The brand-new FamilyTreeDNA website is live!
I’m very pleased with the investment that FamilyTreeDNA has made in their genealogy platform and tools. This isn’t just a redesign, it’s more of a relaunch.
I spoke with Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of myDNA, the parent company of FamilyTreeDNA briefly yesterday. He’s excited too and said:
“The new features and enhancements we are releasing in July are the first round of updates in our exciting product roadmap. FamilyTreeDNA will continue to invest heavily in the advancement of genetic genealogy.”
In other words, this is just the beginning.
In case you were wondering, all those features everyone asked for – Lior listened.
Lior said earlier in 2021 that he was going to do exactly this and he’s proven true to his word, with this release coming just half a year after he took the helm. Obviously, he hit the ground running.
A few months ago, Lior said that his initial FamilyTreeDNA focus was going to be on infrastructure, stability, and focusing on the customer experience. In other words, creating a foundation to build on.
The new features, improvements, and changes are massive and certainly welcome.
I’ll be covering the new features in a series of articles, but in this introductory article, I’m providing an overview so you can use it as a guide to understand and navigate this new release.
Change is Challenging
I need to say something here.
Change is hard. In fact, change is the most difficult challenge for humans. We want improvements, yet we hate it when the furniture is rearranged in our “room.” However, we can’t have one without the other.
So, take a deep breath, and let’s view this as a great new adventure. These changes and tools will provide us with a new foundation and new clues. Think of this as finding long-lost documents in an archive about your ancestors. If someone told me that there is a potential for discovering the surname of one of my elusive female ancestors in an undiscovered chest in a remote library, trust me, I’d be all over it – regardless of where it was or how much effort I had to expend to get there. In this case, I can sit right here in front of my computer and dig for treasure.
We just need to learn to navigate the new landscape in a virtual room. What a gift!
Let’s start with the first thing you’ll see – the main page when you sign in.
Redesigned Main Page
The FamilyTreeDNA main page has changed. To begin with, the text is darker and the font is larger across the entire platform. OMG, thank you!!!
The main page has been flipped left to right, with results on the left now. Projects, surveys, and other information, along with haplogroup badges are on the right. Have you answered any surveys? I don’t think I even noticed them before. (My bad!)
Click any image to enlarge.
The top tabs have changed too. The words myTree and myProjects are now gone, and descriptive tabs have replaced those. The only “my” thing remaining is myOrigins. This change surprises me with myDNA being the owner.
The Results & Tools tab at the top shows the product dropdowns.
The most popular tabs are shown individually under each product, with additional features being grouped under “See More.”
Every product now has a “See More” link where less frequently used widgets will be found, including the raw data downloads. This is the Y DNA “See More” dropdown by way of example.
You can see the green Updated badge on the Family Finder Matches tab. I don’t know if that badge will always appear when customers have new matches, or if it’s signaling that all customers have updated Family Finder Matches now.
We’ll talk about matches in the Family Finder section.
The Family Finder “See More” tab includes the Matrix, ancientOrigins, and the raw data file download.
The mitochondrial DNA section, titled Maternal Line Ancestry, mtDNA Results and Tools includes several widgets grouped under the “See More” tab.
Additional Tests and Tools
The Additional Tests and Tools area includes a link to your Family Tree (please do upload or create one,) Public Haplotrees, and Advanced Matches.
Public haplotrees are free-to-the-public Y and mitochondrial DNA trees that include locations. They are also easily available to FamilyTreeDNA customers here.
Please note that you access both types of trees from one location after clicking the Public Haplotrees page. The tree defaults to Y-DNA, but just click on mtDNA to view mitochondrial haplogroups and locations. Both trees are great resources because they show the location flags of the earliest known ancestors of the testers within each haplogroup.
Advanced Matches used to be available from the menu within each test type, but since advanced matching includes all three types of tests, it’s now located under the Additional Tests and Tools banner. Don’t forget about Advanced Matches – it’s really quite useful to determine if someone matches you on multiple types of tests and/or within specific projects.
Hey, look – I found a tooltip. Just mouse over the text and tabs on various pages to see where tooltips have been added.
