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:

NAD McKee

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.

NAD 5 NADs

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.

Adoptees

In the case of an adoptee, they can’t build backwards from any known family, so they would have to contact a group like www.dnaadoption.com 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.

Sigh.

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!!!

Beware The Sale of Your DNA – Just Because You Can Upload Doesn’t Mean You Should

You know something is coming of age when you begin to see knockoffs, opportunists – or ads on late night TV. As soon as someone figures out they can make money from something, rest assured, they will.

In the past few weeks, we’re beginning to see additional “opportunities” for places to upload your DNA files. Each of them has something to “give” you in return.  You can view this as genuine, or you can view this as bait – or maybe some of each.

So far, each of them also seems to have an agenda that is NOT serving us or our DNA – but serving only or primarily them. I’m not saying this is good or bad – that depends on your perspective – but I am saying that we need to be quite aware of a variety of factors before we participate or upload our autosomal DNA results.

Some sites are more straightforward than others.

I have already covered the fact that both 23andMe and Ancestry sell your DNA to whomever for whatever they see fit.

Truthfully, I always knew that 23andMe was focused on health, but I mistakenly presumed it was on the study of diseases like Parkinson’s. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so I had a personal stake in that game.  When their very first patent was for “designer babies,” I felt shell-shocked, stupid, naïve, duped and taken advantage of. I had willingly opted-in and contributed my information with the idea that I was contributing to Parkinson’s research, while in reality, my DNA may have been used in the designer baby patent research.  I have no way of knowing and I had no idea that’s the type of research they were doing.

Parkinson’s yes, designer babies no.  It’s a personal decision, but once your DNA is being utilized or sold, it can be used for anything and you have no control whatsoever.  While I was perfectly willing to participate in surveys and have my DNA utilized for a cure for diseases, in particular Parkinson’s, I was not and am not willing for my DNA to be utilized for things like designer babies so the wealthy can select blue eyed, blonde haired children carrying the genes most likely to allow them to become athletes or cheerleaders.

And once the DNA cat is out of the bag, so to speak, there is no putting it back in. In some cases, you can opt out of identified data, but you can’t opt out of what has already been used, and in many cases, you can’t opt out of having your anonymized data sold.

So, let me give you an example of just how much protection anonymizing your data will give you.

Anonymized Data

Let’s say that someone in one of those unknown firms wants to know who I am. All they have to do is drop my results into GedMatch and my name is right there, along with my e-mail.

Have a fake name at Gedmatch? Well, think for a minute of the adoption search groups and how they identify people, sometimes very quickly and easily by their matches.  Everyday.

Not to mention, my children (and my parents, were they living) are very clearly identifiable utilizing my DNA. So while my DNA is mine, and legally belongs to me, it’s not entirely ONLY mine.

The promise of anonymized data by stripping out your identifying information has become somewhat of a hollow promise today. In a recent example, a cholesterol study volunteer recognized “herself” in a published paper, but was not notified of the results. In an earlier paper, several Y DNA volunteers were identified as well. Ironically, Dr. Erlich, now having formed DNA.Land and soliciting DNA uploads was involved with this unmasking.

Knowing what I know today, I would NEVER have tested at 23andMe and I would have to think very long and hard about Ancestry. The hook that Ancestry has, of course, is all of those DNA plus matching trees.  Is having my anonymized DNA sold worth that?  I don’t really know.  For me, it’s too late for an Ancestry decision, because I’ve already tested there and you cannot opt out of having your anonymized data sold.

I already had an Ancestry subscription, but some testers don’t realize they have to have at least a minimum level subscription to receive all of the benefits of testing at Ancestry. That could certainly be a rude awakening – and unexpected when they purchased the test.  The $49 DNA base subscription is not available on Ancestry’s website either – you have to know about it and call support to purchase that level.  I’m sure most people simply purchase the normal subscription or do without.

One thing is for sure, our DNA is worth a lot of money to both research and Big Pharm, and apparently worth a lot of effort as well, given how many people are attempting to capture our DNA for sale.

In the past few weeks, there have been several new sites that have come online relative to autosomal DNA uploading and testing.

But before we talk about those, I’d like to take a moment for education.

The Sanger Survey

Sanger survey

I’d like to suggest that you take a few minutes to view the videos associated with the Sanger Institute DNA survey here. I think the videos do a good job of explaining at least some of the issues facing people about the usage of their DNA.  Of course, you have to take their survey to see the videos at each step – but it’s good food for thought and they do allow you to make comments.

So, please, take a few minutes for this survey before proceeding.

Genes and US

One of the first “sidebar” companies to appear in September 2014 was at the site   http://www.genesand.us/ which is now nonfunctional.

I took screen shots at that time, since I was going to write an article about what seemed quite interesting.

Genesandus

It was a free service that offered to “find the best genes that you can give to your child.” You had to test at 23andMe, then upload both you and your partner’s raw DNA files and they would provide you with results.

I did just that, and the screen shot below shows the partial results. There were several pages.

Genesandus1

At the end of this section was a question asking if I wanted to “speak to a doctor about any of these benefits.” I didn’t, but I did want to know if gene selection was actual possible and being implemented.  I found the site’s contact information.  I sent this e-mail, which was never answered.

genesandus2

So let me ask you…where is my and my husband’s DNA today? I uploaded it.  Who has it?  Was this just a ploy to obtain our DNA files?  And for what purpose?  Who were these people anyway?  They are gone without a trace today.

DNA.Land

More recently, in the fall of 2015, DNA.Land came upon the scene.

