The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)

Ancestry gave me another bad NAD today, or a New Ancestor Discovery, who is absolutely, positively, unquestionably, not my ancestor.  But this time, they did me the huge favor of assigning someone that was immediately familiar to me, and I can share with you the “logic” of how this erroneous connection happened.  You can then use this same process to work on unraveling your own New Ancestor Discoveries – now that you know what to look for.

Let me first say that genetic genealogy based on inferences has the ability to give you hints you would not otherwise have, like with DNA Circles and NADs, but these inferences that Ancestry arrives at by a process they call “network theory” can also lead you badly astray – like the logic that says your ancestor’s sister’s husband is your ancestor.  Of course, I am assuming here that you are not double descended – and I know positively that I’m not.  I went through the proof process with the first bad NAD that Ancestry gave me, although I never figured out the logic of how I was assigned that original Bad NAD couple, who is now gone.

Blaine Bettinger recently explained Ancestry’s network theory quite well in his blog, “Creating DNA Circles – Exploring the Use of Genetic Networks in Genetic Genealogy”.

Ancestry has consistently refused to provide us with the triangulation tools we need, via a chromosome browser, and we are left to do the best we can with genetic networks and other inference methods.  Triangulation confirms descent from a common ancestor, while network theory connects people who are related to each other, suggesting common ancestors – like my new bad NAD.

My new bad NAD is Robert Shiflet, the husband of Sarah Clarkson/Claxton, the sister of my ancestor Samuel Claxton.  Both Samuel and Sarah share parents, Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy.  However, Robert Shiflet is not related to me by blood, but of course, his children are – through his wife.

This chart, below, shows how all of the people we’ll be discussing in the bad NAD group descend from common ancestors, Fairwick Claxton/Clarkson and Agnes Muncy.  You can see that three groups descend from Sarah Clarkson and Robert Shiflet through son Fairwick Shiflet and daughters Elizabeth and Rhoda.  I descend through Samuel Clarkson, brother to Sarah.

Shiflet NAD chart

Here’s Robert Shiflet, my newly arrived bad NAD, at Ancestry.

Robert Shiflet NAD

By clicking on the New Ancestor, you can see how I connect to the people that Ancestry has used to determine that Robert Shiflet may be my ancestor.

NAD Circle

The NAD circle is made up of three family groups, where several closely related individuals have tested, so they are counted as “one” and not as separate matches.

There are two individuals in each of the three family groups.

All of these people descend from Sarah Clarkson/Claxton and Robert Shiflet.  Ironically, Sarah, who is not listed as a NAD, is the daughter of my ancestor.

In fact, as irony would have it, two of these same groups ARE in the Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton DNA Circle and along with me, these are the only two other members of that circle that I match.

Fairwick circle

So, if you’re judging from the number of connections only, the NAD circle, with 3 groups totaling six people looks stronger than my Fairwick Clarkson Circle with only 2 groups totaling 4 people.  I checked each tree of each individual within the Shiflet Circle and have summarized the results below.

Participant Family Group Sarah Listed? Fairwick Listed Fairwick Circle
CT Martha Patsy Yes, as Sarah “Sallie” Clarkson Yes, Fairwick Claxton Group is in circle
Charlene Martha Patsy Yes, as Sarha Clarkson Shiflet No Group is in circle
DL DL Yes, as Sarah A. Claxton No No
JL DL Yes, as Sarah A. Claxton No No
DB Barbara Yes, as Sarah “Sallie” Clarkson Yes, as Fairwick Claxton Group is in circle
DJ Barbara Yes, Sarah H. Clarkson Yes, as Fairwick Clarkson Group is in circle

Please note that in this case, the spelling of Sarah’s name was quite different.  It was spelled Clarkson, Claxton and in one tree, she was listed as Sarah Clarkson Shiflet, with Shiflet as her surname.  Her first name was misspelled in one tree.  This could be why Sarah was not listed as a NAD along with Robert, whose name was consistently spelled the same way.

Still, because two of these family groups are members of the Fairwick Claxton/Clarkson Circle, one would think that it would be immediately evident that since we DO share an upstream ancestor, when utilizing our trees, that the husband of my ancestor’s sister is not my ancestor – but I am related to his descendants by virtue of his wife’s parents – so of course I match the DNA of his descendants.  That does NOT mean I descend from him.

The linchpin that may have triggered Ancestry to create a NAD may have been that I match one set (family group) of Robert Shiflet’s descendants that aren’t in the Fairwick group.  The reason the DL group is not in Fairwick’s circle, if you look at the trees, is because the DL group does not list any parent for Sarah – so they can’t be in Fairwick’s circle because Fairwick isn’t listed in their tree.  It would make a lot more sense for Ancestry to give the DL group Fairwick as a NAD than to give me Robert Shiflet as a NAD.

