23andMe Produces about 10% Response Rate for Genealogy

helix graphicI recommended a couple of days ago that everyone contact their matches at 23andMe and make sure, at least, that they have your e-mail in light of the current situation with the FDA deadline occurring about mid-month.  It looks like the genealogy data is safe for the time being, hopefully, but I didn’t know that when I started.

I wrote a nice message, including at least some genealogy information of course, and set out to do the same thing, and it has taken the better part of 4 days.  No, I’m not kidding.  I have 1030 matches.  Let me say, this was not fun.

The most frustrating part for me is that it really doesn’t have to be this difficult.  Think of it this way, all of this effort was just to get to the point where you start out with Family Tree DNA matches.


When you receive a match at Family Tree DNA, you can contact them without sending a request to match, and you already have their e-mail (the blue envelope box by the pink graphic, above,) and they already have yours.  So the effort expended this past 4 days, just in case 23andMe’s messaging system (i.e. entire website) disappears in light of 23andMe’s FDA issues was spent to get to common ground with Family Tree DNA.  Until I had 1030 people to contact, this difference didn’t seem terribly important, but believe me, it is, especially when those 1000 matches are whittled to one third that number by non-responses.  At Family Tree DNA, 1000 matches are 1000 matches, not 1000 maybes.  As you can see below, at 23andMe, many, many introduction requests go unanswered.  Those would be reflected in all of the blank spaces above “male” and “female” where a name shows after an introduction has been accepted, shown below.

23andMe Match

If you have already invited people to communicate with you at 23andMe, and they haven’t replied, you have to go through the extra steps of cancelling that first invitation and then re-inviting them.  Public Matches?  You have to invite them differently.  So let’s look at it this way, every invitation is a minimum of 5 clicks, that’s if you don’t have to look at anything else in the process, and 1030 people times 5 clicks is 5150 clicks and then another hundred or so that I have to be uninvited to be invited, so maybe another 500 clicks.  Public matches are another 5 clicks, so that’s another 1270 for a total of almost 7000 clicks.    Let’s just say this system was never designed with the genealogist in mind, or even with anyone nearby with any genealogical experience.  The more I use it, the more I dislike it.

There is, however, a good news aspect.  I did contact everyone – which I should have done before, and now they have my e-mail if they want it, now or in the future.  The bad news is that the response rate is just painfully low, which is why I got frustrated and stopped contacting people several months ago.

So let’s look at some raw data.

23andMe cuts off your matches at 1000, meaning your lowest matches fall off the list, unless you have outstanding invitations or communications.  In that case, those people who would otherwise fall off the list if they weren’t sharing or had some form of communications are preserved.  Hence, my 1030 matches instead of 1000.

Of those, 683 matches received first time new invitations, along with about 100 or so re-invitations and 254 Public Match invites.  I had last invited new matches in August.  It’s worth noting that I had not received any match invitations myself in this timeframe.

When someone receives an invitation, they can do one of 4 things.

  1. Ignore it and do nothing (this is what most do)
  2. Decline the invitation (they could simply opt out of genealogy matching instead)
  3. Accept the invitation for contact, but not share any DNA information
  4. Accept the invitation with DNA sharing

I only have 4 outright declines, but 14 people accepted the intro, but declined to share any DNA information.  Clearly their goals are not connecting through genealogy/genetics.

I currently have 365 people sharing in total.  Of those, 254 are public matches, meaning 111 others actually accepted a contact request and are sharing genomes, about 10%.

It appears that Public Matches are already sharing genomes with you, because there is no link to invite them to do so, but they aren’t.  You have to invite public matches in an entirely different, and not obvious, way.

To invite a Public Match to share, click on their name, in this case the name is “My Uncle.”.

23andMe my uncle

You will then see their profile page.  At the top, you’ll see one of two messages.  One is “Why can’t I invite this user to share genomes?” and the other is “Invite My Uncle to share genomes.”  If you get the invite message. click and invite.  If you get the “why can’t I” message, you’re dead in the water.  By the way, the answer to why can’t I is because either you’ve invited them before and the invitation is still outstanding, you’re already sharing (duh) or they have blocked all share requests.  Many Public Matches have blocked share requests.

