Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

I know this article is not going to be popular with some people and probably not with Ancestry, but this is something I absolutely must say. Those of us in the position of influencers with a public voice bear responsibility for doing such.

Let me also add that if you are of European heritage and you think this topic doesn’t apply to you – if you have any unidentified ancestors – it does. Don’t discount and skip over. Please read. Our voices need to be heard in unison.

Ancestry Lewis.jpg

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line. Ancestry’s planned purge of smaller segments, 6-8 cM, is the exact place that African Americans (and mixed Native Americans too) find their ancestral connections. This community has few other options.

I’m sure, given the Ancestry blog post by Margo Georgiadis, Ancestry’s President and CEO on June 3rd that this detrimental effect is not understood nor intentional.

Ancestry Margo

Margo goes on to say, “At Ancestry, our products seek to democratize access to everyone’s family story and to bring people together.”

Yet, this planned match purge at the beginning of August does exactly the opposite. The outpouring of anguish from African American researchers has been palpable as they’ve described repeatedly how they use these segments to identify their genetic ancestors.

Additionally, my own experiences with discovering several African American cousins over the past few days as I’ve been working to preserve these smaller segment matches has been pronounced. I can even tell them which family they connect through. A gift them simply cannot receive in any other way – other than genetic connections

These two factors, combined, the community outcry and my own recent experiences are what have led me to write this article. In other words, I simply can’t NOT write it.

I trust and have faith that Ancestry will rethink their decision and utilize this opportunity for good and take positive action. Accordingly, I’ve provided suggestions for how Ancestry can make changes that will allow people on both sides of this equation, meaning those who want to keep those smaller segment matches and those glad to be rid of them, to benefit – and how to do this before it’s too late.

I don’t know if Ancestry has African American genealogists who are both passionate and active, or mixed-race genealogists, on their management decision-making team or in their influencer group, but they should.

I don’t think Ancestry realizes the impact of what they are doing. African American research is different. Here’s why.

African American History and Genetic Genealogy

Slavery ended in the US in the 1860s. Formerly enslaved persons who had no agency and control over their own lives or bodies then adopted surnames.

We find them in the 1870 census carrying a surname of unknown origin. Some adopted their former owner’s surname, some adopted others. Generally today, their descendants don’t know why or how their surnames came to be.

Almost all descendants of freed slaves are admixed today, a combination of African, European and sometimes Native Americans who were enslaved alongside Africans.

Closer DNA matches reflect known and unknown family in the 3 or 4 generations since 1870, generally falling in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, depending on the ages of the people at the time of emancipation and also the distance between births in subsequent generations.

Ancestry freed ancestors.png

The three red generations are the potential testers today. The cM values, the amount of potential matching DNA at those relationship levels are taken from DNAPainter, here, which is an interactive representation of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.

Assuming we’re not dealing with an adoption or unknown parent situation, most people either know or can fairly easily piece together their family through first or second cousins.

You can see that it’s not until we get to the third and fourth cousin level that genealogists potentially encounter small segment matches. However, at that level, the average match is still significantly above the Ancestry purge threshold of 6-8 cM. In other words, we might lose some of those matches, but the closer the match, the higher the probability that we will match them (at all) and that we will match them above the purge threshold.

Looking again at the DNAPainter charts, we see that it’s not until we move further out in terms of relationships that the average drops to those lower ranges.

Ancestry DNAPainter

Here’s the challenge – relationships that occurred before the time of emancipation are only going to be reflected in relationships more distant than fourth cousins – and that is the exact range where smaller segment matches can and do come into play most often.

The more distant the relationship, the smaller the average amount of shared DNA, which means the more likely you are ONLY to be able to identify the relationship through repeated matching of other people who share that same ancestor.

Let me give you an example. If you match repeatedly to a group of people who descend from Thomas Dodson in colonial Virginia, through multiple children, especially on the same segment, you need to focus on the Dodson family in your research. If you’re a male and your Y DNA matches the Dodson line closely, that’s a huge hint. This holds for any researcher, especially for females without surnames, but it applies to all ancestral lines for African American researchers.

If an African American researcher is trying to identify their genetic ancestors, that likely includes ancestors of European origin. Yes, this is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s the unvarnished truth.

