Sounds like a race doesn’t it, but it isn’t. It’s a milestone checkpoint of sorts, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and take a look at where my Ancestry DNA shakey leaf tree matches are, and how they are performing.
On January 13th, 2016 I reached 200 shakey leaf DNA matches at Ancestry. In case you don’t know, a shakey left hint with someone means that our DNA matches AND our trees indicate that we have a common ancestor. As far as I’m concerned this is the low hanging fruit at Ancestry, and pretty much all I bother with except in rare circumstances. But those shakey leaf matches are just plain fun. It’s like getting a bite of genealogist-crack-candy when I get a new shakey leaf.
Where Are We Today?
I have a total of 150 pages at 50 matches each for a total of 7500 matches today at Ancestry. That’s roughly half of the number of matches I had pre-Timber phasing introduced in November of 2014 and double the number I had after Timber. I wrote about the introductory Timber/phasing rollout here.
|Pre-Timber||After Timber Intro Nov 2014||January 2016|
|Shakey Leaf Matches||36||18||200|
Today, my 200 shakey leaf matches represent 2.67% of my total matches. Not a terribly good return, but again, the tree matching makes seeing the (potential) connection with these matches much easier. The other 97%…not so easy.
New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs)
Let’s look at the first thing you see on your page. New Ancestor Discoveries, or what I (not so) affectionately call Bad NADs, because these are not my ancestors.
So, while I share DNA with Robert’s children, it’s not Robert’s DNA that I share, but his wife’s. Actually, Ancestry has given me 8 bad NADS, but they also take them away from time to time. But then, some come back again! Kind of like a light bulb flickering off and on, trying to burn out.
In all fairness, there is some DNA connection somehow, but not necessarily through the individual portrayed. Unfortunately, this leads many, MANY people far astray as they take these projections as gospel, and they are far from gospel. They are much more like a leap of ill-placed faith. I wish NADs had been labeled “hints” with the explanation that you share some DNA with people who descend from this individual. And I wish they were someplace at the bottom of the page, hidden away – not the first thing you see. It’s deceiving – and just plain wrong to say that I’m a “Descendant of Robert Shiflet.” I’m not. He was married to my ancestor’s sister. I’m not only not his descendant, I don’t share ANY blood connection with Robert Shiflet.
Today, these NADs are labeled such that it flat out says you are a “descendant of” this person, which is in my case, unequivocally untrue for all of these NADs.
On to more useful topics.
Ancestry has also put me into 19 DNA Circles. Actually, they have put me into 21 DNA Circles, but two of those circles have disappeared as well. I suspect this is due to a change in Ancestry’s ranking algorithm because they disappeared at the same time.
A DNA Circle means that you have DNA matches with at least two other people who share a common ancestor with you in their tree. That’s the claim. However, I have two cases where I only match one other person and I’m in a Circle, and many cases where I match many people and I’m not in the circle.
A match or being included in a Circle does NOT mean you match on the same segment, or that anyone in the tree matches on the same segments – only that you match and show a common ancestor in your trees. In other words, you could be matching as a result of a different ancestor entirely on entirely different segments, and there are no tools available (like a chromosome browser or triangulation tools) to verify this connection.
However, DNA Circles are useful. For example, it’s unlikely, if you are matching an ancestor through different children, and there are many matches, that your connection isn’t through this ancestral couple, or someone who contributed to the DNA of this ancestral couple. Yes, the language here gets wishy washy.
I view Circles as a way to generally confirm that my genealogy is most likely accurate. Yea, I know, more wishy washy words – but that’s because the tools we have don’t provide us with a path to clarity.
Shakey Leaf Matches
I have 200 shakey leaf matches with people, meaning that we share DNA and a common ancestor in our trees. We may or may not be in a Circle together, because Circles aren’t created unless you match at least two(?) other individuals from this common ancestor, plus some other proprietary weighting factors.
I particularly like that we can see how the other people we match descend from this same ancestor. This suggests that the match really can’t be due to a NPE (nonparental event, also known as an undocumented adoption) downstream of this ancestor. If that were the case, you would only match people through the same child.
Non-Shakey Leaf Matches
Let’s take a look at my best, meaning my closest, matches. Unfortunately, my highest matches don’t have trees with a common ancestor with me – so no shakey leaves. The second closest match has no tree at all. This lack of trees or private trees is one of the most frustrating aspects of genetic genealogy – and particularly at Ancestry because their usefulness depends so heavily on the trees. Regardless, given that these are my closest matches, let’s see if we can’t determine our common ancestor.
