DNA Results – First Glances at Ethnicity and Matching!

People who have worked with genetic genealogy for a long time often forget what it’s like to be a new person taking a DNA test.

Recently, someone asked me what a tester actually sees after they take a DNA test and their results are ready. Good question, especially for someone trying to decide what might work for them.

I’m going to make this answer very simple. For each of the 4 major vendors, I’m going to show what a customer sees when they first sign in and view their results. Not everything or every tool, just their main page along with the initial matching and ethnicity pages.

Please feel free to share this article with people who are new and might be interested. It’s easy to follow along.

I do want to stress that this is just the beginning, not the end game and that every vendor has much more to offer if you take advantage of their tools.

Best of all, it’s so much FUN to learn about your heritage and your ancestry, plus meeting cousins and family members you may not have known that you had.

I’ve been gifted with photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents that I had no idea existed before meeting new family members.

I hope that all the new testers will become excited and that their results are just a tiny first step!

The Vendors

I’m going to take a look at:

Each vendor offers DNA matching to others in their database, plus ethnicity estimates. Yes, ethnicity is only an estimate.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA was the first and still the only genetic genealogy testing company to offer a full range of DNA testing products, launching in the year 2000. Today they stand out as the “science company,” offering both Y and mitochondrial DNA testing in addition to their Family Finder test which is comparable with the tests offered by Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

Your personal page at Family Tree DNA shows the following tools for the Family Finder test.

Glances Family Tree DNA home

The two options we’ll look at today are your Matches and myOrigins, which is your ethnicity estimate.

Click on Matches to view whose DNA matches you. In my case, on the page below, you can see that I have a total of 4610 matches, of which 986 have been assigned to my paternal side, 842 to my maternal side, and 4 to both sides. In my case, the 4 assigned to both sides are my children and grandchildren, which makes perfect sense,

Glances Family Tree DNA matches

You can click to enlarge this graphic.

The green box above the matches indicates additional tools which provide information such as who I match in common with another person. I can see, for example, who I match in common with a first cousin which is very helpful in determining which ancestor those matches are related through.

The red box and circle show information provided to me about each match.

Family Tree DNA is able to divide my matches into “Maternal,” “Paternal” and “Both” buckets because they encourage me to link DNA matches on my tree. This means that I connect my mother to her location on my tree so that Family Tree DNA knows that people that match Mother and me both are related on my mother’s side of the tree.

Your matches don’t have to be your parents for linking to work. The more people you link, the more matches Family Tree DNA can put into buckets for you, especially if your parents aren’t available to test. Plus, your aunts and uncles inherited parts of your grandparent’s DNA that your parents didn’t, so they are super important!

Figuring out which side your matches come from, and which ancestor is first step in genetic genealogy!

You can see, above, that my mother is “assigned” on my maternal side and my son matches me on both.

“Bucketing” is a great, innovative feature. But there’s more.

The tan rounded rectangle includes ancestral surnames, with the ones that you and your match have in common shown in bold.

Based on the amount of DNA that I share with a match, and other scientific calculations, a relationship range is calculated, with the linked relationship reflecting where I’ve put that person on my tree.

If your match has uploaded or created a tree, you can view their tree (if they share) by clicking on the little blue pedigree icon, above, circled in tan between the two arrows.

Glances Family Tree DNA tree

Here’s my tree with my family members who have DNA tested attached in the proper places in my tree. Of course, there are a lot more connected people that I’m not showing in this view.

Advanced features include tools like a matching matrix and a chromosome browser where you can view the segments that actually match.

Family Tree DNA Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on myOrigins and you’ll see the following, along with people you match in the various regions if they have given permission for that information to be shared with their matches:

Glances Family Tree DNA myOrigins

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has penetrated the European market quite well, so if your ancestors are from the US or Europe, MyHeritage is a wonderful resource. They offer both DNA testing and records via subscription, combining genetic matches and genealogical records into a powerful tool.

Glances MyHeritage home

At MyHeritage, when you sign in, the DNA tab is at the top.

Clicking on DNA Matches shows you the following match list:

Glances MyHeritage matches

To review all of the information provided for each match, meaning who they match in common with you, their ancestral surnames, their tree and matching details, you’ll click on “Review DNA Match.”

MyHeritage provides a special tool called Theories of Family Relativity which connects you with others and your common ancestors. In essence, MyHeritage uses DNA, trees and records to weave together at least some of your family lines, quite accurately.

Here’s a simple example where MyHeritage has figured out that one of the testers is my niece and has drawn our connection for us.

Theory match 2

Theories of Family Relativity is a recently released world-class tool, easy to use but can solve very complex problems. I wrote about it here.

Advanced DNA tools include a chromosome browser and triangulation, a feature which shows you when three people match on a common segment, indicating genetically that you all 3 share a common ancestor from whom you inherited that common piece of DNA.

MyHeritage Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate at MyHeritage, simply click on Ethnicity Estimate on the menu.

Glances MyHeritage ethnicity.png

23andMe

23andMe is better known for their health offering, although they were the first commercial company to offer autosomal commercial testing. However, they don’t support trees, which for genealogists are essential. Furthermore, they limit the number of your matches to your 2000 closest matches, but if some of those people don’t choose to be included in matching, they are subtracted from your 2000 total allowed. Due to this, I have only 1501 matches, far fewer matches at 23andMe than at any of the other vendors.

Glances 23andMe home

At 23andMe when you sign on, under the Ancestry tab you’ll see DNA Relatives which are your matches and Ancestry Composition which is your ethnicity estimate.

Glances 23andMe matches

While you don’t see all of the information on this primary DNA page that you do with the other vendors, with the unfortunate exception of trees, it’s there, just not on the initial display.

23andMe also provides some advanced tools such as a chromosome browser and triangulation.

23andMe Ethnicity

What 23andMe does exceptionally well is ethnicity estimates.

To view your ethnicity at 23andMe, click on Ancestry Composition.

Glances 23andMe ethnicity

23andMe refines your ethnicity estimates if your parents have tested and shows you a composite of your ethnicity with your matches. However, I consider their ethnicity painting of your chromosomes to be their best feature.

Glances 23andMe chromosome painting

You can see, in my case, the two Native American segments on chromosomes 1 and 2, subsequently proven to be accurate via documentation along with Y and mitochondrial DNA tests at Family Tree DNA. The two chromosomes shown don’t equate necessarily to maternal and paternal.

I can download this information into a spreadsheet, meaning that I can then compare matches at other companies to these ethnicity segments on my mother’s side. If my matches share these segments, they too descend from our common Native American ancestor. How cool is that!!!

Ancestry

Ancestry’s claim to fame is that they have the largest DNA database for autosomal results. Because of that, you’ll have more matches at Ancestry, but if you’re a genealogist or someone seeking an unknown family member, the match you NEED might just be found in one of the other databases, so don’t assume you can simply test at one company and find everything you need.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Glances Ancestry home

At Ancestry, when you sign on, you’ll see the DNA tab. Click on DNA Story.

Glances Ancestry DNA tab

Scrolling past some advertising, you’ll see DNA Story, which is your Ethnicity Estimate and DNA Matches.

ThruLines, at right, is a tool similar to MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, but not nearly as accurate. However, Thrulines are better than they were when first released in February. I wrote about ThruLines here.

Glances Ancestry matches

Clicking on DNA Matches shows me information about my matches, in red, their trees or lack thereof in green, and information I can enter including ways to group my matches, in tan.

One of Ancestry’s best features is the green leaf, at the bottom in the green box, accompanied by the smiley face (that I added.) That means that this match’s tree indicates that we have a common ancestor. However, the smiley face is immediately followed by the sad face when I noticed the little lock, which means their tree is private and they aren’t sharing it with me.

If DNA testers forget and don’t connect their tree to their DNA results, you’ll see “unlinked tree.”

Like other vendors, Ancestry offers other tools as well, including the ability to define your own colored tags. You can see that I’ve tagged the matches at far right in the gold box with the little colored dots. I was able to define those dots and they have meanings such as common ancestor identified, messaged, etc.

Ancestry Ethnicity

To view your ethnicity estimate, click on “View Your DNA Story.”

Glances Ancestry ethnicity

You’ll see your ethnicity estimate and communities of matches that Ancestry has defined. By clicking on the community, you can see the ancestors in your tree that plot on the map into that community, along with a timeline. Seeing a community doesn’t necessarily mean your ancestor lived there, but that you match a group of people who are from that community.

Sharing Information

You might be thinking to yourself that it would be a lot easier if you could just test at one vendor and share the results in the other databases. Sometimes you can.

There is a central open repository at GedMatch, but clearly not everyone uploads there, so you still need to be in the various vendors’ data bases. GedMatch doesn’t offer testing, but offers additional tools, flexibility and open access not provided by the testing vendors.

Of these four vendors, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage accept transferred files from other vendors, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

Transferring

If you’re interested in transferring, meaning downloading your results from one vendor and uploading to another, I wrote a series of how-to transfer articles here:

Enjoy your new matches and have fun!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Identifying Unknown Parents and Individuals Using DNA Matching

There have been a lot of questions recently about the methodology used by people searching for unknown parents and other unidentified individuals. I covered this technique in concept recently at a conference as part of an overview presentation. In this article, I’m addressing only this topic and in more detail.

What is the methodology that genealogists use to identify unknown parents? It’s exactly the same process used to identify unknown Does, meaning unidentified bodies as well as violent criminals who have left DNA, such as blood or semen, at a crime scene.

How is Identifying Unknown Individuals Different from Genealogy?

Genealogists are interested in discovering their ancestors. Generally, genealogists know who their parents are and most of the time, their grandparents as well. Not very many people can tell you the names of their great-grandparents off the top of their head – not unless they ARE genealogists😊

Genealogists interview family members and access family sources, such as photos, Bibles, boxes of memorabilia and often extend their family another generation or two using these resources. Then, to gather additional information, genealogists turn to publicly available sources such as:

Constructing a Tree

Genealogists utilize software to create trees of their ancestors, either on their own computers with software such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy, RootsMagic or the free tree building software from MyHeritage. They then either synchronize or duplicate their tree on the public sites mentioned above which provide functionality such as “hints” that point to documents relevant to the ancestors in their tree. Additionally, they can access the trees of other genealogists who are researching the same ancestors. This facilitates the continued growth of their tree by adding ancestors and extending the tree back generations.

While tree-building is the goal of genealogists, the trees they build are important tools for people seeking to identify unknown individuals.

The Tree

Generations tree

In my tree, shown in the format of a pedigree chart, above, you can see that I’ve identified all 16 of my great-great-grandparents. In reality, because I’ve been a genealogist for decades, I’ve identified many more of my ancestors which are reflected in my tree on my computer and in my trees at both Ancestry and MyHeritage where I benefit from hints and DNA matches.

Genealogical pedigree charts are typically represented with the “home person,” me, in this case at the base with my ancestors branching out behind them like a lovely peacock’s tail.

While I’m looking for distant ancestors, adoptees and others seeking the identities of contemporary people are not looking back generations, but seek to identify contemporary generations, meaning people who are alive or lived very recently, typically within a generation.

Enter the world of genetics and DNA matching.

Genetics, The Game Changing Tool

Before the days of DNA testing, adoptees could only hope that someone knew the identify of their biological parents, or that their biological parents registered with a reunion site, or that their court records could be opened.

DNA testing changed all of that, because people can now DNA test and find their close relatives. As more people test, the better the odds of actually having a parent or sibling match, or perhaps a close relative like an aunt, uncle or first cousin. My closest relative that has tested that I didn’t know was testing is my half-sister’s daughter.

You share grandparents with your first cousin, and since you only have 4 grandparents, it’s not terribly difficult to figure out which set of grandparents you connect to through that first cousin – especially given the size of the databases and the number of matches that people have today.

The chart below shows my matches as of June 2019.

Vendor

Total Matches

Second Cousin or Closer

Family Tree DNA

4,609

18

MyHeritage

9,644

14

23andMe

1,501

5

Ancestry

80,151

8

You can see that I have a total of 45 close matches, although some of those matches are duplicates of each other. However, each database has some people that are only in that database and have not tested at other companies or transferred to other databases.

Situations like this are exactly why people who are searching for unknown family members take DNA tests at all 4 of the vendors.

Stories were once surprising about people who tested and either discover a previously unknown close relative, or conversely discovered that they are not related to someone who they initially believed they were. Today these occurrences are commonplace.

Matches

If you’re searching for an unknown parent or close relative, you just might be lucky to receive a parental, sibling, half-sibling or uncle/aunt match immediately.

An estimated relationship range is provided by all vendors based on the amount of DNA that the tester shares with their match.

Generations Family Tree DNA matches

My mother’s match page at Family Tree DNA is shown above. You can see that I’m Mother’s closest match. My known half brother did not test before he passed away, and mother’s parents are long deceased, so my mother should NEVER have another match this close.

So, who is that person in row 2 that is also predicted to be a mother or daughter? I took a test at Ancestry and uploaded my results to Family Tree DNA for research purposes, so this is actually my own second kit, but for example purposes, I’ve renamed myself “Example Adoptee.” Judging from the photo here, apparently my “adopted” sibling was a twin😊

If the adoptee tested at Family Tree DNA, she would immediately see a sibling match (me) and a parent match (Mom.) A match at that cM (centiMorgan) level can only be a parent or a child, and the adoptee knows whether she has a child or not.

Let’s look at a more distant example, which is probably more “typical” than immediately finding a parent match.

Let’s say that the “male adoptee” at the bottom in the red box is also searching for his birth family. He matches my mother at the 2nd-3rd cousin level, so someplace in her tree are his ancestors too.