Full stop.

How Can African Americans Identify European Ancestors?

While enslaved people did not have surnames from the beginning of their history on these shores until emancipation, European families did. Male lines carried the same surname generation to generation, and female surnames changes in a predictable pattern, allowing genealogists to track them backward in time (hopefully.)

Given that African American researchers are literally “flying blind,” attempting to identify people with whom to reconnect, with no knowledge of which families or surnames, they must be able to use both DNA matches and the combined ancestral trees of their matches in order to make meaningful connections.

For more information on how this is accomplished, please read the articles here and here.

Tool or Method How it Works Available at Ancestry?
Y DNA for males Identifies the direct paternal line by surnames and also the haplogroup provides information as to the ancestral source such as European, African, Asian or Native American. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA.
Mitochondrial DNA Identifies the direct matrilineal line. The haplogroup shows the ancestral source such as European, Native American, Asian or African. You can read about the different kinds of DNA, here. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA
Clustering Identifies people all matching the tester and also matching to each other. No, available through Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them in June.
Genetic Trees Tools to combine the trees of your matches to each other to identify common ancestors of your matches. You do not need a known tree for this to work. No, available at Genetic Affairs before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them.
Downloading Match Information Including the direct ancestors for your matches. No, Ancestry does not allow this, and tools like Pedigree Thief and DNAGedcom that did provide this functionality were served with cease-and-desist orders.
Painting Segments Painting segments at DNAPainter allows the tester to identify the ancestral source of their segments. Multiple matches to people with the same ancestor indicates descent from that line. This is how I identify which line my matches are related to me through – and how I can tell my African American cousins how they are related and which family they descend from. No. Ancestry does not provide segment location information, so painting is not possible with Ancestry matches unless both people transfer to companies that provide matching segment information and a chromosome browser (MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA)
ThruLines at Ancestry Matches your tree to same ancestor in other people’s trees. ThruLines is available to all testers, but the tester MUST have a tree and some connection to an ancestor in their tree before this works. Potential ancestors are sometimes suggested predicated on people already in the tester’s tree connected to ancestors in their matches trees. For ThruLines to work, a connection must be in someone’s tree so a connection can be made. There are no tree links for pre-emancipation owned families. Those connections must be made by DNA.
DNA Matching Matching shows who you match genetically. Testers must validate that the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance by identifying the segment’s ancestry and confirming through either a parental match or matching to multiple cousins descending from the same ancestor at that same location. Segments of 7 cM have about a 50-50 chance of being legitimate and not false matches. Of course, that means that 50% are valid and tools can be utilized to determine which matches are and are not valid. All matches are hints, one way or another. You can read more, here. Ancestry performs matching, but does not provide segment information. Testers can, however, look for multiple matches with the same ancestors in their trees. Automated tools such as Genetic Affairs cannot be used, so this needs to be done one match at a time. The removal of smaller segment matches will remove many false matches, but will also remove many valid matches and with them, the possibility of using those matches to identify genetic ancestors several generations ago, before 1870.
Shared Matching Shows tester the people who match in common with them and another match. Ancestry only shows shared matches of “fourth cousins and closer,” meaning only 20 cM and above. This immediately eliminates many if not most relevant shared matches from before emancipation – along with any possibility of recovering that information.

The Perfect, or Imperfect, Storm

As you can see from the chart above, African American genealogists are caught in the perfect, or imperfect, storm. Many tools are not available at Ancestry at all, and some that were have been served with cease-and-desist letters.

The segments this community most desperately needs to make family connections are the very ones most in jeopardy of being removed. They need the ability to look at those matches, not just alone, but in conjunction with people they match in clusters, plus trees of those clustered matches to identify their common ancestors.

Ancestry has the largest database but provides very few tools to benefit people who are searching for unknown ancestors, especially before 1850 – meaning people who don’t have surnames to work with.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to African American researchers, but any genealogist who is searching for women whose surnames they don’t know. This also applies to people with unknown parentage that occurred a few generations back in time.

However, the difference is that African American genealogists don’t have ANY surnames to begin with. They literally hit their brick wall at 1870 and need automated tools to breach those walls. Removing their smaller segment matches literally removes the only tool they have to work with – the small scraps and tidbits available to them.

