I knew something had changed at Ancestry when I signed in a few days ago and saw the following message:
Ancestry assured me that I’m fine, but people who don’t have a subscription can no longer see some DNA features.
Ancestry has placed some previously free features behind a paywall – meaning a subscription called AncestryDNA Plus.
If you have a full subscription to Ancestry, you’re covered. You’re not if you don’t have a full subscription and only ordered a DNA test.
I was waiting for clarification from Ancestry, which arrived in an email yesterday.
In the email from Ancestry, they listed the new AncestryDNA premium features, some of which were previously purchased separately, like Traits, some of which were included with the AncestryDNA test, and some of which are or will be new.
There are several features and changes, so let’s take a look.
AncestryDNA Plus Subscription
The subscription price is $29.99 for six months, not a year, and the subscription automatically renews. This means that unless you have a full Ancestry subscription, access to several DNA features now costs you $59.98 per year in addition to the price of your original DNA test. Ouch.
Whooboy. I can hear the screaming from here.
Yes, I know this is NOT what we were expecting when we purchased DNA tests, and I realize it’s quite pricey – especially given that it’s not a one-time purchase but an ongoing subscription.
I will review each of these features – but let me say that if you’ve been doing fine without them so far for your genealogy, there’s probably not anything you really need here.
The most important feature that genealogists need that is NOT available without a full Ancestry subscription is full access to the trees of our matches – and, to be clear, that is NOT available through the AncestryDNA Plus subscription.
Let’s look at each feature separately.
Traits and Traits by Parent
You know all those questions Ancestry has been asking you? Well, this is why.
Ancestry is comparing the DNA of individuals with specific answers to identify genetic commonalities.
Traits was a separate uplift fee in the past, but now it’s included in the AncestryDNA Plus subscription.
You may not have Traits on your account yet. My second test, which is a newer test, does NOT have traits available, but I’m sure it will soon.
If you have Traits, you will have a banner above your DNA Story, Matches and ThruLines on your DNA Results Summary page.
Ancestry includes 42 traits today.
Ancestry shows you which traits are most influenced by which parent, or both parents.
Where you fall within that range is provided as well.
Clicking on each trait provides additional information.
Don’t get too excited about this feature because some of these traits are apparently a lot more environmental than genetic. For example, according to Ancestry, male hair loss is “at least 4% genetic.” Each trait has similar information provided, and some have a surprisingly small percentage of genetic affinity. Others have a surprisingly large number of influencing genes.
Here’s a chart of my traits and the parent that Ancestry has assigned as most likely to have influenced this trait. Please note that for Ancestry to split your Traits by parent, you MUST be able to identify which side of your family your ethnicity categories descend from using SideView, which I wrote about, here. If your parents aren’t identified correctly, the source of your traits certainly won’t be either.
|Trait & % Genetic||My Result||Influenced by||Trait Accuracy|
|Alcohol Flush – 4%||Face does not flush||Maternal||Wrong|
|Asparagus odor – 4%||Able to smell asparagus metabolites (in urine)||Paternal||Accurate|
|Birth weight – 5%||Above average||Both||Unknown|
|Bitter sensitivity – 20%||Unable to taste a certain bitter flavor (PTC in brussel sprouts)||Both||Accurate – I taste brussel sprouts, but they don’t taste bitter|
|Caffeine intake – 4%||Likely to drink a lot less caffeine than average||Paternal||Wrong – I can’t drink caffeinated beverages anymore, but when I could, I consumed coffee by the pot|
|Cilantro aversion – 5%||Unlikely to enjoy cilantro||Maternal||Accurate|