People who have trees are shown with gold boxes around the tiny pedigree icons, because they literally are trees of gold.

Because of Family Tree DNA’s “bucketing” tool, the software has already told my Mother that the male adoptee is a match on her father’s side of her tree. The adoptee can click on the little pedigree icon to view the trees of his matches to view their ancestors, then engage in what is known as “tree triangulation” with his other close matches.

From the Perspective of the Adoptee

An adoptee tests not knowing anything about their ancestors.

Generations adoptee

When their results come back, the adoptee, in the red box in the center, hoping to identify their biological parents, discovers that their closest matches are the testers in the pink and blue ovals.

The adoptee does NOT know that these people are related to each other at this point, only that these 7 people are their closest matches on their match list.

The adoptee has to put the rest of the story together like a puzzle.

Who Matches Each Other?

In our scenario, test takers 2, 3 and 8 don’t match the adoptee, so the adoptee will never know they tested and vice versa. Everyone at a second cousin level will match each other, but only some people will match at more distant relationships, according to statistics published by 23andMe:

Relationship Level

Percentage of People Who Match

Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, half siblings, half aunts/uncles and 1st cousins

100%

2nd cousins

>99%

3rd cousins

90%

4th cousins

45%

5th cousins

15%

6th cousins and more distant

<5%

You can view a detailed chart with additional relationships here.

Tree Triangulation

By looking at the individual trees of test taker 1, 4 and 5 whom they match, the adoptee notices that John and Jane Doe are common ancestors in the trees of all 3 test takers. The adoptee may also use “in common with” tools provided by each vendor to see who they match “in common with” another tester. In this case, let’s say that test taker 1, 4 and 5 also match each other, so the adoptee would also make note of that, inferring correctly that they are members of the same family.

The goal is to identify a common ancestor of a group of matches in order to construct the ancestor’s tree, not a pedigree chart backwards in time, as with genealogy, but to construct a descendants’ tree from the ancestral couple to the current day, as completely as possible. After all, the goal is to identify the parent of the adoptee who descends from the common ancestor.

Generations adoptee theory

In this case, the adoptee realized that the pink test takers descended from John and Jane Doe, and the blue test takers descended from Walter and Winnie Smith, and constructed descendant trees of both couples.

The adoptee created a theory, based on the descendants of these two ancestral couples, incorporating other known facts, such as the year when the adoptee was born, and where.

In our example, the adoptee discovered that John and Jane Doe had another daughter, Juanita, whose descendants don’t appear to have tested, and that Juanita had a daughter who was in the right place at the right time to potentially be the mother of the adoptee.

Conversely, Walter and Winnie Smith had a son whose descendants also appear to have not tested, and he had a son who lived in the same place as Juanita Doe. In other words, age, opportunity and process of elimination all play a role in addition to DNA matches. DNA is only the first hint that must be followed up by additional research.

At this point, if the adoptee has taken either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, those results can serve to either include or exclude some candidates at Family Tree DNA. For example, if the adoptee was a male and matched the Y DNA of the Smith line, that would be HUGE hint.

From this point on, an adoptee can either wait for more people to test or can contact their matches hoping that the matches will have information and be helpful. Keep in mind that all the adoptee has is a theory at this point and they are looking to refine their theory or create a new one and then to help narrow their list of parent candidates.

Fortunately, there are tools and processes to help.

What Are the Odds?

One helpful tool to do this is the WATO, What Are the Odds statistical probability tools at DNAPainter.

Using WATO, you create a hypothesis tree as to how the person whose connection you are seeking might be related, plugging them in to different tree locations, as shown below.

Generations WATO

This is not the same example as Smith and Doe, above, but a real family puzzle being worked on by my cousin. Names are blurred for privacy, of course.

Generations WATO2

WATO then provides a statistical analysis of the various options, with only one of the above hypothesis being potentially viable based on the level of DNA matching for the various hypothetical relationships.

DNAPainter Shared cM Tool

If your eyes are glazing over right about now with all of these numbers flying around, you’re not alone.

I’ll distill this process into individual steps to help you understand how this works, and why, starting with another tool provided by DNAPainter, the Shared cM tool that helps you calculate the most likely relationship with another person.

The more closely related you are to a person, the more DNA you will share with them.

DNAPainter has implemented this tool based on the results of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project where you can enter the amount of DNA that you share with someone to determine the “best fit” relationship, on average, plus the range of expected shared DNA.

Generations DNAPainter Shared cM Project

You, or the test taker, are in the middle and the relationship ranges surround “you.”

For example, you can clearly see that the number of cMs for my Example Adoptee at 3384 is clearly in the Parent or Child range. But wait, it could also be at the very highest end of a half sibling relationship. Other lower cM matches are less specific, so another feature of the DNAPainter tool is a life-saver.

At the top of the page, you can enter the number of matching cMs and the tool will predict the most likely results, based on probability.

Generations 3384

The relationship for 3384 cMs is 100% a parent/child relationship, shown above, but the sibling box is highlighted below because 3384 is the very highest value in the range. This seems to be a slight glitch in the tool. We can summarize by saying that it would be extremely, extremely rare for a 3384 cM match to be a full sibling instead of a parent or child. Hen’s teeth rare.

Generations parent child

Next, let’s look at 226 cM, for our male adoptee which produces the following results:

Generations 226

The following chart graphically shows the possible relationships. The “male adoptee” is actually Mom’s second cousin. This tool is quite accurate.

Generations 226 chart

Now that you’ve seen the tools in action, let’s take a look at the rest of the process.

The Steps to Success

The single biggest predictor of success identifying an unknown person is the number of close matches. Without relatively close matches, the process gets very difficult quickly.

What constitutes a close match and how many close matches do adoptees generally have to work with?

If an adoptee matches someone at a 2nd or 3rd cousin level, what does that really mean to them?

I’ve created the following charts to answer these questions. By the way, this information is relevant to everyone, not just adoptees.

In the chart below, you can view different relationships in the blue legs of the chart descending from the common ancestral couple.

In this example, “You” and the “Other Tester” match at the 4th cousin level sharing 35 cM of DNA. If you look “up” the tree a generation, you can see that the parents of the testers match at the 3rd cousin level and share 74 cM of DNA, the grandparents of the testers match at the 2nd cousin level and share 223 cM of DNA and so forth.

Generations relationship table

In the left column, generations begin being counted with your parents as generation 1. The cumulative number of direct line relatives you have at each generation is shown in the “# Grandparents” column.

Generations relationship levels

Here’s how to read this chart, straight across.

Viewing the “Generation” column, at the 4th generation level, you have 16 great-great-grandparents. Your great-great-grandparent is a first cousin to the the great-great-grandparent of your 4th cousin. Their parents were siblings.

Looking at it this way, it might not seem too difficult to reassemble the descendancy tree of someone 5 generations in the past, but let’s look at it from the other perspective meaning from the perspective of the ancestral couple.

Generations descendants

Couples had roughly 25 years of being reproductively capable and for most of history, birth control was non-existent. If your great-great-great-grandparents, who were born sometime near the year 1800 (the births of mine range from 1785 to 1810) had 5 children who lived, and each of their descendants had 5 children who lived, today each ancestral couple would have 3,125 descendants.

If that same couple had 10 children and 10 lived in each subsequent generation, they would have 100,000 descendants. Accuracy probably lies someplace in-between. That’s still a huge number of descendants for one couple.

That’s JUST for one couple. You have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, or 16 pairs, so multiply 16 times 3,125 for 50,000 descendants or 100,000 times 16 for…are you ready for this…1,600,000 descendants.

Descendants per GGG-grandparent couple at 5 generations Total descendants for 16 GGG-grandparent couples combined
5 children per generation 3,125 50,000
10 children per generation 100,000 1,600,000

NOW you understand why adoptees need to focus on only close matches and why distant matches at the 3rd and 4th cousin level are just too difficult to work with.

By contrast, let’s look at the first cousin row.

Generations descendants 1C.png

At 5 descendants per generation, you’ll have 25 first cousins or 100 first cousins at 10 descendants per generation.

Generations descendants 2C

At second cousins, you’ll have 125 and 1,000 – so reconstructing these trees down to current descendants is still an onerous task but much more doable than from the third or fourth cousin level, especially in smaller families.

The Perfect Scenario

Barring a fortuitous parent or sibling match, the perfect scenario for adoptees and people seeking unknown individuals means that:

  • They have multiple 1st or 2nd cousin matches making tree triangulation to a maternal and paternal group of matches to identify the common ancestors feasible.
  • Their matches have trees that allow the adoptee to construct theories of how they might fit into a family.

Following the two steps above, when sufficient matching and trees have been assembled, the verification steps begin.

  • Adoptees hope that their matches are responsive to communications requesting additional information to either confirm or refute their relationship theory. For example, my mother could tell the male adoptee that he is related on her father’s side of the family based on Family Tree DNA‘s parental “side” assignment. Based on who else the adoptee matches in common with mother, she could probably tell him how he’s related. That information would be hugely beneficial.
  • In a Doe situation where the goal is to identify remains, with a relatively close match, the investigator could contact that match and ask if they know of a missing family member.
  • In a law enforcement situation where strong close-family matches that function as hints lead to potential violent crime suspects, investigators could obtain a piece of trash discarded by the potential suspect to process and compare to the DNA from the crime scene, such as was done in the Golden State Killer case.

If the discarded DNA doesn’t match the crime scene DNA, the person is exonerated as a potential suspect. If the discarded DNA does match the crime scene DNA, investigators would continue to gather non-DNA evidence and/or pick the suspect up for questioning and to obtain a court ordered DNA sample to compare to the DNA from the crime scene in a law enforcement database.

Sometimes DNA is a Waiting Game

I know that on the surface, DNA matching for adoptees and unknown persons sounds simple, and sometimes it is if there is a very close family match.

More often than not, trying to identify unknown persons, especially if the tester doesn’t have multiple close matches is much like assembling a thousand-piece puzzle with no picture on the front of the box.

Sometimes simply waiting for a better match at some point in the future is the only feasible answer. I waited years for my brother, Dave’s family match. You can read his story here and here.

DNA is a waiting game.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Reminder: Ancestry’s DNA Circles Will Vanish July 1 – Act Now to Preserve

Ancestry circle example

This is reminder that Ancestry is permanently removing DNA Circles from customer accounts on July 1st. If you have not recorded the information held in your Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries, if you had any, do that NOW.

There is a misconception that ThruLines, introduced earlier in 2019, is the same thing as Circles, just in a different format. That is NOT accurate. ThruLines is a different tool and provides some of the same information as Circles (and NADs), but not all and the part that’s missing isn’t available elsewhere.

Circles provide you with information about people who match you that share a common ancestor, but they ALSO show you who else has tested and matches the people you match, but not you. That’s valuable information for numerous reasons. It verifies multiple children of that ancestor genetically and provides you with a genetic network to validate the ancestral connection for all of those people.

ThruLines only shows you who you match in the context of an ancestral family, not who else has tested that you don’t match.

In the article, Archive Ancestry DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries Now, I walk you through how to save your information step by step.

If you haven’t preserved your information, do so now before it’s too late.

DNA Day Prices and Vendors’ Best Features

DNA Day always produces great sales at the DNA testing companies. Here’s a breakdown of the prices available this week and the best autosomal feature of each vendor.

Company Regular Price Sale Price Ethnicity Matching to other testers Additional Tools Best Feature
FamilyTreeDNA – Family Finder *1 *2 79 49 Yes Yes Yes Maternal and paternal bucketing of matches without parents testing
MyHeritageDNA *5 79 59 Yes Yes Yes Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation
AncestryDNA *2 *6 99 69 Yes Yes Yes Data base size
23andMe Ancestry *3 99 99 Yes Yes Yes Ethnicity breakdown by chromosome segment
LivingDNA *4 99 59 Yes No *4 No Focus on British Isles

*1 – Family Tree DNA also sells both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests. For information on sale prices for those products, please see this article.

*2 – Sale ends April 25th.

*3 – The 23andme Ancestry plus Health test is on sale here for $169 versus the normal price of $199. Sale ends May 13th. Free shipping.

*4 – Sale expiration date not provided. LivingDNA’s matching has been in a very preliminary stage for months, and while I feel confident that eventually they will have viable matching, today matching should not be considered in a purchase decision.

*5 – Sale ends April 28th. Free shipping with purchase of 2 or more kits.

*6 – Free shipping through Amazon on Ancestry test at this link.

Test yourself and close family members (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), especially the older generations, to make full use of the tools and matching.

Fishing in all the ponds either directly or by transfer assures that you don’t miss that critical match.

Many of these prices only last 2 more days.

Enjoy!

Using Ancestry’s New Match Grouping Dots aka “MyMatchDots”

I’d like to say that yesterday’s article titled “Using Ancestry’s Tree Tags” was a little test to see if you were paying attention, but it wasn’t.

I conflated two different new features, and today, I’d like to straighten that out.

First, a shout out to Paula Williams for catching this. Thank you.

What Happened?

Flat out – I messed up. Mea culpa.

Ancestry introduced several new beta features at the same time. Cumulatively, it’s a big change. The functionality is interconnected AND they don’t all work reliably or consistently, so it’s more than a little confusing, or at least it obviously was for me. There is also no “i” information button describing the new features or providing instructions. However, I did find information on MyTreeTags in Ancestry Support here and grouping of matches using colored dots here.