As of today, 22,000+ people have uploaded their autosomal DNA files.

dna.land

What does DNA.Land offer the genealogist?

A different organization’s view of your ethnicity as well as relative matching to others who upload.

The quality and reliability of these enticements offered by companies in exchange for our DNA files may vary widely. For example, when DNA.Land launched, their matching routine didn’t find immediate family members.  No product should ever be launched in an alpha state, which calls into question the quality of the rest of their products and research.  That matching problem has reportedly been fixed.

The second enticement they offer is an ethnicity tool.

I can’t show you my example, because I have not uploaded my DNA to DNA.Land.   However, a genetic genealogy colleague conducted an interesting experiment.

TL Dixon uploaded four DNA files in late April 2016. He tested twice at 23andMe, both tests being the v3 version, and twice at Ancestry, in 2012 and 2014, and uploaded all 4 files to DNA.Land to see what the results would be, comparatively.

TL 23andMe test 1

23andMe v3 test 1

TL 23andme test 2

23andMe v3 test 2

TL Ancestry test 1 2014

Ancestry test from 2014

TL Ancestry test 2 2012

Ancestry test from 2012

We all know that ethnicity testing as a whole is not terribly reliable, but is the most reliable on the continent level, meaning Africa vs Europe vs Asia vs Native American. Given that these raw data files are from the same testing companies, on the same chip platform, for the same person, the Ancestry 2012 and 2014 ethnicity results from DNA.Land are quite different from each other relative to African vs Eurasian DNA, and also from the 23andMe results – even at the continent level.  Said another way, both 23andme results and the Ancestry 2014 results are very similar, with the Ancestry 2012 test, shown last, being the outlier.

Thanks to TL Dixon for both his multiple testing and sharing his results. According to TL’s known family history, the two 23andMe and the Ancestry 2014 kits are closest to accurate.  Just as an aside, TL, surprised by the differing results, utilized David Pike’s utilities to compare the two Ancestry files to see if one had a problem, and they were both very similar, so the difference does not appear to be in the Ancestry kits themselves – so the difference has to be at DNA.Land.

So, what I’m saying is that DNA.Land’s enticement of a different company’s view of ethnicity, even after several months, and even at the continent level, still needs work. This along with the original matching issue calls into question the quality of some of the enticements that are being used to attract DNA donors.  We should consider this not only at this site, but at others that provide enticement or “free” services or goodies as well.  Uploaders beware!

While the non-profit status of DNA.Land along with their verbiage leads people to believe that their work is entirely charitable, it is not, as reflected in this sentence from their consent information.

I understand that the research in this study may lead to new products, research tools, or inventions that have financial value. By accepting the terms of this consent, I understand that I will not be able to share in the profits from future commercialization of products developed from this study.

At least they are transparent about this, assuming you actually read all of the information provided on the site – which you should do with every site.

My Heritage Adds DNA Matching

This past week, My Heritage, a company headquartered in Israel, announced that it has added autosomal DNA matching. Some people think this is great, and others not so much.

MyHeritage

My Heritage, like Ancestry, is a subscription site. I happen to already be a member, so I was initially pretty excited about this, especially when I saw this in their blog.

Your DNA data will be kept private and secure on MyHeritage.

Our service will then match you to other people who share DNA with you: your relatives through a common ancestor. You will be able to review your matches’ family trees (excluding living people), and filter your matches by common surnames or geographies to focus on more relevant matches.

And also:

Who has access to the DNA data?

Only you do. Nobody else can see it, and nobody can even know that it was uploaded. Only the uploader can see the data, and you can delete it at any time. Users who are matched with your DNA will not have access to your DNA or your email address, but will be able to get in touch with you via MyHeritage.

I was thinking this might be a great opportunity, perhaps similar to the Ancestry trees, although they don’t say anything about tree matching.

However, their Terms of Service are not available to view unless you pretend to start an upload of your DNA (thanks for this tip Ann Turner) and then the “Terms of Service” and “Consent Agreement” links become available to view. They should be available for everyone BEFORE you start your upload.

On the MyHeritage main site, you’ll see DNA matching at the top. I’m a member, so, if you’re not a member, your “main site” may look different.

MyHeritage1

Click on “learn more” on the DNA Matching tab.

MyHeritage2

Step two shows you two boxes saying you have read the DNA Terms of Use and Consent Agreement. Don’t just click through these – read them.  Not just at this vendor, at all vendors.

In the required DNA Terms of Use we find this in the 5th paragraph:

By submitting DNA Results to the Website, you grant MyHeritage a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA Results, and any DNA Results 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.

And this in item 7:

c. We may transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute de-identified information to third parties for any purpose, including without limitation, internal business purposes. Whenever we transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute your information to third parties, this information will be aggregated and personal identifiers (such as names, birth dates, etc.) will be removed.

In the optional Informed Consent agreement, we find this:

The Project collects, preserves and analyzes genealogical lineage, historical records, surveys, genetic information, and other records (collectively, “Research Information“) provided by users in order to conduct research studies to better understand, among other things, human evolution and migration, population genetics, regional health issues, ethnographic diversity and boundaries, genealogy and the history of the human species. Researchers hope that the Project will be an invaluable tool for a wide range of scholars and researchers interested in genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics and that the Project may benefit future generations. Discoveries made as a result of the Project may be used in the study of genealogy, anthropology, population genetics, population health issues, cultures, trends (for example, to identify health risks or spread of certain diseases), and other related topics. If we or a third party wants to conduct a study (1) on topics unrelated to the Project, or (2) using Research Information beyond what is described in this Informed Consent, we will re-contact you to seek your specific approval. In addition, we may contact you to ask you to complete a questionnaire or to ask you if you are willing to be interviewed about the Project or other matters.

