Why Autosomal Response Rate REALLY DOES Matter

In my recent article “Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?,” one of the comparison items between vendors I mentioned is response rate.  Specifically, I said, in reference to 23andMe, “Very low match response rate to inquiries.  Positive response is required to see matching DNA segments.”

This has generated some commentary, but based on the nature of the comments, both in terms of blog comments and private e-mails, I can tell that many people don’t understand why response rate matters at 23andMe.  On the other hand, some regular users of all 3 vendors felt I didn’t go far enough in explaining the difference and why response rate at 23andMe matters so much.

I’m going to see if I can make this issue a bit more clear.  Response rate really does matter and it’s not just whining!

apples oranges

At 23andMe YOU CAN’T SEE MATCH INFORMATION OR DO ANY DNA COMPARISON WITHOUT A POSITIVE RESPONSE FROM THOSE YOU MATCH.  In other words, they must reply in the affirmative – that they want to communicate with you AND that they want to share DNA results.  Otherwise, you can do nothing.

This is a process not required by either Family Tree DNA or Ancestry.  So, out the door, there is a very big difference.

At Family Tree DNA, you can see everything available WITHOUT additional correspondence, so while a response from a match would be nice, it’s not essential to being able to compare their DNA, see who you match in common, see their tree, if posted, find your common surnames, or perform any other function provided by the vendor.

At Ancestry.com, WITH a subscription, you can see your matches, their trees (if not private) and DNA Circles with no additional correspondence.  The only time you need to correspond with someone is if their tree is private or they don’t post a tree.

The operative words here are want and need.  At 23andMe, you absolutely positively NEED a positive response from each and every match (both authorization to communicate AND authorization to share DNA results) BEFORE you can DO anything.

So, comparatively speaking, a low response rate at 23andMe means that you’re only going to see a small fraction of your matches that are showing, while a low response rate at the other vendors is an irritant and comes after you’ve utilized the vendor’s tools and then asked your match for additional information.  In other words, no response at Family Tree DNA or Ancestry is not a barrier to playing.  At 23andMe, you’re dead in the water if your matches don’t respond.

In essence, 23andMe requires three authorizations to be able to see your matches DNA information: the original authorization to test, authorization to communicate and authorization to “share” DNA results.

With both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, one authorization, when you initially test, is all you need – although the tools and approach of these two vendors are very different as pointed out in the original article.

So, as you can see, the response rate at Family Tree DNA and Ancestry really isn’t essential to utilizing the tools, but it’s another matter entirely at 23andMe – so we’re not comparing apples to apples.

So, let’s look at the real effects of 23andMe’s authorization policy.

At 23andMe

At 23andMe, this is what you get, out of the box.  The person’s account I’m using for this first graphic tested for two purposes and is not interested in genealogical contact, so this is an “untouched” account, except that I’ve redacted the names, if showing, in blue to the left.  Looks good – all those matches, until you realize you can’t DO anything without contacting each and every single match.

23andme untouched

What isn’t obvious is that you can’t COMPARE your DNA or information with any of these people WITHOUT sending an introduction request.  In addition, they ALSO must authorizing DNA sharing.  And by the way, an introduction request and DNA sharing are NOT one and the same thing.  You can see the names of public matches, who have pre-authorized communications, but you cannot compare DNA with them.  You can’t even see the names of other (nonpublic) matches until you send an introduction request to them and they reply in the affirmative.  Those are the accounts above that just say “male” with no blue partially redacted name above them.

If you click on “Send an introduction,” here are your options.

23andMe intro request

You can request an intro and genome sharing in one message, but that doesn’t mean they’ll accept both nor does it mean that someone will send you a request for both.

This is what an introduction request looks like to the receiver.

23andMe contact request

Now, an introduction request only allows you to talk to your match.  If they do not ask for, or authorize genome sharing, next, you have to request to share your DNA results – and they also have to reply in the affirmative to that request too.

Not intuitively obvious you say?  Right!

Here’s the process to request to share genomes.

23andme dna share request

And here’s the reply step to authorize genome sharing.