Grouping matches using colored dots also doesn’t have a “name” like MyTreeTags, so it was easy to conflate with the tags. I wish they had named the grouping dots something like “MyMatchDots” to clearly differentiate the function from MyTreeTags, especially since they were released at the same time. Therefore, I’m referring to them at “MyMatchDots” because that’s a lot easier than “grouping matches using colored dots.”

I wasn’t just flying blind. I did watch the training video and thought I understood, but clearly I didn’t have all the moving pieces and parts straight. Maybe you don’t either, and this will help.

There is no graceful recovery here, except to apologize and fix the issue by publishing the correct information.

The good news is that I described the functionality of the colored dots for grouping matches (MyMatchDots) accurately.

The bad news is that I called it by the wrong name in the title and I referred to the colored grouping dots as “tags.” Seemed like a perfectly fitting name to me. Somehow, now I need to bleach that out of my mind. MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots, MyMatchDots…

The error, or course, HAD to be obvious AND in the title – a publishing sin that’s simply non-recoverable. Just like the tool you drop will roll to dead center under the table, bed or the vehicle where you can’t possible reach it. In case anyone had any doubt, Murphy lives!

So, from time to time, those of us who publish just get to suck it up and issue a correction. Today it’s my turn. Thank you for your tolerance and understanding.

One positive aspect – I’ve included additional information about MyMatchDots as well, based on questions and comments from the earlier article.

Groups (MyMatchDots) and MyTreeTags – the Difference

There are now two methods of grouping at Ancestry.

Groups (MyMatchDots) – Colored grouping dots that I described in the original article and am republishing below. I have deleted the earlier article with the incorrect title. The instructions for how to use match grouping dots in that article were and are accurate, but I’ve updated here.

MyMatchDots and MyTreeTags are different in that grouping dots (MyMatchDots) allow you to select up to 24 colored dots to append to and tag YOUR DNA MATCHES on your match list.

MyTreeTags – Tree tags allow you to tag people IN YOUR TREE, living or deceased, with predefined or custom tags.

Here’s a quick screenshot of examples of MyTreeTags as part of a new beta Workspace. In the next few days, I’ll publish an article with examples of how to activate and use MyTreeTags and more about the beta Workspace.

MyTreeTags beta workspace

What follows is the re-publication of yesterday’s instructions for defining and using the colored grouping dots, plus, how to sort and filter using the colored groupings (MyMatchDots.)

Using Ancestry’s New Color Grouping Dots (MyMatchDots)

One of Ancestry’s new beta features is their grouping feature using colored dots that’s I’m referring to as MyMatchDots – my name, not theirs. To enable, you need to click on “Extras” on the top black menu bar, then “Ancestry Lab” on the dropdown, then enable both MyTreeTags and New and Improved DNA Matches.

Ancestry lab.png

No, I don’t know what happens if you only enable one of the features, or turn them off and on. These features seem to be pretty tightly coupled. Feel free to experiment, but I haven’t.

Your DNA Matches

Everyone utilizes matching differently, for different purposes. Your goal should be to devise a grouping methodology that will support the way you are using DNA matching.

I’m showing you how I’m utilizing the colored dots for grouping my matches, and why, but your preferred method and mine may not be at all the same.

Next, click on DNA Matches.

Ancestry matches with tags.png

This shows my closest 2nd cousin matches. You’ll notice that many don’t have trees, or have unlinked trees, but since these are second cousin matches, it was relatively easy for me to figure out quickly which lines they descend from based on who I match in common with them. You can see my comments just below “Add/edit groups” and the little colored dots.

The little colored dots (MyMatchDots) are the group identifiers that I’ve added to each match.

By clicking on the “Add/edit groups” to the right of the colored dots, you can view the legend, meaning the groups you’ve defined. This is what you’ll see every time you want to group someone.

Ancestry tags.png

Notice that the first person, which is my own V2 (version 2) kit, is showing with a green dot, meaning I’ve identified the common ancestor. I could select any number of dots that I’ve defined, or I could define more dots by creating a custom group.

Ancestry custom groups.png

You have 24 colors to select from. I know that sounds like a lot, but you’ll need to do some planning.

MyMatchDots Grouping Strategy

I thought about creating a maternal and paternal match group, but that seemed like a waste of colored dots, so for now, I haven’t. The only way I have to identify maternal and paternal at Ancestry, because neither parent is available to test there, is via known ancestors – and that information is immediately evident to me by the comment indicating the common ancestor.

I tried to think about how I would use the colored dots for sorting.

I decided on the stop light analogy. A green dot for “identified ancestor,” yellow for either “probably identified” or darker yellow for “speculative,” and red for “I’m working on this but it’s tough.” In other words, red means not yet identified. No colored dot means I haven’t worked on that match.

I made both “messaged” and “private” both darker red dots, because often those are used together when I have a show stopper. I want to revisit matches in both of those categories, so I’ll want to be able to sort for them to see if:

  • trees have become public
  • more helpful shared matches exist
  • messages have been answered and I didn’t notice

What’s Missing?

Did you notice what’s missing? That little green leaf on your match list indicating that this person is a DNA match AND has a shared ancestor.

Ancestry common ancestors dropdown.png

While Ancestry just recently re-indexed the trees, the Shared Ancestor Hint “Common Ancestors” leaf is still missing on the matches page where it used to be displayed. I’m hopeful that it will be back as an icon on the match list.

Worse yet, when you click on the “Common Ancestors” filter to display only common ancestors, this error message appears.

Ancestry common matches.png

I do have common ancestor matches – 704 of them to be exact.

Let’s hope that this is a temporary glitch that will be fixed soon.

For me, being able to see the green leaf on my full match list is extremely important because I want to be able to quickly discern which of those matches have shared ancestors.

Fortunately, I made a note for each shared ancestor previously identified, so I sorted for “Notes” in order to group appropriately.

Ancestry notes.png

However, if you haven’t already made those notes, then sorting for notes isn’t useful.

If your account displays Common Ancestors when you select that option, skip to the “Ideas for Using MyMatchDot Groups” section of this article.

If your account does NOT display Common Ancestors, read the Work-Around section, next.

Work-Around

Utilizing my “regular” kit, which does NOT have ThruLines because I have two kits attached to “me” on the same tree, I can group by color (as you’ve seen), but Common Ancestors green leaf function is broken.

Utilizing my second kit V2 kit, which DOES have ThruLines, I can click on “704 Shared Ancestor Hints” from my main DNA Summary page or select the “Common Ancestors” dropdown.

Ancestry shared ancestor links.png

This works.

Ancestry common ancestor leaf.png

I understand that you can “force” common ancestors sorting to work on kits without ThruLines by toggling the Beta option for Advanced Matching to off, but after all the work I just did grouping all 704 of my shared matches, I’m not willing to risk losing all of those dots to test this workaround. The Beta “off” or “on” is for the entire account, not for each individual kit on the account.

What I will do, shortly, is to create a “twin” in my tree and connect my kit that doesn’t have ThruLines to that twin so both kits aren’t attached to “me.” That may or may not solve the problem.

If you do NOT have ThruLines yet, and you want to retain any existing New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), you must do so before you make a change that enables ThruLines, because NADs are gone on my account that HAS ThruLines, but they exist on the account without ThruLines. NADs have not been updated in many months, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to retain the existing information. I wrote about how to archive both your Circles and NAD information in this article. My account with ThruLines did retain the Circles. You can toggle back and forth from having ThruLines to not having Thrulines to view your NADs, but eventually, I’m sure they will disappear.

Sorting MyMatchDots

Now that you have matches grouped by color, how do you sort for those clusters? On your matches page, the dropdown for “All matches” shows the groups as well as reports how many people are in each group.

Ancestry groups sort

Ideas for MyMatchDot Groups 

I’ve shared my MyMatchDot grouping strategy, but I’ve kind of stumbled around playing with what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything.

One person mentioned to me that they are using dots to identify Leeds clusters. I wrote about the Leeds Method in this article which includes links to several articles by Dana Leeds who developed the methodology. She has also written this update. I may group based on Leeds clusters as well as the group dots I’ve already defined.

The great news is that you can assign any number of colored dots, through 24, for groups associated with any individual match.

Someone else mentioned that they were initially grouping based on Genetic Affairs clusters, but matches can change clusters, especially if the thresholds change, so that might not be such a good idea.

In the next article, we’ll talk about how to activate and use MyTreeTags.

DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy?

The landscape of genetic genealogy is forever morphing.

I’m providing a quick update as to which vendors support file transfers from which other vendors in a handy matrix.

Come join in the fun!

Testing and Transfer Strategy

Using the following chart, you can easily plan a testing and transfer strategy.

DNA Vendor Transfer Chart 2019

Click on image to enlarge.

Caveats and footnotes as follows:

1. After May 2016, the Ancestry test is only partly compatible, meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, Ancestry files are receiving all matches.

2. The 23andMe December 2010 (V3) version is fully compatible. December 2013-August 2017 (V4) and August 2017 (V5) tests are partly compatible meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, 23andMe V4 and V5 files are receiving all matches.
3. GedMatch has been working to resolve autosomal matching issues between vendor’s chips. Patience is a key word.
4. LivingDNA does not yet have full blown matching (I have one match), which has been in the testing phase for months, and has recently changed chip vendors.
5. Customer must extract the file using a file utility before it can be uploaded. LivingDNA indicates that they are working on a simpler solution.
6. Files transferred to LivingDNA must be in build 37 format.
4-12-2019 update – please note that MyHeritage does not accept 23andMe V2 files, only V3, V4 and V5.

Recommendations

My recommendations are as follows, and why:

Transfer Costs

Autosomal transfers and matching are free at the vendors who accept transfers, but payment for advanced tools is required.

  • Family Tree DNA – $19 one-time unlock fee for advanced tools
  • MyHeritage – $29 one-time fee for advanced tools
  • GedMatch – many tools free, but for Tier 1 advanced tools, $10 per month

All great values!

Please note that as vendors change testing chips and file formats, other vendors who accept transfers will need time to adapt. I know it’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s a sign that technology is moving forward. The good news is that after the wait, if there is one, you’ll have a brand new group of genealogy matches – many holding clues for you to decipher.

I’m in all of the databases, so see you there.

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

Full or Half Siblings?

Many people are receiving unexpected sibling matches. Everyday on social media, “surprises” are being reported so often that they are no longer surprising – unless of course you’re the people directly involved and then it’s very personal, life-altering and you’re in shock. Staring at a computer screen in stunned disbelief.

Conversely, sometimes that surprise involves people we already know, love and believe to be full siblings – but autosomal DNA testing casts doubt.

If your sibling doesn’t match at all, download your DNA files and upload to another company to verify. This step can be done quickly.

Often people will retest, from scratch, with another company just for the peace of mind of confirming that a sample didn’t get swapped. If a sample was swapped, then another unknown person will match you at the sibling level, because they would be the one with your sibling’s kit. It’s extremely rare, but it has happened.

If the two siblings aren’t biologically related at all, we need to consider that one or both might have been adopted, but if the siblings do match but are predicted as half siblings, the cold fingers of panic wrap themselves around your heart because the ramifications are immediately obvious.

Your full sibling might not be your full sibling. But how can you tell? For sure? Especially when minutes seem like an eternity and your thoughts are riveted on finding the answer.

This article focuses on two tools to resolve the question of half versus full siblingship, plus a third safeguard.

Half Siblings Versus Step-Siblings

For purposes of clarification, a half sibling is a sibling you share only one parent with, while a step-sibling is your step-parent’s child from a relationship with someone other than your parent. Your step-parent marries your parent but is not your parent. You are not genetically related to your step-siblings unless your parent is related to your step-parent.

Parental Testing

Ideally two people who would like to know if they are full or half siblings would have both parents, or both “assumed” parents to compare their results with. However, life is seldom ideal and parents aren’t always available. Not to mention that parents in a situation where there was some doubt might be reluctant to test.

Furthermore, you may elect NOT to have your parents test if your test with your sibling casts doubt on the biological connections within your family. Think long and hard before exposing family secrets that may devastate people and potentially destroy existing relationships. However, this article is about the science of confirming full versus half siblings, not the ethics of what to do with that information. Let your conscience be your guide, because there is no “undo” button.

Ranges Aren’t Perfect

The good news is that autosomal DNA testing gives us the ability to tell full from half-siblings by comparing the siblings to each other, without any parent’s involvement.

Before we have this discussion, let me be very clear that we are NOT talking about using these tools to attempt to discern a relationship between two more distant unknown people. This is only for people who know, or think they know or suspect themselves to be either full or half siblings.

Why?

Because the ranges of the amount of DNA found in people sharing close family relationships varies and can overlap. In other words, different degrees of relationships can be expected to share the same amounts of DNA. Furthermore, except for parents with whom you share exactly 50% of your autosomal DNA (except males don’t share their father’s X chromosome), there is no hard and fast amount of DNA that you share with any relative. It varies and sometimes rather dramatically.

The first few lines of this Relationship Chart, from the 2016 article Concepts – Relationship Predictions, shows both first and second degree relationships (far right column).

Sibling shared cM chart 2016.png

You can see that first degree relations can be parent/child, or full siblings. Second degree relationships can be half siblings, grandparents, aunt/uncle or niece/nephew.

Today’s article is not about how to discern an unknown relation with someone, but how to determine ONLY if two people are half or full siblings to each other. In other words, we’re only trying to discern between rows two and three, above.

As more data was submitted to Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, the ranges changed as we continued to learn. Blaine’s 2017 results were combined into a useful visual tool at DNAPainter, showing various relationships.

