The Genealogist’s Stocking


As a genealogist, what do you want to find in your stocking this year? You don’t even have to have been good! No elf-on-a-shelf is watching – I promise!

  • Do you need a tool that doesn’t yet exist?
  • Do you need to learn a skill?
  • Do you need to DNA test a particular person?
  • Do you want to break down a specific brick wall?

Here’s what I want, in no particular order:

  1. A chromosome browser from Ancestry. Yes, I know this comes in the dead horse category and Hades has not yet frozen over, but I still want a chromosome browser.
  2. Resurrection of the Y and mtDNA data bases at Ancestry and Sorenson (purchased by Ancestry.) Refer to dead horse and Hades comment above.
  3. Tree matching at Family Tree DNA. (The request has been submitted.)
  4. A tool to find Y and mtDNA descendants of an ancestor who may have tested or be candidates to test at Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA is the only major company who does Y and mtDNA testing today, so this is the only data base/vendor this request applies to.
  5. To find the line of my James Moore, c1720-c1798 who married Mary Rice and lived in Amelia and Prince Edward Counties in Virginia before moving to Halifax County. I’d really love to get him across the pond. This is *simply* a matter of waiting until the right person Y DNA tests. Simply – HA! Waiting is not my strong suit. Maybe I should ask for patience, but I’ve already been as patient as I can be for 15 years. Doesn’t that count for something? Santa???
  6. To discover the surname and family of Magdalena (c1730-c1808) who married Philip Jacob Miller. Magdalena’s descendant has an exact mitochondrial DNA match in the Brethren community to the descendant of one Amanda Troutwine (1872-1946) who married William Hofacker on Christmas Day, 1889 in Darke County, Ohio.. Now all I need to do is extend Amanda’s line back far enough in time. I’m very hopeful. I need time and a little luck on this one.

I’d be happy with any one of the half-dozen “wishes” above, but hey, this is permission to dream and dream big – so I’ve put them all on my list, just in case Genealogy Santa is feeling particularly generous this year!

Tell us about your dream gift(s) in your genealogy stocking and what you need to make those dreams come true. What might you do to help make that happen? Do you have a plan?

For example, items 1-4 are beyond my control, but I have made my wishes known, repeatedly.  I’ve researched #5 to death, so waiting for that Moore match now comes in the “genealogy prayer” category.  But item 6 is clearly within reach – so I’ll be focused on Amanda Troutwine as soon as the holiday festivities are over.  Let’s hope you’ll be reading an article about this success soon.

So, ask away.  What’s on your list?  You just never know where Santa’s helpers may be lurking!!!

Ancestry V1 vs V2 – Shared DNA and Relationship Predictions

I reviewed the results of Ancestry’s V1 chip in comparison with their V2 chip relative to matches recently in the article titled Ancestry V1 vs V2 Test Comparison.

I had previously tested on the V1 chip, and recently tested on the V2 chip to see how many of the same matches were present on both match lists. The results were better than expected. Out of my 333 V1 Shared Ancestor Hint matches, all but 7 were on the V2 match list. Given that Ancestry replaced almost half of the SNPs on their chip, that’s an amazingly high retained match number – about 97.5%.

Another genetic genealogist asked about how much of the DNA is the same, or in common for the individual matches. In other words, did the amount of shared DNA with individual matches change between the two chip versions?

While Ancestry does not provide us with a chromosome browser, they do provide us with the amount of DNA in common with a match after their Timber algorithm removes segments that Ancestry feels are “too matchy.”  You can read more about how this is done, here.


In the screen shot above, you can see that the amount of shared DNA is displayed when you click on the “i” button beside the confidence level of the predicted relationship.  In this case, I’ve looked at my V1 kit match to my V2 kit match.  Clearly, I don’t have 26 chromosomes, so some of my chromosome segments have been severed, either by faulty reads or by Timber removing segments.

Because of Timber, the amount of shared DNA shown by Ancestry is not the actual amount of matching DNA when compared to matching DNA at any other vendor or Gedmatch.  However, the amounts of shared DNA are consistently calculated between the V1 and V2 chips, so comparing Ancestry V1 to Ancestry V2 is certainly reasonable.  What we don’t know is whether this is the same DNA that is matching between V1 and V2, or if the matching DNA is actually on different segments, partial segments or different combinations of segments.  Without a chromosome browser or specific segment information, we have no way of knowing or discovering that information.

In the chart below, I’ve compared my 100 top shared ancestor hint (green leaf) matches (other than my own V1 to V2 kit comparison), meaning those with tree leaf hints indicating:

  • That our DNA matches and
  • That we share at least one common ancestor in our trees

Please note, for purposes of clarity, a shared ancestor hint (green leaf) does NOT mean or confirm that the DNA we share is from that common ancestor. The shared DNA could be from a secondary or different common line or the genealogy could be incorrect in one or both trees.  The fact that we share DNA, and that we have an identified common ancestor in our trees are independent pieces of information that both serve as important hints.  Both need to be verified.  Without a chromosome browser and triangulation, we cannot confirm that the shared DNA is from that particular ancestor.

Amount of Shared DNA Between V1 and V2 Chips

For each of my 100 top V1/V2 shared ancestor hint matches, I recorded the amount of shared DNA as displayed by Ancestry and the number of shared segments.  In addition, I also recorded the Ancestry predicted relationships and actual relationships as shown in my tree and my matches tree, as shown in the example below for Match 1.


My top 100 matches are shown in the table below, with their V1 and V2 results along with predicted and actual relationships.

  • Bold=increases and decreases in the amount of shared DNA
  • Red=increase or decrease of 2cM or greater
  • Yellow=increase or decreases in the number of shared segments


Increases and Decreases

Of the various matches, 9 increased between V1 and V2, indicating that these individuals match on some of new newly included SNPs.

On the other hand, 52 decreased between V1 and V2 indicating that some of the SNPs where they previously matched have been removed on the new (current) chip.

