I think all too often we make the presumption about businesses like Ancestry that “our” information that is on their site, in our account, will always be there. That’s not necessarily true – for Ancestry or any other business. Additionally, at Ancestry, being a subscription site, the information may be there, but inaccessible if your subscription lapses.
For a long time, I didn’t keep a spreadsheet of my matches at Ancestry, and when I began, not all of the information available today was available then – so my records are incomplete. Conversely, some of the matches that were there then are gone now. A spreadsheet or other type of record that you keep separately from Ancestry preserves all of your match information.
I was recently working on a particular line, and I couldn’t find some of the DNA Shared Ancestor Hints (aka green leaves) that were previously shown as matches. That’s because they aren’t there anymore. They’ve disappeared.
Granted, Ancestry has been through a few generations of their software and has made changes more than once, but these matches remained through those. However, they are unquestionably gone now. I would never have noticed if I hadn’t been keeping a spreadsheet.
Now, I have a confession to make. At Ancestry, the ONLY matches that I really work with are the DNA matches where I ALSO have a leaf hint – the Shared Ancestor Hint Matches.
That’s not to say that this approach is right or wrong, but it’s what works best for me. The only real exception is close matches, 3rd cousins or closer. Those I “should” be able to unravel.
I’m not interested in trying to unravel the rest. About 50% of my matches have trees, and those trees do the work for me, telling me the common ancestor we match if one can be identified. For me, those 367 green Ancestor Hints DNA+tree-matches are the most productive.
So I’m not interested in utilizing the third party tools that download all of my Ancestry matches. I also don’t really want all of that information either – just certain fields.
Adding the match to my spreadsheet gives me the opportunity to review the match information and assures that I don’t get in a hurry and skim over or skip something.
So, when some of my matches came up missing, I knew it because I HAVE the spreadsheet, and I still have their information because I entered it on the spreadsheet.
Here’s an example. In a chart where I worked with the descendants of George Dodson, I realized that three of my sixteen matches (19%) to descendants of George Dodson are gone. That’s really not trivial.
If you’re wondering how I could not notice that my matches dropped, I asked the same question. After all, Ancestry clearly shows how many Shared Ancestor hints I have.
Ancestry matches periodically have a habit of coming and going, so I’ve never been too concerned about a drop of 1 in the total matches – especially given adoptee shadow trees and such. Generally, my match numbers increase, slowly. What I think has actually been happening is that while I have 3 new matches, what really happened is that I lost two and gained 5 – so the net looks like 3 and I never realized what was happening.
Because I’m only interested in the Shared Ancestor Hint matches, that’s also the only number I monitor – and it’s easy because it’s dead center in the middle of my page.
When I realized I have missing matches, I also realized that I had better go back and enter the information that is missing in my spreadsheet for my early matches– such as the total segment match size, the number of matching segments and the confidence level. That’s the best we can do without a chromosome browser. It would be so nice if Ancestry provided a match download, like the other vendors do, so we don’t have to create this spreadsheet manually.
The silk purse in this sow’s ear is that in the process of reviewing my Ancestry matches, I learned some things I didn’t know.
Why Revisit Your Matches?
So, let’s take a look a why it’s a good idea to go back and revisit your Ancestry Shared Ancestor Hints from time to time.
- People change their user name.
- People change their ancestors.
- You may now share more than one ancestral line, where you didn’t originally. I’ve had this happen several times.
- People change their tree from public to private.
- People change their tree from private to public.
- Your matches may not be there later.
- Circles come, and Circles go, and come, and go, and come and go…
- If you contacted someone in the past about a private tree, requesting access, they may have never replied to you (or you didn’t receive their correspondence,) but they may have granted you access to their tree. Who knew!!!
- Check, and recheck Shared Surnames, because trees change. You can see the Shared Surnames in the box directly below the pedigree lineage to the common ancestor for you and your match.
- Ancestry sometimes changes relationship ranges. For example, all of the range formerly titled “Distant Cousin” appears to be 5th – 8th cousins now.
