a brick wall also matches us on this segment.  It tells us that they are also “Vannoy” or perhaps ancestors of Vannoys.  Ancestors of Vannoys?

ancestry push 4

Yes, Vannoy is of course made up of their ancestral names and lineages too, so in time, let’s say that a Hickerson matches this segment too.  Then we’ll know that this segment comes from Daniel Vannoy’s wife, Sarah Hickerson’s line.  Do you have any wives surnames in your lines that need to be identified?  This is one way to do it, but you can’t without a chromosome browser.  And you could be the one who is brickwalled with the answer just waiting…..if there was a chromosome browser.  Do you see why this is so important, especially given the number of people who have tested at Ancestry?

Pretty simple stuff, right?  Well, Ancestry doesn’t think so.  They think you’re not capable of understanding this.  Funny, both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe provide this capability and people use it and depend upon it daily.  If you don’t want to use it, you certainly don’t have to, but to deprive all of us of an absolutely critical component of genetic genealogy is unconscionable. It’s simply not acceptable.

What can we do about this?  CeCe Moore, Tim Janzen and Dave Dowell were at Rootstech this week where they spoke with Kenny Freestone, among others.  He’s says he does personally read the information submitted through the “Feedback” button.  That is apparently how Ancestry gauges what needs to be done and prioritizes items.  Of course, if most of their novice clients don’t know what they are missing, they won’t be able to ask for what they don’t know about.  They are living under the illusion that they ARE genetically connected to everyone whose tree shows, and through the common paper line, and that’s it.  They don’t know that Ancestry is intentionally leaving them in their “feel good” cocoon and intentionally withholding “the rest of the story” and with it, their ability to discover even more.

But we know better and we were all “new users” at one time.  Use the feedback button.

ancestry push 5

It’s at the top right of your DNA pages at Ancestry.  Send Kenny the message…..”Kenny, we need a chromosome browser.”

Pssst….pass it on.  Everyone needs to provide this feedback.  This is how we got the raw data released and it’s the only way we’ll ever convince Ancestry to implement a chromosome browser.  Facebook this posting, Tweet it, post it on groups and forums.  Get the word out.  Send Feedback!!!

ancestry push

Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist blogged about this today as well.

41 thoughts on “Ancestry Needs Another Push – Chromosome Browser

  1. I requested and paid for the Ancestry.dna test back in the middle of December, 2012. I received it in about a week and sent it back in. In the intervening three almost four months, I had been told again that I needed to order a replacement kit. Now, I have been told I need to order a THIRD replacement kit. I am on Family Finder at FTDNA, and I am on Autosomal matching at 23andme. 23andme uses the same type of spit-cup arrangement and they were able to do the test correctly on the first try. If these other two companies could do it on the first try, I am wondering what is going on at Ancestry? I have been a member of Ancestry several years and have two family trees there. If the only way they are matching you is going to be with trees, there is a problem as there are so many mistakes in those trees. If the “development manager” wants to keep it simple, all is lost already as those trees are full of errors and mismatches.

    • An sample not having enough DNA to test is not unique to AncestryDNA. 23andme can’t always get enough DNA from a sample to do a test. They address in their FAQs and on their facebook page people complain about waiting weeks for results and then being asked to retest.

      • Ancestry and 23andMe use the same technology and both require saliva versus the cheeck swab at Family Tree DNA. I personally found the saliva spitting much more difficult to do – to obtain the required amount. Had to think about a lot of lemons. Ancestry requires a smaller volume of saliva, so maybe they simply don’t have enough to work with if the first attempt doesn’t work. I had understood that at 23andMe you could request an alternate cheek swab kit, at least at one time. Maybe one could ask Ancestry for the same thing.

  2. LESLIE, I was going to say, You go Girl! So, I will say it again. Roberta, you go girl! You are the very best advocate for excellence!

  3. Amen! I got a notice of 41 “new” Ancestry DNA matches today and over half of them are in the 5th-8th cousin range with confidence listed is very low. Really? Then why bother. Great post! Wish I could get my $100 back from Ancestry.

    • I’ve had some of my best luck with the low confidence matches. We share 9th great grandparents. It is low confidence because we share small amounts of DNA but that doesn’t mean they are bad matches.

  4. Roberta,
    Thank you. I, too, believe we need to mobilize to motivate AncestryDNA to get shared DNA segment data to us.