Yes, false matches will be removed, but all of their valid matches in that range will be removed too – nullifying any possibility of discovery.

A Plan Forward

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m no longer invited to the Ancestry group calls. I’m fine with that because I’m not in any way constrained by embargoes or expectations. I only mention this for those of you who wonder why I’m saying this now, publicly, and why I didn’t say it earlier, privately, to Ancestry. I would have, had the opportunity arisen.

That said, I want to focus on finding a way forward.

Some options are clearly off the table. I’m sure Ancestry is not going to add Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, since they did that once and destroyed that database, along with the Sorenson database later. I’m equally as sure that they are not going to provide segment location information or a chromosome browser. I know that horse is dead, but still, chromosome browser…

My goal is to identify some changes Ancestry can make quickly that will result in a win-win for all researchers. It goes without saying that if researchers are happy, they buy more kits, and eventually, Ancestry will be happier too.

Right now, there are a lot, LOT, of unhappy researchers, but not everyone. So what can we do to make everyone happier?

Immediate Solutions

  • Remove the cease and desist orders from the third-party tools like Genetic Affairs, DNAGedcom, Pedigree Thief and other third-party tools that researchers use for clustering, automated tree construction, downloading and managing matches.

This action could be implemented immediately and will provide HUGE benefits for the African American research community along with anyone who is searching for ancestors with no surnames. Who among us doesn’t have those?

  • Instead of purging small segment matches, implement a setting where people can define the threshold where they no longer see matches. The match would still appear to the other person. If I don’t want to see matches under 8 cM, I can select that level. If someone else wants to see all matches to 6 cM, they simply do nothing and see everything.
  • Continue to provide new matches to the 6 cM level. In other words, don’t just preserve what’s there today, but continue to provide this match level to genealogists.
  • Add shared matches under 20 cM so that genealogists know they do form clusters with multiple matches.

Longer-Term Solutions

  • Partner with companies like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom, tools that provided not just match data, but automated solutions. These wouldn’t have been so popular if they weren’t so effective.
  • Implement some form of genetic networks, like clustering. Alternatively, form alliances with and embrace the tools that already exist.

The Message Customers Hear

By serving the third-parts tools that serious genealogists used daily with cease-and-desist orders, then deleting many of our matches that can be especially useful when combined with automated tools, the message to genealogists is that our needs aren’t important and aren’t being heard.

For African American genealogists, these tools and smaller matches are the breadcrumbs, the final breadcrumb trail when there is nothing else at all that has the potential to connect them with their ancestors and connect us all together.

Let me say this again – many African Americans have nothing else.

To remove these small matches, rays of hope, is nothing short of immeasurably cruel, and should I say it, just one more instance of institutionalized racism, perpetrated without thinking. One more example of things the African American community cannot have today because of what happened to them and their ancestors in their past.

Plea

I will close this plea to Ancestry with another quote from Margaret Georgiadis from Ancestry’s blog.

Ancestry Margo 2.png

Businesses don’t get to claim commitment when convenient and then act otherwise. I hope this article has helped Ancestry to see a different perspective that they had not previously understood. Everyone makes mistakes and has to learn, companies included.

Ancestry, this ball’s in your court.

Feedback to Ancestry

I encourage you to provide feedback to Ancestry, immediately, before it’s too late.

You can do this by any or all of the following methods:

Ancestry support

Ancestry BLM.png

Speak out on social media, in groups where you are a member, or anyplace else that you can. Let’s find a solution, quickly, before it’s too late in another 10 days or so.

As John Lewis said, #goodtrouble.

Make a difference.

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122 thoughts on “Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

  1. I have left a post on Ancestry’s fb page, and have sent them a private message. I really hope that they hear you. Thank you for writing this particular blog.

  2. Thanks for this post and for giving the link to Ancestry’s BLM post. I left a comment there. I suggested they make 8 cM the default with an opt-IN for those who want it. That might help alleviate the pressure on their servers. But other than that, I brought up the points you made.