So, using deductive reasoning, let’s see what we can discover about my three highest matches. In August, Ancestry introduced the feature called “Shared Matches” meaning Ancestry shows you who you both match in common for any match that is 4th cousin or closer, meaning 6 generations or closer. So keep in mind, you both will have matches further back in time or predicted to be more distant matches, but they won’t show in the shared matches.
So let’s look at my closest match, PR, estimated to be a second to third cousin.
Clicking on Shared Matches with PR, I have a total of 13. That’s hopeful. Of those 13:
- 3 have no tree
- 1 tree is unavailable
- 1 shakey leaf match that’s private – who never answered the inquiry message I sent them and hasn’t signed in since February 2015
Ugh, this isn’t hopeful anymore, it’s frustrating. I was very much hoping to be able to deduce the common ancestor by seeing who else I matched – and hoping that there were some shakey leaf people with common ancestor’s already identified in the match list, but that is not to be.
Let’s move to my second closest match and try to find my common ancestor with MH who has no family tree. I can’t imagine how they are using this tool without a family tree. However, judging from the fact that they haven’t signed in since September 3rd, maybe they aren’t doing anything with these results. With MH, I have 12 matches, of which:
- 3 have no tree
- 4 have shakey leaf hints
Now those shakey leaf hints are very hopeful, so let’s see if they all point to the same ancestor!
- 2 point to Andrew McKee
- 1 points to Samuel Claxton and Elizabeth Speaks
- 1 points to Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy, but not through son Samuel
Uh, that would be a no, they don’t all point to the same ancestor. But three of these people are in the same line, and the fourth, well, not really.
Andrew McKee is the father of Ann McKee who married Charles Speaks who had Elizabeth Speaks who married Samuel Claxton. So the three people who descend from these ancestors are legitimately from the same line.
However, there is no DNA pathway from Andrew McKee to Fairwick Claxton and his wife, Agnes Muncy, but Fairwick is in both people’s trees. In this case, MH must be matching the last person through a different line, and not through Andrew McKee. The only way Fairwick could even be insinuated is if the person descends through Samuel Claxton, Fairwick’s son who married Agnes Muncy, but that isn’t shown in their tree. Their descend from Fairwick is through a different child.
So, this trip into deductive reasoning should have worked, but didn’t exactly work quite as planned due to what I’ll call “inferential tree assumptions.” That assumption would be that if your DNA matches, and you have a common ancestor in a tree, that your DNA link is THROUGH that common ancestor. Sometimes, in fact many times, that’s true, but there are cases where the link is through a different common ancestor. In this case, it’s likely that one way I match MH is through Andrew McKee, but I may well have a second line through Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy. These people do live in the same geography.
I see secondary and multiple lineages far more than I would have expected. When Ancestry can see that there are multiple ancestors in your trees that match, they show that you have “Shared Ancestor Hint 1 of X”, but they can only note what’s recorded and matches in both your trees.
Moving on to my third closest match, that’s a lost cause too because it’s the same line as the first match.
Indeed, working with shakey leaf matches are indeed your best bet at Ancestry.
However, let’s take a look at this matching data in a different way.
Matches and Circles by Ancestor
There may be 200 shakey leaf matches today, but there have been a total of 263 shakey leaf matches, of which 63 have either disappeared through the magic of Timber or for some other, unknown reason. A few were adoptees trying to work with various experimental trees, so I’ve eliminated them from the totals. I’ve kept track of my matches by ancestor though, so let’s see how many of my matches are in circles and how many of my ancestral lines are represented.
The generations column is the number removed from me to that ancestor counting my parent as generation 1. Remember, Ancestry does not report shakey leaf matches beyond 9 generations. Total matches is how many people whose DNA match mine also show this ancestor in their tree. Circle is yes or no, there is a Circle or there isn’t for one or both of the ancestral couple. How many of my matches are in the circle and how many total individuals are in that circle. Note that the Total Matches (to me) should be one less than the Matches in the Circle which includes me.