Increases and decreases are bolded, including those in red which signify an increase or decrease of 2cM or greater. Nine matches had an increase or decrease of 2cM or more. Of those, 2 increased and 7 decreased.

The maximum increase was 5.3 cM.

The maximum decrease was 6 cM.

In most cases, the number of shared segments remained the same. Of the 4 that changed, 3 decreased and one increased, indicated by cells highlighted in yellow. In one case, the cMs dropped, but the segments increased, causing me to wonder if a segment was split in the V2 version. In another instance, the shared cMs remained the same, but the segments moved from 2 to 1. I’m not sure how to explain that one, except for the possibility that some of the removed SNPs caused the measured area to be counted as one instead of two, or perhaps the matching segments aren’t the same.

Actual vs Predicted Relationships

Eight people, or 8% had private trees meaning they can see the identity of our common ancestor, because my tree is public, but I cannot see the identity of that ancestor.  That also means that I can’t determine the actual relationship for this comparison.

The 5 noted with ? means the ancestor is not the same ancestor or the match’s tree information is incorrect.  In this case, that means 5% of the tree matches, or common ancestors as indicated in the trees are known to be inaccurate for one reason or another.  There are likely additional inaccurate “common ancestors” given the amount of “tree grafting” that occurs.

In two cases the relationship was further out in time than predicted, although the predicted ranges are fairly broad and do significantly overlap. For example, one range is 4-6th cousins, and the next range is 5-8th cousins.

In 16 cases the relationship was closer than predicted.

I do have an endogamous Acadian line as noted.

In all cases, the amount of shared DNA was within the range of other people whose predictions were accurate, so this prediction variance is clearly a factor of the variability of inheritance of DNA.

The Net-Net

The net-net of this exercise is that when comparing the shared DNA between the same match on the V1 and V2 chip, far more people lost matching DNA than gained – 52% vs 9%.  In this comparison, all 100 of the people remained as matches, which isn’t surprising since these are my 100 closest shared ancestor hint matches, meaning those with the highest amounts of shared DNA.  However, with matches that have “less to lose,” meaning more distant matches having fewer matching centiMorgans of DNA to begin with, matches are more likely to be lost.

In this comparison, the people who appeared as matches on the V1 chip remain as matches on the V2 chip, but just over half showed less matching DNA utilizing the V2 chip.

Ancestry V1 vs V2 Test Comparison

In May, Ancestry changed the chip that they use for autosomal DNA processing and comparison. They removed roughly 300,000 of their roughly 682,000 locations and replaced them with medical SNPs. That means that people who tested before the middle of May, 2016 are only being compared to a little more than half of the SNPs on the chip of the people who tested on the V2 chip after the middle of May, 2016.

Clearly there are going to be some differences in matches reported. Ancestry said they should be minimal, but I must have some Missouri blood someplace, because I wanted to see for myself. I ordered a V2 test to see just how the V1 and the V2 tests compare.

I am specifically interested in ethnicity percentages and match numbers. But first, let’s step through the order process.

Ordering at Ancestry

Ordering a second kit was amazingly simple – done just by clicking on my current account “Order a new kit.” They keep my credit card information on file, so literally it was a one or two click process. Unfortunately, what they didn’t do was to have me read all of the Terms and Conditions and small print when I ordered, so by the time the kit arrived, and I was already financially invested, there was little I could do about the Ts&Cs if I didn’t like them. I strongly suspect most people don’t read the fine print, because at that point, it doesn’t matter since they’ve already paid for the kit and made the purchase decision.  And let’s face it, you’re excited about the kit arriving and want to take the test.

After my kit arrived, I had to activate the test, and of course, I got to do some clicking and answer some questions. Let’s walk through that process, because it has changed since I ordered my original kit several years ago.


When you click the box that says “I have read the Terms and Conditions,” actually read the Terms and Conditions. It’s unfortunate that you don’t see the Terms and Conditions until AFTER you’re purchased this product – because the contents of the Terms and Conditions might well affect your decision about whether to purchase this DNA test or not. Maybe that’s why it’s here and doesn’t appear during the purchase process!

Here’s a link to the Terms and Conditions.

Please take note specifically of the following paragraph from the Terms and Conditions document:

By submitting DNA to AncestryDNA, you grant AncestryDNA and the Ancestry Group Companies a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA, and any DNA you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. You hereby release AncestryDNA from any and all claims, liens, demands, actions or suits in connection with the DNA sample, the test or results thereof, including, without limitation, errors, omissions, claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, emotional distress or economic loss. This license continues even if you stop using the Website or the Service.

Note that the Terms and Conditions then links to the Ancestry Privacy Statement, which by implication is part of the Terms and Conditions, so read that too. And that statement is different from the AncestryDNA Privacy Statement, so you’ll want to read that as well.

Please note specifically in the Ancestry DNA privacy statement, the following paragraph, 6-i:

Non-Personal Information also includes personal information that has been aggregated in a manner such that the end-product does not personally identify you…

Because Non-Personal Information does not personally identify you, we may use Non-Personal Information for any purpose, including sharing that information with the Ancestry Group Companies and with other third parties. In some instances, we may combine Non-Personal Information with personal information (such as combining your name with your geographical location). If we do combine any Non-Personal Information with personal information, the combined information will be treated by us as personal information, as long as it is combined, and its use by us will be subject to this Privacy Statement.

Ancestry then asks you about Research Project Participation, which is a specific authorization for third party research projects that is different from the above.


You can read the entire Informed Consent document here.

How many people do you think actually read, and understand, all 4 documents hot linked above? If you do, that makes 2 or 3 people that I know of.  If you have insomnia, these documents will cure it, guaranteed:)


I’m glad to see Ancestry encouraging people to link to trees.  Now if testers would just make those trees public instead of private.


I did link to my tree during the activation process, but when my results came back, my tree was not linked. Be sure to check…otherwise you won’t have any Circles or Shared Ancestor Hint leaf matches which means your DNA matches and you share a common ancestor in your trees.