  1. What are the costs and will I receive compensation? MyHeritage will not charge participants any fees in order to be part of the Project. There will be no financial compensation paid to Project participants. The data you share with us for the Project may benefit researchers and others in the future. If any commercial product is developed as a result of the Project or its outcomes, there will be no financial benefit to you.

You can’t see the terms of use or consent agreement unless you are in the process of uploading your DNA and in addition, it appears that your DNA data is automatically available in anonymized fashion to third parties. The terms of service and informed consent data above does not seem to correlate with the marketing information which states that “nobody else” can see your data.

The other thing that’s NOT obvious, is that you don’t HAVE to click the box on the Consent Agreement, but you do HAVE to click the box on the DNA Terms of Use.

If you are not alright with the entirety of the DNA Terms of Use, which is required, do not upload your DNA file to My Heritage.  If you are not alright with the Consent Agreement, don’t click the box.  Judy Russel wrote an detailed article about the terms here.

Uploading your DNA to MyHeritage is free today, but may be a pay service later. It is unclear whether a subscription is required today, or will be in the future.  However, at one time one could upload a family tree of up to 250 people to MyHeritage for free through 23andMe.  Larger files were accepted, but were only free for a certain time period and now the person whose tree was larger than 250 people and who did not subscribe is locked out of their account.  They can’t delete their larger-than-250 person tree unless they purchase a subscription.  It’s unclear what the future holds for DNA uploads, trees and subscriptions as well.

I have not uploaded my DNA to MyHeritage either, based on 7c. It would appear that even if you don’t give consent for additional “research information” to be collected and provided, they can still sell your anonymized DNA.

WeGene

WeGene

Very recently, a new company, WeGene at http://www.wegene.com has begun DNA testing focused on the Chinese marketplace.

Their website it in Chinese, but Google translates it, at least nominally, as does Chrome.

WeGene1

WeGene2

It does not appear that WeGene does matching between their customers, or if they do, I’ve missed it in the translations.

You can, however, upload at least 23andMe files to WeGene. I can’t tell about Family Tree DNA and Ancestry files.  Unless you have direct and fairly recent Chinese ancestry, I don’t know what the benefit would be.

Their privacy and security, such as it is, is at this link, although obviously autotranslated. Some people seem to have found other verbiage as well.  Navigating their site, written in Chinese, is very difficult and the accuracy of the autotranslation is questionable, at best.

Their autosomal DNA file is obviously available for download, because GedMatch now accepts these files.

I am certainly not uploading my DNA to WeGene, for numerous reasons.

Vendor Summary

This vendor summary was more difficult to put together than I thought it would be – in part because I am not a new user at either Ancestry or 23andMe and obviously can’t see what a new user would see on any of my accounts. Furthermore, Ancestry in particular has several documents that refer back and forth to each other, and let’s just say they are written more for the legal mind than the typical consumer.

vendor summary

* – Both 23andMe and Ancestry appear to utilize all clients DNA for anonymized distribution, but not for identified distribution without an individual opt-in.

*1 – According to the 23andMe Privacy Policy, although you can opt in to the higher level of research testing where your identity is not removed, you cannot opt out of the anonymized level of DNA sharing/sale. Please review current 23andMe documentation before making a decision.

*2 – Can Opt in or Opt out.

*3 – Can opt out of non-anonymized sales, but not anonymized sales. Please verify utilizing the current Ancestry documents before making a decision.

*4 – DNA.land indicates that you can withdraw consent, but does not say anything about deleting your DNA file.

*5 – DNA.Land states in their consent agreement that they will not provide identified DNA information without first contacting you.

*6 – At 23andMe, deleting DNA from data base closes account.

*7 – Automatically opted in for anonymized sales/sharing, but must opt in for identified DNA sharing.

*8 – 23andMe has been and continues to experience significant difficulties and at this point are not considered a viable genetic genealogy option by many, or stated another way, they would be the last choice of the main three testing companies.

*9 – All legal action must be brought in Tel Aviv, Israel, individually, and not as a class action suit, according to item 9 in the DNA Terms of Use document.

*10 – Website in Chinese, information through an automated English translator, so the information provided here is necessarily incomplete and may not be entirely accurate.

Please note that any or all of these factors are subject to change over time and the vendors’ documents should be consulting and read thoroughly at the time any decision is being made.

Please note that at some vendors there are many different documents that cross-reference each other. They are confusing and should all be read before any decision is made.

And of course, some vendors’ websites aren’t even in English.

Points to Consider

While these companies are the ones that have come to the forefront in the past few months, there will assuredly be more as this industry develops. Here are a list of things for you to think about and points to consider that may help you make your decision about whether you want to either test or upload your autosomal DNA with any particular company.  After all, your autosomal DNA file does contain that obviously much-sought-after medical information.

First, always read every document on a vendor site that says anything like “Terms of Use,” “Security and Privacy” or “Terms of Service” or “Informed Consent.” Many times the fine print is spread throughout several documents that reference each other.  If their policy does not say specifically, do NOT assume.

Also be aware that the verbiage of most companies says they can change their rules of engagement at any time without notification.

Here are the questions you may want to consider as you read these documents.

