Family Tree DNA Group Project Privacy Levels

Recently, Family Tree DNA sent two emails about the new Group Project privacy settings and policies that are now in effect. The first email was to project members, and the second was to administrators.

I’m combining information from both in this article, along with step-by-step instructions for what you need to do, whether you’re a project member or a project administrator.

Before GDPR came into force in May 2018, group project administrators had more latitude to help project members by viewing all fields and being able to change some that weren’t deemed critical to privacy. For example, administrators could add the member’s most distant ancestor, help them with a tree or enter the mapped location of their direct maternal or paternal ancestor. Administrators could not change personal things like name, e-mail, contact information or passwords.

With the arrival of GDPR, Family Tree DNA implemented changes in order to achieve compliance which had the unfortunate effect of restricting administrators’ ability drastically. With the pressure of the GDPR deadline past, Family Tree DNA has rethought some of the restrictions and made welcome modifications.

Who is Affected and What Changed?

Anyone who has tested at Family Tree DNA and is a member of any project is affected, even if you may not realize that you are.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss the privacy settings which fall into basically three categories:

  • very low
  • medium (normal)
  • high

In the chart below, we see the names assigned to the levels as of the GDPR rollout, and now. The names have changed.

The May 2018 names were problematic because some project members became confused, thinking that Project Only was giving full access for this project. Additionally, Full access wasn’t full, but did allow some modifications. Therefore, in an effort to minimize confusion, Family Tree DNA has now renamed the access levels. The () are my descriptions.

The GDPR Transition

In May, the pre-GDPR privacy settings for project members were programmatically converted to the new settings, the result being that many project members were converted over with new settings that were much more restrictive than they were previously. I am still hopeful that this issue will be addressed, because the expectation of individuals who joined projects in the 19 years before GDPR was that the administrators had access to work with their results – and always would have. Many of those individuals have been project members for years and have now passed away, eliminating any possibility of the project administrator obtaining even limited (partial view only) access from the member.

For example, with Minimal access, administrators can’t see either members results or trees. With Limited Access, project administrators can’t see the member’s personal profile or privacy selections, but at least can view their tree and results.

Furthermore, anyone who joined a project after May 25th was joined at the minimal level, requiring the new member to change their settings to Limited, providing the administrators a reasonable level of access. Most people didn’t realize that, and therefore the majority of people who have recently joined projects remain at the minimal level.

New Joins No Longer Default to Minimal

When joining a project, new members are currently given the option of assigning an administrator a level – meaning the minimum privacy level is no longer assigned as a default. This is a HUGE improvement.

Due to the transition as well as the “join” policy between May and August leaving many people with Miminum settings, project administrators may want to contact individuals who currently have the Minimum level and ask them to change their settings.

Moving Forward

What matters currently is that you, or kits you manage, may now be at the MOST restrictive level which was originally called “Project Only” after conversion, but has now been renamed as “Minimal Required.”

From my perspective, if a group member does not want the administrators working with their results, they shouldn’t join the project. The purpose and focus of projects is collaboration.

New Settings and Permissions

The chart below, now shown to people when they join projects, summarizes the various abilities that administrators have under Minimal, Limited and Advanced.

With the most restrictive “Minimal Required” setting, administrators cannot see critical items such as a member’s tree or who they match. Minimal Required is extremely restrictive, which means that administrators can’t group the individual within the project appropriately.

With the original GDPR privacy rollout, many people were automatically converted to what is now “Minimal Required” and are unaware that their privacy selection has been downgraded.

Access Now Granted To Individual Administrators

Another change is that members now grant each individual project administrator a specific and different level of access unique to that administrator.

This change is quite beneficial, because you may want to grant one project administrator Advanced access which allows them to change some fields, while granting the rest Limited.

New Administrators

In this latest update, you can now grant all future project administrators an access level too, creating a legacy for future project administrators to have access to your results at the level you select.

After GDPR, new project administrators were only granted “minimal” access to every project member, meaning that in essence, new administrators were entirely hamstrung if every project member didn’t individually change their access for that administrator.

Needless to say, project members who joined projects before GDPR did not expect this would ever happen. Many have died or become disinterested and that meant that their results would forever be unavailable to new administrators.

Granting at least minimal access to future administrators assures that your DNA within a project will never be dead.

Another change last week was that new administrators are now granted Limited access, unless you specifically select either Minimal or Advanced access for new administrators.

Advanced Versus True Full Access

Advanced access is not the same as full access.

If you want an individual, project administrator or otherwise, to truly have full access to your account, you need to personally give them your kit number and password, realizing that allows them to function entirely “as you.” I have done this, because when I die, I want my DNA legacy to live vibrantly into the future.