A couple of steps didn’t work correctly, but I was still able to register the kit.

Another item, which I think is important and I don’t believe was reflected in the Terms and Conditions verbiage is that Ancestry kits are now being processed by an outside lab, Quest Diagnostics.

A few weeks later, my V2 results were returned, so let’s take a look at how they compare to V1.

V1 versus V2 Match Results

It took one day short of a month, after my test reached Ancestry, for my results to be returned.

Given the rather dramatic change in the number of genealogy SNPs on the Ancestry chip between V1 and V2, and given that only about half of the locations are the same between the V1 and V2 chips, I expected significantly fewer matches on the V2 chip than on the V1 chip.  In other words, I didn’t expect that the V2 chip would be nearly as effective in matching the V1 test takers, because those two chips only shared about half of their locations.

There were more V1 matches, but not nearly as many as I expected.


*Leaf matches are Shared Ancestor Hints that mean you match someone’s DNA who also has a common ancestor listed in their tree. This is by far the most useful DNA tool at Ancestry.

I need to confess here that the matches I’m actually the most interested in are those “Shared Ancestry Hints” matches, with a leaf, because the common ancestor is identified for the matching pair of people, unless one of the two has a private tree.  Then the non-private tree user cannot see the private tree’s ancestors, which means that you cannot determine the common ancestor with someone who has a private tree.


The 19 Circles are the same Circles for both kits, which is what I expected. This also tells me that the missing matches weren’t that critical match that made the difference between a Circle being formed, and not.

Unfortunately, there is no good way to print or download your list of matches, at least that I have been able to discover. I used (ctrl+P) to print all 7 pages of leaf hint match, which was 12 printed pages for each match page, in case you’re so inclined. I then compared the V1 to the V2 matches manually. Yes, this was a huge pain, spread across 84 pages.  However, I really wanted to see if the V1 kit leaf matches were the same as the V2 leaf matches. These should be a good representative sample of the rest of the matches, and I’m not about to manually compare 15,000 matches.

Of the old V1 kit matches, 7 matches were present on the V1 list and absent on the V2 list, including my last two “lowest confidence” matches who were obviously teetering on the threshold – and some of those missing SNPs were just enough to push us below the threshold, so we are not considered a match on the V2 chip.

For the new V2 kit, only one match was present on the V2 list and absent on the V1 list. Apparently that one kit’s critical matches were in the area of the medical SNPs and the genealogical SNPs alone (if there were matches in that area) did not cause the kit to rise above Ancestry’s matching threshold. Unfortunately, without a chromosome browser, we can’t see anything about the locations of the matches on our chromosomes.

About 2.5% of the matches were absent in the V2 test when compared to the V1 test. However, the net difference of 5 was not reflective of the matches being the same. A total of 8 were absent from the other test, in total.

Other than these 8 kits, the rest were the same matches in both kits. I would suspect that the matching percentage of about 97.5% would hold for the total matches as well.

Of the highest confidence matches, all of the matches were present. The match order was often significantly different, indicating that the reduced SNP count did matter in terms of how well they matched, but did not reduce the match enough to cause them to drop off the match list – except for those 7 of course. As expected, the V1 kit did out-perform the V2 kit, but not by a lot.

NADs are New Ancestor Discoveries, which are inappropriately named.

It’s interesting that the new V2 kit has no New Ancestor Discoveries. I checked several times over two or three weeks, thinking that some might appear. That’s actually fine with me, because, as I’ve written before, NADs have proven to be entirely useless. Still, if I were a V2 test taker, especially an adoptee or someone with unknown parentage, I would want every hint I could get. In the past few days/weeks, the same NADs on the V1 account have been coming…and going…and coming…and going. If you don’t have NADs, and you want NADs, give Ancestry’s customer support a call and ask them to kick the tires for you. Lack of NADs could be a bug.

**The day I did the initial comparison between the V1 and V2 kits, I had 3 NADs on the older V1 kit. Two days after I did the initial comparison on the V1 kit, I had 7 NADs (which remain 3 weeks later) and still zero on the newer V2 kit. Today, the NAD total is 8 on the old V1 kit and still zero on the new V2 kit.

V1 versus V2 Ethnicity

The V1 versus V2 Ethnicity is really nothing to write home about. There was a very slight difference between two categories, by 1% each. Scandinavia, where I have no documented lines, moved from 10 to 11% and Great Britain, where I have multiple lines, moved from 4% to 3%. Go figure.


It’s somehow ironic that my trace regions include 3% in Great Britain and 2% in Ireland, where I have multiple documented lines, and the same amount, 2% in Italy and Greece combined where I have absolutely no connection at all.

As I’ve said before, about all of the testing companies, these ethnicity tests tend to be relatively reliable between continents, meaning Europe, Asia, Africa and Native American – and much less reliable within continents. Don’t be trading in your kilt (or anything else) based on these kinds of tests.


I was really quite pleasantly surprised that the matching difference wasn’t greater between chips. And truthfully, the matches I’m the most interested in are my closest matches, because they are the matches with whom I’m most likely to be able to identify a common ancestor – and my Shared Ancestor Hints leaf matches, because a common ancestor is already identified. All of my close matches were present in both kits – probably because losing some matching segments didn’t affect the fact that we do match.  Most of my Shared Ancestor Hints were retained too.  The matches that were lost tended to be the lower matches, based on Ancestry’s highest to lowest matching order.

Losing just under 2% of more than 15,000 matches isn’t anything I’m going to lose any sleep over. Losing 2.5% of my leaf matches isn’t anything I’m going to lose sleep over either, although those certainly do hold more promise than non-leaf matches. I would like those additional 8 leaf matches not present in the other kit, but again, I wouldn’t lose sleep over those either.

The net-net of this is that if you have already taken the V1 test, before May of 2016, you don’t need to order the V2 test. The V2 test is slightly less productive, but all in all, it’s still of the same approximate quality as the V1 test – except for those NADs.