  • Does the company or organization sell or share your data?
  • Is the data that is sold or shared anonymized or nonanonymized, understanding that really no one is truly anonymous anymore?
  • Who do they sell your data to?
  • For what purpose?
  • Do you have the opportunity to authorize your DNA’s involvement per study?
  • If you do not live in the same country as the company with whom you are doing business, what recourse do you have to enforce any agreement?
  • How do you feel about your DNA being in the hands of either organizations or companies you don’t know for purposes you don’t know?
  • Are you asked up front if you want to participate?
  • Can you opt out of your DNA being shared or sold entirely from the beginning?
  • Can you opt out of your DNA being shared or sold entirely at any time if you have initially opted in?
  • Do you receive the opportunity to opt in, or are you automatically opted in?
  • If you are automatically opted in, do you get the opportunity, right then, to opt out, or only if you happen to discover the situation? And if you can opt out immediately, are you only able to opt out of non-anonymized data or can you opt out entirely?
  • Is the company up front and transparent about what they are doing with your DNA or do you have to dig to unearth the truth?
  • If you already tested, and gave up rights, were you aware that you did so, and do you understand if or how you can rescind that inadvertent authorization?
  • Do you have to dig for the terms of service and are they as represented in the marketing literature?
  • Do you feel like you are giving truly informed consent and understand what can and will happened to your DNA, and what your options are if you change your mind, and how to exercise those options? Are you comfortable with those options and the approach of the company towards DNA sale as a whole? Were they forthright?
  • For companies like MyHeritage and Ancestry, are their other unknown “gotchas” like a subscription being required in addition to testing or uploading to obtain the full benefits of the test or upload?
  • What happens to your DNA if the company no longer exists or goes out of business? For two examples, look at the Sorenson and Ancestry Y and mtDNA DNA results. This is certainly not what any consumer or tester expected. Not to mention, I’m left wondering where my DNA submitted to genesandus is today.
  • Who owns the company?  What are their names?  Where can you find them?  What is the address of the company?  What does google have to say about the owners or management?  Linked-In?  Facebook?  If there is absolutely no history, that’s probably as damning as a bad history.  No one can exist today in a professional capacity and have no history.  Just saying.
  • Is the company acting in any way that would cause you not to trust them, their motives or agenda?  As my mother used to say, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Near and Dear to My Heart

I have family members who work in the medical field in various capacities. I also have family members who have or have had genetically heritable conditions and like everyone else, I would love to see those diseases cured.  My reticence to donate my DNA to whomever for whatever is not a result of being heartless.  It’s a function of wanting to be in control of who profits with/from my DNA and that of my family.

Let me share a personal story with you.

My brother died of cancer in 2012. He went for chemo treatments every two weeks, and before he could have his chemo treatment, he had to have bloodwork to assure that his system was able to handle the next dose of chemo.

If his white cell count was below a certain threshold, a shot of a drug called Neulasta was available to him to stimulate his body to increase the white blood cells. The shots were $8000 a piece.  And no, that is not a typo.  $8000!  His insurance did not cover the shots, because as far as they were concerned, he could just wait until his white cell numbers increased of their own accord and have the chemo then.  Of course, delaying the chemo decreased his chances of survival.

Over the course of his chemo, he had to have three of these $8000 shots. Fortunately, he did have the money to pay, although he did have to reschedule his appointment because he was required to bring a cashier’s check with the full payment in advance before the clinic would administer the shot.  After that, he simply carried an $8000 cashier’s check to each appointment, just in case.

I do not for one minute believe that those shots COST $8000 to manufacture, but I do believe that the pharmaceutical industry could, would and does CHARGE $8000 to desperate patients in order to continue the chemo that is their only hope of life. For those whose insurance pays, it’s entirely irrelevant. For those whose insurance does not pay, it’s a matter of life and death.  And yes, I’m equally as angry with the insurance company, but they aren’t the ones asking for me to do donate my DNA.

So, as for my DNA, no Big Pharm company will ever get their hands on it if there is ANYTHING I can do about it – although it’s probably too late now since I have tested with both 23andMe and Ancestry, who do not allow you to opt out entirely. I wish I had known before I tested.  At least I would have been giving informed consent, which was not the case.

Consequently, I want to know who is doing what with my DNA, so that I have the option of participating or not – and I want to know up front – and I don’t want it hidden in fine print with the company hoping I’ll just “click through” and never read the documentation. I don’t want it to be intentionally or unintentionally confusing, and I want unquestionable full disclosure – ahead of time.  Is that too much to ask?

My brother had the money for the shots, and he died anyway, but can you imagine being the family of someone who did not have $24,000?

And if you think for one minute that Big Pharm won’t do that, consider Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, dubbed “the most hated man in America” in September 2015 for gouging patients dependent on a drug used for HIV and cancer treatment by raising the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 for the same pill, a 5,556% increase – because he could.

Medical research to cure disease I’m supportive of in terms of DNA donation, but not designer babies and not Big Pharm – and today there seems to be no way to separate the bad from the good or to determine who our DNA is being sold to for what purpose. Worse yet, some medical research is funded by Big Pharm, so it’s hard to determine which medical research is independent and which is not.

The companies selling our DNA and Big Pharm are the only people who stand to benefit financially from that arrangement – and they stand to benefit substantially from our contributions by encouraging us to “help science.” We’ll never know if a study our donated DNA was used for produced a new drug – and if it’s one we can’t afford, you can bet the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturers care not one whit that we were one of the people who donated our DNA so they could develop the drug we can’t afford.  If any industry should not be soliciting free DNA donations for research, Big Pharm is that industry with their jaw-dropping profits.