23andMe my uncle 2

In total, between public matches and those who have opted to accept a share invitation, I can actually send a message to about 35% of my matches, but only hear from or share with less than one third of those, or about 10%..

Of those 365, I’ve actually received a reply message from 91 people, or about 25%.  I’m not counting another 10 people or so who are my close cousins, which would bring the total to just over 100.  I communicated with them before they tested.  In total, that also is about 10% of the total matches.

I sent a different, individual message to each of the people already sharing with me, depending on what we have previously discussed.

Of my 1030 matches, there are about 100 people, 10%, that actually communicated with me after hours and hours of inviting.   This includes all communications, from 2009 through today, not just new contacts.  This tells me that most people at 23andMe simply are not interested in genealogy and of those who are, most are just minimally interested..

Several people were very nice, but simply said that they didn’t know much about their family or were adopted.  I tried to help these folks as much as I could.

I have to laugh, several said they had to ask their mother, and a few more said they had to ask their grandmother.  My grandmothers were born in 1874 and 1888, respectively, but I digress…..

The 23and Me crowd is clearly not the normal genealogy crowd, but that’s exactly why we fish in different pools.  Maybe we can recruit some new genealogists!

I did have some genealogy success.  One woman has done genealogy for 54 years, and although we did not connect our family lines, working with her was a breath of fresh air.  I also ran into two seasoned genetic genealogists that are well known in the community who provided information on their family members.

I do have a half dozen positive connections where we were able to identify a common ancestor or a common line, and a few more that I think would be positive if we could nail down their genealogy, based on location.  In total, about 1% of the matches with a 2% potential with some added elbow grease.  My very endogamous Brethren, Mennonite and Acadian ancestors continue to haunt me by providing me with connections that are traceable to those groups, but not to individual ancestors.  That’s what happens when people intermarry for generations and just pass the same DNA around and around.  But even so, knowing that much is helpful.

So, is it worth 4 days of time to communicate with 90 people you’re related to, and to try to communicate with another 900+ that you’re related to but who aren’t interested in genealogy?  I guess that depends on your goals.  For me, yes, because if this opportunity disappears (meaning if the 23andMe database disappears,) I now have as much information, for the most part, that could be retrieved out of this resource at this time.  Hopefully it won’t disappear, but if it does, I’m ready, or as ready as I can get under the circumstances.  Having said that, 23andMe made the process much more difficult than it had to be and the actual success rate of 1-2% is terribly low for the amount of effort expended.

And maybe, just maybe, since I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, now that I’m finished with this,  I’ll go over to Family Tree DNA and send e-mails to the rest of my 490 matches there.  That might be useful.  At least I don’t have to send invitations first.

Or better yet, I could practice self-flagellation by going over to Ancestry where there is another message system and no genetic tools and try to contact my 5,950 cousins, only six of which are third cousins, none closer, and the rest of which are more distant.  Nah…..I think I’d rather clean the bathroom….

41 thoughts on “23andMe Produces about 10% Response Rate for Genealogy

  1. Please note for public matches although they will appear on your DNA Relatives list, you still need to send a genome share request to share genome. If they are not sharing genome with you, they will not appear on your Gene Comparison list.

    • Although, I do love the AncestryDNA. I have had some good luck finding information on my great grandfather that I never would anywhere else. I also think their trees are 100 times better than anywhere else.

  2. I’ve been working my 23andMe matches this week as well, with some of the same experiences. After the first success of 3rd-6th cousin DNA match with a paper trail match back seven generations (still not totally sure about that), I’ve had several matches email me – “I don’t know anything about my ancestors but here’s my uncle Frank/Bob/Sam’s email – ask him about my relatives.” Now I’m trying to contact the uncles. I’ll do that before starting on the Ancestry matches or bathroom, thought the later may be more useful.

  3. Please note that I just updated the article to reflect that Public Matches are not sharing genomes and must be invited separately, in yet another step. Instructions are included for how to do this.

  4. The latest news is that the new 23andme v4 chip is watered-down with fewer SNPs, therefore it is probably incompatible with FTDNA or Gedmatch.

