DNA Day with Ancestry

For quite some time now, the genetic genealogy community has been beating the living tar out of Ancestry.com for not listening, among other things. Well, I’m here to say, they are listening.  Now, what I can’t say is how much they are hearing.  The jury is out and we will see. However, we are hopeful.

Ancestry invited a few of the leaders in the genetic genealogy field to come and meet with them this week. They dedicated the resources of eighteen of their scientists and executives to this meeting and they spent the day with us, sharing information about the science underlying their upcoming product changes and having frank discussions with the group.

This was a very cordial, informative and I think, team-building, experience, but there was far from uniform agreement. There was a great deal of discussion which I think helps everyone understand the position and reasoning of the other parties involved. Like anything else, it’s not as simple as one might hope.

Another important aspect of these meeting is that they serve to put faces with names and humanize the other people involved.

I also found it encouraging that most of the people at Ancestry are genealogists and utilize their own tools.

Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry stopped by and talked with us for a few minutes. He asked us what we wanted, why and if we had any questions for him.  He told us about his own genealogy experiences.  And, we discovered, he does read our blogs.  Tim is very actively engaged as is Ken Chahine, Senior Vice President and General Manager DNA, who is in many of the photographs because he was sitting at the end of the screen and was with us for the entire day.

I will be covering different aspects of the content of these meetings as time moves forward and as Ancestry’s new software version is implemented, but for now, I wanted to update you on the two burning questions in the genetic genealogy community.

These, as you might guess, were also the most contentious aspects of the entire meeting.

Will We Receive a Chromosome Brower?

I want to share with you readers that there is absolutely no question that Ancestry heard the message that we need a chromosome browser, loud, clear and uniformly from us. Ancestry is equally as adamant, it appears, as we are, that we don’t need one.

So, the short answer is no.

The longer answer is probably not.

Judy Russell, in comments to her article, “when less is more,” which I strongly encourage you to read, says about the chromosome browser:

“In my personal opinion, speaking only for myself and based solely on my own perceptions of the attitudes of some folks at AncestryDNA and not on any specific representations by anyone else, my judgment is that we may get a chromosome browser at AncestryDNA when hell freezes over.”

This was also followed by a comment about pigs flying…..plus, she took all the good phrases…not much left for me to say.pig fly

I think this pretty well sums it up.

I do want to discuss why Ancestry does not feel a chromosome browser is warranted. This topic was discussed directly and indirectly several times throughout the day.  These concerns listed below are not necessarily in priority order based on discussions, because I couldn’t really discern a priority.

1.  Given that Ancestry will hit the million kit DNA mark sometime in the first quarter of 2015, they feel that very few, a small percentage, of those people would ever utilize, or understand the results of a chromosome browser. Given that, they don’t feel it is a good investment of their engineering time to invest in something that few people, or a small percentage of the whole, will utilize.

2.  Since Ancestry did not begin utilizing chromosome browsing in the beginning, they are concerned about privacy issues having to do with now introducing the feature to people who did not expect to have that to begin with.

3.  Ancestry is concerned about unexpectedly and unintentionally revealing health information. For example, let’s say that today, a particular SNP is included in their information and is not known to be medically relevant. Next year, someone discovers that a particular SNP on chromosome 7 is connected to the genetic propensity for erectile dysfunction. Remember, a genetic propensity does NOT mean you have or will get the particular disease. In this case, of course, that would not apply to women.

Ancestry’s concern is that since they would have already been displaying that match on chromosome 7 between several people for months/years, the cow is proverbially out of the barn and closing the door at that point it a bit late, if possible at all.

Of course, as we pointed out to Ancestry, that’s the entire point of having testers sign a release, and both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe both deal with the same issue.

4.  Ancestry feels that a chromosome browser would provide information to people that they should not be drawing conclusions from, and they are.

For example, as they showed us, there are areas in each person’s chromosome and their matches chromosomes that are what they call “pile up” areas. These are areas that we would call IBS, identical by state as opposed to IBD, identical by descent.  Some of these pileup areas are so old that they could potentially be considered AIMs, or Ancestrally Informative Markers that harken back to continents like Africa, Asia or Europe. my pileup

This slide shows Cathy Ball, VP Genomics and Bioinformatics, showing me my own pileup areas. The two screens are a TV screen to the right where the colors resolved much better, and the larger screen where the display was larger.

my pileup2 crop

What this shows you is that on the chart at left, I have one area that has a very large number of pileups, probably about 800 matches (out of my 12,500 total matches), two areas that have 400 each, two that have about 200. On the chart at right, the top of the chart is 25 match segments, so you can see that most of my matches fall below that.  Ancestry feels that the higher matched segments are less relevant because they match to so many people, that they aren’t really indicative of shared ancestry in a genealogical timeframe.

