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