23andme dna share authorization crop

Is it any wonder the response rate is low?

So, as you can see, just being able to see that you have a match is not the same thing as being able to utilize the information.  With Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, you can immediately utilize the information from all of your matches to the full extent of that vendor’s offerings.

At Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, here is what you see out the gate (full names redacted.)

Family Tree DNA out the gate

No contact request needed, no separate authorization to share DNA and no subscription required to see your matches, to compare DNA, to see who you match in common, to see their trees (if provided) or to see your matching surnames.  The little dropdown box under each person provides additional options.

You don’t NEED to contact your matches for anything.  You may WANT to contact them for genealogy information, especially if they have not uploaded or created trees.

At Ancestry – WITH Subscription

At Ancestry.com, to see all three available DNA related features, your matches, their trees (if provided and if public) and DNA Circles, you must have a subscription.  Ancestry offers a minimal subscription for $49, per year, for this purpose or a standard subscription covers DNA functionality as well.  You must have a subscription to see your matches trees and your DNA Circles.

Here is what your Ancestry match page looks like.

Ancestry with subscription

You don’t NEED to contact your matches to view results.  You may WANT to contact those you match and if their tree is private, you will have to contact them to request to see the tree or for the identity of your common ancestor if you have a shakey leaf.

Comparative Numbers

So, let’s look at this comparatively, for my accounts at the three vendors.

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry (with subscription)
Total Number of Matches 1373 2100 3950
Number of Matches I can see without special approvals (meaning a match response required) 0 (0%) 2100 (100%) 3950 (100%)
At 10% response rate, number of effective matches 137 (10%) 2100 (100%) 3950 (100%)
At 10% response rate, DNA accounts available to compare DNA 10% or 137  accounts 100% or 2100 accounts 0% (no chromosome browser)

This shows, in black and white, why a low response rate at 23andMe is so devastating.  The percent of people whose DNA you can see equals the response rate at 23andMe.  So if you have 1000 matches at 23andMe, but you only have a 10% response rate, it’s the same as having only 100 functional matches – because the rest are entirely unavailable to you – well except for the fact that they sit there and stare at you mockingly.

If one has a 10% response rate at 23andMe, and all of those responses are positive, and all authorize BOTH communication and DNA sharing, you are still only seeing 10% of the matches listed.  So, 1000 matches at 23andMe is not at all the same as 1000 matches at Family Tree DNA or Ancestry.

At Family Tree DNA, all of your match accounts are immediately available to you for viewing, communicating and comparison.

At Ancestry, you can see all of your matches (with a subscription), but you can’t compare the matching DNA because Ancestry offers no chromosome browser.

The Meat

The meat of genetic genealogy is comparing your actual segments to your matches.  So, let’s look at some real numbers.

I send a custom request to each of my matches at 23andMe and have been doing so since the product was introduced.

Looking at my top 100 matches, let’s see how many authorized sharing.

In a way, this is skewing the results, just so you know, because many of these matches are relatives who I recruited to test initially.  Plus I’ve worked on my closest matches at 23andMe much harder than my more distant matches, so this is an absolute BEST CASE scenario for the 23andMe numbers.  My actual response rate is about 10% for all matches.

At 23andMe, of my closest 100 matches, several of which are close family, 22 of my matches are sharing, one has declined and the rest are in limbo where I’ve sent an invitation and they have not responded. It’s interesting to note that of those 100, 23 are “public” which means that the intro step can be skipped, but they still have to be invited to share genomes.

Number of my 100 closest matches I can see:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of 100 closest matches I can see 22 (22%) 100 (100%) 100 (100%)
Extrapolated by % to entire match total 302 of 1373 2100 of 2100 3950 of 3950

23andMe said that existing trees would be available until May 1, 2015, but I can find no trees attached to any of my matching 23andMe accounts now, although there never were many.

Number of trees I can see:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of trees I can see 0 (0%) 33 (33%) 66 (66%)*
Extrapolated by % to match total 0 of 1373 693 of 2100 2607 of 3950

*The balance of Ancestry trees are 20 matches that have no trees and 14 that have private trees.  Twenty of the 66 have common ancestors, but of those, 6 are private trees.