So, How Much is Our DNA Worth Anyway?

I don’t know, directly, but we can get some idea from the deal that 23andMe struck with pharmaceutical company Genentech, the US unit of Swiss drug company, Roche, in January 2015, as reported by Forbes.

Quoting now, directly from the Forbes article:

According to sources close to the deal, 23andMe is receiving an upfront payment from Genentech of $10 million, with further milestones of as much as $50 million. The deal is the first of ten 23andMe says it has signed with large pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Such deals, which make use of the database created by customers who have bought 23andMe’s DNA test kits and donated their genetic and health data for research, could be a far more significant opportunity than 23andMe’s primary business of selling the DNA kits to consumers. Since it was founded in 2006, 23andMe has collected data from 800,000 customers and it sells its tests for $99 each. That means this single deal with one large drug company could generate almost as much revenue as doubling 23andMe’s customer base.

The article further says that the drug company was particularly interested in the 12,000 Parkinson’s patients and 1,300 of their parents and siblings who had provided family information. Ten million divided by 13,300 means Genentech were willing to pay $750 for each person’s DNA, out the door.  So the tester paid $99 or upwards, depending on when they tested – $1000 before September 2008 when the test dropped to $399, to 23andMe and then 23andMe made another $750 per kit from the tester’s donated DNA results.

And that’s before the additional $50 million and the other deals 23andMe and the other DNA-sellers have struck with Big Pharm. So yes indeed, our DNA is worth a lot.

It’s no wonder so many people are trying to trying to find a way to entice us to donate our results so they can sell them. In fact, it’s a wonder, and a testament to their integrity, that there is ANY company with access to our DNA results that isn’t selling them.  In fact, there are only two companies, plus the Genographic Project.

Who Doesn’t Share or Sell Your Autosomal DNA?

Of the major companies, organizations and sites, the only three, as best I can tell, that do not share or sell your autosomal DNA (or reserve the right to do so) and specifically state that they do not are National Geographic’s Genographic Project , Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

Of those three, Family Tree DNA, a subsidiary of Gene by Gene is the only testing company and says the following:

Gene by Gene collects, processes, stores and shares your Personal Information in a responsible, transparent and secure environment that fosters our customers’ trust and confidence. To that end, Gene by Gene respects your privacy and will not sell or rent your Personal Information without your consent.

National Geographic utilizes Family Tree DNA for testing, and the worst thing I could find in their privacy policy is that they will share:

  • with other selected third parties so that they may send you promotional materials about goods and services that they offer. You have the opportunity to opt out of our sharing information about you as described below in the section entitled “Your Choices”;
  • in accordance with your consent.

Nothing problematic here.

Your Genographic DNA file is only uploadable to Family Tree DNA and Nat Geo does not accept uploaded data from other vendors.

GedMatch, which allows users to upload their raw data files from the major testing companies for comparison says the following:

It is our policy to never provide your genealogy, DNA information, or email address to 3rd parties, except as noted above.

Please refer to the entire documents from these organizations for details.

Serious genealogists have probably already uploaded to GedMatch and tested at or uploaded to Family Tree DNA as well, so people are unlikely to find new matches at new sites that aren’t already in one of these two places.

To Be Clear

I just want to make sure there is no confusion about which type of companies we’ve been referencing, and who is excluded, and why. The only companies or organizations this article applies to are those who have access to your raw data autosomal DNA file.  Those would be either the companies who test your autosomal DNA (National Geographic, Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe in the US and WeGenes in China), or if you download your raw data file from those companies and upload it to another company, organization or location, as discussed in this article.  The companies and organizations discussed may not be the only firms or organizations to which you can upload your autosomal DNA file today, and assuredly, there will be more in the future.

The line in the sand is that autosomal DNA file. Not your Y DNA, not your mitochondrial DNA, not your match list – just that raw data file – that’s what contains your DNA information that the medical and pharmaceutical industry seeks and is willing to pay handsomely to obtain.

There are other companies and organizations that offer helpful tools for autosomal DNA analysis and tree integration, but you do NOT upload your raw data file to those sites. Those sites would include sites like www.dnagedcom.com and www.wikitree.com. I want to be sure no one confuses sites that do NOT upload or solicit the upload of your raw autosomal DNA files with those that do.  I have not discussed these sites that do not upload your autosomal DNA files because they are not relevant to this discussion.

This article does not pertain to sites that do not utilize or have access to your autosomal raw data file – only those that do.

Summary

As the number of DNA testing consumers rises, the number of potential targets for DNA sales into the medical/pharmaceutical field rises equally, as does the number of targets for scammers.

Along with that, I increasingly feel like my ancestors and the data available through my DNA about my ancestors, specifically ethnicity since everyone seems to be looking for a better answer, is being used as bait to obtain my DNA for companies with a hidden, or less than obvious, agenda – that being to obtain my DNA for subsequent sale.

I greatly appreciate the Genographic Project, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch, the organizations who either test or accept autosomal file uploads do not sell my DNA, and I hope that they are not forced into that position economically in order to survive. It’s quite obvious that there is significant money to be made from the sale of massive amounts of DNA to the medical and pharmaceutical communities.  They alone have resisted that temptation and stayed true to the cause of the study of indigenous cultures and population genetics in the case of Nat Geo, and genetic genealogy, and only genetic genealogy in the case of Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Frankly, I believe selling our data is fundamentally wrong unless that information is abundantly clear, as in truly informed consent as defined by the Office for Human Research Protections, in advance of purchasing (or uploading) the test, and not simply a required “click through box” that says you read something. I would be much more likely to participate in anything that was straightforward rather than something that was hidden or not straightforward, like perhaps the company or organization was hoping we wouldn’t notice, or we would automatically click the box without reading further, thinking we have no other option.