    We are all about to use the plunger on 23andme I think. ;’)

  5. It has occurred to me recently that some people may not be responding to messages or requests to share because the messages from 23andme may be going into their spam folders! I have a couple very close matches who, I believe, would respond if they saw my message. I found one in the phone book and I’m very tempted to call.

      • Roberta, I received my results in August. I have about half dozen new matches this week that I have not sent out requests. For the first 1,018, I sent out sharing requests. Response rate: 6.9% sharing, 1.5% intro only, and 2% declines. While I will probably get a few more, I will be surprised if I hit 10% sharing. I followed all the advice from those who had higher response rates in the hopes I would get higher responses. After reading numerous blogs, groups, discussion groups, etc., most people report 5-10% response rates and only a handful break 20% or higher. I did send to each of the public matches, but I checked their pages first before sending the request.

        I haven’t checked my AncestryDNA results in a while, but I was close to 5,300 there and about 40-50% were no tree or private trees, 5% were small trees, and only 81 were in the 90+% confidence range. I haven’t tried sending to the no tree or private trees after hearing too many reports on the poor responses there.

        • Paul R Smith, thank you for those stats which are valuable for us to use as comparisons. Regarding your no tree or private trees, if you have the time, contact one half of those in each group, and go from there. You never know…….

  6. You are so funny and too kind. They are not my favorite, too frustrating and too time consuming with very little ROI.

  7. I now have 2,010 matches on 23andme. Of those matches, about 850 have permitted me to “share genomes” [what an overly dramatic, scary and inaccurate phrase]. Surprisingly, people are still responding to the first invitations I sent out 11 months ago when I got my account.

    Among the public matches who haven’t accepted my invitation for “sharing genomes”, I can find matching segment data using DNAGedcom, and I can pinpoint where my matches match each other.

    It’s been labor-intensive, to be sure. But I’ve made some important discoveries and more are sure to come.

    But at 23andme, their family trees are awful and there are scads of people who have zero interest in genealogy. If only they’d share their grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ names, I could do the rest!

    FTDNA cuts out the invitation process, which is nice, but it seems there is less you can do with the matching segment data. I can’t see where my matches match each other, as I can with 23andme.

    On average, FTDNA users are obviously more motivated to make genealogical discoveries, but so far, that hasn’t necessarily translated to better results than with 23andme. FTDNA seems to have a higher percentage of apparent technophobes who seem to have a lot of information on paper that they can’t easily share online. We might go back and forth via email for quite some time before it becomes obvious that without looking at what they have with my own eyes, we’re not going to get anywhere.

    It’s amazing to me that FTDNA only does genealogy, but so many people there have no family tree posted and have no plans to post one anywhere online. Ever. And they don’t even list their family names! What’s up with that?

    Ancestry.com is the most frustrating. Matches with no tree! Whats up with THAT?

    Locked trees? You gotta be kidding! Why are they doing this?

    Then there’s Ancestry’s own obtuseness. No matching segment data? A travesty!

    And they still use megabase pairs to rank matches? That’s ridiculous.

    I am so close to confirming my apparent Ashkenazi heritage — with tantilizing clues from several matches’ family trees — but this is all slightly out of reach because of the lack of matching segment information at AncestryDNA. Gah!

    AncestryDNA could be infinitely more useful for me with matching segment data, but as it is configured now, AncestryDNA seems nearly useless.

    • Now, how is it you have over 2000 matches at 23, when their cutoff is 1000? Does that mean you are already sharing with 1000? Just curious.

      • Cath,
        If you send sharing requests to everyone on your list you are allowed to go beyond that 1,000 match cutoff as maches will be retained in your list if you have open invites for them. I currently have 1,707 matches myself. Although my response rate is apparently better than most folks.

        For your next test, have the fellow with the 6% response rate use my intro/share request message and see if that improves any. Just a thought.