So, take all NADs with an extremely large grain of salt – in fact – the whole shaker would be appropriate here or maybe something the size of rock salt.

Keeping Score

So far, the NAD score, out of 5 that have been assigned to me, 3 are proven to be incorrect.  Two, the Larimers, the jury is still out – well, sortof.

Larimer NAD

The jury isn’t entirely out on the Larimer’s actually, because when I look at the group of people in the Larimer NAD circle, I discovered all 5 people who I match on my Andrew McKee line. Hmmm….

These people ALSO connect to John and Jane Larimer – on a completely separate line from Andrew McKee.  In another group, I find another ancestral surname where I connect with the entire group.  So, I’m guessing that it’s circumstantial that all of these people descend from John and Jane Larimer – and that John and Jane have nothing to do with me just because I match their descendants through two of my other known lines.  I don’t actually match anyone else in that group – although a lot of them match each other.  As it turns out, all of this “network theory” matching is a red herring this time – because of intermixed multiple family lines.

Can I prove positively that I don’t share any ancestor upstream with John and Jean Larimer?  Nope, I can’t, but given the trend that I do see, it looks like the NAD was based on other family connections that circumstantially are connected to the Larimers as well.  And I can tell you, from what I do know about my genealogy, that I don’t descend from Jean and John Larimer.  There is no vacancy in my tree that fits their ages, so they are not my ancestors.

So, I guess that really makes the score:

  • Ancestry – 0
  • Bad NADs – 5

The sad part is that it also makes my score 0 – and leaves me begging for the chromosome browser that we so desperately need and would eliminate all of this tail-chasing.  A chromosome browser wouldn’t leave us guessing about whether the Larimer segments were the same segments as the McKee segments.  We would know positively whether they were or not – no guessing, tail chasing or network theory needed.

dog chasing tail



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17 thoughts on “The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)

  1. When have you known ancestry to do anything for the convenience of its customers? They won’t even fix the list of cousins so that one doesn’t pop all they way back to the first page of matches. I’m sure somewhere along the way ancestry has figured out they might be cutting into their profit stream.

    • Carol, this is SO true. I called them about a service I wish they had and got nowhere. I visited their booth at Roots Tech 2012 and told them about it, even said they might make money at it. I suggested a family plan where a husband and wife could have separate accounts without having to pay full price for two separate accounts. They weren’t the least interested. My wife and I ended up getting separate accounts. I never understood why they were so against the idea ’til I began reading Roberta’s blog. It’s clear to me now that doesn’t want to do a single thing that might cost them a dollar or two even if it customers are begging for it. That’s why, thanks to them, all my SMGF test results are now destroyed. I don’t know anyone besides AT&T who treats their customers in such a manner.

  2. Despite there being many people at Ancestry with matches to people in my trees, I have yet to recive any NADs good or bad. I have noticed though that the value of “matches” or “hits” that I receive when searching have greatly decreased since the “New Ancestry” began. I used to get quite a few good matches or very close matches when searching. Now I get wildly “off” matches that make no sense to me. I get men when searching for women, I get locations that are several states removed from the search criteria, etc. Many of my matches now are a total waste of my time whereas, in the past, I used to get some very good and useful matches. I now do not look forward to coming to Ancestry because I know that there will most likely be no useful information either in my DNA matches or my Searches. I have 4 Public trees, more than 3,000 names and have been at Ancestry for many years. My Test was done during Beta. Early matches were quite good and I found two 1st cousins once or twice removed that I knew of but had never met or had contact with – very happy about that!

  3. I talked about chromosome data at Rootstech with an AncestryDNA scientist, and with someone I think was a software developer. Both assured me that the only way we will ever get a chromosome browser — or even the match data in a table — will be if all of the genealogy bloggers start telling their readers not to buy the AncestryDNA product. Bloggers declaring it unsuitable won’t break the product, but perhaps it will get someone’s attention.

    • Ancestry really wants their customers to treat AncestryDNA as a stocking stuffer. Send in your spit, give your consent for their lucrative research projects, check your ethnicity results and just forget about the whole thing after a few days. That’s the ideal AncestryDNA customer. I can’t blame Ancestry for wanting to make a quick buck, but the lack of interest in tapping the full potential of their own product is a shame. There’s a bunch of really myopic people over at that company.

  4. Wasn’t sure about these DNA Circles. I had one with the Caudill family. We are still trying to figure that one out. I am amazed that matches you with kits that are 5-8th cousins. 8th cousins seems a little much, especially since you can’t compare like with Ftdna Chromosome’s Browser.

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