Help and Help Center
The new Help Center is debuting in this release. The former Learning Center is transitioning to the Help Center with new, updated content.
Here’s an example of the new easy-to-navigate format. There’s a search function too.
Each individual page, test type, and section on your personal home page has a “Helpful Information” button.
On the main page, at the top right, you’ll see a new Help button.
Did you see that Submit Feedback link?
If you click on the Help Center, you’ll be greeted with context-sensitive help.
I clicked through from the dashboard, so that’s what I’m seeing. However, other available topics are shown at left.
I clicked on both of the links shown and the content has been updated with the new layout and features. No wonder they launched a new Help Center!
Account settings are still found in the same place, and those pages don’t appear to have changed. However, please keep in mind that some settings make take up to 24 hours to take effect.
Family Finder Rematching
Before we look at what has changed on your Family Finder pages, let’s talk about what happened behind the scenes.
FamilyTreeDNA has been offering the Family Finder test for 11 years, one of two very early companies to enter that marketspace. We’ve learned so much since then, not only about DNA itself, but about genetic genealogy, matching, triangulation, population genetics, how to use these tools, and more.
In order to make improvements, FamilyTreeDNA changing the match criteria which necessitated rematching everyone to everyone else.
If you have a technology background of any type, you’ll immediately realize that this is a massive, expensive undertaking requiring vast computational resources. Not only that, but the rematching has to be done in tandem with new kits coming in, coordinated for all customers, and rolled out at once. Based on new matches and features, the user interface needed to be changed too, at the same time.
Sounds like a huge headache, right?
Why would a company ever decide to undertake that, especially when there is no revenue for doing so? The answer is to make functionality and accuracy better for their customers. Think of this as a new bedrock foundation for the future.
FamilyTreeDNA has made computational changes and implemented several features that require rematching:
- Improved matching accuracy, in particular for people in highly endogamous populations. People in this category have thousands of matches that occur simply because they share multiple distant ancestors from within the same population. That combination of multiple common ancestors makes their current match relationships appear to be closer in time than they are. In order to change matching algorithms, FamilyTreeDNA had to rewrite their matching software and then run matching all over to enable everyone to receive new, updated match results.
- FamilyTreeDNA has removed segments below 6 cM following sustained feedback from the genealogical community.
- X matching has changed as well and no longer includes anyone as an X match below 6 cM.
- Family Matching, meaning paternal, maternal and both “bucketing” uses triangulation behind the scenes. That code also had to be updated.
- Older transfer kits used to receive only closer matches because imputation was not in place when the original transfer/upload took place. All older kits have been imputed now and matched with the entire database, which is part of why you may have more matches.
- Relationship range calculations have changed, based on the removal of microsegments, new matching methodology and rematching results.
- FamilyTreeDNA moved to hg37, known as Build 37 of the human genome. In layman’s terms, as scientists learn about our DNA, the human map of DNA changes and shifts slightly. The boundary lines change somewhat. Versions are standardized so all researchers can use the same base map or yardstick. In some cases, early genetic genealogy implementers are penalized because they will eventually have to rematch their entire database when they upgrade to a new build version, while vendors who came to the party later won’t have to bear that internal expense.
As you can see, almost every aspect of matching has changed, so everyone was rematched against the entire database. You’ll see new results. Some matches may be gone, especially distant matches or if you’re a member of an endogamous population.
You’ll likely have new matches due to older transfer kits being imputed to full compatibility. Your matches should be more accurate too, which makes everyone happy.
I understand a white paper is being written that will provide more information about the new matching algorithms.
Ok, now let’s check out the new Family Finder Matches page.
Family Finder Matches
FamilyTreeDNA didn’t just rearrange the furniture – there’s a LOT of new content.
First, a note. You’ll see “Family Finder” in some places, and “Autosomal DNA” in other places. That’s one and the same at FamilyTreeDNA. The Family Finder test is their autosomal test, named separately because they also have Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.
When you click on Family Finder matches for the first time, you will assuredly notice one thing and will probably notice a second.
First, you’ll see a little tour that explains how to use the various new tools.