Beneficiary

Speaking of legacy, please take this opportunity to complete your beneficiary form so that Family Tree DNA knows who to allow access to your account after your death.

Access Levels

Bottom line – you need to check BOTH your “Privacy and Sharing” setting along with “Project Preferences” for each project that you belong to because your settings may be much more restrictive than you think they are.

Privacy and Sharing

The Privacy and Sharing tab allows your results to be shown in the public project.

You MUST OPT IN to project sharing, or your results won’t be included in the public project display.

Most people don’t realize that the default is to NOT SHOW in a project, believing that if they join a project, their results will automatically be anonymously displayed in the public portion of the project. You must opt-in, so be sure that little box at the right side of the Group Project Profile is checked.

Project Preferences

The Project Preferences tab is where you grant project administrator rights.

Let’s look at the various group project preference privacy levels; Minimal, Limited and Advanced, and what they provide.

Level: Minimal Required

From the Family Tree DNA Learning Center:

Minimal Required is the most limited access level. This access level permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to access project administration tools that allow him or her to view certain results in relation to how you match other project members; however, this access level does not allow the administrator to visit your myFTDNA pages.

The following table lists the Group Administration Pages and the corresponding group member information viewable by administrators assigned the Minimal Required level:

Minimal Required
Group Administration Report Page* Viewable Information
Profile Information
(viewable by Group Administrators, co-administrators, and other project members in multiple locations)
  • Name
  • Email
Maternal and Paternal Ancestry
  • Maternal and Paternal
    Country of Origin
    (from release form only)
  • Most distant ancestor and location
  • Family tree (if public)
Order Summary
  • Y-STR
  • Big Y-500
  • mtDNA
  • Deep Clade
  • Family Finder
  • Geno 2.0
Pending and Received Lab Results
  • Pending lab results
  • Completed lab results
Received and Unreceived Kits
  • Kit status
FF Illumina OmniExpress Matrix
  • Matrix of in-project members and who they match
FF Illumina OmniExpress Results
  • Comparison and download of in-project matches and their chromosome information
mtDNA Results Classic
  • Haplogroup
  • HVR1/2 mutations
  • Coding region mutations
    (only if authorized)
Y-DNA Genetic Distance
  • Subgroup
Y-DNA TiP Report
  • Genetic distance to other project members
Y-DNA Results
  • Haplogroup
  • STR marker values
Y-DNA Results Classic
  • Haplogroup
  • STR marker values
Y-DNA Results Colorized
  • Haplogroup
  • STR marker values
Y-DNA SNP
  • SNPs
Member Subgrouping
  • SNPs
Activity Feed
  • Postings

*These pages are only accessible by Group Administrators and co-administrators unless otherwise noted.

Level: Limited and Advanced

Limited is the recommended access level. This level of access permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to visit and view certain information on your myFTDNA pages in order to assist with kit management and to better facilitate project research. Additionally, this access level includes all of the permissions granted with the Minimal Required level.

For more information on the permissions granted with this level, see the below Limited and Advanced Access table.

Advanced access permits the Group Administrator or co-administrator to visit, view, and modify certain information on your myFTDNA pages in order to assist with kit management and better facilitate project research. Additionally, this access level includes all of the permissions granted with the Limited access level.

The Advanced access level is designed to allow an individual administrator to fully manage a project member’s kit and function on their behalf. This includes ordering products and modifying information with the exceptions of the primary email address and project preferences for other Group Projects.

The following table lists your myFTDNA pages and the corresponding limitations and permissions granted to the administrator with the Limited and Advanced access levels.

Note: In addition to the personal information mentioned below, administrators for Group Projects of which you are a member and whom you have assigned Limited or Advanced access and administrators to whom your matches have granted Limited or Advanced access, will be able to view your profile, match information (e.g., Common Matches, Genetic Distances, and Shared Segments) and some Genetic Information (e.g., genetic markers and ethnicity information).