    In addition to flooding Ancestry’s feedback channel, I also recommend that participants in AncestryDNA’s Human Genetic Diversity Project remove themselves from the project until Ancestry delivers the shared segment data/chromosome browser. You can withdraw all of your information from AncestryDNA’s project by emailing a request to consent@ancestry.com. Be sure to mention the lack of matching segment data and chromosome browser functions as the reason for your decision.

    Withdrawing from the project will not impact your results nor your access to your results: http://ldna.ancestry.com/legal/consentAgreement.aspx

    If you do not remember whether you accepted the Consent Agreement for this project, check your test settings on the AncestryDNA page; information about how you responded to the Consent Agreement appears in the right column.

    Very Respectfully,
    Shannon Christmas

  5. Roberta,
    Thank you. I, too, believe we need to mobilize to motivate AncestryDNA to get shared DNA segment data to us.

    In addition to flooding Ancestry’s feedback channel, I also recommend that participants in AncestryDNA’s Human Genetic Diversity Project remove themselves from the project until Ancestry delivers the shared segment data/chromosome browser. You can withdraw all of your information from AncestryDNA’s project by emailing a request to consent@ancestry.com. Be sure to mention the lack of matching segment data and chromosome browser functions as the reason for your decision.

    Withdrawing from the project will not impact your results nor your access to your results: http://ldna.ancestry.com/legal/consentAgreement.aspx

    If you do not remember whether you accepted the Consent Agreement for this project, check your test settings on the AncestryDNA page; information about how you responded to the Consent Agreement appears in the right column.

    Very Respectfully,
    Shannon

  6. I agree that eventually ancestry needs to give us a chromosome browser BUT before that I think we need some better DNA search tools. I’ve have heard they are working on surname search and member name search. I don’t want those efforts side tracked because I think that is the greater need right. I have in the past given feed back about the need for chromosome browser. Some of the wording in the raw data FAQs about not sharing that type of information makes me think that ancestry members would have to opt in for sharing chromosomes ( like 23andme’s invitation to share). Cathy

  7. Hi Roberta,
    I tried following your instructions re downloading my raw data from my Ancestry DNA test.
    Unfortunately, when I click on the DNA tab it only shows two options – “Learn more about DNA” and my results – but no option anywhere about downloading raw data!

    Thinking that perhaps it was ‘driver error’ I rang Ancestry and was told
    Hi Roberta,
    I tried following your instructions re downloading my (brother’s) raw DNA Ancestry data, however, there were only two options in the drop down menu on the DNA tab. One was ‘Learn More about DNA’, the other was ‘Y-DNA results’ (which just takes me to his matches etc.)

    After several attempts, I rang Ancestry only to be told that
    Ancestry does not offer this facility to Australia, – however – if I
    wished to upgrade to the highest subscription level, the facility would then be available! Is this really true?
    Very disenchanted with Ancestry!

    I was unaware that FTDNA existed at the time of having my (brother’s) DNA tested early in 2012 with Ancestry,
    Late last year, I upgraded my Family Tree Maker and also my subscription to the second highest level on Ancestry.

    Upon learning about FTDNA from one of my brother’s ‘matches’ I transferred my brother’s results to FTDNA, also had my FMS and then Family Finder tested with FTDNA (plus paying for 3 cousins to be FF tested, in an attempt to trace my Irish maternal Great
    Grandmother.)
    As I don’t wish to upgrade yet again to Ancestry – is there some way I can access this facility?
    Thanks,
    Pam in Oz

  8. Sorry Roberta – I am vision impaired and part of my email disappeared while typing, so apologies for this mess!
    Pam

  9. I have done the ftdna testing. Why would I want to do ancestry’s DNA testing. I have been an ancestry member for a lot of years but only in the last couple of years put my tree up. I almost wish I had not because of all the tree corruption now going on.

    • It depends on what you are trying to accomplish. In my case, I’m trying to solve a couple of brick-wall situations, and fishing in 3 pools is helpful. Well, at least potentially helpful. Right now, if I do find someone with whom I think there is a match, to prove it, they need to download their raw data and as soon as possible, upload it to GedMatch or FTDNA where we have tools to work with. However, the possibility of connections is the reason you would test there as well.