Secondly, you will probably see the “Generating Matches” notice for a few seconds to a few minutes while your match list is generated, especially if the site is busy because lots of people are signing on. I saw this message for maybe a minute or two before my match list filled.
This should be a slight delay, but with so many people signing in right now, my second kit took longer. If you receive a message that says you have no matches, just refresh your page. If you had matches before, you DO have matches now.
While working with the new interface this morning, I’ve found that refreshing the screen is the key to solving issues.
My kits that have a few thousand matches loaded Family Matching (bucketing) immediately, but this (Jewish) kit that has around 30,000 matches received this informational message instead. FamilyTreeDNA has removed the little spinning icon. If you mouse over the information, you’ll see the following message:
This isn’t a time estimate. Everyone receives the same message. The message didn’t even last long enough for me to get a screenshot on the first kit that received this message. The results completed within a minute or so. The Family Matching buckets will load as soon as the parental matching is ready.
These delays should only happen the first time, or if someone has a lot of matches that they haven’t yet viewed. Once you’ve signed in, your matches are cached, a technique that improves performance, so the loading should be speedy, or at least speedier, during the second and subsequent visits.
Of course, right now, all customers have an updated match list, so there’s something new for everyone.
Want to see that tutorial again?
Click on that little Help box in the upper right-hand corner. You can view the Tutorial, look at Quick References that explain what’s on this page, visit the Help Center or Submit Feedback.
Two Family Finder Matches Views – Detail and Table
The first thing you’ll notice is that there are two views – Detail View and Table View. The default is Detail View.
Take a minute to get used to the new page.
Detail View – Filter Matches by Match Type
I was pleased to see new filter buttons, located in several places on the page.
The Matches filter at left allows you to display only specific relationship levels, including X-Matches which can be important in narrowing matches to a specific subset of ancestors.
You can display only matches that fall within certain relationship ranges. Note the new “Remote Relative” that was previously called speculative.
Parental Matching and Filtering by Test Type or Trees
All of your matches are displayed by default, of course, but you can click on Paternal, Maternal or Both, like before to view only matches in those buckets. In order for the Family Matching bucketing feature to be enabled, you must attach known relatives’ DNA matches to their proper place in your tree.
Please note that I needed to refresh the page a couple of times to get my parental matches to load the first time. I refreshed a couple of times to be sure that all of my bucketed matches loaded. This should be a first-time loading blip.
There’s a new filter button to the right of the bucketing tabs.
You can now filter by who has trees and who has taken which kinds of tests.
You can apply multiple filters at the same time to further narrow your matches.
Important – Clearing Filters
It’s easy to forget you have a filter enabled. This section is important, in part because Clear Filter is difficult to find.
The clear filter button does NOT appear until you’ve selected a filter. However, after applying that filter, to clear it and RESET THE MATCHES to unfiltered, you need to click on the “Clear Filter” button which is located at the top of the filter selections, and then click “Apply” at the bottom of the menu. I looked for “clear filter” forever before finding it here.
Thank goodness, the search functionality has been enhanced and simplified too. Full name search works, both here and on the Y DNA search page.
If you type in a surname without selecting any search filters, you’ll receive a list of anyone with that word in their name, or in their list of ancestral surnames. This does NOT include surnames in their tree if they have not added those surnames to their list of ancestral surnames.
Notice that your number of total matches and bucketed people will change based on the results of this search and any filters you have applied.
I entered Estes in the search box, with no filters. You can see that I have a total of 46 matches that contain Estes in one way or another, and how they are bucketed.
Estes is my birth surname. I noticed that three people with Estes in their information are bucketed maternally. This is the perfect example of why you can’t assume a genetic relationship based on only a surname. Those three people’s DNA matches me on my mother’s side. And yes, I confirmed that they matched my mother too on that same segment or segments.
You can also filter by haplogroup. This is very specific. If you select mitochondrial haplogroup J, you will only receive Family Finder matches that have haplogroup J, NOT J1 or J1c or J plus anything.
If you’re looking for your own haplogroup, you’ll need to type your full haplogroup in the search box and select mtDNA Haplogroup in the search filter dropdown.