  3. Personally, I started having problems with Ancestry loading when the match page started trying to load all my matches at once. The website to me was much more stable when it only loaded 50 matches at a time. I know that was back when the database was how many millions fewer, but it worked out extremely well for me. Myheritage.com, 23andme.com, and FamilyTreeDNA.com all have limited match loading and I don’t have any problems with any of these sites.

    Jerry

    • Then you can suggest Ancestry allow users to set the minimum cM level for their own matching results.
      Please consider that many of us need our low cM matches desperately.

  4. I have a mystery ancestor couple in the 1800s for whom the surnames are unknown. I was going through some of my 6-8 cM matches to attempt to save some that looked like they might have potential. It occurred to me that I wouldn’t lose much if I couldn’t see the ones with no trees. Yes, I would lose any shared matches, but many of those small matches didn’t have any shared matches (probably the false matches?). Might that be a reasonable compromise–for Ancestry to only show me 6-8 cM matches with trees? Or am I missing something?

  5. Thank you, Roberta, for having the courage to stand for what you believe to be right, though it may also be unpopular. Thank you for amplifying the voices of those whose voices have been silenced for centuries.

    I will be reaching out to Ancestry on this, and sharing elsewhere.

    Do you think a petition may be helpful here?

    • I don’t know. It can’t hurt. But maybe hearing from individual people will be more likely to help.

      • I’m starting to think a petition may be the best way. I read a comment here about one guy’s experience talking to reps who were apparently offshore somewhere. Then I recalled my own disappointing interactions with Ancestry customer support. I doubt our “suggestions” ever reach decision-making ears.

          • I did see that. However, it has no teeth and fails to even mention the impact for Black and Native American researchers. It would be nice to see that edited to address that issue.

        • If enough of us make an outcry, it can make a difference. Back when ancestry was going to retire Family Tree Maker, which had a lot of problems after it started syncing with ancestry.com, a lot of people complained and asked them to find a way to make FTM work. Ancestry ended up selling the FTM product to MacKiev who were developers already contracted by ancestry. MacKiev took it over and worked on getting the app and the sync stable. It took a couple of years, but I have had no problems with it for quite a while.

          I think Roberta has suggested a range of suggestions that are feasible and workable. I should think that it is in ancestry’s self-interest to maintain features that its hard-core users rely on. After all, it is those who are seriously into genealogy research who are willing to pay a monthly subscription fee year after year. It is those who are delving into deep analysis of DNA matches who promote their products by word of mouth and recruiting DNA testers. These are the same people who want access to matches at low cMs. You would think ancestry would want to keep these important customers on their side.

          I also hope that ancestry feels a need to pay attention to Roberta’s moral imperative, given the rhetoric they posted in response to the protests over George Floyd’s killing. I am thankful for the John Lewis quotation she posted, which I had not seen. He continues to be a truly inspiring person, even in his death. It is hard for me to be optimistic at times, but he is right. Never give up, never give in. Thank you, Roberta.

    • What are Ancestry members losing if Ancestry retains the 6-8cm matches? I am just not sure what all the vitriol is about, I mean what are they losing?

      • I think it’s more about their perceived “authority” being challenged, because otherwise, I don’t know. It’s beyond me.

  6. It takes many voices to make change happen ! Hopefully, Ancestry will revert their recent decision based on all our collective voices !!

  7. “Add shared matches under 20 cM so that genealogists know they do form clusters with multiple matches.” Yes, please! I’m working on the 17th and 18th centuries. The 20 cM threshold is (a) too high (i.e., not useful) and (b) very few people even know it’s there.

    • Mike, you are so correct about the shared matches and 20cms. It is very difficult to get folks to take their DNA to GEDmatch and some folks are paranoid about it. I am guessing that their computer system is becoming overwhelmed by all of the data and they are not wanting to make the investments that are necessary for us customers.

  8. I have asked many indigenous Africans in the USA to test, for us, African Americans, if we are not able to share with them because they will almost always be within the 6-8cm range, then it is useless for them to test and a irreplaceable asset to us in finding our enslaved ancestors lines. Also the African indigenous who test are probably in a younger age range and that even lowers the amount shared.