  10. Hi Roberta,
    I certainly support the call to encourage AncestryDNA to provide the matching segments and I emphasized that to them this weekend repeatedly in addition to many times on my blog in the past, however I would like to clarify a few things.
    I was in both the meeting with the AncestryDNA execs (and Tim and Dave) on Friday as well as part of the small group of genetic genealogists who spoke with Kenny Freestone yesterday at RootsTech. They were two separate conversations. I don’t recall Kenny saying that they would definitely not provide a chromosome browser in the future, only that it is not at the top of their list of priorities. Actually, Kenny didn’t say much in our “meeting” since the genetic genealogy contingent did most of the talking. Although I have been told in the past by members of the AncestryDNA team that AncestryDNA wants to keep the interface simple for the new user, I never heard Kenny say that specifically this weekend. I also never got the impression that they think their customers are stupid.
    I will get a blog up as soon as I can discussing these meetings from my notes. Thank you for your continued activism on behalf of the genetic genealogy community.
    CeCe Moore

    • The word “stupid” is mine CeCe. That’s how I perceive that they view us, based on their actions and comments in general. It’s equivalent to refusing to provide educational materials in a school at any higher level than the least advanced student. I look forward to your blog. I know that the genetic genealogy community does not want to alienate the folks at Ancestry, but, without a large push from us, as a whole, Ancestry seems to only be willing to provide the bare bones and nothing more. Their logic for doing so is not only highly frustrating, it’s insulting. It’s sad because both of the other testing companies introduced these basic functions with thier products, as I recall. We’re not asking for anything more than basic functionality.

    • I would point you to the original discussion this morning on the Yahoo DNA-NEWBIE list where it was being discussed by a number of people who were there at the conference. I originally thought it was the rootsweb list, but it wasn’t. CeCe Moore says she will blog about all of the topics later. My understanding from CeCe’s commentary is that Ancestry did not say “no” outright, but that it was low on their priority list for a variety of reasons, including the wish to keep things simple. This reason and others have been discussed in various posts today by people who were there, CeCe and others. My concern is simply that they, Ancestry, don’t feel this is necessary – that it’s an “advanced” tool, per se, and that they will not develop it without significant input from their users, similar to the raw data file situation. As far as I’m concerned, a chromosome browser is an essential tool to be able to use all of those tantalizing hints and matches. We need to let our voices be heard to it gets raised on the priority list. The squeeky wheel…..

    • Also, Judy Russell who attended the conference has already blogged about this as well, and also reports that they are not planning to develop a chromosome browser. http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2013/03/24/the-raw-story-at-ancestrydna/ Here’s what she said, “We know that the chromosome browser isn’t on AncestryDNA’s priority list because its representatives said so, repeatedly, at the RootsTech conference this past week in Salt Lake City.” Judy goes on to say, “Not only did the representatives make it clear a chromosome browser wasn’t coming any time soon, they also made it clear that there are those within the AncestryDNA organization who don’t want one at all. They cite a desire to keep the service simple (for which, read: dumbed down) and a concern for privacy.” Read her blog for more as well.

      • Thanks for the reply and I agree, without more tools, it’s useless. This latest development is the final push for me to find another company for my project.

  11. I attended Roots Tech 2013 this past week (my first time).. I loved it! but I am not very tech savy. I was convinced by the presentations by Ancestry to order its DNA program, but now I am haveing some doubts. If the chrome version is important then why won’t Ancestry include it? Is it too expensive? I have FTDNA and would love to get more info about my ancestors. I hope someone can explain this issue in plain English. thanks.

    • I replied earlier but have no idea where that reply went:) If you want matches only, you get that with their product. But you can’t verify that you match the person genetically. If you both have Pochahontas in your tree because your grandma told you that you descend from her, and your DNA matches, you’ll be matched on Pochahontas. Does that mean that either your or your match are descended from her? No? Does it mean that the ancestor that gave your your common DNA was her? No. Without a chromosome browser, and other tools, you just have to assume that the pedigree match that ancestry shows you for the person you match is acccurate. What if you match on 3 different unrelated lines? Regarding development of the tool. Why would they if they can get by without it? By the time you figure out that you need it, your money is long gone. The only way we’ll get it is to voice the need, loudly, for the chromosome browser to them.

      • I just provided feedback to ancestry.com on this. I have researched my family for years but am new to DNA genealogy. As soon as I received my DNA test results about a month ago at ancestry, I uploaded my raw data to GEDmatch, and I immediately recognized the need for a chromosome browser. As ancestry’s competitors continually improve their technology while ancestry does not, ancestry is losing potential customers who will go elsewhere to get it. I believe the return on their investment in offering this feature would easily justify its development so I have no idea why they are resisting progress.