Resetting Search Results
To dismiss search results, click on the little X. It’s easy to forget that you have initiated a search, so I need to remember to dismiss searches after I’m finished with each one.
The “Export CSV” button either downloads your entire match list, or the list of filtered matches currently selected. This is not your segment information, but a list of matches and related information such as which side they are bucketed on, if any, notes you’ve made, and more.
Your segment information is available for download on the chromosome browser.
The Sort By button facilitates sorting your matches versus filtering your matches. Filters ONLY display the items requested, while sorts display all of the items requested, sorting them in a particular manner.
You can sort in any number of ways. The default is Relationship Range followed by Shared DNA.
Your Matches – Detail View
A lot has changed, but after you get used to the new interface, it makes more sense and there are a lot more options available which means increased flexibility. Remember, you can click to enlarge any of these images.
To begin with, you can see the haplogroups of your matches if they have taken a Y or mitochondrial DNA test. If you match someone, you’ll see a little check in the haplogroup box. I’m not clear whether this means you’re a haplogroup match or that person is on your match list.
To select people to compare in the chromosome browser, you simply check the little square box to the left of their photo and the chromosome browser box pops up at the bottom of the page. We’ll review the chromosome browser in a minute.
The new Relationship Range prediction is displayed, based on new calculations with segments below 6 cM removed. The linked relationship is displayed below the range.
A linked relationship occurs when you link that person to their proper place in your tree. If you have no linked relationship, you’ll see a link to “assign relationship” which takes you to your tree to link this person if you know how you are related.
The segments below 6 cM are gone from the Shared DNA total and X matches are only shown if they are 6 cM or above.
In Common With and Not In Common With
In Common With and Not In Common With is the little two-person icon at the right.
Just click on the little person icon, then select “In Common With” to view your shared matches between you, that match, and other people. The person you are viewing matches in common with is highlighted at the top of the page, with your common matches below.
You can stack filters now. In this example, I selected my cousin, Don, to see our common matches. I added the search filter of the surname Ferverda, my mother’s maiden name. She is deceased and I manage her kit. You can see that my cousin Don and I have 5 total common matches – four maternal and one both, meaning one person matches me on both my maternal and paternal lines.
It’s great news that now Cousin Don pops up in the chromosome browser box at the bottom, enabling easy confusion-free chromosome segment comparisons directly from the In Common With match page. I love this!!!.
All I have to do now is click on other people and then on Compare Relationship which pushes these matches through to the chromosome browser. This is SOOOO convenient.
You’ll see a new tree icon at right on each match. A dark tree means there’s content and a light tree means this person does not have a tree. Remember, you can filter by trees with content using the filter button beside “Both”.
Your notes are shown at far right. Any person with a note is dark grey and no note is white.
If you’re looking for the email contact information, click on your match’s name to view their placard which also includes more detailed ancestral surname information.
Family Finder – Table View
The table view is very similar to the Detail View. The layout is a bit different with more matches visible in the same space.
This view has lots of tooltips on the column heading bar! Tooltips are great for everyone, but especially for people just beginning to find their way in the genetic genealogy world.
I’ll have to experiment a bit to figure out which view I prefer. I’d like to be able to set my own default for whichever view I want as my default. In fact, I think I’ll submit that in the “Submit Feedback” link. For every suggestion, I’m going to find something really positive to say. This was an immense overhaul.
Let’s look at the chromosome Browser.
You can arrive at the Chromosome Browser by selecting people on your match page, or by selecting the Chromosome Browser under the Results and Tools link.
Everything is pretty much the same on the chromosome browser, except the default view is now 6 cM and the smaller segments are gone. You can also choose to view only segments above 10 cM.
If you have people selected in the chromosome browser and click on Download Segments in the upper right-hand corner, it downloads the segments of only the people currently selected.
You can “Clear All” and then click on Download All Segments which downloads your entire segment file. To download all segments, you need to have no people selected for comparison.
The contents of this file are greatly reduced as it now contains only the segments 6 cM and above.
No, the family tree has not changed, and yes, it needs to, desperately. Trust me, the management team is aware and I suspect one of the improvements, hopefully sooner than later, will be an improved tree experience.