Limited and Advanced
Group Member myFTDNA Page Limited (Recommended)
(read only)
Advanced
(modify capability)
myFamilyTree Yes Yes
Complete Order History Yes Yes
Personal Surveys No Yes
Products and Upgrades
(Ability to purchase tests or upgrades
for group member)
No Yes
Family Finder
Family Finder Raw Data Download No Yes
Family Finder Matches Yes Yes
Download Family Finder Matches Yes Yes
Family Finder Linked Relationship Yes Yes
Family Finder Chromosome Browser Yes Yes
Download Family Finder Chromosome Browser Yes Yes
Family Finder myOrigins Yes Yes
Family Finder Shared Origins Yes Yes
Family Finder ancientOrigins Yes Yes
Family Finder Matrix Yes Yes
Population Finder Survey No Yes
Family Finder Advanced Matches Yes Yes
mtDNA
mtDNA Download Matches Yes Yes
mtDNA View Matches Yes Yes
mtDNA Ancestral Origins Yes Yes
mtDNA Matches Maps Yes Yes
mtDNA Migration Maps Yes Yes
mtDNA Haplogroup Origins Yes Yes
mtDNA Print Certificates No Yes
mtDNA Download FASTA No Yes
mtDNA View Results Yes Yes
mtDNA Advanced Matches Yes Yes
Y-DNA and Big Y-500
Y-DNA Download Matches Yes Yes
Y-DNA View Matches Yes Yes
Y-DNA Ancestral Origins Yes Yes
Y-DNA Haplotree & SNPs Yes Yes
Y-DNA SNPs Download Yes Yes
Y-DNA Matches Maps Yes Yes
Y-DNA Migration Maps Yes Yes
Y-DNA SNP Map Yes Yes
Y-DNA Haplogroup Origins Yes Yes
Y-DNA Print Certificates No Yes
Y-DNA Download Y-STR Results Yes Yes
Y-DNA View Y-STR Results Yes Yes
Y-DNA Advanced Yes Yes
Big Y-500 Results Yes Yes
Big Y-500 Matches Yes Yes
Big Y-500 BAM File Download No Yes
Big Y-500 Download VCF No Yes
Y-DNA Advanced Matches Yes Yes
Other Results
All Factoids Results No Yes
X-STR Yes Yes
Individual Y-STR Yes Yes
Individual Autosomal Markers Yes Yes
Applications
Partner Applications No Yes
Vitagene Wellness No No
Account Settings
Contact Information No Yes (except primary email)
Change Password No Yes (must know the current password to change it)
Beneficiary Information No Yes
Earliest Known Ancestors Yes Yes
Surnames Yes Yes
Privacy & Sharing Yes Yes
Project Preferences Yes Yes*
Notification Preferences Yes Yes
Projects
Join a Project Yes Yes

* An administrator granted Advanced access has the ability to modify permissions for administrators in other projects who have Limited or Minimal Required access; however, they cannot grant Advanced access to or remove Advanced access from any other administrator or co-administrator. Additionally, administrators granted Advanced access by a member can, on the member’s behalf, leave other projects with the exception of those having administrators who also have Advanced access.

Checking Your Settings – Step by Step Instructions

Step 1

Sign on to your account at Family Tree DNA and select the orange “Manage Personal Information,” right under your Profile photo, or the location reserved for the photo.

Then click on the Project Preferences tab:

Click on the Edit function which shows you the current level for each administrator in a specific project, allowing you to select a new level, and then allowing you to pre-select a new level for all new future administrators of this project.

I strongly recommend that you pre-select (at least) the Limited Access level.

Then, click on Accept which shows you a summary of your new selections.

Click “Confirm” and you’re all set.

You’ll need to repeat this step to check administrator rights for all projects that you have joined.

Step 2

Next, click on the privacy and sharing tab to opt in to Project Sharing. You only have to do this one time, but if you don’t – your results will NOT BE INCLUDED in any public projects.

Why is that important?

Public project displays encourage people to participate in DNA testing and join projects, especially Y and mitochondrial. If they see several lines tested, they are much more likely to purchase a test to see if they match a line they think might be theirs. Projects serve as advertising which helps all genealogists.

So please, opt in!

Project Administrators

If you’re a Family Tree DNA project administrator, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Review your Member Information List for members who have the minimal setting AND those who are not publicly sharing their DNA results.

In my Estes project of 327 individuals, 32 converted with Minimal access, including my immediate family members whose kits I manage. I don’t know if this 10% number holds true across all projects, but that’s a nontrivial number of people whose results you can’t access, and who you can’t help.

You’ll need to do the following:

  • Educate your members about why you need either Limited or Full Access as well as why they want to consider allowing their results to be publicly displayed.
  • If as an administrator, you’ve elected to prevent your project from publicly displaying, please consider making your project public. Family Tree DNA does not display the results of any individual in a project who does not opt-in to having their results shown publicly – so you don’t have to worry about that.
  • Using the administrator’s Bulk Email function, send a project e-mail with instructions for how to check and select new Project Preference administrator settings as well as where to find the Project Sharing opt-in. (Feel free to link to this article.)
  • Follow-up by sending individual e-mails to members who don’t change their settings.
  • If you have a number of people in your project who are not grouped, you can group people with “Minimal” access into one group, and send a group e-mail to only them. I think that would be easier than e-mailing everyone individually, but as a project administrator, I’m committed to doing whatever needs to be done to preserve the integrity of my projects.