Number of people with whom I can compare DNA segments in chromosome browser:

23andMe Family Tree DNA Ancestry
Number of people I can compare DNA 22 (22%) 100 (100%) 0 (0%) (no chromosome browser tool)
Extrapolated by % to match total 302 of 1373 2100 of 2100 0 of 3950

I hope these examples help make it clear why response rate really is an important factor – unfortunately – and why a response rate discussion about Family Tree DNA and Ancestry does not have the same meaning as a response rate discussion about 23andMe.

One of the best things 23andMe could do would be to get rid of the convoluted DNA authorization courtship Macarena dance.  There is no dance instructor, people don’t discover that they need to do it until after they test, and many people simply don’t understand, don’t bother or give up.  If 23andMe isn’t going to get rid of it, the LEAST they could do is to make it easy and step you through the process.  I don’t know who benefits from this, but I guarantee you, it’s not the genealogy consumer.




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53 thoughts on “Why Autosomal Response Rate REALLY DOES Matter

  1. Roberta, to each his own, and my response rate at 23andMe continues to be triple that at FTDNA and while it is true you can view the match data at FTDNA if you get no response you are still basically as you said ‘dead in the water’ if you can’t get a reply as you can’t confirm triangulated group matches unless your match can verify that they match others you suspect as being a triangulated group in the same location on the same chromosome. So each has it’s pluses and minuses, but it remains that of the three companie,s 23andme is still the only one providing all the tools you need for analysis, with FTDNA coming in 2d, but a considerable pain when you get no reply to an excited query about a potential triangulation. 🙁 To give you some numbers, on one of my accounts I have as of today 2166 matches at 23andMe. I send every single match a share request and at present I have only 338 requests that have yet to be responded to and about 2 dozen who declined, so a much higher response rate than some are reporting–I can’t say why, but facts are facts, and those are mine. 🙂 This week alone I have received responses to 4 requests sent out back in 2013–more proof that many simply don’t understand the results and seldom ever log in, which I believe to be a bulk of the issue. So the more folks like yourself educate freely on how to use the results, the more response we will see as folks will more actively login and attempt to utilize the data. Ultimately that will help both you and I see a better response rate everywhere! YAY! 😀

  2. Terrific demonstration of the differences!

    One more analysis that might be interesting: how many of your matches at each company upload their results to GEDmatch. From my single-point experience, more & more of my Ancestry matches are uploading to GEDmatch, while most of those 23&me matches interested in genealogy have been uploading all along to GEDmatch. Interestingly, fewer of my ftDNA matches are also on GEDmatch – perhaps happy with ftDNA tools, not realizing that GEDmatch might provide new matches from the other companies?

  3. Roberta, you got that right…..several times over! DNA may be science but quality consumer service is not! Why does 23andme have the attitude that they’re doing us a favor when we, the customers, are the ones paying out the money? And basically I think that many many ppl think DNA is a magic bullet and the test will reveal ALL, with little or no effort. Plus there is the suspicion by some that they are disclosing too much personal info….duh!
    More public awareness/education of what to expect and use the DNA results for!

    • Amen to the hard work Lois! It is, after all, just another tool for genealogy and maintaining the spreadsheet, seeking out triangulated group matches, contacting folks and inevitably teaching them what to do and why along the way takes a LOT of time and effort. But when you hit the genealogical jackpot you do the happy dance just the same so it is worth the work! 😀 Although many don’t realize how much truly is involved!

  4. As Lisa said, the problem on family tree DNA is that you cannot compare two people that are not kits you control to each other to be sure they triangulate. So when two people overlap you in the same place, neither having them ICW nor the matrix are sure things although likely
    Also on 23andme there is a workaround for looking at results not shared if they have answered the country of ancestry see my post on that http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/03/figuring-out-a-dna-relatives-shared-dna-with-23andmes-countries-of-ancestry/

    • Thx Kitty! Also you can view the data for all 23&me public matches as well. I have that info somewhere too, but it is just like viewing match data at FTDNA to do so, as you can’t triangulate the data to other matches who are sharing with you until the public match shares as well.