And no, they did not tell me which chromosome these pileup segments are found on, and I’m DYING to know so that I can relate that to my ancestral chromosome mapping….but no cigar. It’s so frustrating that they know, they have the info, our info, but they won’t share it with us.  I’m not referring here to the slide and my pileup, but the lack of segment information in general.  I don’t know how that’s any worse that allowing customers to infer that a shakey leaf tree match is equivalent to a DNA match…..

Everyone has these pileup areas, which also means that they show up on your chromosome browser as matches. Ancestry is concerned that you will see three people, whether from a common genealogy line or not, who match on one segment and you will presume that they are genealogically related, when perhaps they aren’t, because their match is IBS from a pileup area.

Clearly, those of us who work in this field daily deal with IBS issues routinely, but Ancestry is concerned about the general consumer who doesn’t.

I suggested that the chromosome browser could be even more useful if they had a way to show but “grey out” those pileup areas, so we would be aware that their confidence is low, and to highlight the areas where the rarest alleles match, because those matches are most likely to indicate true genealogical matches. That suggestion met with polite silence.

Roberta’s Opinion

I do agree that many people won’t utilize the chromosome browser, but many people won’t utilize many of their services.  That doesn’t prevent Ancestry from providing those services for those who want to utilize them.  I’m fine with Ancestry making the Chromosome Browser part of a subscription kit so only subscribers have access, just like many of their data bases.

Unfortunately, without a chromosome browser, we are left with nothing concrete to base any matches on, nor the ability to utilize that information in conjunction with chromosome segment information from other companies to map our segments to various ancestors.  The problem of incorrect ancestor attribution remains and will remain present in their matches.

They are changing their matching algorithm and in some ways, it will be improved, but in one way, I am gravely concerned that it will be worse. Ancestry will begin weighting various factors in calculating the match strength, and one of those factors will be the number of trees that list a particular ancestor.  If you’ve just had a coronary…so did we.  I thought one of the genetic genealogists was going to have the big one right there – they turned so red in the face.

A second confidence weighting factor will be the amount of source information for a particular tree which Ancestry feels helps judge the quality of the tree. In a sense, I agree, but attaching source information, perhaps incorrectly, to the wrong family, or having the wrong ancestor you’ve just attached source information to, is still the same large problem.  Clearly, quality is not a matter of quantity, but just as clearly Ancestry cannot look at each tree individually and render an opinion, so they have to develop some automated methodology if they are going down this path.

Ancestry is trying to find ways to improve their matching and predictions of common ancestry. As time moves forward, I’ll be covering these developments.  As someone in the meeting said, first steps first.

But back to the chromosome browser, my gut reaction to this is, and this is my opinion alone, that they don’t want to invest the development effort into something that will make the user experience more complex and may increase their customer support staff load to support and explain matching on a chromosome browser. I don’t think they believe the genealogy community has the ability to utilize and understand this type of tool.  Ancestry is a genealogy marketing company.  They want the user’s experience to be pleasant, easy and fulfilling…not difficult and certainly not upsetting.

Our message did not waiver, we need a chromosome browser and “trust me” simply won’t work.

The Y DNA and mtDNA Data Base

When Ancestry sent the invitation to this meeting, I had to wonder if they really thought through the fact that this meeting would occur less than a week after they decommissioned their Y and mtDNA data base.

Did they really want a group of people that were mad as wet hens arriving to meet with them? I fully expected to receive an “un-invitation” after my article and before the meeting, but I didn’t.

Without going into nitty-gritty detail, Ancestry indicates that the data base that held those results was literally on its last leg and they did not want to invest any money into something they was not bringing in any revenue and for a product they were no longer selling. I do believe that data base was indeed in its death throes because after the denial of service attack in June, it was no longer searchable.

In the ensuing discussion, the genetic genealogy community provided a number of alternative scenarios both within and outside of Ancestry as a way to salvage the information in that database. Ancestry has agreed to take the matter under consideration internally and discuss the various options.  They made no promises, but I personally find it very encouraging that they are willing to discuss the matter and reconsider.

I told them I’d like nothing more than to write a retraction article that says that Ancestry did not, after all, burn the DNA courthouse.

In the same vein, I asked if they had any plans to decommission the Sorenson data base at www.smgf.org and they indicated that they do not have any plans at this point to do that.  Obviously, nothing is forever, and they could reconsider in the future but at least it appears that resource is safe for now and adding the Y and mtDNA records from Ancestry into that data base was one option discussed.

In Conclusion

I do feel this was a productive meeting. The scientific aspects of having a large data base to draw from are quite interesting and I’ll be sharing some those in upcoming articles.  Some of the best conversations took place beside the proverbial “water cooler.”  I am hopeful that we made progress, or at least thawed the ice a little on the issues so critical for the genetic genealogy community, but time will tell.  In a way, I felt like this was a United Nations type of meeting where everyone leaves with a better understanding.