  9. I agree with your logic. I support not limiting it to 8cm for a slightly different reason. Those of us without “English” ancestry constantly battle with trying to find matches. Those with “English” ancestry constantly battle having more matches than they need or want. Please make the cutoff self selectable. Maybe 8 is the default — but those with tens of thousands of matches will likely opt for 10 or more. Those with a hundred or fewer matches will opt for 6. This will probably reduce computing overhead more than a flat 8.

  10. Thanks for this post. I have found these matches useful for just the reasons you mention. I am engaged in the tedious work of adding them to a group. Giving us all the option to retain them would be a simple matter and solution

  11. Roberta, great article and and of course you need to make “GOOD TROUBLE”.
    This decision from Ancestry is insane. Without the low level matches I would never
    have found a cousin at 7cm that opened the door for the family of my triple great
    grandfather, Alexander Simpson. Once that door was open I was able to quickly find
    the will of his father, John Simpson. Even more important is that low level DNA matches allowed me to find the Mason County, WV family of my double great grandmother, Margaret Jeffers Gray. She showed up in Iowa in 1853 at the age of 14 without any known family. By using the DNA of two, third cousins along with my and my sister’s DNA I was able to find distant cousins that we were related to that could only have been through Margaret or her husband, Bethuel Gray. Low level cousins first led me to the Jeffers and McGuire grandparents of Margaret. She was no longer a kid from the “cabbage patch” but had a real family with a sister who had stayed in Mason County. I now have a photograph of that sister and her descendant one of Margaret’s. God knows that I am lucky to have family with names and historical records. I cannot imagine the difficulty of searching for distant relatives without that asset. I am not optimistic that Ancestry will stop their decision. My efforts to inform them about their searching nightmare regarding West Virginia/Virginia records has gone unheeded. Bill

    • I have also found a match @ a lower cm with a great tree, they were under the 20cm for Ancestry to show as a mutual match. Thankfully a 3rd party application allows me to see all the shared matches and does not make the giant leap that I am primarily interested in more recent ancestry. At a time when we are scrambling to find viable sources of income, this is a slap in the face of our entrepreneurs. Even social media like Facebook gives us a much greater community to use the results of our DNA tests and to think we pay them $20/month or more to be disregarded

  12. Roberta

    Thanks for speaking out (as you always do), and I sincerely hope they will listen to you.
    I have followed your blog for years, and been moved to tears more than once.
    I have found relatives with only 8cM shared dna on Ancestry.
    Most of my relatives are behind one or more brick walls, and I hope to find them before I soon die.
    I only have 4th to distant relatives, and need to find the MRCAs.

    Yours in solidarity,
    Pat in UK

  13. Thank you for writing this and for saying truth to power. It needed to be said and you said it well. Good trouble!

  14. Well said Roberta. Polynesian and Oceania population groups in a very similar position. Lots of small CMs but big totals and they need all the small stuff to make the connection.
    Coralie Smith, New Zealand

  15. Roberta and others, Just wanted to let you all know that I called 1 800 958 9124 and reached a young woman in China who could barely speak English. Instead of helping me file a complaint, she told me that the change would be good for me. Needless to say, I hung up and called the 800 number that I have on file, 1 800 615 6560. This time a young man in Mexico answered the call and he was able to pull up my file and type my concerns and nicely read his interpretation of what I was saying back to me. We agreed with the sentiment and he forwarded it to Ancestry. I have no idea when Ancestry started hiring international call centers, as all of my previous calls had been answered by folks in the states who knew Ancestry and genealogy. Clearly stuff is changing at Ancestry. I just alerted my McFadden facebook friends and alerted them to the coming change. Bill

  16. Well said. The only thing I would add to your list is add the number of shared matches a match has on the home page and/or a filter to find matches who have shared matches.

    During a rush to save these I just found a paternal 3C1R at 6-7 cm that has 25 shared matches. All those 25 matches went back to the same ancestral couple or their ancestors. So statistically seems unlikely that is a false match. For people outside of the US, with only 250-400 4th cousin or closer matches those 25 matches can equate to matching 10%.

    I also think the shared matching threshold should also be set by the user. When they lowered the threshold from 20 cM in the past for those 24 hours it was both a blessing and a curse depending on which line I was looking at.