    • This why I think the sharing request at 23andMe is appropriate. You have much more power at your disposal with match results at 23andMe. Asking people to consent to share in that system on an individual basis seems entirely reasonable.

      It does require some time and effort to get people to share with you at 23andMe, but a short and sweet copy and paste invitation works fine. I’m not an especially persuasive person, but I have over 1,000 people sharing with me at 23andMe.

      On the other hand, without paying the hidden $50 surcharge, your results at Ancestry can be virtually useless. Even with the extra expense, I feel like my results at Ancestry are nearly useless unless I can talk my match into transferring to GEDmatch. This is much more difficult than getting a response to a sharing request at 23andMe.

  5. 23andme has far and away been the best bang for my DNA buck. I’ve got the most matches there (30% more than Ancestry) and the highest response rate. I’ve already discovered several cousins and determined our relationships. I am testing the rest of my extended family at 23andme. I agree that the sharing system needs serious revamping.

    Ancestry matches do not respond and 96% of my matches’ trees are private or non-existent. Not a good return on my DNA dollars. My tree hasn’t grown a single leaf due to DNA there.

    At FTDNA I have 23 matches and no responses to my emails. Their tools are great, but I cannot recommend them for multiracial users as their presence in the database is too small. At least the transfer didn’t set me back very much.

    I really wish there were a way to automatically share your results with your matches. That makes far more sense to me than sending all these sharing invites on 23andme and Ancestry.

    ps – I have an Estes match in my matches at GEDmatch.

  6. I have to spend what seems like an awful lot of time trying to just get 23andMe matches to respond. I am finding a little more success if I get them while they’re “fresh,” or brand new to the system.

    I have this fear that if I write anyone a second time for contact or sharing, they will either block me or 23andMe will no longer allow me. It is ridiculous. That is one thing I didn’t notice in your article above – that 23andMe limits how often and how many times you can contact a person before it just says, “Nope.”

    Somebody really did over think this design.

  7. DNAGEDCOM.com is a great tool as well as Gedmatch – it will accept both FTDNA and 23 and Me raw data – not Ancestry. I use FTDNA – it has been in the genetics for genealogy business far longer than the other two players, I can do mtDNA testing there as well as Y-DNA and they store my sample for 25 years. For me that was important as I had specific questions regarding my great-grandmother that the mtDNA test answered and I did a Y-DNA test on my brother. My father was Ashkenazi and Y testing could open up new doors for finding surnames other than the one I knew. The company was started by Bennett Greenspan in search of answers about his own roots. And it has the most tools for analysis. As for response rate I have only had one person not respond so far and I have responded to everyone who contacted me. Being part Ashkenazi makes it more difficult due to the degree of intermarriage – FTDNA does correct for this but it is still more likely your match may be more distant than estimated. As Roberta points out I can see my matches information with or without a response and use tools like DNAGEDCOM to see blocks of matches that match each other as well as me – I can do this on FTDNA as well but the tool lets me see more people at one time and see the additional info (such as surnames) all on one screen.

    Ancestry was late to the game and (you may remember) destroyed Y-DNA samples, 23 and Me was focused on health, not genealogy until the FDA stopped them (they just changed that decision) and is owned by Google (started by Google founder’s ex-wife). Ancestry is now owned by Permira, a private equity firm. That may not matter to you but I prefer to support companies like FTDNA. I admittedly have a love/hate relationship with Ancestry which I feel dumbs down its product to increase sales. And, of course, I feel like FTDNA is the best product! Bennett has even contacted me personally to help me – which was much appreciated.

  8. Consistently I get better response to enquiries from FTDNA. My closest match by far however is on 23andme and probably would greatly assist me to identify my unknown father but will not respond. Very frustrating

  9. Roberta,

    Small correction to your article:

    At 23andme you only need in some cases the consent to communicate and share DNA results.

    For people that have taken the Ancestry origin tests (or whatever it’s called exactly) you only need their consent to communicate as you can see the chromosome and exact segment where you share through the ancestry tools. Even when they don’t share their DNA results!