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87 thoughts on “DNA Day with Ancestry

  1. Obviously Ancestry.com thinks most of their subscribers are stupid and, after looking at some of the messed-up trees found there, I can almost understand why.

    • As long as they get their money, maybe they don’t care. I am sure that a program can easily be developed to make the poorly researched trees invisible.

  2. Nothing makes me angrier than when I am faced with ancestry.com’s intransigence about changes to improve their product. What s that old saying about “Moneys talks?”

  3. Roberta,

    I think you guess that it has to do with customer support is right on target. And the fact that they are trying to be the genealogy company for the masses – not just the enlightened few (or even serious genealogists). In one way, I have to agree with them in that, when I first tested my Autosomal DNA with FTDNA, I was shocked at how little information was available to figure out my results and do anything with them. My wife thought of it as a waste of money and that we were sold a product that wasn’t useful. t put that test “on the shelf” for almost two years before I finally decided to try to understand it. That said, I don’t see why they couldn’t just do a data dump of the segments to a file and hide the option someplace where the uninitiated would never go – how many resources would that take?

    As to the privacy issue – your arguments are good on that – and, in any case, we have access to our raw data from Ancestry. They just don’t want to give us more information about the people we match than they have to. So create a way for a match to “share his genome with me” (where have I heard that before?) I suspect another reason they don’t mention is that their gigantic database of matches is their differentiation from competitors – and they sure don’t want to give that data away so it can be copied into 3rd party databases.

    Interesting about using the number of trees with an ancestor listed in them. Is that supposed to increase or decrease the confidence of the match? 🙂

    I already find that most of the easy MRCA identifications I have made are to ancestors I have in heavily documented families who were prolific breeders. Everybody finds the huge surname books that were the life’s work of some 19th or early 20th century genealogist (which often have a lot of wishful thinking about royal ancestral connections in the first chapter) and copies what they find there to their tree. Few people are motivated to do original research on these lines today – it’s like working a crossword puzzle that somebody else already filled in. Not much fun. Most of my shaky leaves are to Campbells, Whitneys, Pitzers, Mendenhalls, Lees, etc. because all of them have massive tomes on library shelves chock full of descendants. For some people, these lines are the only way they can get back far enough to find ancestral commonalities with their autosomal matches. I don’t see how having one of these well-documented (but, perhaps, poorly sourced) ancestors in my tree makes it (or the match) any more reliable.


  4. I still want a chromosome browser! We who use the database should decide how we want to use it. They could have an opt out on it if they want, though that would decrease the usefulness. Some people using Ancestry really don’t know what scholarly research is in terms of their trees. But, should that cause them to limit the rest of us in the tools we have to use? I still don’t plan to do any more testing at Ancestry. I will go where the best tools are!

  5. I find it interesting that they are planning to look at trees to tweak the results. I have to say one thing – Ashkenazi Jews do not have anywhere near the kinds of trees they would need. So “good luck with that”.

    And yes, I want segment data and I want it now. Just give me a data dump. I’m good.

  6. Perhaps, ancestrydna feels why should they spend their $s for a chromo browser when their customers can go to Gedmatch for free?

    Adding a chromo browser or any innovative new feature just puts a greater burden on the call center trying to educate customers how to use it. Can you imagine? We are on hold for 5 minutes as it is trying to ask any question……….

    One of the testing companies should invest in, or buy, Gedmatch. That would be a win-win.

    Roberta, did they say anything about the cM thresholds. Seems last year they said they were going to raise it, and give us fewer trees, or did I dream that?

    • They are going to adjust things, but I don’t know that it’s the cM level that they’ll be adjusting. They are trying going to increase the quality by phasing which should eliminate many of the smaller matches that are actually IBS.

      • AncestryDNA can say anything they want because they know we can’t dispute it without the proper tools. So who really knows what they are really going to do?
        What is not in dispute, is that they going to save money on bandwidth by showing less. In other words, the only thing they really want to improve, is their bottom line.

      • Joe, this is why I’ve been saying that Ancestry’s “better mousetrap” was an empty promise. AncestryDNA is growing by leaps and bounds without a browser. It’s no wonder they have no intention of adding one.

        It’s incumbent upon those of us who use GEDmatch to show people what they are missing as often as we can. Ancestry shouldn’t be allowed to sell DNA kits, collect hundreds of thousands of DNA samples and generate false narratives based on pseudoscience.

  7. The people that run AncestryDNA think that we’re morons. I am a highly multiethnic person with many unknown family lines. My father was African American. Many African Americans have European ancestry without knowing where it came from. African American Genealogy is very difficult. Growing up not knowing my father nor his side of the family adds to the difficulty. Many of my matches have multiple ethnic backgrounds just like I do, and I cannot tell how I am matching them. A chromosome browser is strongly needed for me to figure out how I am related to these people. Many of the matches could be false positives. Without having a chromosome browser, I have no way of knowing if they are false positives or not.