    I think it is important to note that people like my father, who have weirdly long generations, their matches could be our last chance ever to identify that autosomal DNA. His closest living relative that was willing to test was a half nephew who is now in his early 70s just a couple of years younger than my dad. Once hidden from my fathers match list it could be gone for all future generations.

  17. It would be nice if Ancestry could give options such as seeing (or not seeing) matches under 8 cMs. Seeing (or not seeing) shared matches under 20 cMs.
    6 or 7 cMs seems very small but Ancestry seems to have problems assessing amounts of DNA and more than one company sometimes has the same match at a higher level. Are the other two companies both wrong– or could it be Ancestry?

    • Linda, I have a McFadden cousin with whom I share 19cm of DNA in GEDmatch and he does not show up as a genetic cousin in Ancestry. If I hadn’t have joined the McFadden Facebook group, I would never have known that he existed. His McFaddens went to New Zealand in 1800 and mine to PA and then Ohio. I can understand a mistake at 7 or 8 cms but 19 to nothing makes no sense. Bill

  18. Roberta, thank you so much! I agree with everything you said and will express the same sentiments to Ancestry. I am the descendant of enslaved ancestors and I live in the lower Cms. Even those lower matches w/out trees may be useful if they have shared matches so they should be kept as well. I like the idea that researchers that don’t need the smaller level matches should be able to turn that level off. The smaller level matches are often the clues I need to figure out how I match my European cousins. I would be lost without them.

    Also, while negotiating to have the cease and desist actions dropped and to make those services available again, would you please also try to get DNA Helper by Jeff Snavely back? That program was a wonder for those of us workiing with multiple kits.

    Thank you again. I like the idea of a petition AND direct contact with Ancestry.

    Pat B

  19. I’m on it. Forwarding your message to every genealogy group and contact I have. This is a disgrace. I have hundreds of critical DNA matches at 6 and 7 cM. That’s the level of match I’m looking for to break down my brick walls!!!

  20. Hi Roberta, Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention. I have found some trees which directly tie into my tree at the 6-7 cm level and I would not like to loose them. Also Ancestry already does not acknowledge some of my ethnic ancestry which is less than 1% . The thinning of trees will cause more of a loss. I have already brought this to the attention of customer service I will call them tomorrow again.

  21. They could at least give us the ability to download the less than 8cm matches like they did our email in folders.

  22. Roberta,

    Thank you for the blog. I am one of many with unknown surnames,, in fact I still don’t know the origin of my own surname past my Gt. Gt. Grandfather.

    One other thing that could help, and this is outside of ancestry, is the ability for a Gedmatch entry to match up with an ancestry user. If Gedmatch allowed folks who uploaded from ancestry to enter their user name, or even their URL, this would be very helpful.

    Just a thought
    Pete

  23. I manage 19 kits. I am working day and night trying to save my common matches that have 6-7cms for my sister, 1st cousin and myself and enter them into my tree. There are over 1,000 matches and I am very upset they aren’t given us enough time to do it. The website was so overloaded today that I couldn’t do anything.

  24. Roberta, I’m truly sorry for the way you were treated today. I don’t know if you removed your post or if someone else did, but I made a comment in the thread that the group rules were being ignored by the very people who created them. It doesn’t bother me that they don’t agree with you, but the nasty tone they used was inappropriate, to say the least. I thought better of them.

    I appreciated your article and I did give Ancestry some feedback, hoping that they would reconsider. Thank you for trying to advocate for a way that could be beneficial to everyone.

    • The administrator removed the post, then reframed the narrative saying it was hypocritical, and reposted it.

      • I just heard about that too, and the owner is contradicting his own words concerning biogeographical value, I am sickened

      • I was afraid of that. Calling someone else a hypocrite, while being a hypocrite = the very definition of irony.

  25. Roberta, I am 100% behind you. I don’t know why what you have to say should be unpopular. Thank you for saying it so well. The words of John Lewis are inspiring.