    It’s even possible when they shared their communication only with someone that you have the consent to communicate with that you will still see that they match on the same chromosome and segment.

    With that “feature” you can actually confirm a triangulation which you can’t do with FTDNA.com and Ancestry.com

  10. One further comment. I would rate Ancestry the worst as I’m forced to pay another 49 US $ per year to see my matches.

    That’s daylight robbery in my view!

    • IowaDNAProject, I completely agree with you. For those who disagree with Roberta about 23andME, I’m happy for them. However, it’s been my personal experience and the experience of others I know that Roberta is right on target 99.999% of the time. If she’s off and someone with authority shows her how, she quickly acknowledges it and corrects her post.

      I made the mistake of going with another testing company and didn’t realize the error until it was too late. I don’t feel like my money was totally wasted, I just feel like it could have been better spent going with FTDNA.com. Sure they make mistakes. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “FTDNA.com is worst testing company — except for all the others.”

  11. The biggest problem for me is the low rate of response and a rate of absolutely no input of information. I suspect that in some cases, some one has got them to test to check a relationship and then doesn’t return to use the kit at all. And one man that I particularly wanted to talk to, did not answer, when I ran his name on google, I read that date for his funeral.

    You have to work fast and furiously. Have tried to book a class, but the classes are booked. Hope for better luck some day.

  12. As always, an excellent article. I would just add one small semantic correction. On Ancestry I have NO actual matches because I can’t evaluate our possible shared chromosomes. Until I can evaluate actual numbers, using FTDNA transfers or GedMatch, I have only possible matches.

    So far the Circles have been moderately amusing but inaccurate – thanks to that pesky GedMatch again. The shaky leaves have been maybe 65% accurate with way too many bogus trees.

    I too remain an FTDNA fan.

  13. Roberta: Is there any further DNA detail provided if you share with 23andMe identified DNA
    relatives when the relevant chromosome, segment start and finish details etc are provided via the Countries of Ancestry downloadable link, please? I would like to see ”demonstration” pages so
    that I would know exactly what information DNA relatives can see when sharing occurs.

  14. I like FTDNA very much, and have received replies from most of the matches I’ve e-mailed. When everyone has been willing to upload to Gedmatch, I’ve yet to see a group of people (at least four) who overlap one another by at least 12 cM AND are matches in common at FTDNA who don’t triangulate there as well. In my opinion, the tools at FTDNA are very useful, if only more of us would take advantage of them – and the price is right!

  15. I have no experience with 23andMe so I can’t comment on it, but I now use both AncestryDNA and FTDNA. I was able to sign up for both for $103. I signed up first with Ancestry when they had a sale for $79 (which is usually $99). I used an online coupon code for free shipping, which kept the price at $79. Then when FTDNA offered to accept a transfer of my raw data DNA file from AncestryDNA for $39, I signed up with a $15 off coupon code, enabling me to do the transfer for $24. I also use GEDMatch. Now, I do still pay the annual Ancestry subscription fee, but I keep a tree there and it is my repository for all of my research, including the research and documentation I obtain from all other sources besides those on Ancestry.com. If you want a cost effective way to test at more than one company, I can recommend Ancestry first, then do the transfer to FTDNA. And of course, use GEDMatch to supplement the others. There are good points with each company and not so good points. But, with the collective tools available at Ancestry, FTDNA and GEDMatch, I am very satisfied.

