More About Genetic Communities and Display Problem Hints

You don’t know what you’re missing, sometimes, until you see that someone else has one. Isn’t that how the seeds of discontent are often sewed?

It was in my case. Blaine Bettinger also wrote about Genetic Communities, here, and in his article, he had connecting lines and pins. I experienced difficulty during the BETA with the maps (which continues), so I never saw pins and I only saw connecting lines flash one time, then disappear. I did report this to Ancestry, but never heard back before launch.  However, just now, my contact did provide this link for suggestions about how to resolve issues with displaying their maps as related to browsers.

I asked the genetic community about lines and pins, and thankfully, someone else had figured this out. Hat tip to Sue and Traci! I was trying my iPAD and laptop, thinking somehow it was a browser issue. It wasn’t.

It’s a “hidden” feature that’s not at all intuitive, combined with display issues, so let me share what I’ve discovered with you. If you haven’t read my first article about Genetic Communities yet, you might want to read it now so that you’ll be familiar with how to navigate the features to this point.

When you first click on Genetic Communities, you’ll see the screen above. Click on the Genetic Community you want to view, at left. If your maps don’t load, try it again, or try clicking on the community or go back to the DNA home page and try again. Mine load sporadically, about every third time, using Internet Explorer, Chrome and Edge.  I have not tried Firefox.

Clicking on the Settlers of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana Community, I see this screen which defines the locations of the Community, along with the boundaries.

In order to make the connecting lines and pins appear, click on the various date ranges in the stories to the left. Yes, this was the hidden piece.  Not very hidden if you know what to do, but not intuitive either.

In this case, I clicked on “Religious Mecca of the New World,” which then listed the ancestors in my tree that fell into this category, below the text.

First, I was very excited, then I realized that we have a bit of an, ahem, problem.

You’ll notice that the community, as defined by Ancestry, does not include New Jersey. In fact, the eastern-most portion only includes southern Pennsylvania and Maryland not further east than the Hagerstown region.

However, if I look at the pin showing my ancestors included in this group, I see Susannah Anderson born in Hunterdon Co., NJ and died in Wilkes County, NC. That’s a bit of a fly in the ointment, because she clearly does not belong in this red group.

However, expanding the screen shows something different.

The people showing aren’t just in the Community, but seems to be all of my ancestors in the tree born in this general area during this timeframe. The red circles show where other people who match me have ancestors born during this timeframe too. Had I not expanded this map, I would have thought that I was only seeing people from the Settlers of Alleghenies Community, not a more general view, based on both the context and the coloration.

I hope that users don’t interpret this to mean that these ancestors showing on their map were all part of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana community, because they clearly aren’t. In my opinion, the red circles that aren’t part of this Community should not be colored the same color as the circles that are part of the community – red in this case.

This extends across the pond too, with Johann Michael Miller’s pin, who does belong to the community, settling in Hagerstown, Maryland, being located right beside Jacob Kobel and Isaac DeTurk who do not belong in the Community, settling in Schoharie County, NY and then in Berks County, PA, both of which are outside of the defined Genetic Community – but shown on top of or with red circles.

Hopefully display issues are a short term problem and Ancestry can get them resolved quickly. I really don’t think they are all browser related, but some probably are.

But more important long term, I hope Ancestry will consider making some changes in the coloration and display that will not confuse newbies. The confusing coloration is probably less important to seasoned genealogists, because we can look at the display and quickly surmise that what we are seeing is not quite as it would initially appear – but new people are much more likely just to take information at face value and run with it.

In the mean time, I hope you can find a new hint or clue that will be helpful to your search!

25 thoughts on “More About Genetic Communities and Display Problem Hints

  1. If only ancestry would leave video game development to people who make video games and try being a data base with a viewer that worked they would be a more useful site. And now to make findagrave spread out over two pages when it used to be half a page is telling me I won’t be taking any more pictures for them. Not everyone uses their phone to view findagrave. It’s not that they can’t afford it. Dropping the software and concentrating on selling DNA data is making them very, very rich. This is not even remotely the site it started out to be.