Sibling shared cM DNAPainter.png

Note that in the 2017 version of the Shared cM Project, the high end of the half sibling range of 2312 overlaps with the low end of the full sibling range of 2209 – and that’s before we consider that the people involved might actually be statistical outliers. Outliers, by their very definition are rare, but they do occur. I have seen them, but not often. Blaine wrote about outliers here and here.

Full or Half Siblings?

So, how to we tell the difference, genetically, between full and half siblings?

There are two parts to this equation, plus an optional third safeguard:

  1. Total number of shared cM (centiMorgans)
  2. Fully Identical Regions (FIR) versus Half Identical Regions (HIR)

You can generally get a good idea just from the first part of the equation, but if there is any question, I prefer to download the results to GedMatch so I can confirm using the second part of the equation too.

The answer to this question is NOT something you want to be wrong about.

Total Number of Shared cM

Each child inherits half of each parent’s DNA, but not the same half. Therefore, full siblings will share approximately 50% of the same DNA, and half siblings will share approximately 25% when compared to each other.

You can see the differences on these charts where percentages are converted into cM (centiMorgans) and on the 2017 combined chart here.

I’ve summarized full and half siblings’ shared cMs of DNA from the 2017 chart, below.

Relationship Average Shared cM Range of Shared cM
Half Siblings 1,783 1,317 – 2,312
Full Siblings 2,629 2,209 – 3,394

Fully Identical and Half Identical Regions

Part of the DNA that full siblings inherit will be the exact same DNA from Mom and Dad, meaning that the siblings will match at the same location on their DNA on both Mom’s strand of DNA and Dad’s strand of DNA. These sections are called Fully Identical Regions, or FIR.

Half siblings won’t fully match, except for very small slivers where the nucleotides just happen to be the same (identical by chance) and that will only be for very short segments.

Half siblings will match each other, but only one parent’s side, called Half Identical Regions or HIR.

Roughly, we expect to see about 25% of the DNA of full siblings be fully identical, which means roughly half of their shared DNA is inherited identically from both parents.

Understanding the Concept of Half Identical Versus Fully Identical

To help understand this concept, every person has two strands of DNA, one from each parent. Think of two sides of a street but with the same addresses on both sides. A segment can “live” from 100-150 Main Street, er, I mean chromosome 1 – but you can’t tell just from the address if it’s on Mom’s side of the street or Dad’s.

However, when you match other people, you’ll be able to differentiate which side is which based on family members from that line and who you match in common with your sibling. This an example of why it’s so important to have close family members test.

Any one segment on either strand being compared between between full siblings can:

  • Not match at all, meaning the siblings inherited different DNA from both parents at this location
  • Match on one strand but not the other, meaning the siblings inherited the same DNA from one parent, but different DNA from the other. (Half identical.)
  • Match identically on both, meaning the siblings inherited exactly the same DNA in that location from both parents. (Fully identical.)

I created this chart to show this concept visually, reflecting the random “heads and tails” combination of DNA segments by comparing 4 sets of full siblings with one another.

Sibling full vs half 8 siblings arrows

This chart illustrates the concept of matching where siblings share:

  • No DNA on this segment (red arrow for child 1 and 2, for example)
  • Half identical regions (HIR) where siblings share the DNA from one parent OR the other (green arrow for child 1 and 2, for example, where the siblings share brown from mother)
  • Fully identical regions (FIR) where they share the same segment from BOTH parents so their DNA matches exactly on both strands (black boxed regions)

If a region isn’t either half or fully identical, it means the siblings don’t match on that piece of DNA at all. That’s to be expected in roughly 50% of the time for full siblings, and 75% of the time for half siblings. That’s no problem, unless the siblings don’t match at all, and that’s entirely different, of course.

Let’s look at how the various vendors address half versus full siblings and what tools we have to determine which is which.

Ancestry

Ancestry predicts a relationship range and provides the amount of shared DNA, but offers no tools for customers to differentiate between half versus full siblings. Ancestry has no chromosome browser to facilitate viewing DNA matches but shared matches can sometimes be useful, especially if other close family members have tested.

Sibling Ancestry.png

Update 4-4-2019 – I was contacted by a colleague who works for an Ancestry company, who provided this information: Ancestry is using “Close Family” to designate avuncular, grandparent/grandchild and half-sibling relationships. If you see “Immediate Family “the relationship is a full sibling.

Customers are not able to view the results for ourselves, but according to my colleague, Ancestry is using FIRs and HIRs behind the scenes to make this designation. The Ancestry Matching White Paper is here, dating from 2016.

If Ancestry changes their current labeling in the future, this may not longer be exactly accurate. Hopefully new labeling would provide more clarity. The good news is that you can verify for yourself at GedMatch.

A big thank you to my colleague!

MyHeritage

MyHeritage provides estimated relationships, a chromosome browser and the amount of shared DNA along with triangulation but no specific tool to determine whether another tester is a full or half sibling. One clue can be if one of the siblings has a proven second cousin or closer match that is absent for the other sibling, meaning the siblings and the second cousin (or closer) do not all match with each other.

Sibling MyHeritage.png

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, you can see the amount of shared DNA. They also they predict a relationship range, include a chromosome browser, in common matching and family phasing, also called bucketing which sorts your matches into maternal and paternal sides. They offer additional Y DNA testing which can be extremely useful for males.

Sibling FamilyTreeDNA.png

If the two siblings in question are male, a Y DNA test will shed light on the question of whether or not they share the same father (unless the two fathers are half brothers or otherwise closely related on the direct paternal line).

Sibling advanced matches.png

FamilyTreeDNA provides Advanced Matching tools that facilitate combined matching between Y and autosomal DNA.

Sibling bucketing both.png

FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder maternal/paternal bucketing tool is helpful because full siblings should be assigned to “both” parents, shown in purple, not just one parent, assuming any third cousins or closer have tested on both sides, or at least on the side in question.

As you can see, on the test above, the tester matches her sister at a level that could be either a high half sibling match, or a low full sibling match. In this case, it’s a full sibling, not only because both parents tested and she matched, but because even before her parents tested, she was already bucketed to both sides based on cousins who had tested on both the maternal and paternal sides of the family.

GedMatch

GedMatch, an upload site, shows the amount of shared DNA as well. Select the One-to-One matching and the “Graph and Position” option, letting the rest of the settings default.

Sibling GedMatch menu.png

GedMatch doesn’t provide predicted relationship ranges as such, but instead estimates the number of generations to the most recent common ancestor – in this case, the parents.

Sibling GedMatch total.png

However, GedMatch does offer an important feature through their chromosome browser that shows fully identical regions.

To illustrate, first, I’m showing two kits below that are known to be full siblings.

The green areas are FIR or Fully Identical Regions which are easy to spot because of the bright green coloring. Yellow indicate half identical matching regions and red means there is no match.

Sibling GedMatch legend.png

Please note that this legend varies slightly between the legacy GedMatch and GedMatch Genesis, but yellow, green, purple and red thankfully remain the same. The blue base indicates an entire region that matches, while the grey indicates an entire region not considered a match..

Sibling GedMatch FIR.png

Fully identical green regions (FIR) above are easy to differentiate when compared with half siblings who share only half identical regions (HIR).

The second example, below, shows two half-siblings that share one parent.

Sibling GedMatch HIR.png

As you can see, there are slivers of green where the nucleotides that both parents contributed to the respective children just happen to be the same for a very short distance on each chromosome. Compared to the full sibling chart, the green looks very different.

The half-sibling small green segments are fully identical by chance or by population, but not identical by descent which would mean the segments are identical because the individuals share both parents. These two people don’t share both parents.

The fully identical regions for full siblings are much more pronounced, in addition to full siblings generally sharing more total DNA.

GedMatch is the easiest and most useful site to work with for determining half versus full siblings by comparing HIR/FIR. I wrote instructions for downloading your DNA from each of the testing vendors at the links below:

Twins

Fraternal twins are the same as regular siblings. They share the same space for 9 months but are genetically siblings. Identical twins, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to tell apart genetically, and for all intents and purposes cannot be distinguished in this type of testing.

Sibling GedMatch identical twin.png

Here’s the same chart for identical twins.

23andMe

23andMe also provides relationship estimates, along with the amount of shared DNA, a chromosome browser that includes triangulation (although they don’t call it that) and a tool to identify full versus half identical regions. 23andMe does not support trees, a critical tool for genealogists.

Unfortunately, 23andMe has become the “last” company that people use for genealogy. Most of their testers seem to be seeking health information today.

If you just happen to have already tested at 23andMe with your siblings, great, because you can use these tools. If you have not tested at 23andMe, simply upload your results from any vendor to GedMatch.

At 23andMe, under the Ancestry, then DNA Relatives tabs, click on your sibling’s match to view genetic information, assuming you both have opted into matching. If you don’t match your sibling, PLEASE be sure you BOTH have completely opted in for matching. I can’t tell you how many panic stricken siblings I’ve coached who weren’t both opted in to matching. If you’re experiencing difficulty, don’t panic. Simply download both people’s files to GedMatch for an easier comparison. You can find 23andMe download instructions here.

Sibling 23andMe HIR.png

Scrolling down, you can see the options for both half and completely identical segments on your chromosomes as compared to your match. Above,  my child matches me completely on half identical regions. This makes perfect sense, of course, because my father and my child’s father are not the same person and are not related.

Conversely, this next match is my identical twin whom I match completely identically on all segments.

Sibling 23andMe FIR.png

Confession – I don’t have an identical twin. This is actually my V3 test compared with my V4 test, but these two tests are in essence identical twin tests.

Unusual Circumstances

The combination of these two tools, DNA matching and half versus fully identical regions generally provides a relatively conclusive answer as to whether two individuals are half or full siblings. Note the words generally and relatively.

There are circumstances that aren’t as clear cut, such as when the father of the second child is a brother or other close relative of the first child’s father – assuming that both children share the same mother. These people are sometimes called three quarters siblings or niblings.

In other situations, the parents are related, sometimes closely, complicating the genetics.

These cases tend to be quite messy and should be unraveled with the help of a professional. I recommend www.dnaadoption.com (free unknown parent search specialists) or Legacy Tree Genealogists (professional genealogists.)

The Final SafeGuard – Just in Case

A third check, should any doubt remain about full versus half siblings, would be to find a relative that is a second cousin or closer on the presumed mother’s side and one on the presumed father’s side, and compare autosomal results of both relatives to both siblings.

There has never been a documented case of second cousins or closer NOT matching each other. I’m unclear about second cousins once removed, or half second cousins, but about 10% of third cousins don’t match. To date, second cousins (or closer) who didn’t match, didn’t match because they weren’t really biological second cousins.

If the two children are full siblings meaning the biological children of both the presumed parents, both siblings will match the 2nd cousin or closer on the mother’s side AND the 2nd cousin or closer on the father’s side as well. If they are not full siblings, one will match only on the second cousin on the common parent’s side.

You can see in the example below that Child 1 and Child 2, full siblings, match both Hezekiah (green), a second cousin from the father’s side, as well as Susan (pink), a second cousin from the mother’s side.

Sibling both sides matching.png

If one of the two children only matches one cousin, and not the other, then the person who doesn’t match the cousin from the father’s side, for example, is not related to the father – although depending on the distance of the relationship, I would seek an additional cousin to test through a different child – just in case.

You can see in the example below that Child 2 matches both Hezekiah (green) and Susan (pink), but Child 1 only matches Susan (pink), from the mother’s side, meaning that Child 1 does not descend from John, so isn’t the child of the Presumed Father (green).
Sibling both sides not matching.png

If neither child matches Hezekiah, that’s a different story. You need to consider the possibility of one of the following:

  • Neither child is the child of the Presumed Father, and could potentially be fathered by different men
  • A break occurred in the genetic line someplace between John and Hezekiah or between John and the Presumed Father.

In other words, the only way this safeguard works as a final check is if at least ONE of the children matches both presumed parents’ lines with a second cousin or closer.

And yes, these types of “biological lineage disruptions” do occur and much more frequently that first believed.

In the End

You may not need this safeguard check when the first and second methodologies, separately or together, are relatively conclusive. Sometimes these decisions about half versus full siblings incorporate non-genetic situational information, but be careful about tainting your scientific information with confirmation bias – meaning unintentionally skewing the information to produce the result that you might desperately want.

When I’m working with a question as emotionally loaded as trying to determine whether people are half or full siblings, I want every extra check and safeguard available – and you will too. I utilize every tool at my disposal so that I don’t inadvertently draw the wrong conclusion.

I want to make sure I’ve looked under every possible rock for evidence. I try to disprove as much as I try to prove. The question of full versus half siblingship is one of the most common topics of the Quick Consults that I offer. Even when people think they know the answer, it’s not uncommon to ask an expert to take a look to confirm. It’s a very emotional topic and sometimes we are just too close to the subject to be rational and objective.

Regardless of the genetic outcome, I hope that you’ll remember that your siblings are your siblings, your parents are your parents (genetic or otherwise) and love is love – regardless of biology. Please don’t lose the compassionate, human aspect of genealogy in the fervor of the hunt.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

 

Ancestry’s ThruLines Dissected: How to Use and Not Get Bit by the ‘Gators

Ancestry’s new tool, ThruLines has some good features and a lot of potential, but right now, there are a crop of ‘gators in the swimmin’ hole – just waiting for the unwary. Here’s help to safely navigate the waters and not get bit!

Gator

Let’s start with first things first.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking or a slip of the keyboard (or phone) but I see people referring to ThruLines as TrueLines, and that’s absolutely NOT true. ThruLines must be verified and proven, just like connections with trees must always be proven – especially when new ancestors are suggested.