  26. Roberta – I truly appreciate your efforts to stop Ancestry from deleting all the smaller matches. But, why is there not a database where genealogists and we amateurs can somehow list the possible surnames of those enslaved, along with the given names when they are readily available in many, many of the wills of our ancestors? If I knew how to establish such a database, I would start one myself but am not computer knowledgeable enough to begin such an effort. I personally found many such enslaved people listed in the Wills of my own ancestors. Needless to say, I was appalled when I realized that some of my ancestors ‘owned’ such slaves. The Slave Schedules don’t provide much elucidation but the Archives of Wills of plantation owners often listed the first names of the slaves. Surely, it would be better than nothing to help our fellow citizens find their ancestors. I thought about writing to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., but have no idea how to go about that either.

  27. I tried to post on Ancestry- looks as if it was not accepted. I do wish you wouldn’t push your political opinions on your readers- I know exactly who John Lewis was and who Black Lives Matter are.

  28. Roberta, I don’t think I could have said it better. Here’s my story that I’ll pass on to AncestryDNA.

    FYI – Through the old stand-by guess, “the slave owner was the father”. Based on that, I have established a tree that is a one big MAYBE. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. You don’t know. Then I received a match with someone who is my 4th cousin 1x removed with 6 cM on 1 segment. Their tree and my tree points to the same common ancestors. AncestryDNA should remind themselves that they are helping us put hard facts behind our guesses. Don’t take away our small cM matches. And if you are not going to give us better tools, don’t prevent others from doing so. Thank You.

  29. I replied to the BLM post on Ancestry’s twitter. Hopefully something someone does will make an impact. Not holding my breath, though, Ancestry is not known for their social
    conscience.

  30. i shared your ‘plea to ancestry’ on several ancestry facebook groups and pages. hope it helps.

    • Is it possible to edit the petition so it addresses issues Roberta has outlined in this post, RE: the disproportionate to Black and Native American researchers?

  31. The thing that gets me is that this erasure of 6-7 cM matches is ON TOP OF the Timber algorithm that already excludes some segments of matching DNA to try to reduce indentical-by-descent false positives. Their wording of “updated matching algorithm” makes me wonder if they are tweaking Timber to be less strict and then killing the low matches, which could potentially be positive… But if this is solely for database size I wish they would just be honest.

    A thought – why not delete the distant matches only for unmanaged kits that haven’t logged in for a year or more (and/or have no trees)? With 18 million+ DNA customers, I’m sure there were plenty of drive-by ethnicity testers that wouldn’t be back to even notice the reduction while still remaining available to be viewed by their active matches.

  32. Thanks for the motivating post! This is what I’ve posted on their FB page…”I am another long term member who is very unhappy with the planned purge of DNA matches below 8cM. For our First Nations peoples around the world, and African Americans, this is truly a blow, as with a lack of records, and often non verified names, having the ability to find small matches can often be the only way to find long lost connections. And for me, having Chilean and Irish brick walls, those small matches can and have been, an invaluable tool. I’m very aware there are often false matches, but I think the advantages of being able to utilise them far outweigh the disadvantages. The move is also shortsighted as in this time of technological advancement it can only be a matter of time before somebody else is able to offer a much better service. Please don’t destroy the goodwill you enjoy now.”

  33. I just want to add a personal note to Roberta. There are a lot of other people who need these matches. I am currently dealing with burned counties in VA and NC. There are no records left. DNA matching is my only legitimate resource. I have tree matches down in there. Ancestry uses software programs to chop up segments, thus creating small segments that look false but are not. Either they need to stop chopping or leave us alone with our small matches.

  34. Roberta: Thanks for your clear, passionate, and persuasive essay about this important issue. I use ancestry.com’s powerful yet limited DNA tools to try to find out more about two of my ancestors from the 18th century. One named Tyree Gentry was of British and Cherokee descent. The other named Delilah Vann was of European (French, etc.), Cherokee, and African descent.

    You wrote that it is your belief that this purging of information is not being done deliberately to hurt African Americans and mestizx Native Americans. However, although that may well be the case (let’s hope that it is), I would remind you that the Curtis and Dawes Acts were not intended to hurt Native Americans. These acts were supposed to “help” indigenous peoples to become assimilated, private property-owning Americans. However, the end result was the further loss of indigenous peoples’ remaining homelands to the states and to the federal government, a devastating blow that was “not intended.” Many indigenous nations were severely harmed. Many mixedblood people wound up on the wrong side of the line.