The notice needs to say something on the order of, “I understand that my DNA is going to be sold, may be used for profit making ventures, and I cannot opt out if I order this DNA test,” if that is the case. That is truly informed consent – not a check box that says “I have read the Consent Document.”

Yes, the companies that sell DNA testing and our DNA results would probably receive far fewer orders, but those who would order would be truly informed and giving informed consent. Today, in the large majority of cases, I don’t believe that’s happening.

We need to be aware as consumers and make informed decisions. I’m not telling you whether you should or should not utilize these various companies and sites, or whether you should or should not participate in contributing your DNA to research, or at which level, if at all. That is a personal decision we all have to make.

But I will tell you that I think you need to educate yourself and be aware of these trends and issues in the industry so you can make a truly informed decision each and every time you consider sharing your DNA. And you should know that in some cases, your DNA is being sold and there is absolutely nothing you can do about if it you utilize the services of that company.

Above all, read all of the fine print.

Let me say that again, channeling my best Judy Russell voice.

ALWAYS, READ ALL OF THE FINE PRINT!!!

ALWAYS.
READ.
ALL.
OF.
THE.
FINE.
PRINT.

Unfortunately, things are not always as they seem on the surface.

If you see a click-through box, a red neon danger light should now start flashing in your brain and refuse to allow you to click on that box until you’ve done what? Read all the fine print.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch – so be judiciously suspicious.

I will leave you with the same thought relative to testing companies and upload opportunities that I said about companies selling our data. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I think early in this game we all got excited and presumed the best about the motives of companies and organizations, like I did with both 23andMe and genesandus, but now we know better – and that there may be more to the story than initially meets the eye.

And besides that, we all know that presume is the first cousin to assume…and well, we all know where this is going.  And by the way, that’s exactly how I feel about genesandus who disappeared with my and my husband’s DNA.  I wasn’t nearly suspicious or judicious enough then…but I am now.

Ancestry Modifies Their Autosomal DNA Chip

ancestry logo

For today’s consumer, this isn’t really much of a story, although it may be someday.

Ancestry published an article in their blog this week announcing that they have begun testing on a new AncestryDNA chip.

Currently, Ancestry uses the standard Illumina chip also used by Family Tree DNA which also functions as the base chip for the 23andMe product as well. 23andMe has a chip customized for medical testing, and Ancestry is now following suit as well with their new chip, soon to go into production.

The Illumina chip today holds roughly 700,000 locations, or SNPs that can be reported. Ancestry’s download today provides customers with roughly 682,000 locations, as compared to 23andMe’s 577,000 and Family Tree DNA’s roughly 690,000.

However, Ancestry is trading in some 300,000 of those SNPs currently on the standard chip and replacing them with new SNPs optimized for medical and ethnicity testing in addition to replacing some “low performing” locations with alternate locations. They couldn’t provide a breakdown in terms of percentages of how many are for medical, ethnicity or other SNPs.

What Does This Change Mean For You?

Today, nothing at all, according to Ancestry.

I asked if Ancestry had tested their clients who have tested on the new chip against the same client’s results from the current, soon to be, old chip – and Ancestry said they showed exactly the same matches.

So, the chip is backwards compatible in that the new chip will still provide matches to the old chip.

The difference may come in the future when more people have tested on the new chip. Only time will tell if those people will receive more and better matching with other people that have tested on the new chip.

Ancestry indicated that if they feel their clients need to update their test at some point in the future, then they will put together a plan – but until then, if then, there’s nothing to worry about.

Should You Retest?

Obviously the bloggers group wondered about this. If you retest today, you’ll have to handle both tests separately in your account.  There is currently no way to merge tests, so you’ll have an old one and a new one.  There is no “best of both worlds.”  There is no way to preserve stars or notes or anything you may have done to one account and transfer to a different account.  About the only thing you could do is, in time, to compare to see if you continue to have the same matches on both chips as more people test on the new chip.

Why The Change?

Ancestry was very clear that the changes today are really for future development and will have no effect on current accounts or matching. They are evaluating their future position in the medical arena.  With last June’s announcement of Ancestry Health, they have very clearly been sticking their toes in that water.  They hired Dr. Cathy Petti last July as well, an MD functioning a Chief Health Officer.

I’m not sure if this means Ancestry will one day offer health services to clients, similar to 23andMe, or whether it means that the firms they are currently or want to sell the DNA data to want more health related information, or perhaps both.  We will just have to wait and see.  Clearly they wouldn’t even be discussing this publicly and laying groundwork if they weren’t planning to do something!

Will You Still Be Able to Download?

Yes, your autosomal data file will be downloadable, just like it is today.

Will You Still Be Able to Upload to Family Tree DNA and GedMatch?

That of course will depend on those vendors making the necessarily format changes. This would be similar to the different vendors’ files being compared to each other today.  Comparing one vendor to another isn’t quite as good as comparing each vendor to its own files, but the matches are still good and it’s still a darned site better than nothing.

Both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch will need to see the new file formats first and have some time to work with them. We don’t know if quality of matching will be an issue given that nearly half of the SNPs are being replaced – but until we hear otherwise from either company, I’d presume that they will make every effort to accommodate the new file structure.