    My ethnic background:

    On my father’s side: African American and French Creole with discovered genetic ancestral connections to Acadians , Amerindians (USA,Canada or both) and British as well as possibly Dutch and Danes.

    On my mother’s side: Cape Verdean (Portuguese,West African), Madeiran Portuguese, Azorean Portuguese, Romanian Ashkenazi Jewish, Latvian Ashkenazi Jewish, Puerto Rican (Spanish,West African,Taino Indian), German, English, Highlander Scottish, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, Swiss, and Welsh with discovered genetic ancestral connections to Quebecois French, Acadians, Eastern Europeans, Swedes, and Finns as well as possibly Danes.

  8. Raymond, you can upload your raw data from any of the 3 testing companies for free to GEDmatch. They have a chromo browser, along other utilities, and including admixture which will give you an indication of your deep ancestry. It takes about 10 minutes. Just google GEDmatch……..

    • I know that. I uploaded my data and my mom’s data to Gedmatch years ago.
      I look at my Gedmatch stuff regularly. I even found matches in Gedmatch that are 10 cM and more that do not show up at FTDNA.

      My mom and I are at 23andme,AncestryDNA,FamilyTreeDNA,and Gedmatch.

  9. Roberta, so what is the verdict?
    Do the leaders of genetic genealogy recommend the ancestryDNA product without a chromosome browser?
    If there truly is a united front, everyone (the leaders) should just come out and say it.
    i.e. We do not recommend this product without a chromosome browser.

    • We were certainly all united in our opinion that we need a chromosome browser, but I can’t speak for anyone else’s opinion about whether they would recommend Ancestry or under what circumstances. I can only speak for myself. My opinion is that all genealogists should swim in all of the pools to obtain the maximum amount of matches and information. I like the tools at Family Tree DNA the best and the fact that you don’t have to message people and request to communicate, don’t have to request to share DNA and that you have their e-mail address and can mail them directly. However, I think 23andMe’s ethnicity predictions are more accurate than Family Tree DNA’s or Ancestry’s. Ancestry has very limited tools but they have the largest data base, so there are reasons to test at all 3.

      • I hate to say it, but I think the genetic genealogy community is MUCH too easy on Ancestry,com. The fact is that they need you (for good publicity) more than you need them. You need to hold their feet to the fire and ostracize them to the max whenever and wherever possible until they come around. They’re clearly concerned about what the genetic genealogy community thinks of them or they would not be having these occaisional “teaser” sessions where they pretend to be interested in what you all think. Then to only continue to smash your hopes and dreams, or offer only some tiny pittance in order to put you off for a little longer until their next BS session.

        The simple fact of why they continue to drag their feet is that a chromosome browser would expose and totally undermine all their fallacious “shaky-leaf” DNA connections they try to pawn off to AncestryDNA subscribers as legitimate DNA connections. Without those, they feel their DNA product is down the toilet. And rightly so.

      • I agree with Tom. When I am speaking or training, I advise people not to bother with Ancestry or to choose them as the last resort only if they have lots of discretionary income to burn. I admit my contacts are limited but I do what I can.

        As far as I am concerned, I have NO actual marches on Ancestry – only those who have uploaded to FTDNA or GedMatch. The fact that my matches were done using base pairs, plus their pretend phasing, probably contributes to the fact that my match list is mostly good for a few laughs.

        The more genealogist who speak out, the more pressure we can bring. Otherwise Ancestry will dumb everything down so that accuracy in the family tree is an unknown quantity.

        Just as an aside, I have seen too many trees where they happily accepted every Shaky Leaf even when it is clearly incorrect. They have LOTS of documentation – just not accurate, relevant documentation.

  10. AND
    Selling/giving Y-DNA + mtDNA to a company that specializes, put it to good use, and can handle the data? What I am trying to ask is, was giving the data to FTDNA suggested?

      • Roberta, you manage a couple of my 23andMe matches. These are listed as public matches. I have requested a couple of times to share genomes but I have been ignored on one and turned down on another request. Since I’m not aware of how to share genomes with a public match I can’t figure out how we are related. Could you please explain why?

  11. I had begun to trust AncestryDNA with all of my DNA testing recently. I have been using 23andMe and FTDNA. But really began to like AncestryDNA in conjunction with uploading to Gedmatch. But since I have seen how they dumped us, and YES I do mean dumped us, in relation to MyFamily and the previous DNA testing that was done through Ancestry; I have quickly learned that they do not take the relationship they have with their customers very seriously. I am still extremely angry about the MyFamily fiasco last month. I lost a lot of great information and photos because I had to have my information downloaded from their site, but I didn’t have the tools I needed to do so. I put my information on their site, paid for it to be stored there, and put my trust in the wrong company. Now, I wonder how safe my information is on their website at Ancestry. It seems to me that Ancestry doesn’t look at us as someone they need to please, but just a means to an end; a bottom line $$$ end. I am extremely angry and frustrated. So it may be best to download and load your DNA information for everyone in your account to Gedmatch and forget using AncestryDNA any longer. Because you never know when they are going to decide that the DNA testing isn’t bringing in enough money for them, and switch paths midstream.