If I had already tested on the V1 kit, I certainly would not pay an additional $99 for 1 additional Shared Ancestor Hint leaf match that I’d have to manually compare with the other kit to find – and I would have to maintain that duplicate comparison into the future. I went through that process for this article, but had I been doing this just for myself and known the outcome in advance, I truthfully wouldn’t have bothered. It’s a lot of work for very little return.

The differences in terms of matches, ethnicity and circles are minimal, and the V2 test received slightly fewer matches in total, slightly fewer leaf matches and no NADs – so there would be absolutely no benefit in retesting on V2 if you’ve already tested on V1 – aside from 1 match that you’ll have to manually compare to find. I’m glad I took the original V1 test, because it does fare somewhat better overall, but not enough to make a lot of difference.

I have been pretty unhappy with some of Ancestry’s past choices and changes, to put it mildly, but this time, Ancestry seems to have done this right. I wish Ancestry hadn’t changed chips at all, because their motivations are entirely self-serving and the chip change doesn’t benefit the genealogist at all.  However, in terms of how Ancestry handled this chip conversion, and compared to 23andMe’s disaster, Ancestry hit a home run.  The change may not benefit Ancestry’s customers, but it also doesn’t damage them (much) or impact their ability to utilize the testing and matching for genealogy – which is why they purchased the test in the first place.

Ancestry was correct when they said that the V2 chip wouldn’t affect matching much with the V1 chip customers, and that there was no need for V1 customers to purchase a new V2 test.

Now, if Ancestry would just implement a chromosome browser so we can see how and where we match people – we would all be really happy campers!!!  Yes, I know, Hades has not yet frozen over…but hey…winter’s coming and hope springs eternal.

How Much DNA Do We Share? It Depends

I was curious how testing the same two people at the 3 different vendors, then uploading the results from those different vendors to GedMatch and repeating the matching process there would affect the amount of DNA reported as matching.

I have a third cousin who has tested at all 3 labs independently, meaning they did not upload a file from either 23andMe or Ancestry to Family Tree DNA. Furthermore, they downloaded their 23andMe and Family Tree DNA files to GedMatch. They have not downloaded their Ancestry results to GedMatch, so I can’t do the Ancestry to Ancestry comparison, unfortunately.

So, we have one pair of third cousins, 3 individual vendor tests (each) and 8 independent answers to the question, “How much DNA do we share?”.

First, the theoretical expected average (as reported on the ISOGG wiki page) is 53 cM for third cousins. Blaine Bettinger’s actual findings through the shared cM project indicate an average of 79 cM for third cousins, and the actual range found is 0-198 cM, after removing outliers. This isn’t the first time in genetic genealogy that we’ve found that the theoretical or expected results aren’t what really happens as we learn more about how DNA actually works.

Let’s see how reality stacks up for our third cousin pair.

Vendor Threshold Total cM Total Segments Largest Segment Est Relationship
Theoretical 3C Average, Actual Average and Actual Range 53 ISOGG, 79 Actual, Range(0-198)
At Vendors
FTDNA 7cM/500 SNPs 149*** 22 33.52 2nd-3rd cousin
23andMe 7cM/700 SNPs 134 6 40.8 2nd-3rd cousin
Ancestry V1 5cM after Timber** 132 8 Not provided 3rd-4th cousin
At GedMatch
GedMatch 1* (23andMe V3 to 23andMe V3) 7cM/700 SNP 147 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 2* (FTDNA to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNP 136 6 43.7 3.4 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 3* (23andMe V3 to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNP 136 6 43.7 3.4 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 4* (Ancestry V1 to 23andMe V3) 7cM/700 SNPs 147.5 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****
GedMatch 5* (Ancestry V1 to FTDNA) 7cM/700 SNPs 147.5 6 43.7 3.3 gen to MRCA****

Total cM is rounded except for 147.5, which doesn’t round in either direction.

*GedMatch at default setting which is currently 7cM and 700 SNPs.

**Unknown if SNPs are being utilized at Ancestry as a threshold parameter, and if so, the threshold is unknown.

***Total cM at Family Tree DNA includes small segments if you match. At 23andMe and GedMatch, total segments means only the total number of segments over the match threshold. The number at Family Tree DNA would be 112 cM if only counting segments greater than 5cM and 107 if only counting cM greater than 7. Of note, in my comparison, there no matching segments between 5.48 and 11.09, so this may be an unusual circumstance.

****The actual generations to a common recent ancestor (MRCA) is 4, counting our parents as generation 1.  It is unclear whether GedMatch counts you as generation 1 or your parents as generation 1.

Results like this are a perfect illustration of why relationship ranges based on DNA are ranges, not absolutes. I know, unquestionably that my cousin is my third cousin. However, were I to utilize ONLY the averages, I would be looking at either a 2nd cousin utilizing the theoretical numbers or a 2nd cousin once removed utilizing the real average, neither of which are accurate in this case.  Averages are made up of everyone in the range, smallest to largest – and in this case, the results fall into the larger than average category.

All of the Total cM numbers are two to three times the theoretical expected Total cM, but all of the Total cMs are still within the observed and reported range for third cousins.

For more on relationship ranges, theoretical expected versus actual and ranges as reported from crowd sourced information see here and here and here.

Blaine Bettinger provides a free download of his latest Shared cM Project results, which includes a great chart on the last page that provides a minimum, average and max cM shown for each relationship type. Thanks Blaine, for this very useful tool!

Family Tree DNA Father’s Day Sale

2016 Father's Day Sale

We knew it was coming, and it’s here. I just received this announcement from Family Tree DNA.

The Father’s Day Sale is Upon Us!

Beginning at midnight tonight (Wednesday, 6-15, Houston, TX, USA time) and running until 11:59 pm (CST) on Monday, June 20th, our Father’s Day Sale will be in effect, bringing discounts on upgrade pricing as promised, as well as some select testing bundles! Invoiced orders during the sale will also receive the sale pricing as long as the balance is paid by the end of the sale period.