- When people have private trees, you’re not entirely out of luck. You can utilize the Shared Matches function to see which matches you and they both match that have leaf hints. Originally, there were seldom enough people in the data base to make this worthwhile, but now I can tell which family line they match for about half of my Shared Ancestor Hint matches (leaf matches) that are private.
This is also my first step if I do happen to be working with someone who doesn’t have a tree posted or linked to their DNA.
Click on the “View Match” link on your main match page for the match you want to see, then on the “Shared Matches” in the middle of the gray bar.
The hint that you are looking for in the shared matches are those leaf hints, because you can look at that person’s tree and see your common ancestor with them, which should (might, may) provide a hint as to why the person you match is also matching them. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a hint.
Of course, if you find 3 or 4 of those leaf hints, all pointing to the same ancestral couple, that’s a mega-hint.
Unfortunately, that’s the best sleuthing we can we can do for private matches with no tree to view and no chromosome browser.
- You may have forgotten to record a match, or made an error.
- Take the opportunity to make a note on your Ancestry match. The “Add Note” button is just above the “Pedigree and Surnames” button and just below the DNA Circle Connection.
On your main match page, you can then click on the little note icon and see what you’ve recorded – which is an easy way to view your common ancestor with a match without having to click through to their match page. When the person has a private tree, I enter the day that I sent a message, along with any common tree leaf hint shared matches that might indicate a common ancestor.
Part of the information I track in my spreadsheet is provided directly by Ancestry, and some is not. However, the matching lines back to a common ancestor makes other information easy to retrieve. The spreadsheet headings are shown below. Click to enlarge.
I utilize the following columns, thus:
- Name – Ancestry’s user name for the match. If their account is handled by someone else, I enter the information as “C. T. by johndoe.”
- Est Relationship – ancestry’s estimated relationship range of the match.
- Generation – how many generations from me through the common ancestor with my match. Hint – it’s always two more than the relationship under the common ancestor. So if the identification of the common ancestor says 5th great-grandfather, then the person (or couple) is 7 generations back from me.
- Ancestor – the common ancestor or couple with the match.
- Child – the child of that couple that the match descends from.
- Relationship – my relationship to the match. This information is available in the box showing the match in the shared ancestor hint. In this case, EHVannoy (below) and I are third cousins.
- Common Lines – meaning whether we have additional lines that are NOT shown in Ancestor Hints. You’ll need to look through the Shared Surnames below the Shared Ancestor Hint box. I often say things in this field like, “probably Campbell” or “possibly Anderson” when it seems likely because either I’ve hit a dead end, or the family is found in the same geographic location.
- Shared cMs – available in the little “i” to the right of the Confidence bar, shown below.
Click on the “i” to show the amount of shared DNA, and the number of shared segments.
- Confidence – the confidence level shown, above.
- MtDNA – whether or not this person is a direct mitochondrial line descendant from the female of the ancestral couple. If so, or if their father is if they aren’t, I note it as such.
- Y DNA – if this person, or if a female, their father or grandfather is a direct Y line descendant of this couple.
I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that if they are mtDNA or Y descendants, and I don’t already have that haplogroup information, I’m going to be contacting them and asking if they have taken that test at Family Tree DNA. If they have not, I’m going to ask if they would be willing. And yes, I’ll probably be offering to pay for it too. It’s worth it to me to obtain that information which can’t be otherwise obtained.
- Comments – where I record anything else I might have to say – like their tree isn’t displaying correctly, or there is an error in their tree, or they contacted me via e-mail, etc. I may make these same types of notes in the notes field on the match at Ancestry.
It’s interesting that at least one of my matches that was removed when Ancestry introduced their Timber phasing is back now.
However, and this is the bad news, 82 previous leaf hint matches are now gone. Some disappeared in the adjustment done back in May 2016, but not all disappearances can be attributed to that house-cleaning. I noted the matches that disappeared at that time.
If you look at my current 367 matches and add 82, that means I’ve had a total of 449 Ancestor Hint matches since the Timber introduction – not counting the matches removed because of Timber. That means I’ve lost 18% of my matches since Timber, or said another way, if those 82 remained, I’d have 22% more Ancestor Hint matches than I have today.