  12. So… Ancestry is basically saying they want to continue selling genetic genealogy kits, but they don’t think their customers can handle genetic genealogy.

    They’re also tacitly admitting that they’ve given their customers matches that are currently 60-90% incorrect:


    (via Julie Granka)

    I’d like to know the average/median size of the segments they’re throwing out with their great purge. Does anyone have the answer to that question?

    Also…on the issue of Ancestry hearing us “loud and clear”, I would suggest that we continue being loud and clear. If they need to redact a certain number of segments or make chromosome browsing a strictly “opt in” feature for purposes of privacy, so be it. But if they’re going to continue to provide “shaky leaf” family tree hints based on DNA matching, we need to be able to see the evidence.

  13. “Ancestry feels that a chromosome browser would provide information to people that they should not be drawing conclusions from, and they are. For example, as they showed us, there are areas in each person’s chromosome and their matches chromosomes that are what they call ‘pile up’ areas”

    How big are these “pile up” segments? My educated guess is that the vast majority are 6 cM or less. You don’t have to set your chromosome browser to show 6 cM segments if you don’t want to do so.

    I think this is a lame excuse. I’ve looked at my matches in the “excess IBD regions” and it’s ridiculously easy to spot the likely IBS segments. They’re almost invariably less that 5-6 cM in size.

    It’s funny that Ancestry doesn’t want their customers to make erroneous assumptions about chromosome browser information (information that could reveal Ancestry’s weaknesses, by the way), but they’re not so worried about erroneous conclusions based on shaky leaf family tree hints. (Lots of people are doing just that). They also seem blithely unconcerned with the erroneous conclusions that will flow from the lack of information on matching segments.

  14. “Ancestry is concerned about unexpectedly and unintentionally revealing health information.”

    Yeah that may be a good reason not to test at Ancestry — even if they don’t release matching segment information. A company that allows hackers crash their servers might not be a good company to trust with sensitive health information. Plus they struggle with basic DNA science, as evidenced by the 90% error rates in their match lists and their foolish decision to measure DNA in megabase pairs.

  15. Here’s a conversation I had with a well-educated man when I asked him to take his Ancestry results to GEDmatch [personal info redacted]:

    COUSIN: I am not familiar with GEDmatch, but haven’t we already pinpointed the match? We have common ancestors, so we obviously have a DNA connection. What am I missing? I know that the DNA might confirm what we already believe. Is that what you mean?

    ME: I like AncestryDNA’s system, but there is one big weakness. Our DNA connection could have come through the L**** line, the D**** line, both lines or neither line. They don’t give the information that gives clarity on the details.

    As you suggested, Ancestry can reinforce prior beliefs without real proof.

    FTDNA and 23andMe give those details on their websites, but Ancestry does not. The only way to get those details from AncestryDNA results is to use GEDmatch.com.

    GEDmatch also makes it possible to compare AncestryDNA results with people who have tested at 23andMe and FTDNA.

    I’ve been using GEDmatch for almost 2 years now and it has help me quite a bit. In a few cases it has shown Ancestry to be completely wrong.

    COUSIN: Well then, [personal info redacted]. Stop by the next time you’re in [personal info redacted] (my office location).


    It’s so unfortunate that so much potential is lost because of Ancestry’s shortsightedness.

  16. A big thank you to you and the rest of the attendees for representing the community’s views so well, Roberta. Much appreciated!

  17. I have 8 diifferent tests that I purchased and manage. I do not plan on recommending or purchasing any more AncestryDNA kits until they get serious about providing tools that are for advanced users. One of the companies will ultimately purchase the GEDmatch intellectual property that they developed. I will go with which ever company makes that acquisition. I was using the DNA helper program (Snavely) to do triangulation until Ancestry sent me a warning letter that using that tool violates their rights of use and they would cancel me and destroy my data if I continued using it. Not the type of company that I want to continue doing business with.

    • “I was using the DNA helper program (Snavely) to do triangulation until Ancestry sent me a warning letter that using that tool violates their rights of use and they would cancel me and destroy my data if I continued using it.”

      I’ll have to see some sort of proof before I believe this statement.

      There are a lot of people using that aid and this is the first I’ve ever heard of Ancestry having issue with it. The search window for it has even been seen on Crista Cowen’s (the Barefoot Genealogist and an Ancestry employee) screen during one of her AncestryDNA related videos.