|Cleft Chin – 8%||No cleft chin||Paternal||Accurate|
|Dancing – 7%||Least likely to enjoy dancing||Maternal||This is hilarious – my mother was a professional dancer, and I love dancing|
|Earlobes – 9%||Unattached earlobes||Maternal||Accurate|
|Earwax type – 2%||Wet earwax||Both||Accurate|
|Eye color – 7%||Brown||Maternal||Accurate – although both parents had brown eyes|
|Facial hair fullness – 7%||Patchier facial hair||Maternal||No idea|
|Finger length – 5%||Ring finger longer than index finger||Maternal||Wrong|
|Freckles – 9%||Unlikely||Maternal||Accurate|
|Hair color – 25%||Dark hair||Paternal||Accurate, although both parents had dark hair|
|Hair strand thickness – 1%||Thin hair||Maternal||Wrong – hair very thick|
|Hair type – 1%||Wavy||Maternal||Accurate|
|Heart rate recovery – 12%||Quicker recovery rate after exercise||Both||No idea|
|Introvert or extrovert – 1%||Introvert||Maternal||Also hilarious – my mother was very much the extrovert|
|Iris patterns – 35%||Furrows, crypts, and rings||Both||Can’t tell|
|Male hair loss – 4%||Lower chance||Paternal||Probably accurate – my father was not balding in his 60s|
|Morning or night person – 17%||Morning||Paternal||Wrong, wrong, 1000 times wrong|
|Omega 3 – 4%||Average levels||Both||No idea|
|Oxygen use – 38%||Average ability to raise maximum oxygen use||Paternal||No idea|
|Picky eater – 8%||Picky||Maternal||Wrong|
|Remembering dreams – 1%||Unlikely||Paternal||I remember some, sometimes, but they tend to fade|
|Risk Taking – 9%||More likely than 60% of the population||Both||Probably accurate|
|Skin pigmentation – 13%||Light to medium||Both||Accurate|
|Sun sneezing – 8%||Non sneezer||Paternal||Accurate|
|Sweet sensitivity – 4%||Extra sensitive||Both||Accurate|
|Taking naps – 6%||Not a nap taker||Maternal||Accurate|
|Tolerating dairy – 1%||Likely to tolerate||Paternal||Accurate|
|Umami sensitivity – 1%||Less sensitive than others||Both||Uncertain – I can taste Umami but since this is comparative, I don’t really know|
|Unibrow – 1%||No unibrow||Paternal||Accurate|
|Vitamin A – 7%||Average level||Maternal||No idea|
|Vitamin B12 – 5%||Average level||Maternal||No idea|
|Vitamin C – 4%||Average level||Paternal||No idea|
|Vitamin D – 10%||Average level||Both||No idea|
|Vitamin E – 14%||Average level||Maternal||No idea|
|Wisdom Teeth – 8%||Likely to develop all four teeth||Maternal||Accurate|
If you’re thinking to yourself – how can some of these traits be anything BUT genetic, such as unibrow, you’re not alone. How can unibrow and some other traits be anything BUT genetic?
Initially, I thought maybe this would help me learn about my father, who died when I was young, but based on the low percentage of genetic influence, combined with answers that I know are inaccurate – I can’t really rely on any of this genealogically either. All I can say is that I’m really glad I didn’t pay for this feature.
At the bottom of the Traits page is a “Compare Traits” tab where you can invite your matches to share traits with you.
My own second kit is not on the list of people to invite, so maybe immediate family is not available to invite? Or maybe it’s because that kit doesn’t have traits yet.
Ethnicity Inheritance shows which of your ethnicities were inherited from each parent. This was previously included in the price of your DNA test, but now it’s available through either the full Ancestry subscription or through the AncestryDNA Plus subscription.
I wrote about ethnicity inheritance when SideView was introduced, here.
Matches are now split by parent.
These matches and totals have recently been updated, at the same time as ThruLines.
Significant issues have been reported with both features, with matches incorrectly assigned that were previously assigned correctly. ThruLines has improved somewhat, but still has not been corrected entirely. Many known cousins who were previously linked to our common ancestor in ThruLines are no longer linked. I wrote about the ThruLines issue, here.
Ancestry’s chromosome painter is NOT a chromosome browser. Yes, it looks similar, but it definitely IS NOT the same thing.
What’s the difference between a chromosome browser and chromosome painting?