|Ancestor||Generations||Total Matches||Circle||Matches in Circle incl Me||Total in Circle incl Me|
|Abraham Estes & Barbara||9||8|
|Andrew McKee & Elizabeth||5||5||Andrew||Andrew 6||Andrew 15|
|Antoine Lore & Rachel Levina Hill||4||1|
|Charles Hickerson & Mary Lytle||7||1|
|Charles Speak & Ann McKee||5||1|
|Charlotte Ann Girouard||8||1|
|Claude Dugas & Francoise Bourgeois||9||3|
|Cornelius Anderson & Annetje Opdyke||9||4|
|Daniel Garceau and Anne Doucet||7||1|
|Daniel Miller & Elizabeth Ulrich||6||8|
|David Miller & Catherine Schaeffer||5||3||David||David 4||David 6|
|Elisha Eldredge and Doras Mulford||8||1|
|Elizabeth Greib (m Stephen Ulrich)||7||1|
|Elizabeth Mary Algenica Daye||8||1|
|Elizabeth Shepherd (m William McNiel)||6||6|
|Fairwick Claxton & Agnes Muncy||5||2||Fairwick
|Francois Broussard & Catherine Richard||9||3|
|George Dodson & Margaret Dagord||8||12|
|George Estes & Mary Younger||6||2|
|George McNiel & Sarah||7||7|
|George Shepherd & Elizabeth Angelica Daye||8||3|
|Gershom Hall & Dorcas Richardson||6||1|
|Gideon Faires & Sarah McSpadden||7||2|
|Henry Bolton & Nancy Mann (Henry had 2 wives)||5||12||Nancy
|Nancy 20, Henry 22|
|Henry Bowen & Jane Carter||9||2|
|Honore Lore & Marie Lafaille||5||1|
|Jacob Lentz & Frederica Moselman||5||2||Frederica Jacob||Frederica 3 Jacob 3||Frederica 12, Jacob 12|
|Jacque Bonnevie & Francoise Mius||8||1|
|James Crumley & Catherine||8||1|
|James Hall & Mehitable Wood||7||2|
|James Lee Claxton||6||2|
|Jan Derik Woertman & Anna Marie Andries||9||1|
|Joel Vannoy & Phoebe Crumley||4||8||Joel
|Johann Michael Miller & Suzanna Berchtol||8||11|
|Johann Nicholas Schaeffer & Mary Catherine Suder||8||2|
|John Campbell & Jane Dobkins*||6||5||Jane
|Jane 10 John 5|
|John Cantrell & Hannah Britton||7||7|
|John Francis Vannoy & Susannah Anderson||7||7|
|John Hill & Catherine Mitchell||6||1||John||John 2||John 3|
|John R. Estes & Nancy Moore*||5||5||John
|Joseph Cantrell & Catherine Heath||8||4|
|Joseph Carpenter & Frances Dames||8||4|
|Joseph Preston Bolton (multiple wives)||4||3||Joseph||Joseph 5||Joseph 9|
|Joseph Rash & Mary Warren||9||3|
|Joseph Workman & Phoebe McMahon||7||2|
|Jotham Brown & Phoebe||7||11|
|Lazarus Estes & Elizabeth Vannoy||3||1|
|Michael DeForet & Marie Hebert||9||2|
|Moses Estes Jr||7||1|
|Moses Estes Sr||8||1|
|Nicholas Speaks & Sarah Faires||6||3||Nicholas Sarah||Nicholas 5 Sarah 5||Nicholas 25, Sarah 24|
|Philip Jacob Miller & Magdalena||7||8|
|Pierre Doucet & Henriette Pelletret||9||1|
|Rachel Levina Hill (husband Anthony Lore not shown)||4||4||Rachel||Rachel 4||Rachel 4|
|Raleigh Dodson & Elizabeth||7||1|
|Robert Shepherd & Sarah Rash||7||6|
|Samuel Claxton & Elizabeth Speaks||4||1|
|Thomas Dodson & Dorothy Durham||9||6|
|William Crumley (2nd)||5||1|
|William Crumley (1st)||7||1|
|William Hall & Hester Matthews||9||1|
|William Herrell & Mary McDowell||5||1|
This chart is actually very interesting. Two couples have different tallies for the mother and father. In these cases, bolded* above, the couple was not married more than once, so the matches should equal. This has to be a tree matching issue. Remember, these tree matches are based on the information in the trees of the people who DNA test – and we all know about tree quality at Ancestry. GIGO
Initially tree matches were going to be restricted to 7 generations or below, but have now been extended to 9 generations. Circles are apparently still restricted to 7 generations.
I also noticed that when counting the matches by looking at them individually, the count does not always equal the Matches in the Circle, even after allowing for one difference in the Matches in Circles. So, apparently not all matches are “strong enough” to be shown in Circles.
Relationships and Matches
This is all very nice, but what does it really mean on my pedigree chart?
I’ve divided my pedigree into half, one for each parent.