  8. I concur with rightklik, my response rate from 23andme has been around 50% or better, and of all those I contacted last week specifically, I received a reply from every single one providing their email and interest in keeping in touch. And most definitely my response rate at 23 is MUCH BETTER than that at FTDNA, and as rk mentioned, i can do all the analysis much more easily with the tools at 23 than I can with the limited tool at FTDNA. Of course, I’m still hoping that, as promised by Bennett and his new staff at the conference in November, we will see FF move up to par in it’s tools to where 23andMe’s tools are at present. That would be a BIG help..but remains to be seen. For now, my response rate at FTDNA is MUCH LESS than that at 23andMe and unfortunately you do have to contact folks to be able to do anything with the data that you do see in the tool, so no reply leaves you basically unable to proceed with any segment data for the match that you have from FTDNA unless you are so lucky as to find they have uploaded to gedmatch (which unfortunately was down again yesterday, reasons unknown per Curtis). 🙁 For now I’ll continue to recommend 23andMe over FTDNA for atDNA testing because without the tools they offer there is a huge disparity in what you can accomplish and I’ve had an AWESOME genetic genealogy 2013 thanks to 23andMe–I’ve done the genealogy happy dance several times this year twice in a HUGE WAY!! And of course regardless of answer rate–you can continue to try (I’ve gotten replies 6-8 months after initial contact and several messages sent-some folks just don’t log in after the initial interest wears off because they can’t figure out what to do next! That is an education issue. And lastely the fact that the number of atDNA tests at 23 is ten times that of the database at FTDNA you stand a much better chance of getting that ‘magic match’. 🙂 And as an aside, for me continued support by ordering more test kits will be the number one way to keep 23 around IMHO while they transition to whatever will be in the future.

      • Not many compared to you as I’ve been messaging all along…I think we had 24 new matches plus I sent some secondary contact messages to about 6 that I knew I didn’t want to lose contact with. So about 30 total last week. I get anywhere from 6-24 new matches EVERY week with 23andMe. I can send a copy of my typical intro message for initial contact to you next week-it’s on my other computer as I cut and paste–too much typing as you surely know from last week! LOL (only have my laptop with me right now). My biggest problem at FTDNA has been lack of new matches–we went for nearly 6 months with no new matches at all to any of the 3 kits I have over there, while I was racking up new matches weekly with my 23andMe kits. Maybe they need to do an analysis on the genetics of folks whose cousins reply vs those who don’t! Maybe rightklik and I are related! LOL

        • I really do want to see your initial intro letter. I’ve tried different ones and none seem to be wildly successful. I’ve been getting a lot of matches at 23andMe too but very few close ones and I got really discouraged and pretty much gave up in later summer before we went away for a month.

  9. Admittedly, I have always been more interested in the health side than the ancestry side, but I think the overall response rate is probably not as important as the response rate that are closely related to you (which may only be a handful, or – in cases like my own – I would argue no current users).

    For example, the most closely related individual to me only shares 4 segments making up ~1% of our genomes. My girlfriend had a little better luck with having someone with closer to 10% similarity shared across more than a dozen segments (where contact attempts were successful). In cases like myself, I haven’t really found any examples where the similarity was close enough to be able to find individual shared family members; for user like this, I think the most important information relates to broad ancestry trends (like having family members that migrated from Ireland).

    In other words, I always accept requests because I want to see what reports look like for a broader range of users. However, I think a conservative user may reasonably not accept requests from users that don’t have high similarity (like more than >6% similarity) that would probably never include more than a few dozen users. However, such users may accept requests at a higher rate for these exceptional matches.

  10. I’ve invited pretty much every one of my 1960 matches and am sharing with 635 of them and about another 25 Countries of Ancestry matches. My acceptance rate is about 35% since I started writing a longer intro on my invites. I use the first part of the standard 23andMe message explaining how it’s through “our shared dna” that 23andMe predict us as X cousins. I then ask if they’d share genomes to see how we match, add something about how sharing at the basic level is not going to enable an evil scientist to clone them in her laboratory, tell them to let me know if they have any questions, and explain that there’s some info about my ancestry in my profile.

  11. My 1109 23andMe matches are split as follows:

    172 15% sharing genomes – introduction accepted
    23 2% introduction accepted
    623 56% introduction sent
    20 2% introduction declined
    64 6% sharing genomes
    207 19% public match

    So, I am in contact with 23% of my matches. Including public matches that I have not contacted yet that has the potential to rise to 42%. I need to get busy sending messages to those public matches!