  2. I would much rather have a chromosome and segment browser than this. If this is from the trees than you are just back to mixing good and bad tree information.

    • In addition, I’d rather see an actual ethnicity update. Hopefully sometime in the next five years since it doesn’t look like we’ll see on this year or the next or the next.

  3. Thank you! I also noticed the problem and solution after a bit of fiddling around. I believe that this is Beta so I suspect there will be some improvements in the maps/graphics for this feature. It’s an interesting feature and makes it easy to see at a glance what otherwise one has to think about a little more. I was happy to find both maternal and paternal ancestors which I had not really expected. Mother’s family came from England and France, settled on Long Island and then began to move down the east coast stopping in East TN. Father’s family were Swedish immigrants in Minnesota. All of this movement was shown in the graphics of this feature. Not bad at all.

  4. i ended up with seeing my own pin . . . me, my birthdate, my birthplace, which doesn’t have anything to do with anything . . . my father was military and we lived all over the place . . . one of the pins, mine, happened to fall where one of the ‘communities’ was! it didn’t particularly bother me, as i regard the whole exercise as a sort of entertainment event . . . the historical background parts are kinda cool for people who don’t know . . . and i haven’t read them yet – i am sure there’s stuff in there it’s good for me to read – kinda like having a Finding Your Roots show made for ya . . . or some other of those TV events with some history tossed in

  5. My father has Ulster Irish as his genetic community. I see that there are 5 GCs included in that category, but he isn’t assigned to any of them. He is just in the broader Ulster category. Do you think this is normal or an error?

      • I have something similar.

        I am in the community “Scots in North-east and Central Scotland”, a sub-group of Scots. That’s reasonable, as my father was born in Angus and his father was born in Aberdeenshire.

        However, my father’s half 1st cousin, whose ancestry is solely in Aberdeenshire is in the broader category “Scots” and not one of the sub-groups.

        I think it’s ‘normal’ based on the constraints of the algorithm.

  6. Thanks for the analysis Roberta. For me, it may actually help providing hints in finding my birth-father’s family. Without any ancestors on my tree from Canada, they show the second largest group as French Canadians, first in Quebec and then migrating into New England and the Northeast in subsequent generations. I had a feeling this might be my birth father’s ancestry but with a plethora of surnames that didn’t connect, I’ve not been able to come to any firm decisions. It’s certainly a lot better than what they now call “New Ancestor Discoveries”.

    • In my case, one line out of 16 on my mother’s side was the only one to have a community, so you could see one very well represented line, like Acadian being represented, while the rest of his communities aren’t.

      • Yes, and I was hoping one day to see more ability to cross-match surnames, showing frequencies, similar to FTDNA’s “in common with” matches but with surnames. FTDNA shows the three most common, but of course with my luck its Smith, Williams and Johnson. 🙂

        One can with Ancestry show a list of everyone with a tree that includes a given surname, but I have over 13,000 matches, and of course no “leaf” suggested matches on my birth father’s side as I have no tree for him. So trying to cross-match surnames is virtually impossible. Thanks again and stay well.

  7. I’ll preface this by saying that I appreciate everything that Roberta posts, because she always offers an unbiased appraisal. Now I’ll add my views about Ancestry’s new Genetic Communities. I too could not get all the G.C. bells and whistles to work with Firefox, but they did work with Google Chrome.

    My ancestry is rather unusual in that I am only a second generation American. My parents were born in USA in the second decade of the 1900’s. All my grandparents were born in the 1880’s and migrated here in the early 1900’s. My heritage is entirely Eastern European, with two distinct ethnicities from the same geographical region of southern Poland. In my case I can identify my paternal and maternal lines: one is that of being ethnic Polish, the other is that is of a different religious sect and having a different form of written language, although both ethnicities are culturally very similar. I can usually tell which side is which. I know who all my first and second cousins are, as well as many of my third cousins. My admixture is limited exclusively to only these two groups. These two similar but different ethnic groups kept to their own kind in the old country. They didn’t usually intermarry in Europe – that happened after they came to America.