    I will write a letter to ancestry.com to urge them to change their mind.

    Knowing history, I have little confidence that they will listen.
    I sincerely hope that I am wrong, and that they will have the courage to admit that their plan is wrong.

    Do the right thing.

    Seluda,
    Patrick Pynes, Ph.D.

  35. This is an excellent article! I feel for those with enslaved people roots. They have a hard enough time as it is! I will message Ancestry as well. I am really not happy with them for this and the cease and desist orders. You know, money talks. If enough of us cancelled our subscriptions for two months, I bet they’d listen.

  36. Thank you so much Roberta, my name is Franklin Smith, I’ve been doing genealogy for over 40 years and co-authored a book with Emily Croom entitled, “A Genealogist Guide to Discovering Your African American Ancestors”. I’ve done many presentations on the unique nature of African American pre-Civil War research, many black folks have failed to identify the slaveholder and discouraged and hopeless that they would ever trace their ancestors back into slavery especially those that were sold or taken to the deep south. Years of effort and persistence led me to identify most of my enslaved ancestors slaveholders but that’s as far as I’ve been able to get. Most of those ancestors were sold south and their slaveholders had no connections to their birth states.
    It was only though DNA and especially the clustering tools and small segments that I was able to at least if not confirm a MRCA determine the counties that they were from. Without this information I would not have any idea of their history before being sold south. Ancestry while restricting my ability to expand my African-American experience has done nothing to improve my chances of naming my ancestors that never lived to freedom.

    And thank you so much for acknowledging that ThruLines does not help African Americans attempting to connect to early enslaved ancestors. None of the other sites help due to their low number of tested African Americans and lack of trees. We talked before, I’m a descendant of the1st Lambert Dotson and my 102 year old cousin who recently passed at 107 was likely one of his oldest living descendants. I know the Dotson most MRCA the slaveholder and father of my 2nd great grandfather. It is the enslaved mother of my 2nd great grandfather who I’ve yet to identify an ancestor or collateral line. I believe she was sold south from Virginia as a young girl. it was the clustering tools and small segments that gave me hope. Again thank you so much cousin for putting in words the frustration and anger so many of us are feeling

  37. They certainly are not working for us their clients. Newspaper and Fold are now not an option without extra charge. No matter what level of membership you have they keep taking our most important tools away from us.
    They are not the only company, I have been thinking of using one of the African American.
    Thanks so much for this information, you have given us a lot to think about

  38. Thanks Roberta! Really well done. You clearly outline the problem and solutions for everyone. Excellence as always.

  39. Pingback: Roberta Estes: Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

  40. Roberta, I have a very small amount of African-American DNA (<1%) but it only shows up at 23&me and FTDNA. I have traced my African ancestry through genealogy so can independently confirm this part of my heritage. I have a will proving the manumission of my 3rd ggrandmother. I also know her parents, one of whom was the white slave owner.
    I have about 35 matches on Ancestry in the 6-7 cm category with common ancestors who share this same genealogy so it's no quirk.
    However, I have 74,000 matches in the 6-7 cm category who do not share a common ancestor with me (yet) but who could be potential relatives should they link, add or expand their tree. I don't want to lose them but it would take an inordinate amount of time to save them all to a group.
    I don't see any way to "select all" and save them as a block to a potential match group.
    Any ideas?

  41. I created a petition asking Ancestry to reconsider its planned mass deletion. It specifically addresses the potential impact that losing these small segments could have on African American researchers, and references this original post, which inspired me.

    Note that you can choose to not show your contact information if you sign the petition.

    I do realize someone else had started a petition, but it didn’t address this issue at all, and I did not get a response from them when I asked about editing that one to reference this post.

    https://www.petitions.net/ancestrycom_please_do_not_delete_small_dna_matches

      • For sure!
        I’m already taking some heat for it in a certain FB group. I don’t understand why some folks can’t just agree to disagree and move on. *eyeroll*

        • I got heat on a certain Facebook group as well. “You people” was part of the comment. A different opinion was not welcome at all.

          • “You people”? Looks like there are quite a few of “us people” standing up for others.

          • Happy to be lumped with this group of “good trouble-making” YOU people. 🙂

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