When Is The Change Being Made?

The new chips are arriving next week, but Ancestry will be running on dual platforms for a little while yet during the changeover. There really won’t be any external way to tell if your test was performed on a new (v2) or old (v1) chip – so if you want the new chip – wait just awhile to order to be sure the new chip is in full production first.

Summary

Ancestry’s change, to clients today, is superficial.  Your matching will still function. You don’t need to retest, unless you are simply curious. If you do want to retest, wait a few weeks to be sure the new test is completely in production – and remember, you’ll be managing two kits separately, so everyone will be asking you about you and your twin that they match.  I’m sure there will be a number of curious people who will test on both platforms.

These chip changes are for future development – and we’ll just have to wait for the future to see what those new developments might be.

Ancestry Update – A More In Depth Look – Losses and Gains

Ancestry told us that the average client would lose approximately one circle, would have matches shift from closer to further in relationship distance, would lose some matches and gain others. The net effect should be, for most people, that they would have a net gain of matches in total.  We know, of course that those are averages from testing their client base – and averages are just that – taking in both ends of the spectrum.

The actual results have been quite interesting, and they have been all over the map.

Some people gained total matches, some lost as many as half. The person I felt the worst for though, was the person who said they only had one match, and lost that one.

On April 20th, I used the www.dnagedcom.com tool to download all of my ancestry matches.

Today, I utilized that same tool to download my new matches.

This chart shows the difference in my totals between April 23rd and today, May 4th.

ancestry loss gain

Just looking at totals, I gained 1,592 matches, but in reality, that’s not the whole story, because I lost 1412 matches and gained 3004.

In terms of circles, in net, I lost 4, but I actually lost 6 and gained two.

But all of those darned Bad NADs that I wish would go away are still ever-present.

I checked my first couple pages of matches and three individuals have shifted from a 3rd to 4th cousin to a 4th to 6th cousin.  In two cases, that was accurate, but in the third case, it was not, they are actually a 2nd cousin once removed. Generally, I ignore these estimates anyway unless they are 3rd cousin or closer.

In terms of leaf matches, which indicate both a DNA and an ancestor match, I lost 16 but gained 43 for a net change of 17%. My closest new match was in the 5th to 8th cousin range, which I expected.

All 16 of my leaf matches that I lost were also in the 5th to 8th cousin range. Unfortunately, one field not provided by Ancestry’s deleted match download is the shared cMs.  Fortunately, if I want that information, it is available in the dnagedcom.com files.

I’m pleased with my new leaf matches, but very unhappy about losing those 16. Our DNA matched and a common ancestor had been identified.  I surely wish Ancestry had found a way to preserve leaf matches for people in this update/upgrade process.

I think the most disappointing part of this entire experience has been the number of private trees belonging to the new people I have a leaf match with, meaning we share DNA and a common ancestor in our tree. Because their tree is private, I can’t see our common ancestor – but because my tree is public, they can see the common ancestor.  I send messages to all private matches, asking the name of our common ancestor, and very few answer.  Rather unfair I think and does nothing to encourage public trees.

The Net-Net

I have never been a fan of Timber and I’m not convinced this change is for the better in terms of matches and losses. In terms of the actual science behind the scenes, I’m glad that Ancestry is now comparing actual SNP values and not just blocks.  I think all vendors should take steps to improve their science.

Having said that, no matter how improved the science, when you take matches away from people, especially matches with proven common ancestors, people feel a loss, some a grievous loss. One woman who lost half of her leaf matches says she feels like she has been beheaded.

I wish Ancestry would have handled this change in a way that didn’t cause people to incur losses. For example, leaving the current matches and only using the new matching routine on the new matches.

They could also have automatically created a file with all of your lost matches, which would have eliminated the rush to star and note your matches that you wanted to be able to preserve in some fashion.

Had the losses not occurred, I know that people would be universally ecstatic to have new matches. In other words, this could have been a very positive experience.  I hope Ancestry will take this opportunity to revisit how they handle updates.  This is the second experience that Ancestry’s customers have had with incurring match loses – and while Ancestry may consider this a “good thing” and an improvement, it’s clear that clients with losses do not.  It’s very difficult to be happy or positive about losses, even if you do receive new matches in the bargain.

I don’t believe that the matches removed were “wrong.” In some cases, those same people have downloaded to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, shown larger segments (because of Timber) and triangulated with other people from the same ancestral line.  They are however, now below Ancestry’s new thresholds either due to a threshold shift or an algorithm difference.

Ancestry also has to do something to deal with the fact that some people have an unmanageable number of matches. As their data base grows, so will this challenge.  We need good matches that match to trees – that’s the holy grail at Ancestry.  Anything Ancestry can do to encourage people to add trees and make them public would be a huge public service.

Every vendor has to set a threshold of some type and they all do their best to eliminate matches that may be marginal or identical by chance. With any vendor, you’re going to miss some valid matches.  The difference is, I think, that other vendors haven’t taken existing matches away from clients, especially not existing matches with an identified common ancestor.

I’m ecstatic with my 43 new leaf matches. I’m not pleased to lose 25% of my Circles and I’m not pleased to lose my 16 existing leaf matches.  In my case, I didn’t incur a large loss or gain, although I lost far more Circles than I expected, but some people weren’t so fortunate.  I feel that the pieces I lost, meaning Circles and leaf matches, are more important than that pieces I gained in terms gaining total matches.  Those leaf matches are like gold and the matches without common ancestors in trees, no trees or private trees are not useful and truthfully, I don’t care how many of those I have unless they are 3rd cousin or closer.

