Ancestry told us that the average client would lose approximately one circle, would have matches shift from closer to further in relationship distance, would lose some matches and gain others. The net effect should be, for most people, that they would have a net gain of matches in total. We know, of course that those are averages from testing their client base – and averages are just that – taking in both ends of the spectrum.
The actual results have been quite interesting, and they have been all over the map.
Some people gained total matches, some lost as many as half. The person I felt the worst for though, was the person who said they only had one match, and lost that one.
On April 20th, I used the www.dnagedcom.com tool to download all of my ancestry matches.
Today, I utilized that same tool to download my new matches.
This chart shows the difference in my totals between April 23rd and today, May 4th.
Just looking at totals, I gained 1,592 matches, but in reality, that’s not the whole story, because I lost 1412 matches and gained 3004.
In terms of circles, in net, I lost 4, but I actually lost 6 and gained two.
But all of those darned Bad NADs that I wish would go away are still ever-present.
I checked my first couple pages of matches and three individuals have shifted from a 3rd to 4th cousin to a 4th to 6th cousin. In two cases, that was accurate, but in the third case, it was not, they are actually a 2nd cousin once removed. Generally, I ignore these estimates anyway unless they are 3rd cousin or closer.
In terms of leaf matches, which indicate both a DNA and an ancestor match, I lost 16 but gained 43 for a net change of 17%. My closest new match was in the 5th to 8th cousin range, which I expected.
All 16 of my leaf matches that I lost were also in the 5th to 8th cousin range. Unfortunately, one field not provided by Ancestry’s deleted match download is the shared cMs. Fortunately, if I want that information, it is available in the dnagedcom.com files.
I’m pleased with my new leaf matches, but very unhappy about losing those 16. Our DNA matched and a common ancestor had been identified. I surely wish Ancestry had found a way to preserve leaf matches for people in this update/upgrade process.
I think the most disappointing part of this entire experience has been the number of private trees belonging to the new people I have a leaf match with, meaning we share DNA and a common ancestor in our tree. Because their tree is private, I can’t see our common ancestor – but because my tree is public, they can see the common ancestor. I send messages to all private matches, asking the name of our common ancestor, and very few answer. Rather unfair I think and does nothing to encourage public trees.
I have never been a fan of Timber and I’m not convinced this change is for the better in terms of matches and losses. In terms of the actual science behind the scenes, I’m glad that Ancestry is now comparing actual SNP values and not just blocks. I think all vendors should take steps to improve their science.
Having said that, no matter how improved the science, when you take matches away from people, especially matches with proven common ancestors, people feel a loss, some a grievous loss. One woman who lost half of her leaf matches says she feels like she has been beheaded.
I wish Ancestry would have handled this change in a way that didn’t cause people to incur losses. For example, leaving the current matches and only using the new matching routine on the new matches.
They could also have automatically created a file with all of your lost matches, which would have eliminated the rush to star and note your matches that you wanted to be able to preserve in some fashion.
Had the losses not occurred, I know that people would be universally ecstatic to have new matches. In other words, this could have been a very positive experience. I hope Ancestry will take this opportunity to revisit how they handle updates. This is the second experience that Ancestry’s customers have had with incurring match loses – and while Ancestry may consider this a “good thing” and an improvement, it’s clear that clients with losses do not. It’s very difficult to be happy or positive about losses, even if you do receive new matches in the bargain.
I don’t believe that the matches removed were “wrong.” In some cases, those same people have downloaded to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, shown larger segments (because of Timber) and triangulated with other people from the same ancestral line. They are however, now below Ancestry’s new thresholds either due to a threshold shift or an algorithm difference.
Ancestry also has to do something to deal with the fact that some people have an unmanageable number of matches. As their data base grows, so will this challenge. We need good matches that match to trees – that’s the holy grail at Ancestry. Anything Ancestry can do to encourage people to add trees and make them public would be a huge public service.
Every vendor has to set a threshold of some type and they all do their best to eliminate matches that may be marginal or identical by chance. With any vendor, you’re going to miss some valid matches. The difference is, I think, that other vendors haven’t taken existing matches away from clients, especially not existing matches with an identified common ancestor.
I’m ecstatic with my 43 new leaf matches. I’m not pleased to lose 25% of my Circles and I’m not pleased to lose my 16 existing leaf matches. In my case, I didn’t incur a large loss or gain, although I lost far more Circles than I expected, but some people weren’t so fortunate. I feel that the pieces I lost, meaning Circles and leaf matches, are more important than that pieces I gained in terms gaining total matches. Those leaf matches are like gold and the matches without common ancestors in trees, no trees or private trees are not useful and truthfully, I don’t care how many of those I have unless they are 3rd cousin or closer.
So, really, I’m not dramatically happy or unhappy with the outcome, although the gain doesn’t make up for what was lost that was valuable.
I am very disappointed in the way this event was handled. This really could have been a universally positive experience. Taking things away from people that they value so closely is just bad juju. I have a mental picture of someone trying to take a favorite toy from a child, promising them something better. It will never happen without a lot of screaming and crying – because they love and cherish their toy. For the most part people don’t care about the “better science” or the new toy, but they do care a lot about their matches that they’ve been working on and with.
My suggestions for Ancestry for a more positive experience would be:
- Don’t take leaf matches away from people
- Make updates a positive experience without loss
- If loss must occur, make it as painless as possible, perhaps by only taking distant matches without notes, leaf matches and without removing Circles
- If loss must occur, make a file for the clients without them having to star or note the matches they want to keep
- Create a more equitable balance so that people who don’t have public trees can’t see the common ancestors either. It’s unfair that they can and the people who share their trees cannot. If they make their tree public, then both people can see the common ancestor. Maybe an option to “show tree to DNA matches only” but not make the tree universally public would be a good middle ground.
The good news is that most people do have some new matches and even though some of our old matches are no longer shown as matches, we do have that information. Perhaps the matches who disappeared will download to Family Tree DNA and/or GedMatch and we can continue our genetic research from there.
I’m going to focus on the good news and the positive, so I’m off to check my 43 new leaf matches and see if I can find any new clues. Surely there has to be a gold nugget hidden in there someplace!!