Chromosome browsing with matches and chromosome painting look similar, but they aren’t the same and have different functions.
A chromosome browser allows you to compare your matching DNA segments with others and view them in a browser to see which shared DNA segments overlap, indicating a common ancestor. A chromosome browser is required to perform triangulation, which confirms common ancestors and facilitates identifying which segments descend from specific ancestors. I provided a list of triangulation resources, here.
For example, three maternal cousins above are compared on my chromosomes (in grey) using the chromosome browser at FamilyTreeDNA. The three bars under chromosome 1 represent my matches with three selected cousins who descend from Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller.
- The first blue cousin matches me in two locations on chromosome 1.
- The second red cousin matches me in two locations on chromosome 1, one of which is the same location as the first blue cousin.
- The third turquoise cousin does not match me on chromosome 1 but does on chromosomes 3 and 4.
- None of those three cousins match me on chromosome 2.
- On chromosome 3, you can see that all three cousins match me on a portion of the same segment which in this case indicates that we all inherited that segment from our common ancestral couple. I know these cousins, so I already know this is a maternal match, but I can easily confirm by checking my mother’s results or using the matrix tool to be sure we all match each other. Any unknown match who matches us on this same segment also descends from this same ancestral line – meaning either Bauke and Eva, or one of their ancestral lines.
All major vendors except Ancestry provide a chromosome browser.
Chromosome painting is different.
While a chromosome browser displays your matching segments with selected matches, ethnicity chromosome painting automatically paints your ethnicity on your maternal and paternal chromosomes at each location.
Ancestry paints your ethnicity on your chromosomes by parent, by assigned world region, based on YOUR designation of maternal and paternal “sides.” My maternal chromosome is displayed on the top, and my paternal chromosome is displayed on the bottom.
With chromosome painting, there’s no way to see which matches match you on specific chromosomes. Nor does Ancestry provide you with segment information. In other words, you can’t compare a specific segment to see which of your matches match you on that segment.
However, that’s one of the great features at DNAPainter, and they’ve found a way to utilize Ancestry’s painting for that purpose.
DNAPainter estimates the segment information from Ancestry’s chromosome painting, which means you can utilize the segment information from Ancestry at DNAPainter. Having said that, I’m very skeptical of Ancestry’s painting accuracy.
Note that almost all of Ancestry’s chromosome painting covers the entire maternal or paternal chromosome with one ethnicity. In my case, three maternal chromosomes have two ethnicities, and the balance of 39 chromosomes show only one ethnicity for the entire chromosome.
That’s very suspicious, given my mixed heritage, and does not align with ethnicities at the other vendors.
Furthermore, if you look at chromosome 10 as an example, my maternal chromosome shows Scotland, and my paternal chromosome shows Ireland. My mother, who is primarily (87.5%) German, Dutch, and French, and whose ancestors I’ve confirmed through 5 generations have zero, as in no Scottish or Irish. So, in this case, the ethnicity is misattributed, which means the painting of that entire maternal chromosome is incorrect as well.
That’s not the only one. Ancestry has also attributed all of maternal chromosome 18 and half of chromosome 2 as Scottish too.
Ancestry updates their ethnicity estimates periodically, generally every year or so.
If yours hasn’t been updated recently, updates are supposed to be complete by the end of September 2023.
Ethnicity estimates are just that, and each update varies slightly, but that’s about it. The only ethnicity update that would help me is IF Ancestry “rediscovered” my Native American segments that come and go at Ancestry, AND they would include matching segment information with cousins so I can determine which of my ancestors contributed that Native segment. Then I’d know which cousins share that Native segment and could utilize their trees to isolate the common ancestor. Yes, I know, I’m hallucinating, because that’s never going to happen.
However, maybe an ethnicity update will encourage people to sign in and create trees. That would be useful.
Compare My DNA Ethnicity and Communities
Another feature that seems to be new and does NOT say “Member Access,” so should be available to everyone, is the ability to compare DNA ethnicities and communities with others.