ThruLines are not necessarily true lines.

Having said that, there’s lots to unpack here, so let’s get started looking at Ancestry’s latest discovery tool, ThruLines.

It took me a few days to wrap my head around this – meaning what ThruLines is attempting to do, with what information, and why. In other words:

  • How is ThruLines supposed to help us?
  • How can ThruLines actually help us?
  • What are the limitations and dangers?
  • How can we avoid the problems?

The difference in the answer depends on your goals. Let’s dissect ThruLines into pieces to see how it can help with genealogy, when and where – along with what to avoid. There are some useful features here alongside some very large neon-flashing danger signs right beside the ‘gator pond.

What is ThruLines?

Ancestry’s blog announcing ThruLines can be seen here.

ThruLines does two things:

  • ThruLines groups DNA matching descendants by ancestor. ThruLines shows you, by ancestor, which people match your DNA and claim to be descended from that same ancestor. Notice the words “claim to be.” As always, when other people’s trees are involved, there is a danger of conflated trees and other concerns. We’ll discuss that shortly.

Especially for more closely related relatives, this grouping of DNA matches by ancestor is a great feature because their trees and who they believe they are descended from are more likely to be accurate in the past 3 or 4 generations when the relationship with the ancestor is a result of direct knowledge as opposed to further back where the relationship to an ancestor is a result of genealogical research. This also means the relationship to your match is easier for you to confirm, if you don’t already have your match in your tree. These gathered matches allow you to add family members and cousins to your tree. You never know who might have photos or other information, so matching and discovering that you are connected makes it easy to reach out.

These match groupings use ancestors that you already have in your tree.

  • ThruLines provides “suggestions” for potential ancestors by extrapolating from other trees. These “suggestions” include replacing your researched ancestors with other ancestors from other people’s (often inaccurate) trees, many of whom are not DNA matches to you. This is Gatorland!

Ancestry has provided this product announcement but has not yet released a white paper about how ThruLines performs the following:

  • Utilizes DNA matches.
  • Utilizes trees, including how decisions are made about which trees to use and how to suggest potential ancestors.
  • How Ancestry determines when to ignore your existing ancestor in your tree in favor of a suggested replacement.
  • The weighting between DNA and tree evidence. In some cases, nonsensical ancestors are being suggested through people’s step-parent’s lines, or ancestors’ “other spouses” lines that the tester is not biologically connected to, so the Ancestry selection process cannot be solely based on DNA matching and in some cases, is clearly not based on DNA matching at all.

Hopefully, a white paper will be coming shortly.

Caveats

If you’re an experienced genealogist, I’m not worried about you. You already understand about ‘gators, meaning the caveats and concerns about the massive number of incorrect trees.

My primary concern is that ThruLines encourages people to believe that ancestors are being suggested because DNA has confirmed that a specific ancestor is theirs. In many cases, erroneous trees have propagated for years, and now all of those people are “wrong together” so their incorrect ancestor is being suggested as an ancestor for many more people. Worse yet, multiple wrong trees are being stitched together by Ancestry in ThruLines.

I wish Ancestry provided a visible warning someplace where users CAN’T MISS IT. MyHeritage does exactly that, even in the name of their similar feature, Theory of Family Relativity.

Buried in the Ancestry support document for ThruLines, I found this:

ThruLines accuracy

This should be a required clickthrough before anyone can use ThruLines.

Accessing ThruLines

Not everyone at Ancestry has ThruLines yet. Ancestry has been struggling the past few days and ThruLines have been coming and going. ThruLines is in beta and will be rolled out during the month of March.

For ThruLines to work, you must be sure:

  • Your tree is connected to your DNA.
  • Your tree is either public or a private searchable tree. Unsearchable trees won’t have ThruLines.
  • Your tree is at least 3 or 4 generations deep.
  • You only have one kit for any individual person connected to that person in the same tree. If you have multiple kits for the same person connected to one tree, only one kit will have ThruLines. If this is your situation, you can create a “twin” to yourself in your tree and attach the second kit to that person and both kits should get ThruLines. There aren’t many people like me who have tested twice with AncestryDNA, so this shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

You can have multiple kits attached to the same tree, but each kit must be connected to a different person in the tree

If you want to know if ThruLines is available on your account or you are having problems with ThruLines, I wrote about that in the article, “Ancestry’s Disappearing ThruLines – Now You See Them, Now You Don’t.”

Myths and Misconceptions

  • ThruLines is NOT telling you or confirming that a specific ancestor IS your ancestor.
  • ThruLines is NOT modifying or automatically doing anything to your tree. The ThruLines “trees” you are seeing are constructed for ThruLines.
  • You are NOT necessarily related to, nor have DNA matches with the people whose trees are used to suggest potential ancestors.

Warning

For individuals seeking unknown parents, if you see your name beneath a placard that shows a “private” individual in a hashed box above your name, this does NOT mean your parent has been discovered. This only means that Ancestry has “paired” you with a potential ancestor that happens, in your case, to be a parent based on some combination of name similarity (yours) and a person with a similar surname in someone else’s tree.

If you have a parent/child match, it will be the first match on your match list. Look there.

It’s heartbreaking to get excited only to learn that the ThruLines “potential parent” shown for you has nothing to do with genetics – so be prepared for this possibility and don’t get excited. Check your DNA match list.

Facts

  • According to Crista Cowan in her RootsTech video, ThruLines is a replacement for Circles. After working with both my ThruLines and Circles, it became obvious very quickly that Circles have not been updated for some time, probably months. If you have Circles or New Ancestor Discoveries (which have been dormant for the past couple years), please archive them so you don’t lose any information you might have. I wrote about how to do that here.
  • New Ancestor Discoveries were discontinued roughly two years ago, so you may not have any.
  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) is no longer working. Neither is Filter By Common ancestors. I sure hope they fix both of these (probably related) bugs.
  • Any ThruLine card in a dotted edge box is a POTENTIAL ANCESTOR and is very likely incorrect.ThruLines hashed line.png
  • Any ThruLine card in a solid line box when you mouse over the card is an ancestor currently found in your tree. It’s as correct as your tree.ThruLines solid line.png
  • Just because you have an ancestor in your tree does NOT mean that Ancestry will use that ancestor. Ancestry may provide another potential ancestor from someone else’s tree. Watch for the hashed lines and be cognizant of who is already in your tree, and why!
  • On the ThruLine trees, any person, meaning ancestor OR other person in a grey hashed line box is only a suggestion based on someone else’s tree or multiple trees.
  • ThruLines shows you which tree that ancestor was “suggested” from, allowing you to click through to that tree and view their documentation.
  • On the ThruLine trees, any person in a solid edge box is from your own tree, shown with red arrows below, while any suggested individual is shown with hashed edges, shown with green arrows.

Thrulines tree.png

  • The summary below the ancestor’s name may indicate that you’re related to XYZ ancestor in <some number> of ways, but review the people you match very closely because you may be related to them, but not through the ancestor or in the way shown.

ThruLines number of matches.png

  • If there was a second marriage, ThruLines may be attributing your relationship to the un-related spouse. The descendants shown may be from the “other” marriage and that person’s ancestors. If you’re thinking the unrelated spouse’s ancestors can’t be genetic, you’re right – at least not through that line. Be very careful. You’re in ‘gator territory.
  • Furthermore, Ancestry may be suggesting ancestors of the “step-spouse” or other tangential line as well. More ‘gators.
  • Just because you match 5 descendants of XYZ ancestor, that does not mean any of these people match each other. In fact, you may match some of these people through another line entirely.
  • You can still click through to view the DNA comparison feature at Ancestry. However, since the Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) is not working at all, you will not be able to see the side-by-side tree comparison feature☹

ThruLines common ancestors.png

  • Using Shared Matches on the comparison page, you may be able to determine if some of these individuals do in fact match each other which helps to increase the likelihood of common ancestry in a specific line.

ThruLines shared matches 1.png

  • ThruLines does not replace Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) although ThruLines organizes the Shared Ancestor Hints by ancestor. Currently Shared Ancestor Hints is not working and says you have no matches with shared ancestors which is clearly incorrect if you previously had any Shared Ancestor Hints.
  • ThruLines may “add” projected ancestors to matches whose trees don’t reach far enough back in time, but who connect with another tree who connects with your tree. This occurs in ThruLines, not in your own tree unless you specifically add the information there. This additive “tree extension” effort is very similar to the WeRelate application which was infamously wrong – more like WeDontRelate.
  • You will still receive potential parent hints for ancestors on your actual tree, some of which will (or may) also be reflected in ThruLines. In some cases, the hint on your tree and the ThruLine suggested “potential ancestor” are different, so check both places.

Thrulines potential parent tree.png

  • ThruLines only reaches back 7 generations, so if you’re looking for a breakthrough or descendants from ancestors before that time, you won’t see them in ThruLines. Previously in this regard in relationship to Circles, Ancestry had said that there were too many unknown family lines and multiple relationship paths that far back in time.
  • Many of the ancestor ThruLines share exactly the same descendants. For example, my Dutch line only has a limited number of testers, so the same 10 people are listed for generation after generation going up in the pedigree (back in time.)
  • Once ThruLines offers a potential ancestor, they continue offering parents and grandparents of that potential ancestor until they run out of ancestors, reach the 8th generation or some other criteria for stopping. If this is a legitimate line, great – and if not, it’s a royal pain without an “off” button to reject known erroneous “potential ancestors.” “Gators having baby ‘gators!
  • There is no way to “ignore,” “reject” or tell Ancestry to “disconnect” or remove a potential ancestor. I hope they will add this feature soon. This could be useful if they suggest another ancestor, especially in lines where you are truly at a brick wall. New “potential ancestors” would provide you with ideas for who/where to search.
  • There is also no way to mark a ThruLines card as “seen” so you don’t review it again.
  • Having two kits connected to the same person in your tree will (at the time of this writing) prevent one of those kits from receiving ThruLines. In my case, I took a V1 and a V2 test and had them both connected to my own record. This can be solved by adding yourself as a sibling and connecting one kit to the sibling.
  • ThruLines is free for everyone for now but may require a subscription in the future. (Don’t forget about the Insight subscription to access DNA features only, assuming it still exists, but you must call support to obtain that limited subscription.)

Suspicions

  • That trees with “more” sources are weighted more heavily than trees without “more” sources. Case in point is my own tree for an ancestor who little is known about, so I only had an estimated birth and death year. However, Ancestry suggested a replacement with a very robust but nonsensical tree that incorporates “lots” of documentation. In fact, this amazing woman has birth records from Washington DC 1830-1955 (which didn’t exist in the 1700s when this woman lived), New Hampshire 1714-1904, PA 1669-2013 and who died in TN but is buried in PA. Any modicum of logic would have immediately down-weighted this tree’s veracity.
  • That not all relationships are genetically based. For example, I have 15 ancestors for whom I’m the only DNA tester listed, legitimately, so why are those ancestors shown as a ThruLine for me? No DNA is involved.
  • That Ancestry created, updated or still has a version of that “One World Tree” someplace, because some of this information is drawn from old trees with information removed long (as in years) ago. Does Ancestry know where this information was obtained from customer trees, and how they selected the specific tree to use? Do they update it? How often and what logic decides what is incorporated into that tree? I notice that in some cases, suggested ancestors’ spouses came from different users’ trees, even when the same spouse was in the same tree.
  • That projected ancestors are entirely tree based only, not genetically based.
  • Although Ancestry has not yet told us how they weight tree matches, it stands to reason that the most complete records are the most likely to be matched successfully – so be sure your ancestor’s records are as complete as possible.
  • Having said that, some of the suggested potential ancestors replacing my existing ancestors have much LESS documentation than my own tree, including some with the only “source” being Ancestry trees. I have no idea what Ancestry is actually doing, when, or why.

Accessing ThruLines

Sign on to your account and click on DNA and then “Your DNA Results Summary.”

Click on “Extras” and then “Ancestry Lab.”

ThruLines Ancestrylab

Once there, enable the beta functions. I’m not positive you need to do this for ThruLines, but there have been so many issues that I’d recommend doing this, just in case.

ThruLines Ancestrylab enable

If you have ThruLines available on your account, you’ll see this on your DNA Summary page.

ThruLines explore.png

Click on the green box to access ThruLines.

Please note that as of this writing, ThruLines is not stable, meaning that ThruLines and ancestors, as well as matches are tending to come and go. Some features are working sporadically and some not at all. The Shared Ancestor Hints and Common Ancestors filter is not working at all, even when ThruLines is functioning.

Sorting ThruLines

After working with ThruLines, I discovered, for me, working the different types of records together was easiest, because what I do with those records differs.

Records fall into the following categories:

  • Existing ancestors in your tree
  • Potential (suggested) ancestors

In fact, Ancestry provides the ability to filter in exactly that fashion, at the top of the ThruLines page on the left side.

ThruLines filter.png

Let’s look at these two types of records individually, because I use them differently.

In case you’re wondering how I track my ThruLines, I created a spreadsheet that includes columns for:

  • Number – numbered so that I know I’ve accounted for all 254 ancestors through 7 generations
  • Generation in which that ancestor is found – for example my 4 grandparents are generation 2
  • Surname of Ancestor
  • First name of Ancestor with birth year if multiple people by that same surname
  • “Should Be” column for when Ancestry suggests a replacement ancestor for a correct Ancestor I have in my tree. “Should be” is the correct ancestor’s name.
  • Existing – meaning does the ancestor exist in my tree already and is the ThruLines card provided by Ancestry for this existing ancestor from my tree
  • Potential – meaning is this a “potential ancestor” as indicated by a hashed line. Believe it or not, I have several cases where I have an ancestor by a specific name in my tree and Ancestry has suggested a different ancestor by the same name that is a conflated version of my ancestor and another person by that same name, so the answer can be yes for both “existing” and “potential.”
  • Members – how many people match in this ancestor’s group. The number of matching people is easy to see at the top of the ThruLine card when you click on the Ancestor card to open.