So, really, I’m not dramatically happy or unhappy with the outcome, although the gain doesn’t make up for what was lost that was valuable.

I am very disappointed in the way this event was handled. This really could have been a universally positive experience.  Taking things away from people that they value so closely is just bad juju.  I have a mental picture of someone trying to take a favorite toy from a child, promising them something better.  It will never happen without a lot of screaming and crying – because they love and cherish their toy.  For the most part people don’t care about the “better science” or the new toy, but they do care a lot about their matches that they’ve been working on and with.

My suggestions for Ancestry for a more positive experience would be:

  • Don’t take leaf matches away from people
  • Make updates a positive experience without loss
  • If loss must occur, make it as painless as possible, perhaps by only taking distant matches without notes, leaf matches and without removing Circles
  • If loss must occur, make a file for the clients without them having to star or note the matches they want to keep
  • Create a more equitable balance so that people who don’t have public trees can’t see the common ancestors either. It’s unfair that they can and the people who share their trees cannot.  If they make their tree public, then both people can see the common ancestor.  Maybe an option to “show tree to DNA matches only” but not make the tree universally public would be a good middle ground.

The good news is that most people do have some new matches and even though some of our old matches are no longer shown as matches, we do have that information. Perhaps the matches who disappeared will download to Family Tree DNA and/or GedMatch and we can continue our genetic research from there.

I’m going to focus on the good news and the positive, so I’m off to check my 43 new leaf matches and see if I can find any new clues. Surely there has to be a gold nugget hidden in there someplace!!

Ancestry Update – Downloading V2 Deleted Matches

If you starred or noted matches, and if those matches got deleted during the Ancestry update, Ancestry has created a file for you to download.  It’s located under your setting gear wheel, to the right of your name.

settings

Click on settings gear wheel. On the right you will be an “Actions” box.

download expired matches

Click on “Download Expired Matches.”

download expired matches 2

This downloads a file which you can open or save.

I saved mine and opened it to find 16 lost matches, all in the 5th to 8th cousin range.  Keep in mind that I only starred my leaf matches with whom I shared DNA and a common ancestor, so I know how I match these people and which ancestor we share.

And am I ever glad I starred and noted these, because these 16 really useful matches would have been gone forever otherwise.

name admin range starred note
M. M. name 5th – 8th cousins YES John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore.

The information provided by Ancestry for each lost match that was starred or noted is shown above.

Of my 226 leaf matches, I lost 16, but overall, my new leaf count is 254, which means that I actually have 44 new leaf matches.  While I really am thrilled about that, I’m extremely glad that they gave us this option and that I starred my previous leaf matches.  Nobody wants to lose useful data.

Ancestry indicates these removed matches will only be available for a limited time, although in the past they have been very generous with that timeframe. However, download them now, so you don’t forget.

Ancestry Update!!!

Ancestry Update

The long-anticipated Ancestry matching update occurred sometime late this morning.

Ancestry provides links in their announcement blurb, shown above, for “learn more.”  Be sure to click on that link, but perhaps more important is the “tell us what you think link.”  Don’t miss that opportunity to ask for a chromosome browser.  Take some time to evaluate their update, and do tell them what you think.

I’ll be downloading my matches later for a more precise analysis, but here’s what has happened at first glance.

At First Glance

Previously, I had 226 leaf hints.  Leaf hints are people whose DNA you match and who have a common ancestor in their tree with you.  Now I have 254, a gain of 28 new matches.  As far as I’m concerned, these matches are the most useful part of the Ancestry product. So I’m very pleased.  In addition, some of the old matches may be gone and some new ones may take their place.  So I may actually have more new matches than 28.

My closest “new match” as a result of the rerun is in the 4th to 6th cousin range.  Please note that your matches that are new because of this change are NOT noted with a blue dot as normal “new matches.”  So I hope you starred or noted your old matches, because that is the only way you can tell who is a new match as a result of the rerun.

Previously I had 436 4th cousins or closer.  Now I have 487.  I expected this to drop as their algorithm became more restrictive, but it didn’t.  I’ll be anxious to see who remained at a 4th cousin and who got shifted or added, and if their estimates are more or less accurate.

Lastly, I previously had 191 pages of matches, at 50 matches a page, for about 9550 total matches. Today, I have 221 pages of matches, at 50 matches a page, for about 11,050 total matches.

Working With Ancestry Matches

Truthfully, the only Ancestry matches I really work with are three kinds of matches:

  • leaf matches because we share DNA and a common ancestor is our tree
  • close matches because I can often figure out our link, even with a small amount of information
  • shared matches – because when you know who else you and your match share DNA with, you can sometimes figure out the connection through that information

Leaf matches and close matches are on your main match page of course, but the shared matches are on the page after you click on “View Match” with an individual.  Ancestry only shows shared matches for high confidence matches, so you won’t have them for everyone.

shared matches update

I find this to be the most productive strategy for working with Ancestry matches for me, given that they don’t have a chromosome browser.  I always hope my matches will download to GedMatch, of course, or to Family Tree DNA, or better yet, both.

In Summary

Personally, I’m excited to have more leaf matches.  I’m disappointed about losing 4 circles.  We knew it would be a mixed bag.  In this case, I think I’m more excited than disappointed because I recorded the circles, but I don’t know who resides in the new leaf matches and I can’t wait to find out.  That’s all new information!!!  And 28 new leaf matches in one day is a bonanza!

Please share your experience in the comments!