    • Some additional thoughts about matches. I never have been able to figure out why there are so many people on AncestryDNA who have taken the DNA test but have no tree. It’s amazing how many there are. I find it odd. One of AncestryDNA’s best features is that their programming looks at the trees of two people who have a DNA match and it determines who their common ancestors are (the leaf hints). In essence, it does the work for you. Now, it’s not perfect, and two people could and very often do have more than one set of common ancestors. But it’s a great time saver and if you have no tree, basically the only feature you benefit from on AncestryDNA is an ethnicity estimate. I have been given view access to 4 of my cousins’ DNA matches on Ancestry — a maternal first cousin and a paternal second cousin, second cousin once removed, and third cousin. If you are on Ancestry and have any cousins who are as well, I highly recommend you give each other view access to each other’s matches. Use the Google Chrome extension with this and it will display a little icon on your match page next to anyone who matches you and another cousin whose matches you can view. Very helpful! I have a whole lot more leaf hints than my cousins (211 compared to theirs, which are 36, 99, 95 and 54 respectively). I also am in 23 DNA circles, which appears to be a pretty high number compared to others. However, the number of matches and leaf hints you have is highly dependent on how many years your ancestors have been in America and on how well mutual trees are created and how far back they extend. If people want the best possible experience with a DNA test on AncestryDNA, some kind of tree is necessary, even a small one.

      • Please understand that you have ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to think that the common ancestors marked by shaky leaves have anything to do with sharing DNA strings that match to those ancestors. NONE!

        Take some time to read a basic book explaining genetic genealogy such as Richard Hill’s “Guide to DNA Testing”. Understand that without triangulation, those matching ancestors mean nothing. And considering the quality of many of the trees, they mean less than nothing.

      • I understand, Marci. We’re on the same page. Triangulation is key. The shaky leaf hints are just that — hints. They’re a good place to start. The beauty of the hints is in being a time saver. It directs you to common ancestors in two trees but you don’t stop there. I have messaged many of my “shaky leaf hint” matches and invited them to GEDMatch for the next step in analyzing the results. And many of them have uploaded their results there as a result of my invitation, mainly because they were unaware of GEDMatch. A lot of my matches I found were already at GEDMatch. And I then use Genome Mate to import GEDMatch and FTDNA matches. I’m a visual person and love Genome Mate.

  16. On 23andMe, a match who shares more than 6% with you–like a 2nd cousin or above–will not show up in Countries of Ancestry because such matches would totally overwhelm the list. Not everyone fills out the “Where Are You From? survey that powers the CoA; and too many who do choose to remain anonymous. Still, it is a very useful tool.
    I wish I had 100 matches at FTDNA–a family member whose data I uploaded has less than 15; which is an experience many African-Americans who have used that site have relayed to me and others. I’ve yet to receive a single response from messages sent to matches at FTDNA; and not one of them has contacted me.
    I took the Ancestry test for the currently-superior breakdown of West African ancestry. Most of my small number of matches there have locked trees, no trees, or haven’t responded to messages. I am a non-subscriber so have no DNA Circles. I’ve tried to convince my closest responding matches to upload their data to Gedmatch; but they seem frightened by the prospect.
    As bad as it is; I’d still pick 23andMe; maybe Ancestry next due to its fast-growing database. But honestly, I wouldn’t claim my mother is my mother without the proof you can see in a chromosome browser ( I have tested her at 23andMe but can’t convince her to spit again for Ancestry; so that kits sits at her house, unused).
    Btw, I just got an acceptance of contact–but not sharing-from 2011 on 23andMe; so who knows when and why some matches make the choices they do.

    • Also, unless you have moved your family tree to My Heritage already; you can still access it from the top of the “Family and Friends->Family Tree” page. I have long been a member of My Heritage but never put a tree there; and when a 23andMe member has the My Heritage tree link on their Family Tree page; clicking the link takes me right to the tree they have migrated to My Heritage.

  17. Roberta, your analysis is as always, right on point.

    As an adoptee seeking cousin matches and the ability to triangulate and determine ancestry, 23and Me just didn’t fit the bill. My four closest matches, one showing 2.38% as a second cousin, never responded to my introductions and showed nothing that could prove helpful in my search. My closest match with FTDNA, a second-third cousin with 175.14 cM responded right away; we just couldn’t figure out the connection. My success at finding my birth mother’s family came just last year when my closest match at Ancestry.com, a second cousin, was able with her public family tree to identify the most likely relatives. I then compared those relations with the FTDNA cousin match and was able to match the likely surname. I should point out that, as in this case, some people test with one company and not the other, so fishing in every pond is certainly of benefit to those, such as myself, seeking as many cousins as possible. Once having the probable surname, other matches on both Ancestry and FTDNA fell into place, even my 7th closest match at 23andMe. (the closest one to ever respond)

    I just could not have gotten to where I am, with over 500 people on my own Ancestry tree so far, (and I’m just getting started) relying on 23andMe alone. I’ve now met several of my second cousins who’ve accepted me as part of the family, and confirmed everything I initially found through DNA testing. This May I’ll be joining them for a family reunion, and showing them all how genetics has changed the way we look at ourselves. Thank you for all the advice and encouragement you’ve given me and countless others.