The Y DNA page has received an update too, adding both a Detail View and a Table View with the same basic functionality as the Family Finder matching above. If you are reading this article for Y DNA only, please read the Family Finder section to understand the new layout and features.
Like previously, the match comparison begins at the 111 marker level.
However, there’s a BIG difference. If there are no matches at this level, YOU NEED TO CLICK THE NEXT TAB. You can easily see that this person has matches at the 67 level and below, but the system no longer “counts down” through the various levels until it either finds a level with a match or reaches 12 markers.
If you’re used to the old interface, it’s easy to think you’re at the final destination of 12 markers with no matches when you’re still at 111.
Y DNA Detail View
The Y-DNA Detail and Table views features are the same as Family Finder and are described in that section.
The new format is quite different. One improvement is that the Paternal Country of Origin is now displayed, along with a flag. How cool is that!
The Paternal Earliest Known Ancestor and Match Date are at far right. Note that match dates have been reset to the rerun date. At this point, FamilyTreeDNA is evaluating the possibility of restoring the original match date. Regardless, you’ll be able to filter for match dates when new matches arrive.
Please check to be sure you have your Country of Origin, Earliest Known Ancestor, and mapped location completed and up to date.
Earliest Known Ancestor
If you haven’t completed your Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) information, now’s the perfect time. It’s easy, so let’s do it before you forget.
Click on the Account Settings gear beneath your name in the right-hand upper corner. Click on Genealogy, then on Earliest Known Ancestors and complete the information in the red boxes.
- Direct paternal line means your father’s father’s father’s line – as far up through all fathers as you can reach. This is your Y DNA lineage, but females should complete this information on general principles.
- Direct maternal line means your mother’s mother’s mother’s line – as far up through all mothers that you can reach. This is your mitochondrial DNA lineage, so relevant for both males and females.
Completing all of the information, including the location, will help you and your matches as well when using the Matches Map.
Be sure to click Save when you’re finished.
Y DNA Filters
Y DNA has more filter options than autosomal.
The Y DNA filter, located to the right of the 12 Markers tab allows testers to filter by:
- Genetic distance, meaning how many mutations difference between you and your matches
- Groups meaning group projects that the tester has joined
- Tree status
- Match date
- Level of test taken
If none of your matches have taken the 111 marker test or you don’t match anyone at that level, that test won’t show up on your list.
Y DNA Table View
As with Family Finder, the Table View is more condensed and additional features are available on the right side of each match. For details, please review the Family Finder section.
If you’re looking for the old Y DNA TiP report, it’s now at the far right of each match.
The actual calculator hasn’t changed yet. I know people were hoping for the new Y DNA aging in this release, but that’s yet to follow.
Other pages like the Big Y and Mitochondrial DNA did not receive new features or functionality in this release, but do sport new user-friendly tooltips.
I lost track, but I counted over 100 tooltips added across the platform, and this is just the beginning.
There are probably more new features and functionality that I haven’t stumbled across just yet.
And yes, we are going to find a few bugs. That’s inevitable with something this large. Please report anything you find to FamilyTreeDNA.
Oh wait – I almost forgot…
I understand that there are in the ballpark of 50 new videos that are being added to the new Help Center, either today or very shortly.
When I find out more, I’ll write an article about what videos are available and where to find them. People learn in various ways. Videos are often requested and will be a popular addition. I considered making videos, but that’s almost impossible for anyone besides the vendor because the names on screens either need to be “fake” or the screen needs to be blurred.
So hurray – very glad to hear these are imminent!
Stay tuned for new developments. As Lior said, FamilyTreeDNA is investing heavily in genetic genealogy and there’s more to come.
My Mom used to say that the “proof is in the pudding.” I’d say the myDNA/FamilyTreeDNA leadership team has passed this initial test with flying colors.
Of course, there’s more to do, but I’m definitely grateful for this lovely pudding. Thank you – thank you!
I can’t wait to get started and see what new gems await.
Take a Look!
Sign in and take a look for yourself.
Do you have more matches?
Are your matches more accurate?
How about predicted relationships?
How has this new release affected you?
What do you like the best?
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