    I share 23 segments with my son, 3 segments with one person and 2 segments with 25 people. My known ancestry is 100% English. Out of my 1009 matches I have only two matches confirmed by traditional genealogy – my son and a previously unknown 4th cousin once removed.

    I reckon my communication rate is reasonable, but my success in confirming matches is poor due I think to few English testees and most of my matches not knowing much about their English ancestry.

  12. I’ve only recently sent in my DNA sample, and am not sure about the privacy settings. I would like to know in advance how much of my info will be available to strangers, and may represent a portion of those who do not respond to invitations.
    The process needs to be better explained to newbies, to reassure us about what is public and what can be kept private, while still participating in the sharing.
    The 23andme website has been difficult to figure out. The Mendels example was hard to find and understand, and did not include ethnicity that I could find, that data was not available.
    A bridge is needed between the DNA-for-dummies introductory videos apparently made by the producers of Sesame Street, and the over-our-heads fine detail in the white paper. There’s a wide gap there.
    If you’re up for it I’d love to hear your understanding of how the cousin-match system works. For example, I don’t want my entire genome posted publicly, or shared with a distant match who might be collecting information for nefarious purposes. But if you and I were cousins, I wouldn’t mind you seeing the portion that we share, or common ancestors, etc.
    I did enjoy reading your article, and appreciate the photo showing what the inbox match results look like!

    • http://trackingyourroots.com/DNA
      A free powerpoint download that explains the basics of using 23andMe for tracing your family tree. I eventually plan to add more advanced info to the presentation as well time permitting and will be presenting in January in the Dallas area, February in Houston and have been asked to set something up in North Florida this spring.

      In response to another reply–I have many confirmed cousins from 1st cousin out to 8th cousin from using 23andMe-I couldn’t say how many for sure but I know it’s over 25 anyway.

  13. When I recommend atDNA services, I place 23andMe first, FTDNA second and don’t recommend Ancestry.com at all. As for response rates, I have so many more useful and meaningful matches at 23andMe than at FTDNA, though my match numbers have increased lately at FTDNA. But I still have a large problem with them not providing matching on the X chromosome! I have been using DNAgedcom.com to download my match reports which have been so useful. When I make requests at 23andMe I try to make them useful, not canned. I get very little response from my FTDNA matches, and maybe I’ve gotten one from Ancestry (I hardly even try because most of them I have NO information to even determine what I am dealing with).
    The reality is that the folks on 23andMe are more likely to have yet to discover their ancestry whereas those on FTDNA and Ancestry tend to already know theirs and not be interested in contact. When folks are open with me on what they know and don’t know, I have had great results in identifying connections — at 23andMe.
    I agree the family tree at 23andMe is cumbersome and not very useful, FTDNA has a far more useful tree program, and Ancestry’s is the best of the three. But Ancestry sells your tree if you post it there — I don’t like that. With 23andMe, once you’re in, you’re in forever and they don’t bundle the info and sell it, claiming it is now theirs (as does Ancestry).
    But, FTDNA is the very best when it comes to Y-DNA and mtDNA research. They have greatly stepped up their FamilyFinder (I used to have very few matches, but now have been getting many more). Their problem #1 is no X DNA comparisons — key in certain matches! With the improvement of their tools, they are moving up, but until they add the X chromosome data, I’ll still put 23andMe first.

    • Pam, Ancestry sells your tree if you post it there?? What? To whom do they sell and for what reason? My tree is private, but undocumented. Who would want my tree without documentation?

    • Pam, FTDNA is getting X chromosome matching soon, in early January (according to information from their annual conference in November). This will be available under Advanced Matches in Family Finder. You probably know that you can download your X chromosome raw file for use at GEDmatch.

      Also, improvements to the Population Finder are in the works; should be sometime in the first quarter or two of 2014 (announced at the same conference).

      I think FTDNA’s acquisition of Arpeggi for IT work is really helping them, and we can expect good things in the near future. And the forums are changing for the better, too!