      • I have 8 tests there I paid for, plus over a dozen others are sharing their DNA results with me – I use the Snavely extension daily in working with all those tests – I have not received any kind of warning from Ancestry, and I’d also “have to see some sort of proof before I believe this statement” about such a message.

      • I also have used Jeff’s tool in the past – mostly only for finding FTDNA and GedMatch trees. I can’t see finding anything remotely close to triangulation without some additional hacking. As far as I am concerned, using it for anything other than locating user names is only giving false hope. If you found a way to hack in, please share.

  18. Gedmatch.com has been mentioned previously, and for now, seems to be a somewhat solution for Ancestry not providing chromosome comparisons. What frustrates me the most (at the moment) about Ancestry’s matching is that it will match you on a single name — I was matched with another person simply on the first name “Elizabeth” — which is definitely stretching it.

    • Gedmatch is a fantastic solution. I cannot praise them enough. And I don’t have enough money in my bank account to show them just how much I love them.

      The only drawback to GEDmatch is that only a small percentage of AncestryDNA customers will ever use it. But genetic genealogy is nothing if not a collaborative effort — and AncestryDNA doesn’t want to provide the tools for full collaboration on their website — so we’re out of luck.

      Please urge all of your DNA cousins to transfer their AncestryDNA results to FTDNA ($69) and/or GEDmatch (free!). Every transfer helps.

  19. It’s not entirely clear to me the role that pedigree data will be playing here, but is it necessarily A Bad Thing? If they are using triangulation (that is, finding multiple lines of descent from the same ancestral couple who share a segment), that could be A Good Thing.

    I envision a pile-up as lots of segments that lack a coherent and unifying pattern in the pedigree data. Someone mentioned that lactase persistence was used as an example at the I4GG conference. The mutation conferring lactase persistence occurred on a specific haplotype background, so people who share that mutation will also share some neighboring SNPs. But if that core haplotype block is embedded in a larger segment, that would point to more recent ancestry.

    • The good news Ann is that they will be releasing the new features with a white paper that describes the underlying technology. Their last white paper when they released their current version of the ethnicity tool was excellent.

  20. On a personal level I resent Ancestry’s implication that we’re too stupid to use a chromosome browser although based on the number of people who seem to think their ethnicity results are going to somehow aid in their genealogical (I use the term very loosely) “research” I can’t fault their logic.

    I find it humorous and at the same time sad that the same group of decision makers alluded to “Ancestry feels that a chromosome browser would provide information to people that they should not be drawing conclusions from…” and “Ancestry will begin weighting various factors in calculating the match strength, and one of those factors will be the number of trees that list a particular ancestor.” in the same meeting. If there’s anything on the Ancestry site we should be leery of drawing conclusions from it’s the bulk of the trees.

    “A second confidence weighting factor will be the amount of source information for a particular tree which Ancestry feels helps judge the quality of the tree.”

    I really do hope that these same “smart” people at Ancestry factor in a method to not count trees as sources as so many of their users do.

    Back to the tools or lack there of, it’s my opinion that Ancestry could solve both their privacy and medical information concerns by just making the information sharing an opt in scenario. If you don’t opt in to the sharing of data your information remains only as visible as it is today.

    While I’m dreaming though let me dream about an option to file away all the private/no tree/unwilling to share matches quickly so they don’t clutter up the viable information.


  21. I have tested with Family Tree and Ancestry. Plan on testing with 23 and Me soon. I must admit I do not understand how to use the Chromosome Browser on Family Tree but I am not a techno geek. I may have to try GEDmatch. I view all of the systems as tools to use. And, some of the matches I have on Family Tree are also on Ancestry. Will be interesting to see how many “matches” I have when Ancestry implements their new system. De-cluttering may be a very good thing. Lastly, I do hope Ancestry eventually listens to the experts.

  22. Could they be paving the way for the long-awaited “better mouse-trap” – and could that be triangulation groups, or – in Ancestry parlance – clusters? If so, they’d need to clear out a lot of the smaller matches to offer credible groupings, with some hope of identifying the MRCA. I don’t know how they’d do it, but it would be great if they could use the trees to suggest a couple of names to follow up on. Something along the lines of, “You appear to fit into this TG. Possible common ancestor(s) is/are: “ The group members would have to take it from there.

    • What you’re describing would be a step in the right direction but would still leave us depending on Ancestry’s “guess” as to where the shared DNA actually resides.

      I’m getting the impression that the powers at Ancestry eventually would like to see Ancestry.com cited as a viable genealogical source not just a repository for source information.

    • “Could they be paving the way for the long-awaited “better mouse-trap”

      It’s possible, but until you see the proverbial flock of pigs flying overhead, keep that thought in your wildest dreams.

      I think this plan to purge our match lists IS the long awaited “better” Mouse Trap.

  23. IMO, Chromosome Browser has become a lightning rod in this debate. We don’t need a Chromosome Browser – we need to know the shared segment with our Matches (it doesn’t have to be displayed through a Browser.)