On the chart below, my father’s ancestor tree matches are blue, and the circles are green. You can click on the image to see a larger version.
Please note that the first 6 generations (beginning with my parent) are complete, but generations 7-9, I’ve only listed ancestors that are matches to someone through a shakey leaf.
On the chart below, the same information for my mother’s side of the house.
This visual demonstration is actually quite interesting in that the circles all fall in the 4th, 5th and 6th generations, meaning we’ve had enough time in the US to have enough children to produce enough descendants for there to be some who are interested enough in genealogy to test today.
Remember, Ancestry does not create circles further back in the tree, so this clustering in these generations is to be expected. In my case, some of the matches in earlier generations are every bit as significant as the ones that created Circles.
In the charts below, all of the proven connections and ancestors are in red. Yes, I said red, as in RED.
What, you don’t see any red? That’s because there isn’t any. That’s right, not one single one of these matches is proven.
Why not? How can that be?
Because Ancestry doesn’t give us a chromosome browser or equivalent tools to be able to show that we indeed match other testers from the same lineage on the same segments, proving the match to that ancestor. That, of course, is called triangulation and is the backbone of autosomal genetic genealogy.
If you’re lucky, you can get the people you need most to download to GedMatch, but most people don’t, and furthermore don’t understand (or don’t care) that these matches are all inferred. Yes, I said inferred. Fuzzy. As in might not be accurate.
Granted, a great number of them will be legitimate, but we have hundreds of examples where the matches are NOT from the same line as the Circle indicates. Or much worse, the NADs. NADs are almost always bad.
And you can’t prove that a match is or isn’t legitimate unless you either download to GedMatch or transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, or preferably both.
Ok, so there’s no red, but let’s look at the inferred lineage confirmations.
If, and that’s a very BIG IF, all of these matches and Circles pan out to be accurate, the chart above, on my father’s side shows ancestors with Circles in green. Yellow infers the lineages that could potentially be proven if we had a chromosome browser to triangulate the matches both within and outside of the circles. Remember, a match and a name does not an ancestor make. It’s a hint, nothing more.
This next chart is my mother’s side of the tree.
I have far fewer inferred lineage confirmations in mother’s tree because two of her grandparents were recent immigrants, in the mid-1800s, and there aren’t enough descendants who have tested. Neither are there people in the old country who have tested, so mother’s inferred confirmed lineages are confined to two grandparents’ lines.
I have confirmed some of these lines at GedMatch and at Family Tree DNA, but not all. The ones I’m desperate for, of course, haven’t even answered an inquiry. That’s how Murphy’s Law works in genetic genealogy.
We really do need that chromosome browser at Ancestry so we can begin to confirm these instead of having to infer these connections. Infer, in this case is another way of saying assume, and you all know about assume I’m sure.
As I evaluate these matches and try to figure out which ones might be more reliable than others, I refer back to two documents. First, the chart I showed earlier in the article which is derived from a spreadsheet I maintain of all of my Ancestry matches that shows me which child of the identified common ancestor my match descends from. Ancestors with a high number of matches through different children of a common ancestor stand a better chance of being legitimate lineage matches.
Secondly, I refer to an article I wrote last fall, Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum, in which I discuss the various type of matches and how much weight to give each type of match. Let’s face it, Ancestry is likely to provide a chromosome browser about the time that we inhabit the moon and most of your matches are unlikely to be willing to go to the time and effort to transfer anyplace, and that’s assuming that they answer a contact request, and that’s assuming that contact request gets delivered to them in the first place. So, you will likely have to do the best you can with the situation at hand.
In my own case, because I was heavily involved in testing before Ancestry entered the autosomal testing market, I had recruited heavily, often utilizing Y DNA projects, and have had many cousins test at Family Tree DNA. Those who tested at 23andMe have transferred their tests, or in the case of V2 tests, retested at Family Tree DNA.
Because of this very fortunate grouping outside of Ancestry, I know that most of the lines above do triangulate on my personal triangulation spreadsheet. Therefore, many, but not all, of these matches on these two pedigree charts are indeed proven and triangulated at Family Tree DNA and GedMatch. But until and unless Ancestry gives us a chromosome browser type tool, they will never, ever be proven at or through Ancestry. Come on Ancestry, where’s the meat?
I know that the holiday season brings in a lot of sales for Ancestry and we should start seeing the results of that testing shortly. I wonder how long it will be until I have 500 shakey leaf matches, if we will have a chromosome browser by then so I can turn some of those ancestors red (stop snorting), and if any more of my missing lines will have tested.