    I am present on all three major GG sites, having been tested at both 23andme and at Ancestry, and with the results also transferred to FTDNA. In the past few months I decided to sort out my two ethnic sides at Ancestry DNA by using the notes feature there. I have a first cousin there who is exclusively and entirely an ethnically Pole, plus several other cousins from that side of my family line. Thus, by using the “shared matches” feature at Ancestry I could nearly always tell my maternal side form my paternal side – because if other DNA relatives were related to her, the match with other DNA relatives was on that particular side. However, all bets were off if someone had the same admixture as me, that of being of both ethnicities. (Although I have met a few, but very few similar to myself, through direct correspondence with them that confirmed that.)

    Now with the introduction of Ancestry’s Genetic Communities, much of this sorting out has been accomplished. Most of the results that this filter provides are accurate. But many are not. I have the advantage of knowing my genetic and family ancestry with certainty, apart from what Ancestry is predicting. There is a substantial margin of error here. There are more than a few that are reported to me that cannot be reconciled as being accurate. My admixture is too specific and unusual for the number of wrong assignments that I am finding issued by them.

    I also checked my map that Ancestry offers. It tells me that I have two Genetic Communities: that of Poles and of Central Europeans. The Central European group tries to explain Ancestry’s version of history, describing a lot about Hungary. No, neither my ethnicity nor my nationality had anything to do with being Hungarian, at least not within their stated time frame reported of 1850-1900. I have traced and documented all my entire ancestry in great detail back to pre-1800. Before that there are no records. But considering the poverty of that region, when those who lived there did move, they usually didn’t move very far. Ancestry’s ethnic Polish report from 1800-1825 cites a rudimentary overview of history, one that is so general as to be useful only to one who knows nothing about Poland.

    Then there are the overlapping blobs of colored circles that are meant to pretty up the map provided. These are “eye candy”, indeed. These graphics tell me that Poles came from Poland (duh?) and that they migrated to cities in USA in NY, NJ, PA, Cleveland, Chicago, and MI. Anyone having any knowledge of their ethnic background would already know that those were areas where ethnic communities were established during emigration to the US. I don’t have any “pins” recording and displaying names, nor do I want them, as I don’t publish my family trees on any websites.

    This new Genetic Communities feature is not as much a case of “hogwash” such as 23andMe’s Ancestry Timeline is. It is mostly accurate, but it certainly isn’t totally accurate, either. It can be useful, but due to inaccuracies it can often be misleading.

    IMO it’s a small step up from 23andme’s version of eye candy, meant to entertain the masses of new subscribers. It’s genealogy 101, for those who need it or those who might believe whatever they see on their screen, as predicted by an “official” website.

    • I am in somewhat the same boat as you with my maternal line and have found the same level of frustration.
      With one “branch” exception, most of my Eastern European ancestors came over in the 1900-1910 window of time and settled in the Midwest (Manistee, MI, and Chicago). The “Eastern European” Genetic Community was awkward at best because those red blobs don’t really give you much except confirm what you’ve probably already been able to sort out if you’ve done your homework.
      I know that my mom’s paternal line were from the region known as “eastern Galicia” (Nowy Targ, Nowy Sacz) but because they were Catholics living in a heavily Jewish region, that makes finding detailed church records more difficult.
      I’m able to sort my Ancestry matches by using “shared matches” of known reasonably close cousins, putting them into “buckets” (using notes).
      The other problem I’ve discovered with the Genetic Communities is that if you have one parent that is a “Euro mutt” – of mixed European ancestry as my father is, the Communities can be misleading to downright useless unless you’ve done your research.
      My father is “half” Southern European and the other half comes from his mother whose family is still unknown (largely UK / Western European).
      One of my Ancestry cousins who I was able to determine (via Gedmatch) matches on my mother’s paternal line, shows up in BOTH the Southern Italian community and Eastern European community (because she has a large, well documented tree with a few ancestors from the Iberian /Italian regions, as well as the branch from the Czech Republic).
      For an amateur researcher, adoptee, or child of an adoptee, this is going to send folks down a potentially confusing and fruitless path.
      I feel lucky in that I’ve had several reasonably close cousins show up on Ancestry in the last year or so for whom I can easily trace / document our connection. Using “shared matches” I’ve been able to sort my maternal from paternal matches, and even narrow down the matches on my mom’s line thanks to a few very good researchers who are in the 2nd-3rd cousin range (1-2x removed). It takes a LOT of work to do this, and to your point, an understanding of World History that not everyone has the patience to dig into. I find it sad, and often infuriating how people are still clickity clicking on those ‘leaf’ hints and blindly committing utter garbage to their trees without thinking about what they’re adding (not to mention the horrific variations on spelling of names, understanding / accounting for cultural naming conventions, and so on).