ThruLines may be related.png

  • Comments – anything that comes to mind such as why the suggested ancestor is wrong, something to look at, if they are a Y or mtDNA candidate, etc.

ThruLines spreadshet.png

Here’s an example of my spreadsheet.

I also color coded the ThruLines ancestors according to the groups identified later in this article so that I could filter by color. In the example above, the grey entry is an example of a correctly gathered ancestor and the red entry is a hypothetical example of an incorrect entry. If an incorrect person was listed, I would enter the correct ancestor in the “should be” column.

I had to create this spreadsheet to wrap my head around what Ancestry was doing with ThruLines, and to some extent, perhaps determine why.

I would suggest that you read through this entire article before deciding how to handle your ThruLines, then come back and create this spreadsheet if you want to. I had to create a spreadsheet to wrap my head around what was going on with ThruLines so I could write this article.

Existing Ancestors

ThruLines only “sees” ancestors on your linked tree. That means the tree linked to your DNA results.

If you switch trees, you’ll have to give Ancestry some amount of time to switch your results to the new tree. No, I don’t know how long that is in actuality. Hours to days. Ancestry suggests two days. Many people are reporting much longer waits.

What you’ll see when the process is complete is a very nicely organized set of “ancestor cards” that begins with the closest ancestors you have in your linked tree.

ThruLines cards.png

Linking Your Tree

If your tree is not linked, PLEASE LINK IT. You will not have ThruLines if your tree is not linked correctly.

To link your tree, click on “DNA” at the top of the page, and then on DNA Summary.

ThruLines settings.png

Click on the Settings gear in the upper right corner of the page.

Be sure you are participating in matching and then link your tree in this section:

ThruLines link tree.png

Exploring ThruLines

I have 161 individual ancestors listed on cards at Ancestry, along with 49 potential ancestors, although this number varies from hour to hour and day to day.

Existing ancestors in your tree have a solid line around their card when your cursor is above the ancestor.

ThruLines existing ancestor.png

Potential ancestors have a hashed line around their card.

ThruLines potential ancestor.png

This might be a good time to mention that Ancestry includes information from searchable but private trees. This means that information from many of those private trees that so frustrate genealogists is included. It may also mean that trees people are using as “quick and dirty trees” and they forgot to make unsearchable are included too.

However, if you have a private searchable tree, this now means that you too will have ThruLines.

As frustrating as these “private” cards appear at first glance, they actually aren’t useless. I clicked on this private placard and look what I see.

ThruLines private.png

This potential ancestor happens to be inaccurate, but at least I can see something.

ThruLines contact.png

Sometimes you’ll see this instead (even if the person lived so long ago that they can’t possibly be living), or if you’re lucky, the following which at least provides the name of the suggested ancestor so you can search elsewhere.

ThruLines private ancestor identified.png

I’m very grateful for this change to provide the ability to at least identify the ancestor being referenced.

Looking at my Ancestry tree, to the 8th generation (meaning 7 generations, inclusive, counting from my mother, means that if you expand your tree once, every ancestor other than the last column should be shown on a ThruLines card as illustrated below.

ThruLines 7 generations.png

In 7 generations, there are a total of 254 ancestors, counting our parents as generation 1.

Let’s break my 254 ancestors down into categories based on the Ancestry ThruLines.

Group 1 – Ancestors with No DNA Matches

Based on the fact that I’m the only child that has tested as a descendant of my mother, and she has a card, Ancestry appears to have taken every one of those 254 individuals and processed them in some fashion. I say this because I have a total of 20 ancestors in my tree with whom there are no DNA matches attributable to that ancestor.

ThruLines no matches.png

In fact, it’s this line of relatively recent German immigrants, the parents having arrived in the mid-1850s. Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel (Drexler) didn’t have a lot of children and many of those children didn’t marry and have children, which leaves a small descendant pool to test.

Clearly, based on this, the ThruLines, meaning the cards shown, aren’t generated based on a DNA match. That’s fine, except that I understood that a ThruLines card meant that you HAD a DNA match first, then secondarily a matching tree as well.

Obviously, that’s a misconception.

I’ll be keeping a running scorecard of my 254 ancestors and how they break down in ThruLines.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Remainder 234

Group 2 – Missing Ancestors Altogether

This next group is probably the easiest to account for, because they are missing in the Ancestry ThruLines cards altogether. They are clearly in my tree, but they have no ThruLines card showing that they exist. If they were only in the 7th generation, I could understand that they are missing AND don’t have hints about ancestors in earlier generations – because Ancestry (unfortunately) doesn’t provide anything in the 8th generation, but that’s not the case here. Two full generations are missing entirely.

ThruLines missing branch.png

This entire branch of my mother’s tree is missing altogether – both parents and all 4 grandparentts of Angenietje Houtsma.

It’s clearly NOT because there aren’t any DNA matches, because the Kirsch branch in the last example has no matches and still has ThruLines cards for ancestors.

It’s not because there aren’t parents, because Angenietje Houtsma has grandparents who should have cards as well, AND, those grandparents have record hints. So, it’s not like these people are unknown to the system, because they aren’t. In this one line alone, 6 ancestors are missing.

In the 6th generation, I have a total of 4 missing ancestors who are in my tree but have no cards, and in the 7th generation, 10, for a total of 14 missing ancestors. Where are these ancestors and why don’t they have a ThruLines card?

I have no idea.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14
Remainder 220

Group 3 – Ancestors in My Tree with Gathered Descendants

This next group is the largest group of matches after eliminating the missing ancestors and those with no DNA matches.

This group consists of ancestors who have cards from my tree shown by Ancestry AND with whom I have DNA matches attributed to that line.

Keep in mind that many more people may have DNA tested and are descended from these ancestors, but their DNA doesn’t match my DNA. The only resource available to see that those people match others descended from that ancestor is if you have a Circle for that ancestor, you can check for people NOT shown in this ThruLine grouping.

Ancestry has stated that they are not going to continue to add to the Circles, so if you want that information, archive it now. I wrote about how to do that here.

I will be doing that for every ancestor with a Circle.

Let’s look at Lazarus Estes. He’s my great-grandfather and I know of most of his descendants, or at least I think I do. I have 6 DNA matches that descend from Lazarus.

Thrulines ancestor gathered descendants.png

Ok, maybe I don’t know most of his descendants. I know most of his descendants a generation ago. One of these names I’ve never heard of. The good news is that they might have information that I don’t. Pictures, stories, something.

If your goal is to connect with LIVING people, you’ll love this ThruLines feature.

In recent or relatively close generations, people are likely to know their genealogy which means their parents and grandparents. For example, I don’t question for a minute that the three descendants of Gracie Estes Long know that she’s their grandmother. I would hope that Tyler knows that my half-sister is his great-grandmother, but I suspect he has no idea who I am. His mother and grandfather are still living, which is why they are marked as private and have hashed lines, so he could ask them and I’m sure they know both who Edna was and who I am.

As you move further back in time where people are depending on historical research, that’s when the trees become more problematic, entering ‘gator territory, because they adopt and incorporate other people’s trees, believing them to be accurate.

One point that this graphic illustrates quite well is the difference in inherited DNA in the green boxes. Note that with my three 2C1R (second cousins once removed), I share 170cM, 161 cM and a paltry 25cM of DNA with them. That’s a very large difference. Then note that I share LESS with my half 2nd great-nephew, with whom I’m more closely related than with two of my 2C1R. Roll of the genetic dice.

You might notice that I can’t drop down the middle box because there’s not enough space for all 6 matches to show simultaneously. Sometimes you have to scroll back and forth to see the entire graphic, including all the siblings, so you can click at the top on the “List” link to see the people you match who descend from this ancestor in a list format.

ThruLines list.png

There are three additional pieces of information available from this “List” screen.

If you click on “View Relationship,” it takes you back to the tree where you will see only your relationship with that person.

ThruLines relationship.png

Notice that the solid lines mean these people are in my tree, but there’s another hint too. You can see that Becky’s father was taken from her own tree, but her grandmother, Lucy was taken from someone else’s tree. Is that accurate information? Don’t ever assume that it is. The trees are all hotlinks. Verify, verify, verify!!!

If you click on the person’s initial box or name, you’ll be taken to the DNA comparison screen that we’re all familiar with. Be sure to note how you’re related so you can check easily.

ThruLines match info.png

This confirms that Becky didn’t provide any more information than her parents in her tree.

If you click on the segment information in the middle of the “List” screen, you will see the following:

ThruLines relationship percents.png

Please note that these percentages do not correlate with the DNAPainter tool here which I use extensively. Ancestry does remove segments that they feel are “too matchy.”

ThruLines DNAPainter percents.png

There’s a pretty large difference between 40% and almost 52%. I wonder if Ancestry is a victim of their own incorrect trees where relationships are reported inaccurately. If that’s how they are calculating these statistics, it could well explain the discrepancy.

I would think that genealogists who care enough to make the effort to enter their DNA information into Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, from which the DNAPainter tool is derived would care enough to make sure the relationships reported are accurate. You can contribute to this crowd-sourced effort here.

I have a total of 148 “Ancestor Gathered Descendant Trees.” I know for a fact that not all of them are accurate for any number of reasons, but what I do know is:

  • That my path to the ancestor is accurate because it’s my tree and I’ve spent 40 years performing original research and documenting those ancestors.
  • That I’m somehow related to these people, assuming that the segment is not identical by chance.
  • The identical by chance scenario can be lessened for each match by looking at the Shared Matches for hints based on other people that also descend from the same ancestor.

ThruLines shared matches.png

Checking my match with cousin Beverly to help eliminate the identical by chance scenario, I discover that I do have shared matches with her, and that two of the closest common matches are people I recognize. Becky from my example above and another cousin I know well – both who descend from the same lines and help confirm the legitimacy of Beverly’s match.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate.
Remainder 71

Group 4 – Ancestors with Unknown Parents But No ThruLine

These are the individuals I was truly hoping would have a potential ancestor.

With one exception, all of these 9 ancestors are females with no surnames. In the one case where the ancestor is a male, the potential father is incorrect and no mother is offered. Based on the other mothers offered connected to incorrect fathers, the mother would be the wife of the incorrect father.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate.
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Remainder 62

Group 5 – Ancestors Shown as Potential Ancestors are Already in Tree

In 3 cases, I have Potential Ancestor cards for the same exact person that is listed in my tree already, with much the same information, making me wonder why mine was ignored and the other offered as a replacement.

The good news is that the other person’s tree from where these suggestions arose looks to be quite well documented, so I look forward to contacting them and researching what they have attached.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Remainder 57

Group 6 – Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors

Only two Potential Ancestors are possibly accurate. Both of these individuals are the parents of a known and proven ancestor. A cousin has done some research on this line and eliminated a number of candidates, but I need to work with her to research further to determine if the suggested couple has been researched or eliminated.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors 2
Remainder 55

Group 7 – Inaccurate Potential Ancestors (‘Gator City)

I saved this group for last because it’s just painful. As a genealogist, I have to say that truthfully, the fact that Ancestry has suggested 55 ancestors that I know positively are inaccurate terrifies me for the sheer fact that less experienced genealogists will grab gleefully onto these “new ancestors” and perpetuate the Ancestry-provided incorrect trees like kudzu vines. The perception is that these trees are now “proven” by DNA – a statement I’ve seen repeatedly the past several days.

THESE ANCESTORS AND TREES ARE **NOT** PROVEN BY DNA!!!

These trees are predicated upon other people’s inaccurate trees with suggestions being made to replace your ancestors, currently in your trees, with other ancestors from other people’s trees. There seems to be no consistent logic that applies in ‘Gatorland.

The end result will be that even more people will receive inaccurate “Potential Ancestors” because there are yet more of those incorrect trees skewing the algorithm. I don’t know if the criteria for ancestor suggestion is “most numerous” tree or something else. This scenario is the very definition of a vicious ‘gator circle.

The incredibly frustrating aspect of ThruLines for me is when Ancestry ignores the ancestor in my tree that I’ve spent years (if not decades) researching and documenting, and instead suggests a “Potential Ancestor” that defies logic. LHM!

In some cases, such as with Lydia Brown, wife of William Crumley III, the widely disseminated Elizabeth Johnson is shown as the mother of my ancestor, Phoebe Crumley, instead of Lydia Brown. Not only is Elizabeth Johnson incorrect, it’s been proven incorrect for several years now via mitochondrial DNA, AND, I’ve written and published about this case.

Imagine my frustration, to put it mildly, to discover that Ancestry is now ignoring my carefully proven ancestor and suggesting that I replace her with the unproven, erroneous ‘gator. Not only that, but I fully suspect that my tree is NEVER going to be suggested to others, because it’s a (nearly) lone voice lost in the forest of incorrect ancestors.

Truthfully, this makes my blood boil – 55 separate painful times. Once for each incorrect ‘gator masquerading as an ancestor. Why would Ancestry think that replacing my ancestors in my tree with ones from other people’s trees is even remotely a good idea?

To suggest that I “consider” a different ancestor or information in another tree is vastly different than simply ignoring the ancestor I have in my tree and providing a “Potential Ancestor” replacement, like the one in my tree doesn’t even exist. (Not to mention that this attitude in and of itself is both arrogant and condescending.)