2016 FD Sale prices

Upgrades to existing kits are available at the following sale prices, in green, including mitochondrial DNA:

2016 FD upgrades

Click here to order beginning on Thursday, very first thing in the morning, right after midnight, at 12:01!!!

Ancestry Autosomal Transfer Update

As you probably know Ancestry recently changed their file format for their autosomal raw data files, and the new format of these files is currently not compatible with our system. We are working to adjust to make our system compatible with these files as soon as possible. We have this placed at a high priority so that those Ancestry testers who have tested under their new chip may transfer to our database.

Please note that this issue only affects those who have recently tested with Ancestry – people who have tested with Ancestry prior to the recent change in their testing chip are still able to transfer.

If you tested at Ancestry prior to about the middle of May, 2016, you tested on their old V1 chip and you can transfer your Ancestry autosomal data file to Family Tree DNA for “free,” but pay $39 to unlock the file for matching. And $39 is a whole lot less than $99 to retest.  It’s a great value and Family Tree DNA has a chromosome browser and other tools for you to utilize.  If you’d like to see more about the features and tools available to Family Tree DNA customers as well as transfer kits, click here.

Click here to upload your Ancestry or 23andMe V3 results to Family Tree DNA.

Trying to Make Ancestors Out of NADs

Ok, so color me dense, but I’m trying to figure out exactly HOW one would go about making an ancestor out of one of Ancestry’s New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs).

Bear with me while I work through this, and maybe you will have some ideas, because frankly, I can’t figure it out. I’ve had absolutely no luck with this.

If there was a chromosome browser, and given that I’m mapping my DNA segments to ancestral families, I would be able to see where these folks fall – and identify a family group by where they match. But since Ancestry has no chromosome browser, I’m in the dark about how to turn an NAD into an ancestor.

Like probably everyone else, my NADs have varied over time. Some have come and gone, and come, and gone. I have been pretty vocal about the relative uselessness of NADs, but with the recent new more refined NAD algorithm, I thought, perhaps, just perhaps, I might find something resembling a hint that I can use.

Keep in mind that yes, I am a 35 year plus genealogist, so my tree is already fairly robust. That’s one way I know for sure many of the NADs couldn’t possibly BE ancestors, because all of the slots in that timeframe are already full and proven.  At one point, someone asked me how I knew, so I wrote about how I had proven each generation in my tree, by paper. Many have been subsequently proven genetically as well utilizing triangulation.

After Ancestry’s recent revision, I’m graced with four NADs. Three are entirely new, and one remained from before the update.

New NADs

So let’s take a look at these NADs, but first, let’s look at Ancestry’s revised NAD creation criteria.

Ancestry’s New NAD Criteria

Ancestry’s new criteria for NADs is:

Previously, you needed to match at least 2 members of a known DNA Circle to be given a New Ancestor Discovery. Now, users must match at least 3 members of a small (15 members or less) DNA Circle to be given a New Ancestor Discovery. For larger DNA Circles (16+ members), users must match 20% of that Circle to be given a New Ancestor Discovery. For example, if there is a DNA Circle of 10 people, you will need to match at least 3 people to get a New Ancestor Discovery. And if there is a DNA Circle of 30 people you will now need to match 6 people instead of 2.

Now, let’s look at each NAD and see what we can determine.

NAD 1 – Robert Shiflet

Unfortunately, one of my NADs is still Robert Shiflet. The reason I have so many matches in common with him is because his wife is the sister of my ancestor, and several descendants have tested.  I wrote about this here.

Shiflet NAD chart

In the case of the Robert Shiflet Circle, I match 4 of 6, so clearly he is NAD material, even though he is absolutely positively NOT my ancestor.

NADs 2 and 3 – William Sullivan and Hariet Nickels

Let’s move on to William Sullivan and Hariet Nickels, which, according to a compilation of 355 Ancestry trees, were married to each other. (I’m sorry, but that ‘compilation of 355 trees’ makes me shudder.)

NAD Sullivan

This couple is from South Carolina and Georgia, locations where I don’t have any ancestors, but their offspring made their way to Tennessee, where I do have ancestors, but no dead ends in that timeframe.

The William Sullivan DNA Circle includes 14 people other than me, and I match 5 of those individuals.

NAD Sullivan Circle

There are three Ancestry tools to utilize for each person in the Circle:

  • Pedigree and Surnames (matching trees)
  • Shared Surnames
  • Shared Matches

Each of these tools are available by clicking on the link to the matching individual in the Circle.

NAD tools

I checked each of these three tools for all of the matches, and in one case, I found a common family surname. By looking at that link, I know that we do indeed share a common ancestor in the Dodson line.

A second person seems to also be related to the Dodson family through one of the wives lines, Durham.

A third person descends from the same Dodson line as the first person. He obviously does not have his Dodson line far enough back in time, but having worked with this family for decades, rest assured, it’s the same line.  Thomas Dodson born in 1681 in my line is the grandfather of “Second Fork” Thomas in my matches line and the common ancestor of both lines.

NAD Dodson

I utilized all three tools and could find no discernable link to the other two individuals that I match in the tree.

You can also look at the trees for the people in the Circle whose DNA you don’t match, but who match someone else in the Circle. This didn’t produce anything relevant either.

My strongest match in the NAD Circle is to the individual who also descends from the Dodson line. I checked shared matches with him first, hoping that he and I would both match someone with a leaf tree link in my match list, but unfortunately, there were no matches to anyone with a leaf tree link to me, which would have, of course, told me immediately at least the identity of one common ancestor.  Three of 5 matches have no tree and a fourth has just a minimal tree, so there is no help here at all.

NAD no shared match

Unfortunately, the best I can do with these two married NADs is to say that the only commonality I can find with some of the group is a link to the same Dodson/Durham family.