  8. This thought, Roberta, possibly is better suited to your first post on Communities but here it is anyway: Isn’t this whole effort by Ancestry effectively just another form of – or perhaps extension of – triangulation? Ancestry doesn’t provide a chromosome browser which prevents us from that task on our own (leaving aside Gedmatch and the like), so they are doing it for us behind the scenes and then adding in whatever the available family trees offer. Unfortunately, as other posts have noted, it provides no way to error check either their sources, their methodology, or the results.

    • True. The trees of members at Ancestry are often replete with error, and the misinformation becomes official when taken as a source of data. Reliability is never called into question.

      Their speculations about history and offering of inaccurate timelines contribute nothing to triangulation. Those features provide rudimentary information at best, that is often erroneous or inapplicable.

      IMO this is more of an attempt at “me too” marketing among the competing GG websites, providing an “eye candy” feature as their latest novelty. People tend to believe graphs that look official without questioning them; those who know nothing about their ancestry tend to want something to cling to, as accepting ‘anything’ is seen as better than knowing ‘nothing’.

    • My understanding is they are trying to do something with these too matchy segment which they took out with timber.

    • I believe Carpathian Man pegged this on the head with his commentary > those who know nothing about their ancestry tend to want something to cling to, as accepting ‘anything’ is seen as better than knowing ‘nothing’.

      I am on a forum where the people have been going back and forth about the communities they are attached to. A number of them, unfortunately, indicate that they can’t trace their family lineage very far [or their family tree is plagued with illegitimacy & potential non-paternal events] so that throws the accuracy of their claims out the window. Others really, really need to do better research of their “old” family trees. Or they could even just try to crack open a history book rather than let it sit collecting dust (if history books are too daunting there’s always the internet) as that’d likely clarify their “confusion”.

      But the complaints they should be in X community when they are in Y community is, in a way, amusing. I could agree their complaints would have a leg to stand on if a) X & Y community were far apart geographically & not next door neighbours… and b) if they belonged to a more endogamous group [e.g. Acadians, Jewish] or ancestry [e.g. recent (1st-3rd) generation Americans] than just generic (widely western European) American settlers of generations worth of ancestry (which given American history anyways is mixed up in & of itself). However, such proves that even on a so-called genetics forum the comprehension of genetic inheritance [you aren’t guaranteed to inherit DNA from ancestors born in the 1600-1700s] is lacking. So you can only imagine how this looks to “average Joe”.

      Either it is fantastical and “answering all their questions” or leaves them utterly confused as to what the heck is going on. I wonder how many people are going to start rethinking their family trees based on something a ridiculous as autosomal “ethnicity”.

      • We must realize that many of the customers/members of the GG websites have little or no information from their families. Many have little or no higher education. Many have no concept of time regarding history – lacking understanding that time matters greatly, and that 20 years, 200 years, 2000 years and 20000 years are all vastly different time spans. Many do not have the research skills necessary to do a traditional genealogical search. If one knows no surnames or locations, it is difficult or impossible to begin a search. Unfortunately GG is not a substitute for discovery of documentation. It can point us in the right direction and reveal our DNA relatives. But if those relatives do not respond or know nothing more than the person inquiring, the search remains fruitless and generates frustration. Thus hypothetical conjectures presented in the websites are attractive and are believed without question, especially when presented in a format that is authoritative.