Suffice it to say I wish I had more information about the matches that are gone now. I’d also like to know why I lost them. It’s not that they have private trees, they are simply gone.
As you may recall, I took the Ancestry V2 test when it became available to compare against the V1 version of the Ancestry test that I had taken originally.
It’s interesting that my own V2 second test doesn’t show as a shared match in several instances, example above and below.
It should show, since I’m my own “identical twin,” and the fact that it does not show on several individual’s shared matched with my V1 kit indicates that my match to that individual (E.B. in this case) was on the 300,000 or so SNPs that Ancestry replaced on their V2 chip with other locations that are more medically friendly. All or part of that V1 match was on the now obsolete portion of the V1 chip that my V2 test, on the newer chip, isn’t shown as a match. That’s 44% of the DNA that was available for matching on the V1 chip that isn’t now on the V2 chip.
My smallest match was 6cM. Based on the original white paper, Ancestry was utilizing 5cM for matches. Apparently that changed at some point. Frankly, without a chromosome browser, I’m fine with 6cM. There’s nothing I can do with that information, beyond tree matching without a chromosome browser anyway – and Ancestry already does tree matching for us.
Frustrations and Hints
Aside from the lack of a chromosome browser, which is a perpetual thorn in my side, I have two really big frustrations with Ancestry’s DNA implementation.
My first frustration is the search function, or lack thereof. If I turn up bald one day, this is why.
Here’s the search function for DNA matches.
I can’t search for a user ID that I’ve recorded in my notes that I know matches me.
I can’t narrow searches beyond just a surname. For example, I’d like to search for that surname ONLY in trees with Shared Ancestor Hints, or maybe only in trees without hints, or only people in my matches with that surname, or only people who have this surname in their direct line, not just someplace in their tree. Just try searching for the surname Smith and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Not to mention that Ancestry searches do not reliably return the correct or even the same information. Ancestry lives and dies on searching, so I know darned good and well they can do better. I don’t know of any way around this search issue, so if you do, PLEASE DO TELL!!!
My second frustration is the messaging system, but I do have a couple hints for you to circumvent this issue.
I have discovered that there are two ways to contact your matches, and those two methodologies are by far NOT equal.
On your DNA match page, there is a green “Send Message” button in the upper right. Don’t use this button.
The problem with using this button is that Ancestry does NOT send the recipient an e-mail telling them they received a message. Users have to both know and remember to look for the little grey envelope at the top of their task bar by their user name. Most don’t. It’s tiny and many people have no idea it’s there, especially if they are receiving e-mails when other people contact them through Ancestry. They assume that they’ll receive an e-mail anytime anyone wants to contact them. Reasonable, but not true.
I’m embarrassed to tell you that by the time I realized that envelope was there, I had over 100 messages waiting for me, all from people who thought I was willfully disregarding them, and I wasn’t.
So, if you use the green button, you’ve sent the message, but they have no idea they received a message. And you’re waiting, with your hopes dropping every day, or every hour if it’s an important match.
If you click on your little gray envelope, you’ll see any messages you’ve sent or received through the green contact button on the DNA page.
You can remedy this notification problem by utilizing the regular Ancestry contact button. Click on the user name beside their member profile on this same DNA page. In this case, EHVannoy.
You’ll then see their profile page, with a tan “Contact EHVannoy” button, EHVannoy being the user name.
Use this tan contact button to contact your matches, because it generates an e-mail. However, the tan button does NOT add the message to your gray envelope, and I don’t know of any way to track messages sent through the tan button. I note in my spreadsheet the date I send messages and a summary of the content. I also put this information in the Ancestry note field.
Now, I know what you’re going to be doing next. You’re going to be going to look at your grey envelope and resend all of those messages using the tan button. There is an easy way to do this.
First, click on the grey envelope, then on the “Sent” box on the left hand side. You will then see all the messages you’ve sent.
Then, just click on the user name of any of your matches and that will take you to their profile page with the tan button!!! You can even copy/paste your original message to them. Do be sure to check your inbox to be sure they didn’t answer before you send them a new message.
Hopefully some of the people who didn’t answer when you sent green button messages will answer with tan button messages. Fingers crossed!!!