NAD 4 – Henry Garrett

Nad 4 is to Henry Garrett who was married to Nancy Farris, according to Ancestry and 179 compiled trees.

NAD Garrett

My Faires line, also sometimes spelled Farris, was from Washington County, VA, as was Henry Garrett’s wife, Nancy Farris, according to Ancestry.

So, my first thought is that we connect through the Faires/Farris family line, and that may be true. But I’m glad I didn’t stop there.

NAD Garrett Circle

In the Henry Garrett Circle, there are a total of 8 individuals plus me. Of those, two of the groups of family members connect to me through the Andrew McKee Circle where we are all members.  The third individual that I match had the Faires/Farris connection  also matches my McKee cousins.

I was confused, until I looked at the common surnames with the third person, and look what I found:


Yep, a McKee ancestor who also lived in the same location. I don’t know how Mary McKee connects, but it’s likely that she does, given his matches to me and all of my McKee cousins.  It just so happens that some of my McKee cousins also descend from Henry Garrett.

Since all three of my matches in the Henry Garrett Circle also have McKees in their trees, two of those proven to my line, and the third from the same location – I’m guessing here that my Henry Garrett NAD is really a McKee connection, perhaps with some Faires/Farris thrown in for good measure. 

NAD Summary

So, in summary, none of the NADs are my actual ancestors, but are connected in some other way.

Name of NAD Common Line
NAD1 Robert Shiflet His wife is my ancestor’s sister.
NAD2 William Sullivan Married to NAD 3, three of 5 matches have common Dodson line.
NAD3 Hariet Nickels Married to NAD 2, three of 5 matches have common Dodson line.
NAD4 Henry Garrett 3 matches of which 2 are two family groups of individuals who are in my Andrew McKee Circle. The third match also had a McKee ancestor in the same location. Henry Garrett also married a Farris who may be related to the Faires family from the same location and who are my ancestors as well.

The Question

So I’m still back to the same question I started with. How would I actually work any of these back to prove they are an actual ancestor?  So far, none of the NADs are ancestors, and these all seem to be connected via a spur of some sort, or “spuradically.”  I know, bad pun.

Let’s look at my actual Circles of proven ancestors to see which ones of those would qualify to be NADs, if I didn’t have them listed in my tree as ancestors.

Circles – Proven Ancestors

I created a Circle Chart to see which of my confirmed ancestor Circles qualify to become NADs.

Of my 21 DNA Circles, only one has 16 or more members if you count family groups as 1 and not the family group members individually. Two have more than 16 if you count individuals in family groups separately.  Family groups consist of people that are closely related, such as siblings. In the chart below, I have counted groups as “1.”

Generations Ago means counting me as generation 1, how far back in time does this ancestor occur in my tree.

My Matches – Total Circle shows the number of matches I have to circle members, and the size of the circle, counting family groups as only 1.  In the first example of Jane Dobkins, there are two total in the group, and I match 1 which is a family group, not an individual.

NAD Qualifications shows whether this Circle should qualify to be a NAD if I didn’t have this ancestor is my tree.

NAD Created shows whether a NAD was actually created for this Circle when I replaced my current tree with a very small tree that only included my parents and grandparents.

Circle Name Generations Ago My Matches -Total Circle NAD Qualifications NAD Created
Jane “Jenny’ Dobkins 6 1 group of 2 matches total No No
Daniel Miller 6 3 of 5 total Yes No
Elizabeth Ulrich 6 2 of 5 total No No
Jacob Lentz 5 2 of 5 total No No
Fredericka Moselman 5 2 of 5 total No No
Fairwick Claxton 5 2 groups of 3 total No No
Agnes Muncy 5 1 group of 2 total No No
Andrew McKee 6 3 of 4 total, of those 3, 2 are groups Yes No
William Harrell 5 1 group of 2 total No No
Mary McDowell 5 1 group of 2 total No No
David Miller 5 1 group of 2 total No No
Rachel Levina Hill 4 3 of 3 total, one of which is a family group Yes No
Jotham Brown 6 1 group of 6 total No No
John Hill 6 1 of 2 total No No
John R. Estes 5 2 groups of 3 total No No
Nancy Ann Moore 5 2 groups of 2 total No No
Henry Bolton 5 3 of 11 total Yes No
Nancy Mann 5 6 of 17 Yes Yes
Joseph Preston Bolton 4 3 of 7 Yes No
Joel Vannoy 4 4 of 4 Yes No
Phebe Crumley 4 4 of 4 Yes No

These Circles are all confirmed to be my ancestors. It’s unclear how Ancestry would “count” individuals in family groups relative to creating NADs.  In the chart above, I counted a family group as “1” because that’s how it’s shown, but I suspect that even through Ancestry groups the family group together, they are counting the group members separately.  The reason I think this is that some circles only have two members total, plus me.  I don’t match both other individuals, but in every case, I do match the family group, which consists of at least three people.

NAD Jenny Dobkins

On the main Ancestry DNA page, this Circle is shown with 5 members, which counts the family group members individually.

NAD Jenny Dobkins main page

I decided to do an experiment and I linked my DNA results to a much smaller tree consisting of me, my parents and grandparents, to see how many of my Circles would actually become NADs.  This is where a lot of newbies begin, so let’s see what the newbie experience would be, relative to NADs and which NADs really could be turned into ancestors with enough research. 

Reverting to a Newbie

By connecting a very abbreviated tree, I have put myself in the same position as a new person who just knows their grandparents names – or that of an adoptee, except adoptees don’t even have that much information. They are truly flying blind.

Let’s see what the newbie experience is like. After giving Ancestry enough time to cycle through the process, about three days, just to be sure, my Circles disappeared, of course, which I fully expected and is appropriate because there is no one in my tree beyond two generations.  Because there is no common ancestor in a tree, Circles can’t form, but NADs can form, and should, from some of those Circles.

So what happened?

The same 4 NADs remained, which is exactly what should have happened of course. I expected that too.

