Ancestry Update – A More In Depth Look – Losses and Gains

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 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.

ancestry loss gain

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 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.

The Net-Net

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!!



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Ancestry Update!!!

Ancestry Update

The long-anticipated Ancestry matching update occurred sometime late this morning.

Ancestry provides links in their announcement blurb, shown above, for “learn more.”  Be sure to click on that link, but perhaps more important is the “tell us what you think link.”  Don’t miss that opportunity to ask for a chromosome browser.  Take some time to evaluate their update, and do tell them what you think.

I’ll be downloading my matches later for a more precise analysis, but here’s what has happened at first glance.

At First Glance

Previously, I had 226 leaf hints.  Leaf hints are people whose DNA you match and who have a common ancestor in their tree with you.  Now I have 254, a gain of 28 new matches.  As far as I’m concerned, these matches are the most useful part of the Ancestry product. So I’m very pleased.  In addition, some of the old matches may be gone and some new ones may take their place.  So I may actually have more new matches than 28.

My closest “new match” as a result of the rerun is in the 4th to 6th cousin range.  Please note that your matches that are new because of this change are NOT noted with a blue dot as normal “new matches.”  So I hope you starred or noted your old matches, because that is the only way you can tell who is a new match as a result of the rerun.

Previously I had 436 4th cousins or closer.  Now I have 487.  I expected this to drop as their algorithm became more restrictive, but it didn’t.  I’ll be anxious to see who remained at a 4th cousin and who got shifted or added, and if their estimates are more or less accurate.

Lastly, I previously had 191 pages of matches, at 50 matches a page, for about 9550 total matches. Today, I have 221 pages of matches, at 50 matches a page, for about 11,050 total matches.

Working With Ancestry Matches

Truthfully, the only Ancestry matches I really work with are three kinds of matches:

  • leaf matches because we share DNA and a common ancestor is our tree
  • close matches because I can often figure out our link, even with a small amount of information
  • shared matches – because when you know who else you and your match share DNA with, you can sometimes figure out the connection through that information

Leaf matches and close matches are on your main match page of course, but the shared matches are on the page after you click on “View Match” with an individual.  Ancestry only shows shared matches for high confidence matches, so you won’t have them for everyone.

shared matches update

I find this to be the most productive strategy for working with Ancestry matches for me, given that they don’t have a chromosome browser.  I always hope my matches will download to GedMatch, of course, or to Family Tree DNA, or better yet, both.

In Summary

Personally, I’m excited to have more leaf matches.  I’m disappointed about losing 4 circles.  We knew it would be a mixed bag.  In this case, I think I’m more excited than disappointed because I recorded the circles, but I don’t know who resides in the new leaf matches and I can’t wait to find out.  That’s all new information!!!  And 28 new leaf matches in one day is a bonanza!

Please share your experience in the comments!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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