  12. Here is the feedback I sent to Ancestry. I did not use the phrase chromosome browser because I don’t think we need that. A simple downloadable Excel table with name of match and matching segment addresses will do, I have downloaded the tables from ftDNA, and 23&me, and use them much more frequently than the graphic tools on the web sites,

    Reports from RootsTech say that Ancestry has no plans to provide raw data about match segment addresses. For genealogists this information is crucial. What I received so far is a very general and fanciful Genetic Ethnicity Summary, 3000 names, some with trees, and 7 hints. The only useful info is in the hints. Of the hints, 1 I already know, 3 are potential matches, 1 is wrong, 2 are private. That’s .1% useful information. Knowing that a particular segment passed through a particular ancestor allows us identify people who share that segment as part of the line of the known ancestor, and just as importantly, it allow other people to use their segments to identify our place in their tree. This can’t be a great technical problem. You must be able to pull this data without much trouble, or you couldn’t make the matches. Your product, because of the size of your data base, has great scientific potential. Right now, it’s an entertainment for the easily amused.
    Dave Negus

  13. I have not done the Ancestry test, but have done the Family Finder test through FTDNA. I even struggle understanding how I connect/match to most folks & many have not uploaded gedcoms. I have also have found male cousins to test- YDNA for several surnames. Is it worth it, after all this testing to also do an Ancestry test? Are many more choosing Ancestry rather than Family Finder?

    I found this site by accident while searching Vannoy family connections.

    Debby Johnson

    • Hi Debby, Testing with ancestry for autosomal is like fishing in different pools. The problem with the ancestry test is that they look at who you match genetically, look at their trees and if they see someone in common, they ASSUME that is the common match, but it often isn’t. So it depends on what you’re looking for. Some folks really like Ancestry because they find cousins, whether or not they are geneticaly related or not. Some really dislike it because it misleads people and there are no tools at Ancestr, today, to assure the tree match is the genetic match. The other two companies provided these tools on day 1. So, it’s really up to you. CeCe Moore wrote about the misleading ancestry results recently in a blog. It’s about half way down under the title “Matching Segment Data and Chromosome Browser.” http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/2013/03/ancestrydna-raw-data-and-rootstech.html

      • Hi Roberta
        Thank you so much for the link. This really stood out to me:

        “I am in the fortunate position to have tested my mother at AncestryDNA in addition to myself, so I can clearly see there is an issue. What about all of those people who have not tested a parent and are blindly accepting AncestryDNA’s shared ancestor hints because they don’t know otherwise? Isn’t that kind of like copying someone’s tree and just taking their word for it that it is correct with no sources or evidence attached? For now, those of us who do understand the finer points of autosomal DNA matching will have to do our best to convince our matches to upload to Gedmatch so they can see for themselves what they are missing.”

        I have been reading info on your site for hours now & uploaded my FF to Gedmatch- Wow, I am amazed. I believe I am doomed though, as I did not write down any codes. Anyway, I will keep it up as long as I can. I will write my YDNA match to upload as well – Cathy who used her brother as a donor. We have a 67 match. She also did the FF test & has NOT showed up as a match to me, so too many generations back, I assume.

        We continue to work on how our Johnsons/Johansson? (N1 Haplogroup- Forest Finns to New Sweden USA) may connect with Vannoy, Opdyke & Anderson. I have a FF match with the 3 Vannoy men you use as examples in some of your references. Your site is the best thing since sliced bread for me to learn more about DNA. Can’t thank you enough!

        Debby

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  20. Roberta, I am a recent fan of yours and just realized that your Lydia Brown (daughter of Jotham Brown) who married William Crumley is a sister to my Jane Brown who married Christopher Cooper, son of James Cooper.. Their daughter Jane married William Blair in Greene Co TN and had my gr gr grandfather Rev John Blair. This family came to Laurel Co KY in early 1830’s. We have had descendents of the only three of William Blair’s sons who had sons y-dna tested and all match each other as well as matching a documented descendent of the Blair of Blair from Ayrshire, Scotland of the 1100’s. I have tested with FTDNA, MTDNA full sequence, 23andMe, Ancestry and National Geographic and have tested a paternal aunt (mtdna/family finder) and uncle (y-dna). These are from the Brown family. Descendents of all of “old” Jothams sons have been y-dna tested and all match. Unfortunately not many have done the family finder or other autosomal tests. Much of your blog is Greek to me. Having had 6+ yrs of college and not one course of math or algebra and being a high school dropout, I am mathematically challenged but am slowly learning. Considering the tests I have done, is there any need to move or download any of them? I have hundreds of matches and no time to pursue. I have never downloaded my tree to Ancestry as I find so very many errors there. I do have a tree on FTMDNA and one on my Heritage. I appreciate your blog.

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