    I like the “Opt-In” idea. Let those willing to share their segments with Matches, check a box to so indicate. This makes it very easy to say to a Match: it’s very important that we determine the shared segment – please check the box, so we can see the start and stop points of our shared segment – that’s all.

    AncestryDNA has that data, and like 23andMe, they could easily send us a spreadsheet with the segment information for each Match who has checked the Opt-In box.

    • “We don’t need a Chromosome Browser – we need to know the shared segment…”

      Exactly. Matching segment information can be simplified to the point that it’s perfectly accessible to the average genealogist at Ancestry.


      Jim vs. Bill: Your shared segments:

      1. Chromosome: 3; Position: 88-98
      2. Chromsome: 5; Position: 23-40

      Anybody who can sift through census records should be able to handle this. Details about position could be in fine print. Knowledgeable users would get the newbies up to speed on the subtleties over time.

      But if AncestryDNA customers can’t handle matching segment information, they sure as heck can’t handle “shaky leaf” shared ancestor DNA hints devoid of context.

      • The problem is Ancestry’s customers handle the shakey leaves very easily – they just accept them and add them to their Tree :>(

  24. I sure hope they DO NOT use trees in any way in their calculations. That is only asking for trouble and confusing the issue even more. I know I have some wrong people in my tree. In fact, in some cases, I have flagged them with a big red X so that others don’t copy them because they are so prevalent on other trees and are really wrong.
    I agree with JIm Bartlett’s comment – we don’t necessarily need a chromosome browser. We do need to know the matching segments. If that is simply a data download, so be it. There are other software tools already and other resourceful folks who can make use of that information.

    • I’ll go out on a limb, with another partial solution for AncestryDNA: sort our DNA data into Triangulated Groups, and tell us who our Matches are by Group. Forming TGs is a mechanical process – no genealogy is needed – and it could be done behind the scenes [about as easy as generating Roberta’s stacks of Matches]. Most genetic genealogists would like to know the TG segment data; but I think we could figure most of them out, if we knew, for sure, who was in each TG. AncestryDNA could actually take that one step farther, if several Matches in a TG had the same hints for a Common Ancestor. This “result” would combine Triangulated DNA with triangulated genealogy, and have a high probability of being correct. Perhaps a win-win.

      • Yes. For these triangulated groups they could also report segment size in centimorgans and report the chromosome on which the triangulated group resides. That would be a big step forward. If they’re paranoid about protecting privacy, they could leave out information about the location of the segment(s) on the chromosome in question. I don’t think that would really be necessary, but it would neuter Ancestry’s putative concern for health privacy.

  25. Jim Bartlett, I agree with everything you say.

    The most valuable feature that Gedmatch had at one time, and then disabled is one I wish someone would again implement. The feature whereby you plugged in the Chromosome number , and then the numerical points on that chromo you wanted to search. It accessed all your matches in their database who overlapped you on that chromo and at those numerical points, meaning, all those matches probably descended from the same ancestor. Easy as pie………..
    And I know you have to factor in the randomness of dna. And I guess you have to do the A must match B, B must match C, and A must match C…………

    If anyone wants to expand on this, please do so.

    • You’re referring to the Segment Triangulation utility.

      A couple of weeks ago I was trading email with John on another subject and I asked about that particular utility. He told me that it is on the list to be brought back online but it’s not at the top of the list.

      I believe I’ve read elsewhere that it was a resource hog. Assuming that’s accurate it’s probably going to have to wait till there’s a hefty enough server running to handle it..

      • I need to know the chromosome and location.

        As somebody who is strongly mixed of African and European, I need to know if I am matching on African segments or European segments. I also have a few small Amerindian segments.

        This would be critical with matches that are mixed similar to me like mixed Black, French Louisiana Creoles, Cape Verdeans, and Puerto Ricans. I have ancestry from all those types of people.
        I have a certain DeCuir match, and I thought maybe I match them on a paternal African segment.
        It turned out that he and I share a paternal European segment on Chromosome 5 in the location where I matching people with Acadian ancestry including an elderly woman that is full Acadian.
        I matched with his father and paternal grandmother in the same location.

        I need to be able to check and see if my matches matching my mother or not.

        I understand that there are people that don’t need a chromosome browser, but I certainly need one.

      • I’m not suggesting that Ancestry should omit information about which chromosomes the segments are on. I agree, no information is more crucial than that. And I would prefer that that they reveal the start and stop points. I would be absolutely delighted and perfectly content with that info.

        But Ancestry has said that if they reveal the start and stop points, people could deduce information that violates health information privacy. I think that’s an overblown concern, especially if the matching segment information were to be revealed only in some kind of “opt in” system, but Ancestry is telling us that revealing start and stop points is too risky with respect to privacy concerns.