    • Having walked down at least part of this path with you, you have no idea how good this makes me feel – to know that you HAVE a tree now, let alone with 500 people on it. Thank you so much for sharing.

  18. Simply said I have Ancestry.com and FTDNA Family-Finder they are both OK. But Ancestry is WITHOUT a doubt SUPERIOR because it has a good Family-tree. .FTDNA on the other hand has a tree program that looks and acts like the programming was done by a junior high school student in training I think its pitiful (and I am a past programmer before going into sales ). Ancestry’s Support and Trees are far superior though not perfect by any means they have their challenges just less of them.There IS NO reason to be at FTDNA except Y-DNA and the combination of that and Family-finder in the same place makes it worthwhile.From what your saying about 23 and me I cant see any reason to want it.

  19. You should ask 23andMe’s CEO, Julia Belluz at Vox, to improve the invite system. Or have her write an article about it. Or at least read this article.

    Julia seems to be the only one to get any change at 23andMe.

  20. The one benefit that 23andme has over Ftdna, is that they give you a split view indicating if your matches are paternal side or maternal side, this is very helpful……….I have yet to find if Ftdna do this.

    Gedmatch also have this “split view” …….called phasing……….


    • This is unfortunately not available for those of us who are either adoptees or whose parents have passed on or are otherwise not available for testing. At least one of the parents must test.

      • And to further clarify, your son’s matches at 23andme showing as paternal are from either your paternal OR your maternal, as you are deliniating his DNA to his paternal (matches to you- from either side of your tree) and HIS maternal (not matched to you-although matches to you can be double cousins and match on both–I see about 4 of these per 1000 matches).

    • @ robertaeastes


      @ Lisa

      correct ………..my paternal line …either paternal or maternal

      yes, son’s maternal is not my line ……………which is what I wanted to isolate from me.

      Maybe a paper on these types of methods my be a handy one to write about.

      BTW…I do not know why I could not reply to either of you two ladies directly.


  21. I am at all 3 companies and FTDNA has been least helpful to me – very few responses, no ability to truly triangulate (can’t compare matches to each other), and the use of small segments throws off the relationship estimates so much that everyone seems to get confused. I’m glad I’m there because I do get some unique matches there and getting the DNA segment data is obviously very helpful. Ancestry has been surprisingly helpful as someone with an unknown father because I have found ancestors that many, many matches descend from – having this information not only helps focus my search, but also seems to get them more willing to transfer to GEDmatch. Ancestry has a huge number of the equivalent of anonymous matches at 23andme, though – an anonymous username with no tree. 23andme is by far the most helpful – first, they have by far the most relevant non-American matches in my case, anyways. The ability to compare matches who are sharing with each other is absolutely essential to me – it helps me understand their connections to each other which helps me figure out how I might fit into it. Plus, I can actually triangulate segments there without asking people to upload to GEDmatch. The countries of ancestry is a great workaround even if limited, especially since you can also get the report for people you are sharing with. The public matches can frequently be just as helpful as at Ancestry without corresponding – family trees, surnames, no segment data (but often you do get segment data with CoA). It seems many of the serious genetic genealogists strongly prefer FTDNA and I really wish I got it, but it has just not been very helpful to me yet. I find the “in common with” and matrix process both frustrating and often misleading (not uncommon for people to be in common but have different DNA segments – that’s easy to see on 23andme). There are definitely pros and cons to each company, but I will be doing most of my testing at 23andme for now anyways.