By selecting the Compare My DNA tab, then DNA Communities, you can see which of your matches share communities with you.
Note that I don’t match my own second test exactly.
By selecting Ethnicity estimates, you can see which regions you and your matches have in common.
Please understand that this does NOT necessarily mean you share those regions due to the same ancestors!
For example, my Ferverda cousin and I may or may not share some or all of our Germanic Europe or England and Northwestern Europe ethnicity from our common ancestors – and there’s no way to know or tell without segment information and a chromosome browser.
Ancestry’s email referenced a future feature – Communities Inheritance by parental connection.
I only have three communities at Ancestry, and I know which ones result from which ancestors.
I’m presuming that if Ancestry is referencing this new feature, it’s not too far in the future.
Parental Sides Based on Ancestry Ethnicity
In the article about SideView, I discussed how customers indicate which parent is which based on ethnicity. If you can’t do it using ethnicity results alone, you can view your closest matches, which presumes you know how you’re related to them, and select ethnicity regions based on shared regions.
These additional features are built upon the base of SideView, which is built upon a base of Ancestry’s ethnicity estimate.
Many of these features rest on your ability to accurately determine your maternal and paternal sides – either using your ethnicity results or your shared ethnicity of your known closest matches. My Mom is 50% German and 24% Dutch, with the remainder being equally divided between French/Native (Acadian) and English. My father has no German and no known French. The high percentage of German made my parents easy to separate. Had I made a mistake though, or if Ancestry makes a mistake in ethnicity attribution, such as the Scottish example I provided, all of these features that depend on an accurate parental division will also be inaccurate.
This new feature rollout was confusing to sort out since:
- Some features require a full subscription
- Some require the new AncestryDNA Plus subscription (or a full subscription)
- Traits was previously an extra purchase but is now included with either subscription
- Some features remain available with the AncestryDNA test with no subscription
I made a chart.
|Feature||With DNA Test||Subscription Needed||Comment|
|Traits||Yes||Was an uplift, now included with either subscription|
|Traits by Parent||Yes||Now included|
|Ethnicity by parent||Yes||Was included, now behind paywall|
|Ethnicity Chromosome Painter||Yes||Was included, now behind paywall|
|Matches by parent||Yes||Was included, now behind paywall|
|Compare Communities with Matches||Yes||No||Today, there is no “Member Access” label|
|Compare Ethnicity Estimates with Matches||Yes||No||Today, there is no “Member Access” label|
|Communities by Parent||Yes||Future Feature|
|Full Access to Matches’ Trees||Partial||Full subscription needed, not AncestryDNA Plus||Future features in email from Ancestry|
Features not mentioned above remain included in the AncestryDNA test, meaning without any additional subscription:
- Grouping Matches
- Shared Matches
I have two issues with this new rollout. Ancestry is now charging for previously included features. Secondly, many of those up-charge features are predicated upon ethnicity estimates that the customer has to divide maternally and paternally. In other words, there’s a significant possibility that you’re paying for and depending upon something inaccurate.
What bothers me the most is the fact that Ancestry giveth, and Ancestry taketh away. The SideView features were included with the original DNA test purchase price initially, but now Ancestry has pushed some of those features behind a paywall. I feel that’s disingenuous.
In the bigger picture, I’ve wondered how long companies can continue to fund new features with new test sales. The companies have to provide the results to their millions of legacy clients that now reaches back years. As the database continues to grow, the processing and storage requirements do, too – and that isn’t free.
Companies that do not utilize DNA to leverage other sales would have more motivation to place at least some of their advanced tools behind a subscription paywall. 23andMe has been doing that progressively since 2020 and now offers a “membership” for $69 per year – assuming you have a recent test. Otherwise, you have to retest for the additional cost of $229 before you can purchase the membership.
MyHeritage also limits access to full trees for DNA testers without a Premium subscription, but by comparison, they have not put any features behind a paywall that were previously included in the DNA test, nor do they have a separate DNA subscription.