        I’m simply proposing that they might take one step in the right direction by telling us the chromosome and the cM size for each segment. The privacy implications would be minimal.

        But I agree with you. In a better world, Ancestry would reveal the locations of the segments on the chromosomes.

    • This was a Segment Search utility, and listed all your Matches with shared segments that overlapped a location you specified. It was a resource hog; but it will be back some day! Be careful, all the overlapping segments fall into 3 categories: they come from a maternal ancestor; from a paternal ancestor; or are IBS (they are not necessarily all from one Common Ancestor – but at GEDmatch it’s easy to figure out how they are grouped)

  26. Unless Ancestry can find a way to make money on it, they won’t make chromosomal segment comparisons available to their users. (Maybe an enhanced family tree product that has an interactive chromosomal mapping feature?)

    I can’t tell you how frustrated and disappointed I am to hear that they are not moving on their “no chromosomal browser” stance. Within their half million (soon to be million) database of DNA test takers, there is likely the answer to at least one or two of my brick walls. I don’t particularly need “proof” (if you call shaky leaves proof!) of the ancestors I have already documented. It’s the “mystery” ancestors I am looking for. Without chromosomal browsers or the ability to triangulate segments, I have no hope that AncestryDNA will be of any use in these endeavors.

    On the positive side, Family Tree DNA is probably doing a happy dance on Ancestry’s intransigent position. Now, if only FTDNA could get it together with a decent Family Tree program that is easy to use…


    PS – I like Jim Bartlett’s ideas for triangulation – perhaps if it is not too onerous to implement, it might have a shot with the folks at Ancestry.

    PSS – Kind of sadistic of Ancestry’s DNA team to show you your “pileups” Roberta, without letting you know where they are located! 

    • “…perhaps if it is not too onerous to implement…”

      It wouldn’t be. This the information is already sitting in their servers. And they’re supposedly using it to decide which matches are real and which get the axe.

      It would only take a few lines of code to make the information visible to the customers. And if Ancestry is correct in saying that only a tiny percentage of customers care about this, it shouldn’t be a big drain on their resources to have the customers pulling up the info.

    • Roberta, I have 85% of my 45 chromosomes mapped, and am desperate for the Specific Segment utility at GEDmatch. John and Curt have promised it to me soon. They are almost done restoring GEDmatch to full functionality on the new servers, and will have several new, exciting utilities and features – stay tuned…

  27. I agree with Jim Bartlett that return of the Gedmatch chromosome segment matching tool and its segment triagulation tool would be of great benefit. However, both were, as I understand it, using up enormous computing resources and were therefore suspended in favor of providing the basic tools in a workable fashion. With the exponential increase in Ancestry results the strain on Gedmatch can only get worse. So this is a great time to make a donation so they can purchase more server resources to restore those tools and prepare for the deluge!

  28. I am still a newbie, but isn’t ancestry.com the only game in town in its genre? Don’t they truly have a captive audience? Hey, even a monopoly (and don’t they know it?) Where else is there to go and build trees with ease? What are the alternatives?

    • Ancestry isn’t the only game in town, at least not for DNA testing. Family Tree DNA provides a far broader range of DNA products, testing and tools. 23andMe also offers an autosomal test. Take a look on my blog a the article titled 4 Kinds of DNA Testing – it describes the different DNA tests available.

  29. So only a small percentage will use a chromosome browser?

    What percentage of users work with this or that bit of Excel or your fancy camera or even your smartphone if you are over forty? Since when is this a valid excuse to avoid development?

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  38. This blog is 2 years old. LOL
    Have you noticed that although some of us are getting more than 30 new matches each day, only about 20% have trees, whereas before, about 50% had trees. Yes, there are too many trees that have sons marrying their mothers, and children older than their parents. Honest.

    And, some of Ancestry’s tools are still mickey mouse. It is obvious the programers have never navigated a tree. Such silliness…..

    On a positive note, yesterday, I did find a marriage record from 1829 at FamilySearch which I was not able to find at Ancestry.


    • My bigger issue is that many of the newer matches with trees are private. Even if they do reply and tell you who your common ancestor is, you’re still missing the other information. And if they give you a link to their tree, you have to figure out who the common ancestor is.

      • I have given this a lot of thought; and think genealogy appeals to retired folks who have time on their hands; and not for those still working and meeting the demands of their daily lives with familial and career responsibilities. Many probably test so they can work with genealogy at a later time; especially when they learn it is time intensive. As well, there is a learning curve, and many just give up. For almost 5 years, I have worked each day 6+ hours and find it overwhelming with so many levels to all of this. It is my labor of love to leave as a legacy for my progeny. And, do I have material from my ancestors for book reports forever…….

        Very few of my dna matches know anything about dna, or researching. Very few contact me. Very few respond to me. Fewer contacts than 5 years ago……..

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