However, what I very clearly didn’t expect was for only one new NAD to appear, out of my 21 total Circles and 8 Circles that clearly met the NAD qualifications.  Only one Circle became a NAD – Nancy Mann.


I fully expected at least A FEW of my previous Circles to become NADs. Eight Circles appeared to be qualified based on Ancestry’s stated NAD criteria, but only one actually turned into a NAD.  Even the 100% group, Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley, where all 4 people in the Circle matched each other for some reason didn’t become NADs.

Of the 5 NADs granted by Ancestry, we know that the original 4 are incorrect, and we know that the one NAD created from Circles that I had with my robust tree is accurate.  This is what a newbie would see.

How would a newbie ever go about telling the difference, except by beginning to work the genealogy backwards in time from their grandparents. And in this case, they will only be able to “hit” one of 5 NADs, because only one is an actual ancestor – 4 are false positives, red herrings or maybe hints, but only hints if you have a robust ancestry to figure out WHERE that hint resides – an advantage a newbie wouldn’t have.  And frankly, none of those hints were one bit helpful.

Given this situation, where 4 of 5 NADs are wrong, are NADs useful at all or are they exciting distractions leading people down dead-end paths?  I feel particularly bad for adoptees who have no information to utilize to try to build backwards to connect with their NADs.


In the case of an adoptee, they can’t build backwards from any known family, so they would have to contact a group like and utilize special methodologies developed by the adoption groups that match groups of people with common ancestors in their trees.

During one of our conference calls, one of the Ancestry folks talked about how excited adoptees are to see a list of NADs. For many, that would be their first clue as to their family history or genealogy, and their first connect to their family, ever.  I’m sure it would seem like a gift from above.  Of course, adoptees wouldn’t have any Circles, because they are hunting for their ancestors and they don’t yet have trees.

I couldn’t help but wonder when the Ancestry representative made that comment how many of those NADs are accurate – and if that adoptee is embracing people as ancestors who are somehow connected to them, but not their actual ancestors.

Not being an adoptee, I know how hard it is to saw branches off of your family tree when you’ve proven your own work to be incorrect, or the work of another in whom you had confidence (or if you’re a newbie, that tree you copied) and I’d hate to be the one to have to take that NAD (or 4/5ths of their NADs) away from an adoptee, because it’s not really an ancestor.

The sad part is that while I have enough information to determine that 4 of 5 NADs are incorrect – the newbie or adoptee doesn’t.  They just have to go on faith.

Common Segments

It’s common knowledge that Ancestry does not give us a chromosome browser. I routinely use segments to prove a common ancestor, or at least an ancestral line.

In one case, we had oral history that Marcus Younger’s wife was a Hart.  Sure enough part of the Younger group matched individuals from the Hart family dead center in the middle of a Hart triangulated segment.

Here’s an example of what this kind of triangulation looks like.

NADs triangulation example

These particular segments are triangulated to the Hart family and triangulated to the Younger family as well, meaning that all of these people match each other on this segment, as well as me, so this is as much confirmation of Marcus Younger’s wife being a Hart as we will ever receive, short of a Bible turning up on E-Bay. The county records where this family lived no longer exist, so we were left with family rumors and later, DNA.

I keep waiting for a Hart NAD to appear. That’s one I could really embrace.  However, it’s quite far back in time, 8 generations.  Would a Circle or a NAD even be formed?

NADs are formed when you match multiple people in Circles who have a confirmed common ancestor. A Circle has to exist before NADs can be formed.  How are Circles formed?

NAD and Circle Formation

First of all, you have to have enough people matching each other to create a Circle or a NAD. That means it’s unlikely that you’re going to have Circles in the closest few generations – because there just aren’t enough descendants of your grandparents, or maybe even your great-grandparents to create a Circle, which is required before the creation of a NAD happens.  My closest Circles are my great-great-grandparents, the 4rd generation counting me as generation 1.  I do have leaf matches to the 9th generation, but only Circles to the 6th generation.

Second, leaf matching and Circles don’t go beyond 9 generations, so if the common ancestor is beyond that in your tree, you won’t get a matching leaf, a Circle won’t be created, and neither will a NAD. That’s really unfortunate, because I think a lot of us really do carry family DNA that is recognizable from that long ago.  We see it routinely elsewhere.

Third, Ancestry creates what they call confidence scores and Circles are created based on confidence scores. They don’t tell us exactly how these confidence scores are created, but in their white paper, they do tell us that more distant matches have lower confidence scores which is also confirmed by looking at the last page of my “leaf” match list. It appears that Ancestry does not display matches below the moderate confidence level.

NAD confidence level

Based on my Circles shown in the Circle Chart, the new person is only going to receive Circles or NADs for generations 4, 5 and 6.

I have matches through generation 9, and in some cases, 10-12 “leaf” matches in generations 7-9, but no Circle has been formed, which causes me to wonder if anyone has Circles between generations 7 and 9?

Being Alone and Right Means No Circle

This past week, I discovered that my ancestor whose name has been believed for years to be Fredericka Moselman was Fredericka Ruhle.  Actually, her baptized name was Hanna Fridrika Ruhle.  I now have her baptismal record, and her marriage record to Jacob Lentz, both confirming her surname.  I corrected her surname on Ancestry to Ruhle, and boom, I’m gone from the Circle.  And Fredericka has not shown up as a NAD.

So, now I’m left with a quandary.  The only way to see who else is in the Fredericka Moselman circle is to change her name back to the erroneous surname.  Or, in this case, to look at her husband’s Circle which is identical to hers.  However, if I correct his name too, I’ll be thrown out of that Circle as well.  If a former Circle doesn’t appear as a NAD, I have no way of viewing Circles that aren’t connected to me.


Back to the Question

I think we’ve come full circle (pardon the pun), and I still have my original question. How does one go from seeing a NAD to proving that NAD is an ancestor?  We can’t do it with DNA at Ancestry because we don’t have a chromosome browser.