    • I’m the same way with my recommendations Pam, and for the same reasons overall. I probably have over a hundred trees on paper I’ve started for 23 matches who, as you said, know little about their family history, but were happy to share information on their four grandparents that is all one needs to start looking yourself for the match. And I’ve been saying since the start FTDNA is best at what they do best–Y and mt, but 23andMe has them beat (for now) hands down on atDNA testing. I rarely get new matches at FTDNA, but get several a week at 23 and I figure since FTDNA has somewhere around 70,000-80,000 at DNA tests thus far in their pool while 23s is closer to 600,000 (ten times as much) that makes for more match opportunities. Also, have you noticed inthe last week that it seems the ‘worry over lost access’ seems to have increased the number of folks testing?

  14. Spot On! I have been so frustrated this week dealing with all the exact issues you discussed in this blog, regarding 23andMe. Thought perhaps it was me and those showing up as my matches. Thank you! Thank you for sharing these experiences. Rightklik commented on the family trees at 23andMe. If some kind person developed their tree way out it is almost impossible to track through all their ancestors and I have not had any luck with the “find in this tree” feature. Speaking of “finding”, the global find doesn’t always work either. One of my rare names, and therefore easy to look for, only returned one hit last night but this morning I am getting 4. I had found one of them by looking at their family name list so knew he should be there making at least 2.

    The response rate has been ok but not great. Those that have responded have been wonderful and definitely worth the connection. The disappointment comes from two individuals, one my highest ever matchs at 1.24% has not responded. The other one has another unusual name this time from Nova Scotia and I have found 2 others interested in it also, YEAH!. Found the guy on Facebook and Google, he even gave a recap of his 23andMe find for this name in 2010 but has not responded.

    It seems the information at FTDNA is not only better but if you download to an excel spreadsheet you can do all kinds of manipulations without even asking your matches. Can’t do that at 23andMe.

    • Actually you can do the download at 23 for the spreadsheet. I do agree though that the trees at 23andme which are still stated as beta are AWEFUL. I’m sure this is why so many aren’t using them, most of my matches who have a tree have done as I have, included a link in their profile to a tree at another offsite URL. Many are listing the URL for their ancestry.com trees, I have mine at my own webserver space and use that. The trees at 23, cut off data, don’t load, don’t reload, and generally hang constantly. I don’t recommend them at all. But then the trees at FTDNA aren’t any better-a search in the search box at either place gives you nothing regardless of whether the name is in the tree or not. Also, I’d like to see an option to view the FTDNA tree in the normal left to right format we are all used to rather than upside down. 🙁 LOL (Roberta why didn’t I think of that last month!? LOL I know, because I don’t use the trees! LOL)

      • ” trees at 23andme which are still stated as beta are AWFUL. I’m sure this is why so many aren’t using them”

        I had to upload mine several times several times for it to show up. When I finally got it up, it was soon deleted. I have now idea why that happened, but I gave up.

        I think 23andMe has made it abundantly clear that genealogy is not where their heart is. That’s certainly not where their big investors are going to make a lot of money.

  15. My 1109 23andMe matches are split as follows:

    172 15% sharing genomes – introduction accepted
    23 2% introduction accepted
    623 56% introduction sent
    20 2% introduction declined
    64 6% sharing genomes
    207 19% public match

    I am in contact with 23% of my matches. Including public matches that I have not contacted yet that has the potential to rise to 42%. I need to get busy sending invites/messages to those public matches!

    I share 23 segments with my son, three segments with one match, two segments with 25 matches, the remainder being 1079 sharing on one segment. My known ancestry is 100% English. Out of my 1109 matches I have only two matches confirmed by traditional genealogy – my son and a previously unknown 4th cousin once removed.

    I reckon my communication rate is reasonable, but my success in confirming matches is poor due I think to few English testees and most of my matches not knowing much about their English ancestry.

  16. You speak for many of us. The voice left unheard is 23’s. Do they care? Will they be around long enough to respond?

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  19. I have only three 2nd cousin matches on 23andMe and I’d like to contact them. NONE answered my request! (very frustrating) Is there any way to try to contact them again??? I don’t seem to be able to do that.

    • I haven’t done this in a while, but you used to have to cancel the first request, then send a second one. I think you can only ever send 2. So be sure to use your chances well.

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