Both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage require a one-time unlock, $19 and $29, respectively, for advanced features if you upload a test from another testing company, meaning you didn’t test with them – but that’s entirely different from a secondary yearly subscription to access DNA features for paying customers.
FamilyTreeDNA, whose only business is DNA testing, includes all features with a DNA test. No subscription is available or required.
I’ve included this to say that I understand the need to generate revenue. My issue is that I feel like Ancestry, the largest DNA testing company, who could best afford research and development investment, essentially did a bait-and-switch with their customers by taking something away.
When ThruLines went sideways a month or so ago, I knew something was up. I suspected that Ancestry was recalculating relationships in the background for some reason. Now we know that the reason was these new features.
However, the problem with ThruLines isn’t fixed. I don’t believe many previous connections were wrong and are correct now. Cousins who match me and had common ancestors in their tree still have common ancestors in their tree and still match me – but aren’t currently connected through ThruLines. And I’m not referring to just a few.
Then, there are the issues with maternal and paternal match assignments.
Neither of these issues inspire much confidence, especially as a company begins charging for previously included features. Issues happen in IT, but the issues need to be resolved as soon as possible. The fact that these issues aren’t resolved, in addition to the required subscriptions being rolled out before the issues are resolved, makes me angry with a company many within the industry recommend in good faith.
I feel like all customers, full subscribers who want and need to utilize advanced tools to solve genealogical puzzles, along with customers who “only” tested their DNA, are being penalized.
The very least Ancestry could have done was delay the subscription rollout until they fixed the mess they made. The honorable thing would have been to only place new features behind the paywall, not taking existing features away from customers already enjoying them.
I have a full yearly subscription, so I’m covered, but if I were not, there’s nothing in the new features that I think will benefit my genealogy.
- Traits doesn’t benefit genealogy
- Traits by parent doesn’t benefit genealogy
- Ethnicity by parent doesn’t – even if it was accurate.
- Chromosome painting doesn’t – in part because the ethnicity and division is inaccurate and in part because no segment information is provided.
- Matches by parent could be useful, but since it’s currently malfunctioning and is based on SideView ethnicity divisions, I don’t have much confidence in the results.
- Communities by parent, a future feature, might be useful for some people, assuming parents are assigned correctly.
Since we are discussing Ancestry’s new features, I know that someone will ask if I’ve noticed the new Ancestry Dog DNA test that rolled out simultaneously.
Yes, I noticed. I suggest you read this article before purchasing any dog DNA test from any source.
There’s so much that Ancestry could do for their paying customers, whether we’ve paid for a DNA test, a subscription, or both, but instead, they’ve focused their efforts on another revenue-producing product that has nothing to do with human genealogy.
I feel like Ancestry is offering a lot of window dressing eye-candy, while what we really need are genealogical answers that are within their power to provide.
The four DNA-related features that Ancestry could provide that would be the most beneficial for genealogy would be:
- DNA match search by ancestor. Not surname-only like is provided today. Not just Estes, but Moses Estes, or better yet – the Moses Estes born in 1711 who died in 1787. I have 106,000 matches, and I’m not going to scroll through what are probably thousands of never-ending unrolling matches, each of which I have to click on their tree to see if my ancestor is there. This is entirely unnecessary.
- Matching segment information for matches, including triangulation. I want to confirm which ancestor I share with my matches – and prove it.
- Chromosome browser – seeing is believing.
- ThruLines extended back at least another two generations, from 7 to 9.
Working without these features is akin to riding a unicycle with one hand tied behind your back. I swear, sometimes I feel like Ancestry doesn’t want us to FIND our ancestors; they just want us to keep looking!
But that really doesn’t help them in the long run, either.
Helping genealogists actually identify ancestors means we have an entirely new generation to search for in those subscription records, and then another, and another. Yep, we’d have more reason than ever to subscribe!
I want more than a carrot dangling at the end of a stick. I want tools that facilitate answers. Now, for that, I’d gladly pay a subscription.
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