If you have identified a NAD as a direct ancestor, or even used a NAD that was not an ancestor to find your way to a new ancestor, please tell me how.

And I hope, I really hope, it wasn’t just by copying someone else’s tree – because if it is – you’ve very likely just copied the cumulative errors of many – especially if they copied someone else’s tree, who copied someone else’s tree, etc. Tree copying is the equivalent of a genealogical social disease.

Did you simply use the NAD as a hint and pursue traditional genealogy to prove the connection? Was the ancestor the person actually listed as the NAD, or a different person?  Do you have proof in the form of documentation?  And by proof, I mean proof that the documentation is actually for this particular person.

I only mention this because I’ve seen so many conflated trees where someone took any documentation by the same name and added it to their tree as proof.  Let me give you an example.  A man who lived in North Carolina and from the census, was born in Virginia, was not naturalized in the state of New York, a location where he never lived.  Obviously a man born in Virginia had no need to be naturalized.  Same name does not mean same person.  Just saying.

If you turned a NAD into an ancestor, did you track from the NAD forward in time to you, or from one of your lines backward in time to the NAD? If so, how did you know which line to track backwards?  Did your match or matches from the NAD circle download their DNA to either Family Tree DNA or Gedmatch where you could utilize chromosome matching?

If you’ve had success turning NADs into ancestors, please let me know and explain how in the comments.

Ancestry Refines New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs)

Have you noticed a change in the number of your New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs) at Ancestry lately?

New NADs

Twice in the past month or so, there has been a pretty dramatic shift. When Ancestry implemented their new matching code, about May 3rd, my NADs increased significantly, from about 8 to 21 or 22.  None of these seemed to be relevant.  The two NADs that I could figure out were either a result of my ancestor’s sister being the wife of the NAD, or individuals that I match on other lines that just happened to also be descended from another common ancestor, who had nothing to do with me.

Let’s talk for a minute about how NADs are created.

When you match someone genetically, and you also share a common ancestor in your tree, a Circle is formed of all of the people who match other people who also share that same ancestor.

circle henry bolton matches2

This example of my Henry Bolton Circle shows the people in the Circle that I match with the strong tan lines. Each of these people match others in the circle as well. The people I don’t match are greyed out.  In this case, there are 14 total individuals who match someone else genetically who also has Henry Bolton in their tree.  I match 5 of those individuals.

Now, let’s say that a new person who does NOT have Henry Bolton in their tree matches some number of the people in the Henry Bolton Circle. If the new person matches enough people, Henry Bolton will be assigned to them as a NAD.  Keep in mind that if two of Henry’s children married someone from the same family line – the new person could be matching because of those secondary family lines, and not because of Henry.  Because they all match genetically, and the matches share Henry in their tree which includes them into the Henry Bolton Circle, Henry Bolton is assigned to the new person as a NAD.

So in essence if you match multiple people in a Circle, and the Circle ancestor is not in your tree, you will have that “ancestor” assigned as a NAD.

  • Genetic match with multiple people in Circle but no tree match = NAD (within Ancestry’s parameters, which just changed)

With the number of new testers and the recent code change, many people saw their number of NADs double or triple recently.

Thankfully, Ancestry has refined their code to be “tighter” relative to NADs.

Ancestry provided information to the bloggers group yesterday about how they have refined their code in the past few days following feedback from the user community.

In order to determine New Ancestor Discoveries, we created an algorithm with criteria that connects people to DNA Circles based on their DNA matches. This algorithm was created last year when we launched New Ancestor Discoveries and with the rapid growth of the DNA database, we are finding it needs to be updated. As DNA Circles get larger and more DNA matches are delivered, more people are connecting into the DNA Circles, which results in more New Ancestor Discoveries, but with a decrease in accuracy. So, we are updating the criteria to make it more conservative and increase the accuracy of New Ancestor Discoveries. So, you’ll need more connections into a DNA Circle to get a New Ancestor Discovery. These updates will result in a significant decrease in the number New Ancestor Discoveries, but with an increase in accuracy. Some populations may experience larger decreases. We will continue to monitor and adjust this as necessary to ensure these provide meaningful discoveries for our members.

You will likely see your NADs be reduced as a result. Mine went from 22 to 4 yesterday.

The good news is with the tighter requirements, those 4 NADs are more likely to be relevant to me…well…except for Robert Shiflet who is the husband of my ancestor’s sister.

Even though this bad NAD is frustrating, I do know how and why the Robert Shiflet NAD has occurred – and it’s a great example. It’s a matter of names, both first names and surnames.  Robert Shiflet’s wife was Sarah Clarkson, or Claxton.  How one spells that surname has been questionable for more than 150 years.  One of the Claxton/Clarkson men’s widows had to apply twice for his military pension application because the name was “sometimes spelled Clarkson.”

In one tree, the person shows Robert Shiflet’s wife’s name as Sarha Clarkson Shiflet (yes Sarha, not Sarah), with Shiflet as her last name. Another tree shows her as Sallie Clarkson, her nickname.  Another as Sarah “Sallie” Clarkson.  Another as Sarah A. Claxton.  Furthermore, in several trees, there are no parents shown for Sarah, Sallie or Sarha, so while Ancestry clearly shows the DNA matching, it’s impossible for them to connect the dots between Sarah and my tree without accurate, consistent and complete information.  Ancestry can’t help what is, or isn’t, in people’s trees.  I wrote about how to optimize your tree to obtain the best matches in this article.

The good news is that now the NADs shown on our account should be easier to figure out, because our connection to that group of people will be stronger than in the past. Just remember that those people are not necessarily ancestors, despite the name “New Ancestor Discoveries,” but you are connected to individuals in that group in one way or another – and possibly through multiple or different ancestors or relationships.

For example, I’m not related to Robert Shiflet by blood, but I am related to his children genetically through his wife, the sister of my ancestor.  Convoluted?  Yes, but there is a genealogy hint in there someplace and now you stand a better chance of finding it!!!