If I should consider a different ancestor, I’d at least like for that ancestor to have lived in remotely the right place and time. People did not have children at age 5 nor after they died (except occasionally for men within 9 months), nor did they have 30 children, nor were they married, having children and living in multiple places at the same time. Well, at least not most ancestors😊

The Quality of a potential tree should be part of the recommendation factor, especially if Ancestry is blithely ignoring my existing ancestor in favor of another potential ancestor from someone else’s tree.

Simply telling you how wrong these suggested Potential Ancestors are would not do the situation justice. I’ve documented the circumstances, briefly, with the hope that you will use my experience trying to sort through this ‘gator swamp as a warning for what to look for and consider in your own ThruLines, and how.

What’s worse, when Ancestry ignores your existing ancestor and suggests others, they don’t stop with that one ancestor, but then continue to suggest and propagate ancestors on up your tree for the erroneously suggested ancestors. These recommendations are not based on DNA or your existing ancestor in your tree but on “those other” trees alone.

Let’s look at an example of what Ancestry “suggested” for my Crumley branch. The red Xs document where Ancestry replaced a known ancestor with suggested incorrect ancestors – including on up the tree. (I should have used little ‘gators instead of Xs.)

Thrulines bad tree.png

Unknown H2a1 is an unknown wife of William Crumley II with the H2a1 mitochondrial haplogroup. Ancestry did not assign a potential ancestor for her, but obviously Ancestry “believes” that she was a Johnson, because her father is suggested as Andrew Johnson. Of course, this means that H2a1’s mother is incorrectly “suggested” as well as Andrew Johnson’s wife.

I know this is wrong, because Elizabeth Johnson was a second wife who married William Crumley in 1817, long after his son, my ancestor, William Crumley III was born in 1785. Therefore, it’s impossible that Elizabeth was William III’s mother. Not only that, she was 12 years YOUNGER than William Crumley III. Twelve years younger than her step-son.

Furthermore, Lydia Brown, the proven mother of Phebe Crumley through William Crumley III in the next generation, was ignored as well, and his wife was also given as Elizabeth Johnson through a different tree. This Elizabeth Johnson’s parents were assigned as different parents than the Elizabeth Johnson who married William Crumley II in 1817. Are you confused yet? Believe me, so was I and obviously, so are other people as well as Ancestry.

The end result of this is that not only were my existing ancestors ignored and replaced, but the erroneous trees that are themselves full of impossibilities for the person they are documenting are then suggested to replace mine. Those trees are then cobbled together by Ancestry in a Frankenstein mosaic of patched together ancestors that are blatantly wrong and very difficult to unravel.

And this in only one branch of my extended tree. This scenario happened on multiple branches. If you’re thinking to yourself, “How bad can this really be?”, here’s the graphic of every branch affected, and how.

That old “picture is worth 1000 words” thing.

If you think I’m overreacting, take a look at these graphics which do NOT include missing ancestors or the two that that might potentially be accurate – only the “Potential Ancestors” provided by Ancestry that I know positively are inaccurate.

ThruLines bad tree 2.png

The red Xs show where my ancestors have been ignored and alternative incorrect ancestors suggested as “potential ancestors.”

ThruLines bad tree 3.png

ThruLines bad tree 4.png

ThruLines bad tree 5.png

ThruLines bad tree 6.png

ThruLines bad tree 7.png

ThruLines bad tree 8.png

Thrulines bad tree 9.png

ThruLines bad tree 10.png

ThruLines bad tree 11.png

ThruLines bad tree 12.png

My tree is literally bleeding red Xs. And I just realized while proofing that there are now more than there were initially, and I missed one X. Sigh. The ‘gators are “propagatoring.”

If your jaw just dropped looking at those red Xs, let this serve as a warning for your own tree.

Below, brief descriptions of what is wrong, and how. Think of this as the ‘gator trap.

Ancestor Suggestion to Replace Accurate with Inaccurate Ancestor
Joseph Bolton My ancestor ignored and suggested similar Joseph Bolton from tree with significantly less information than mine.
Lydia Brown Proven incorrect ancestor based on widely spread speculative misinformation.
Elisabeth Mehlheimer’s mother I already have her mother, Elisabetha Mehlheimer, in my tree. Why suggest a “private” person instead? (This has since disappeared.)
William Moore Replaced my William with another William Moore proven via Y DNA not to be from the same line. The William they suggest has 30 children from 3 “wives” who are obviously the same woman by different variations of a common surname, with many “children” by the same name. This tree has obviously been constructed by indiscriminately “gathering” from other trees. Yet, that tree, according to Ancestry, trumped my own carefully curated tree.
Lucy, wife of William Moore Suggested wife of yet a different wrong William Moore, above, ignoring Lucy in my tree. Birth shown in Giles County, VA but also with an attached England birth document. Shows marriage to two different William Moores, at the same time, neither one where mine lived.
Daniel Vannoy Suggested his brother, Francis, ignoring Daniel in my tree. The Francis tree has many spurious references to IGI records, Family Data Collection and Ancestry trees, but does NOT include my Elijah as his child, so how Ancestry decided to make this connection is baffling.
Sarah Hickerson Suggested Daniel’s wife from a different tree than above where Elijah is included as a child. Which Vannoy brother fathered Elijah Vannoy was proven through DNA matches to the Hickerson family, not Millicent Henderson, wife of Francis Vannoy.
Jotham Brown Because the right wife, Lydia Brown, was ignored, the wrong line continued to be suggested upwards in the tree instead of Jotham Brown, Lydia’s proven father. This “private” tree is for Zopher Johnson, as shown by his connected children even though “Zopher” himself is private. Another Potential Ancestor shows Zopher as a card a generation earlier, along with wife Elizabeth Williamson Cooper, perpetuating this wrong information up the tree another generation.
Phoebe Cole Because the right wife, Lydia Brown, ignored, the wrong line continued to be suggested upwards in the tree instead of Phebe Cole, the wife of Jotham Brown, Lydia’s proven father in my tree. This “private” ancestor is for Catherine Harrison, wife of Zopher Johnson.
James Mann Substituted James Robert Mann, the wrong person, ignoring the accurate person. This continues upstream for 2 more generations.
Mary Cantrell Substituted Mary Jane Wilson, wife of James Robert Mann. The wrong line continued up the tree for 2 more generations.
Michael McDowell Suggested replacing my Michael with a different, less correct, possibly conflated, Michael McDowell.
Samuel Muncy Suggested Samuel Munsey-Muncy, ignoring my Samuel, from a tree that shows a Civil War service record for a man who died in the early 1800s and would have been about 100 during the Civil War. Miraculous! Lots of Family Data Collection and Ancestry Trees sources.
Andrew McKee Suggested replacing my Andrew with a different, incorrect “private” Andrew McKee. The original tree for Andrew has now been made completely private.
Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested replacing with another Elizabeth. The matches look to be correct, so the other tree has the two Elizabeths conflated. The only source for the replacement tree is “Ancestry Family Trees.” Sheesh, Ancestry.
James Moore Ignored my proven ancestor and suggested replacing him with a William Moore proven via Y DNA not to be of the same line. This William in the person’s tree was said to be born in Henrico Co., VA, but has an attached birth record from England. Can’t be both.
Mary Rice Ignored Mary Rice and suggested Margaret Hudspeth, wife of the incorrect William Moore, above. Again, shown to be born in Henrico County, with English birth record attached along with IGI record as only sources.
Charles Hickerson Since Sarah Hickerson was ignored, the incorrect family line was perpetuated up the tree with a wrong ancestor for the second generation instead of Charles Hickerson.
Mary Lytle Since Sarah Hickerson was ignored, the incorrect family line was perpetuated up the tree with a wrong ancestor instead of Mary Lytle.
Sarah Rash Ignored mine and suggested replacing with a Sarah Rash that appears to be more fleshed out, but the dates are all based on records not belonging to the correct Sarah, including a birth in England despite a shown birth date in 1732 in Spotsylvania Co., VA. We have our Sarah’s birth from the family Bible.
William Moore’s wife, Lucy’s father Nancy Moore’s erroneously given mother’s supposed father, Samuel Little Harwell. This erroneous tree now perpetuated to the second generation.
William Moore’s wife, Lucy’s mother Nancy Moore’s erroneously given mother’s supposed mother, Anne Jackson. Woman who died in 1765 has a SSDA claim record and an 1800s immigration record, even though she was supposedly born in Brunswick Co, VA in 1712. Married Samuel Harwell 5 different times – clearly has simply collected and attached data to their tree without evaluation, but Ancestry thought it was “better” than my tree.
Jotham Brown’s father Because Lydia Brown was misidentified, so was Jotham Brown, and now his father as well, perpetuating garbage up the tree for two more generations
Jotham Brown’s mother Because Lydia Brown was misidentified, so was Jotham Brown, and now his mother as well, perpetuating garbage up the tree for two more generations
John Cole Since Phebe Cole was misidentified, so was her father.
Mary Mercy Kent Since Phebe Cole was misidentified, so was her mother
Michael McDowell Sr. Since the wrong Michael was identified earlier, a wrong father, John McDowell, was also identified, proven by Y DNA not to be related. The son of this John McDowell is yet a different John McDowell than the one Ancestry substituted for my John McDowell.
Wife of Michael McDowell Sr. We don’t know who she was, but we know she wasn’t Magdalena Woods, married to John McDowell. The Magdalena Woods tree they recommended includes 13 Ancestry Family Tree, Family Data Collection and IGI records as sources, plus a German birth record for a person born (supposedly) in 1705 in Ireland, according to the tree itself. Pretty tricky!
Isabel, wife of Michael McDowell Jr. Suggested private father, Ebenezer Hall, and erroneous mother, Dorcas Abbott who lived her entire life in New Hampshire, not Virginia.
James Claxton’s parents Suggested erroneous private father and mother, widely distributed but proven via Y DNA testing not to be of the same line. Ironically, there are other trees for this person that are not private. How and why Ancestry selected the private one is a mystery. Ancestry also suggested his mother, from another tree as Catherine Kathryn Caty Middleton which is incorrect as well.
Joel Cook Ignored Joel, proven ancestor via military records to suggest Henry Cook. Henry’s only daughter, Sarah, in the suggested tree would have been 5 years old when she married and 6 when her first child was born. Another miracle!
Alice, wife of Joel Cook Ignored Alice to suggest wife of Henry Cook from a different tree with the only source being Ancestry Family Trees.
Samuel Muncy Ignored Samuel to suggest Obediah Muncy.
Agnes Craven Ignored, Agnes, wife of Samuel Muncy to suggest “private” person who was the wife of Obediah listed as “Mrs. Obediah.”
Andrew McKee Ignored Andrew McKee who is proven to suggest Hugh McKee who did not live in the correct state to have his child. The next generation up the tree is also incorrect, suggesting a George McKee who had Elizabeth Barnes, mother of Ann McKee, according to Ancestry. Ann McKee’s mother was actually Martha (probably) McCamm. Another potential ancestor card suggests George McKee’s wife is Anna Elizabeth Carney with no sources at all.
Martha possibly McCamm Ignored Martha and suggested wife of Hugh McKee, Mary Nesbit, perpetuating erroneous information for another generation up the tree. Some very convoluted trees in this mess with only source being “Ancestry trees.” This has now been made entirely private.
Elizabeth, wife of Steven Ulrich. Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested Elizabeth Cripe, a surname/person that has been disproven but rampant in trees.
Marie LePrince Ignored proven genealogy that Marie LePrince is the mother of Marguerite de Forest and replaced with Marie Claire Rivet. Shown marrying both in France and in Nova Scotia.
Hannah Drew Ignored my Hannah Drew and replaced with wrong Hannah Drew from another tree with less information, showing only an Ancestry Family Tree and a record showing the birth of her son in England, while the rest of the tree shows his birth in the colonies.
Samuel Mitchell Ignored my Samuel Mitchell and replaced with an erroneous Samuel Mitchell who was supposed to have died in 1756 in Maine, but has a Michigan death record from after 1867. I had no idea people lived to be almost 200 years old. Wow!
Elizabeth, wife of Samuel Mitchell Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested Elizabeth Penglase as the mother of Catherine Mitchell. Elizabeth Penglase was born in 1698 in Kittery Maine, but with at London England birth/baptism attached to the record. Also shows her father as Christopher Mitchell and two marriages to her husband. Tree is very confused and conflated.
Susanna Koob Ignored Susanna who is proven and suggested replacement with Anna Margaretha Kirsch with only source being “Ancestry Family Trees.” No DNA matches, so how was this done, exactly?
John Herrell Ignored my John and substituted John Isaac Herrell, incorrectly from a different location, with no documentation.
John Herrell’s father Because John Herrell was incorrectly substituted, so is his father, shown as Davie Harrell.
Francois LaFaille’s father Suggested Jean Francois LaBelle who did not live in the right location to be the parent of Francoise LaFaille, nor is the surname correct.
Francois LaFaille’s mother Suggested Marie Genevieve Auger Baron who as the mother of Francois LaFaille, who was the wife of Jean Francois LaBelle.
Jacques De Foret Ignored proven ancestor, Jacques de Foret and replaced with Bonaventure Foret who did not live where my ancestor lived.

Evaluation

If you are looking for close cousins and know your tree well, you may well find some individuals with whom to collaborate based on the grouping of DNA matching descendants by ancestor. Perhaps you’ll be fortunate and discover previously unknown family photos, history or stories.