        Ultimately all the GG sites are primarily interested in selling kits and subscriptions, and also competing to attract the largest number of participants to increase their databases. Mass marketing is their paramount consideration. Whether their consumers understand genetic genealogy or not is secondary; some sites are better than others in offering explanations and providing information.They all compete with features designed to entertain the masses.

        It is within human nature to want or expect to receive more than than one has contributed, reaping the maximum benefit for the least amount of effort involved. The vast number of public member trees, copied, cut & pasted, as found at Ancestry illustrate this.

      • Carpathian Man – a good point. “It is within human nature to want or expect to receive more than one has contributed, reaping the maximum benefit for the least amount of effort involved. The vast number of public member trees, copied, cut & pasted, as found at Ancestry illustrate this.”

        There are many trees in which are inaccurate but as, to put it simply, there are a number of lazy individuals on the site that take advantage of people’s prior work they take these trees as accurate. Many genealogy forums where people are quite serious in researching their family trees have endless complaints about the copy & pasters of Even the forums are plagued with complaints of people making erroneous claims all because of some fancier “relative” or what not. I believe the last tale I read was where someone blatantly ignored the mutual poor relative of the complainer and instead decided that they were descended from some silversmith in a neighboring town of similar name & DOB.

        But get enough people of the same lineage copying these inaccurate trees down and who is to say where is the inaccuracy and where is the accuracy. I’ve always wondered what people with the DNA circles do that have completely different trees to their name > flip a coin to see who is right? How does use such trees as a reference for their criteria. They can’t without going through with a fine-toothed comb – particularly in mixed Communities that are found throughout the Americas – and if indeed employed more than just passing slap-together research then the fees would be much higher.

        But I am partially of Acadian ancestry [a rather endogamous North American group, partially those that remained in the Maritimes] and my family tree is very well researched. However, there are a number of inaccurate Acadian trees lauded on as accurate. The thing is, is genetic testing [descendant] and thorough research by real genealogists has proven that such claims [often to aboriginals/natives] are a nice fantasy and about as far from reality as we are from reaching the planet Mars. Being a simple Acadian, however, is not ‘exotic’ enough and so these tales of Native American princesses persist throughout

        “Ultimately all the GG sites are primarily interested in selling kits and subscriptions, and also competing to attract the largest number of participants to increase their databases. ”

        I happen to be capable of speaking on par with real researchers, what being a researcher myself if not in the genetics field. However, there is another website being lauded to British to “find their ancestry”. LivingDNA it is called. It uses the database PoBI.

        I got suspicious of some of the claims being made on the genetics forum I frequent [really just entertainment value] and got a hold of one of the individuals involved in PoBI. He was far more than the coffee boy by the way. As I had assumed, and as this individual confirmed, if PoBI used deeper research methods than grandparent level ancestry than the number of references would decrease…….. considerably………. as few would have great-grandparents born within the same 60-80 mile radius. Such is really a no-brainer if one considered English history & the Industrial Revolution which encouraged considerable migration within the country [& Ireland]. It would be the same, to degree, throughout Europe depending on where one looked > history is your friend in researching family & not just in your family tree.

        But as most of the people on this forum, and who as you said would buy this product, are ill-educated and know very little about their family history [or the country / geographical history even] the fancy “eyecandy” appearance of LivingDNA & PoBI sells. Look beyond the surface and you’d soon realize it is nothing but an utter waste of money.

  9. My Mother and I both have 1 community, Southern England, which my mothers entire family has lived in for 100’s of years. So no surprises there. Strange thing is, my mother is represented with in all 3 subgroups, with 57 dna matches. 14 in South West Peninsula, 27 in South East and 13 in East Anglia & Essex. My question is, where are the other 3 matches?

  10. I noticed that myself some of the info is correct on my dads side but missing alot of info. My dads family came in thru Penn. From England ,With William Penn. Quakers in 1600s. settled in Penn. Virginia, Ohio and other area that are very important when my family came to America as Quakers and Puritans.First Colonies.

  11. Pingback: Which DNA Test is Best? | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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