      • While the matrix tool does tell you who matches who it doesn’t triangulate as the matches may or may not be on the same segment of the same chromosome which is relevant to forming triangulated group matches proving a common ancestor. I feel Molly’s pain as my experience has been identical to hers at FTDNA, few responses and TONS of misinformation based on 1cM segments that are 3/4s likely to be IBS and irrelevant.

        • Maybe I am misunderstanding the Matrix tool. I copy my match information: XZXZ matches you on chromosome 4 from position 109022898 to 114632216 for a total of 8.46 cM. Then I paste that information into my big spreadsheet. I check the matrix for all the matches who also overlap on that segment. Not everyone “matrixes” with everyone else who shares cMs on that segment. I mark them yes or no. I am pretty sure that triangulates the segment.

      • Roberta is right, and we’ve been asking for the tool that would allow us to confirm where they match each other..maybe someday they will listen and provide it. I keep hoping, in the meantime, I, like Molly will continue to recommend atDNA testing at 23andMe because as of today they are the only company with all the tools you need for genetic genealogy. Of course I always recommend FTDNA for Y and mtDNA tests–they are the only one offering those and have always been best at that hands down anyway. I also recommend them for atDNA testing IF you have someone who can’t handle the spit test (i.e. some elderly persons can’t spit the required amount for ancestry or 23andMe) and then recomend uploading the data to gedmatch.com for cross comparison with the other companies participants. This seems to work well for our purposes and there are few who have to go this route.

  22. I was happy with Ancestry.com results, but my daughters were not. They felt 23andMe.com would be better. So, now I have most of my family on 23andMe.com, about 13 people, most of whom I paid the fee, except two. One will not release the results and the other after two tries, now say that they can’t get any results and will not try again. Two family members decided that they didn’t want to take part in the test AFTER the kits had been paid for and sent, 23andMe.com will not credit me with the money I’m out. So, I’m going to stay with Ancestry.com, however they said that they can’t put the 23&Me.com results into their system as the tests are different. I did put both into GED match, but I don’t know how to read it. I realize that Ancestry.com isn’t as scientific sounding as the others are, but I can understand it better. Gail

    • Hi Gail, you might understand it better but it still doesn’t give you a tool to do proper triangulation and your better understanding might lead to wrong conclusions in your tree which gets then copied by others as becomes the de-facto rightful answer (on being the most referenced/mentioned “fact”).

      This is what Roberta wants to point out, it’s a very dangerous road. I was as clueless as anyone who started with DNA Genealogy but with the help of bloggers like Roberta & others and the excellent mailing list at dna-genealogy (Rootsweb) I now have the understanding to use the right tools (GedMatch or 23andme) and come up with the right (meaning proven) conclusions.

      With Ancestry you can’t. We cannot repeat this often enough.

      With Ancestry you can’t!

  23. Roberta, I really enjoy your blog — always very thorough, accurate, and insightful. Thanks for all the good work you do!

    Having done Genealogy in my spare time, for my extended family, for the past 10 years, I am just now getting into Genetic Genealogy and 23andMe this year. I sent in my kit, started reading everything I could find that looked relevant, and about five weeks later, I got my initial results.

    So, they tell me that I have about 95 cousins detected with some shared DNA in the system. I contacted my top 10 who had public profiles (and just a few with private profiles.)

    After a few weeks, my response rate was about 50%, not too bad. Many interesting contacts! There was one second cousin, I knew of his family, had him in my research, but we had never been in contact. We have now spoken on the phone. Another cousin, probably second cousin once removed (I had known of her g-grandfather, a cousin to my grandfather) but we had entirely lost contact with that whole branch of the family.

    I will continue data mining and attempting contact, and it seems that a 50% -ish response rate is about what I was expecting.

    With all this going on, and learning a lot as I proceed, I decided to create a new website for my extended family http://genealogy.fanucci.us/ and http://genealogy.fanucci.us/blog where I will be adding some links to your website from my web pages — whenever there is something relevant and noteworthy to link to and give attribution to your blog.

    Thanks again for publishing this awesome blog, keep up your great work, it really helps!

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