The further back in time ThruLines reaches, the more problematic the frankentrees that are unrelated to DNA become.

The suggested “replacements” of known, proven, ancestors with incorrect ancestors are found in my tree as follows:

  • 1 individual at generation 4
  • 2 individuals at generation 5
  • 12 individuals at generation 6
  • 40 individuals at generation 7

Here’s the final scorekeeping chart.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors 2
Correct Ancestors Replaced by Incorrect Potential Ancestors 55

By any measure, this is an abysmal report card relative to “Potential Ancestors,” with only 2 potential new ancestors that could be accurate and 55 wildfires that can never be extinguished – with gasoline thrown on, encouraged and propagated by Ancestry themselves. What a terrible example of stewardship. This is not just a disservice to me, but to the entire genealogy community. We should be striving for accuracy, not feeding the ‘gators and fertilizing Kudzu vines frankentrees.

Goals and Benefits

My goal with genetic genealogy, and genealogy as a whole, is fourfold, as shown in the following chart. The questions is, how does ThruLines help me achieve these goals?

Goal ThruLines
To confirm known ancestors through DNA

 

This is best achieved by segment matching which Ancestry does not provide, but less conclusive evidence can certainly be obtained through close matches and shared matches that match both me and close family members. Unfortunately, Circles which is a form of genetic networks would provide additional confirmation but is being discontinued.
To document the lives of my ancestors accurately for future generations

 

ThruLines encourages the propagation of erroneous trees by suggesting them, by linking to them, and by failing to use any discernible quality measure. A quality tree is NOT a tree with conflicting sources about the same event, the same timeframe or unreliable sources such as “Ancestry Family Trees.” We, as individuals, can’t put these fires out as fast as Ancestry flames them, especially if quality trees are discounted for larger “scavenged” trees. Size does not = accuracy.
To break through brick walls

 

The two individuals that I have yet to research, as well as perhaps viewing trees for others whose DNA I match and share a common ancestor may be illuminating. It would be difficult to sift through the chaff for a newer genealogist.
To reconstruct and paint the DNA of my ancestors For this, I need at least segment data, if not a chromosome browser. I hope that Ancestry customers will transfer their DNA files to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch to reap the added advantages of the tools at those sites – including the availability of segment information and the resulting confirmation ability.

ThruLines Recommendations

The “Potential Ancestor” feature could have been, and still can be presented in an entirely different way, facilitating responsible genealogy, including the following:

  1. Extremely visible and repeated warnings cautioning that ThruLines are not definitive, only hints and MUST BE VERIFIED with research.
  2. Do not ignore the ancestor in the customer’s tree.
  3. Providing “suggestions” to look at alternate ancestors or trees for additional information for ancestors, not doling out “potential ancestors” to replace your existing ancestors.
  4. Implementing artificial intelligence (machine learning) for accuracy including factors such as looking for multiple births in various locations (a person can only be born once), cobbled together frankentrees, multiple marriages at the same time in different places, births too late or early in the lives of potential parents, and more red flag factors that should down-weight trees as being “recommendation worthy.”
  5. Sharing with the customer why these trees were considered as recommendation worthy, similar to the MyHeritage confidence factor and side-by-side comparisons.
  6. Eliminating “Ancestry Trees,” IGI records and other similar “word of mouth” types of sources as being “recommendation worthy.”
  7. The ability to “dismiss” a “Potential Ancestor” suggestion and for that dismissal to be part of the AI learning process relative to future recommendations.
  8. Ability to group ThruLines, such as by categories: Dismiss (inaccurate), Accurate and processed, Reviewed but unknown accuracy, In Process, New and not yet reviewed, etc.
  9. Restoration of shared ancestor hints.
  10. Fix bug in common ancestors causing no matches with common ancestors to be found, which I would presume is supposed to replace Shared Ancestor Hints.
  11. Permanently archiving Circles and NADs.
  12. If the Circles must be replaced, find another way to provide a genetic network that includes people who descend from the same ancestor, have DNA tested and match some of the people in the Circle or NAD but not everyone.
  13. The ability to know when looking at a tree of a descendant of an ancestor if they have tested, and if so, if they match you.
  14. Much more adequate product testing before release. By any measure, this release has been miserable and was not adequately tested in advance. No one expects new code to be bug-free, but this is unacceptable.

Ancestry, I hope you’re listening, cause the ‘gators are circling and you need to help us escape from this mess you created.

Gator

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

Ancestry’s Disappearing ThruLines – Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

Ancestry has quite a mess on its hands right now, and genealogists are losing their collective minds. I have some information here to help.

You are always welcome to post links to my articles on other sites, but this article in particular may help many people – so please feel free to pass it on.

I’ve been trying to write an article on ThruLines, but the Ancestry site has been experiencing so many issues that I can’t manage to actually get through my ThruLines to evaluate them and write the article.

There are two different scenarios:

  • You’ve never had ThruLines and you aren’t sure if they have been rolled out to your account yet. They will be rolled out to everyone through the month of March.
  • You’ve had ThruLines, but now you don’t and your account has reverted back, meaning ThruLines no longer shows and the Circles placard has returned, or the Ancestry site simply doesn’t work and says the pages are no longer present.

Scenario 1 – Never Had ThruLines – Does My Account Even Have Them at All?

If you’re never had ThruLines yet, or aren’t sure, you need to do the following in order to qualify for ThruLines and to make sure they work.

For ThruLines to work, you must be sure:

  • Your tree is connected to your DNA.
  • Your tree is either public or a private searchable tree. Unsearchable trees won’t have ThruLines.
  • Your tree is at least 3 or 4 generations deep.
  • You only have one kit for any individual person connected to that person in the same tree. If you have multiple kits for the same person connected to one tree, only one kit will have ThruLines. If this is your situation, you can create a “twin” to yourself in your tree and attach the second kit to that person and both kits should get ThruLines. There aren’t many people like me who have tested twice with AncestryDNA, so this shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

You can have multiple kits attached to the same tree, but each kit must be connected to a different person in the tree

Do the following:

At the top of your Ancestry DNA Summary page, you’ll see “Extras.” Click there and then on Ancestry Lab.

ThruLines Ancestrylab.png

To enable Ancestry’s new features, you’ll see the following screen.

ThruLines Ancestrylab enable.png

I’m not positive you need to enable to active ThruLines, but if you want the other new features, you definitely do, so enable just to be sure.

If you see this next “we’re sorry” screen instead of the one above, you’ll need to move to the Scenario 2 and clear your cookies, but read the instructions all the way through, first, please – to save yourself a lot of grief.

ThruLines sorry.png

Do You Have ThruLines on Your Account?

If you’ve already had access to ThruLines and now it’s not functioning correctly, move to the next section, Scenario 2. If you’ve never had ThruLines, read this.

If you don’t have access to ThruLines, you’ll see this screen with Circles showing to the far right:

ThruLines not available.png

If you have access to ThruLines, but you don’t have any ThruLines, you’ll see this placard, below:

ThruLines available but you have none.png

You do have ThruLines if you see the next screen, with the green “Explore ThruLines” box at the bottom of the ThruLines box. Click on that green box to view your ThruLines.

Thrulines present.png

Scenario 2 – You Had ThruLines But Don’t Now or They Don’t Work

I had ThruLines on one of my two accounts. They were present and I was working through them one at a time – right up until they stopped working a couple days ago. Initially, it was flakey, like the Ancestry site was having problems, but then, the old screen showing the Circles placard in place of ThruLines reappeared and ThruLines were entirely gone.

This, on top of the issues with the ThruLines themselves is proving incredibly frustrating. I’ve called ThruLines an array of not-very-complimentary names derived from Thru…but I’ll be the better person and not print those here:)

I waited, not so patiently I must admit, but today in the Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques group of Facebook, Paula Williams posted about how to clear specific cookies. Not ALL of your cookies and not your cache – just the Ancestry cookies. I was very skeptical, since “clear your cookies” is always the “go to” answer when the answer is unknown and it almost never works. It’s kind of the last resort and won’t hurt anything, but will make it so that no “memory” functions if you have sites that remember your preferences, for example.

However, Paula’s instructions tell you how to clear specific cookies for one site only, and they aren’t destructive to other cookies.

Best of all, this actually worked to correct the “disappeared” ThruLines issue.

I have no idea why Ancestry is having so many problems right now, but these suggestions should help you restore your ThruLines if they have disappeared or the Ancestry site is acting flakey.

Good luck and thanks to Paula. Instructions reproduced with permission, below.

Deleting Specific Site Cookies

Many of us have had issues with Ancestry in the last day or so. Deleting your Ancestry cookies should fix problems such as not being able to load pages. This particular issue is in the cookies, so you’ll need to delete your **cookies** and not your cache.

Here are some links that explain how to delete your cookies. Do note that many of these sites also explain how to delete cookies from just one site, so you can delete just your Ancestry cookies if you’re afraid to delete any others.

Chrome (note the Computer, Android, and iPhone/iPad tabs just above the words “Clear All Cookies”) :
https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95647…

FireFox:
https://support.mozilla.org/…/clear-cookies-and-site-data-f…

Safari (Mac):
https://support.apple.com/…/manage-cookies-and-website-…/mac

Safari (iPhone / iPad):
https://support.apple.com/lv-lv/HT201265

Microsoft Edge:
https://support.microsoft.com/…/4027…/windows-delete-cookies

Internet Explorer:
https://support.microsoft.com/…/windows-internet-explorer-d…

If I’ve missed your browser, go to Google and search for “delete specific cookies” (without the quotation marks) and your browser or device – for example, delete specific cookies Samsung Galaxy.

I’ll still be writing about ThruLines as soon as I can actually finish the review.

Other Options

With or without ThruLines working, there are other DNA comparison options you may want to consider.

The MyHeritage Theories of Family Relativity tool is working fine and you can transfer your DNA file easily.

Both GedMatch and FamilyTreeDNA, although they didn’t make any announcements of new products recently work just fine too. You can also compare your segments at all three sites which you can’t do at Ancestry.

I wrote about how to transfer to MyHeritage here and FamilyTreeDNA here.

Have fun, enjoy!

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

Archive Ancestry DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries Now

With the introduction of Ancestry’s new ThruLines, after signing on and clicking on DNA Results Summary, Ancestry asks if you still want to use Circles. The answer is a very definitive yes, although I don’t think my circles have expanded in some time.

One of my accounts does not have Thrulines, and that account sees the placard below.

Ancestry no ThruLines

Regarding people who don’t have ThruLines on your account yet, ThruLines are free for everyone for now, so currently no subscription is required. However, to receive ThruLines, you must assure the following:

  • Your tree is connected to your DNA.
  • Your tree is either public or a private searchable tree. Unsearchable trees won’t have ThruLines.
  • Your tree is at least 3 or 4 generations deep.
  • You only have one kit for any individual person connected to that person in the same tree. If you have multiple kits for the same person connected to one tree, only one kit will have ThruLines. If this is your situation, you can create a “twin” to yourself in your tree and attach the second kit to that person and both kits should get ThruLines. There aren’t many people like me who have tested twice with AncestryDNA, so this shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

    You can have multiple kits attached to the same tree, but each kit must be connected to a different person in the tree.

Or, the placard below for those who do have ThruLines.

Ancestry Thrulines Circles

This question suggests (but I can’t confirm) that Ancestry is no longer adding to Circles.

Why Archive Circles?

What Circles provides that ThruLines doesn’t is a nice neat concise place where you can view the descendants of an ancestor, those that match you and those that don’t match you but do match each other. In other words, a genetic network.

Using ThruLines, you won’t see the ones that don’t match you any longer. In the graphic below of the Nancy Mann Circle, I match the gold lines and the grey lines match other people in the Circle including people that I match, but don’t match me.

Ancestry circle example

I have no idea if Ancestry plans to obsolete and remove either Circles or their New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs), but if so, I’d rather be prepared.

I would suggest that you copy your circles and the information to the right that lists the Circle members.

Each Circle includes links to the trees and information of the people in the circle.

Click on that link and then copy/paste the url.

You might want to do this in a spreadsheet for ease of use where you record the Circle name, a screen shot of the Circle, along with the name of each member and the associated url.

Yea, I know it’s a pain, but better safe than sorry.

Archive New Ancestor Discoveries Too

New Ancestor Discoveries NADs (which weren’t ancestor discoveries at all, but hints) were rolled out years ago, and haven’t been updated in many months, pending the new ThruLines.

NADs were hints that many people mistook for actual ancestors based on the name. They were comprised of people in trees based on matching DNA. For example, one of the NADs I received was the sister of my ancestor and another entirely separate NAD was the husband of an ancestor’s sister. Clearly the reason was that the descendants of the ancestor’s sister and the ancestor’s sister’s husband carried some of the same DNA as me and therefore my ancestor.

Eventually, I solved for nearly all of the NADs.

NADs are similar to Circles and may prove useful in the future.

Ancestry NAD example

Take everything in NADs with the entire lick of salt, but archive them, because you never know if the grain you need is held there.

Ancestry NAD circle

The difference between a NAD and a Circle is that you are inside a Circle, because you and all of the people in the Circle share the same identified ancestor but may not all DNA match to each other. You are outside of a NAD circle.

A NAD circle, shown above means that you don’t have that ancestor, Mary Polly McKee, in your tree, but you do share DNA with several people in the circle who do have her in their trees. That could be a really important hint! 

Archive Now

Better safe than sorry. I would recommend archiving both Circles and NAD information now, just in case.

I’ll be writing about Ancestry’s new ThruLines and other new features very shortly.