Getting Help

  • If you run into problems and need help, you can call Family Tree DNA at 713-868-1438 M-F 9-5 CST and select the customer support option or initiate a support request by clicking on help at the very bottom of every page.
  • If you’re a project administrator and run into problems, don’t forget that Family Tree DNA has a Group Support Department to help administrators. You can call the same number and select the option for groups or e-mail groups@ftdna.com.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Concepts: Anonymized Versus Pseudonymized Data and Your Genetic Privacy

Until recently, when people (often relatives) expressed concerns about DNA testing, genetic genealogy buffs would explain that the tester could remain anonymous, and that their test could be registered under another name; ours, for example.

This means, of course, that since our relative is testing for OUR genealogy addiction, er…hobby, that we would take care of those pesky inquiries and everything else. Not only would they not be bothered, but their identity would never be known to anyone other than us.

Let’s dissect that statement, because in some cases, it’s still partially true – but in other cases, anonymity in DNA testing is no longer possible.

You certainly CAN put your name on someone else’s kit and manage their account for them. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, depending on the testing vendor you select.

If the DNA testing is either Y or mitochondrial DNA, it’s extremely UNLIKELY, if not impossible, that their Y or mitochondrial DNA is going to uniquely identify them as an individual.

Y and mitochondrial DNA is extremely useful in identifying someone as having descended from an ancestor, or not, but it (probably) won’t identify the tester’s identity to any matching person – at least not without additional information.

If you need a brush-up on the different kinds of DNA and how they can be used for genealogy, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Y and mitochondrial DNA can be used to rule in or rule out specific descendant relationships. In other words, you can unquestionably tell for sure that you are NOT related through a specific line. Conversely, you can sometimes confirm that you are most likely related to someone you match through the direct Y (patrilineal) line for males, and matrilineal mitochondrial line for both males and females. That match could be very distant in time, meaning many generations – even hundreds or thousands of years ago.

However, autosomal DNA, which tests a subset of all of your DNA for the genealogical goal of matching to cousins and confirming ancestors is another matter entirely. Some of the information you discern from autosomal testing includes how closely you match, which effectively predicts a range of relationships to your match.

These matches are much more recent in time and do not reach back into the distant past. The more closely you are related, the more DNA you share, which means that your DNA is identifying your location in the family tree, regardless of the name you put on the test itself.

Now, let’s look at the difference between anonymization and pseudonymization.

It may seem trivial, but it isn’t.

Anonymization vs Pseudonymization

Recently, as a result of the European Union GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation,) we’ve heard a lot about privacy and pseudonymization, which is not the same as anonymized data.

Anonymized data must be entirely stripped of any identifiable information, making it impossible to derive insights on a discreet individual, even by the person or entity who performed the anonymization. In other words, anonymization cannot be reversed under any circumstances.

Given that the purpose of genetic genealogy conflicts with the concept of anonymization, the term pseudonymization is more properly applied to the situation where someone masks or replaces the name of the tester with the goal of hiding the identity of the person who is actually taking the test.

Pseudonymization under GDPR (Article 4(5)) is defined as “the processing of personal data in such a way that the data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of ‘additional information.’”

In reality, pseudonymization is what has been occurring all along, because the tester could always be re-identified by you.

However, and this important, neither anonymization or pseudonymization can be guaranteed to disguise your identity anymore.

Anonymous Isn’t Anonymous Anymore

The situation with autosomal DNA and the expectation of anonymity has changed rather gradually over the past few years, but with tidal wave force recently with the coming-of-age of two related techniques:

  • The increasingly routine identification of biological parents
  • The Buckskin Girl and Golden State Killer cases in which a victim and suspect were identified in April 2018, respectively, by the same methodology used to identify biological parents

Therefore, with autosomal DNA results, meaning the raw data results file ONLY, neither total anonymity or any expectation of pseudonymization is reasonable or possible.

Why?

The reason is very simple.

The size of the data bases of the combined mainstream vendors has reached the point where it’s unusual, at least for US testers, to not have a reasonably close match with a relative that you did not personally test – meaning third cousin or closer. Using a variety of tools, including in-common-with matches and trees, it’s possible to discern or narrow down candidates to be either a biological parent, a crime victim or a suspect.

In essence, the only real difference between genetic genealogy searching, parent searches and victim/suspect searches is motivation. The underlying technique is exactly the same with only a few details that differ based on the goal.

You can read about the process used to identify the Golden State Killer here, and just a few days later, a second case, the Cook/Van Cuylenborg double homicide cold case in Snohomish County, Washington was solved utilizing the following family tree of the suspect whose DNA was utilized and matched the blue and pink cousins.

Provided by the Snohomish County Sheriff

A genealogist discovering those same matches, of course, would be focused on the common ancestors, not contemporary people or generations.

To identify present day individuals, meaning parents, victims or suspects, the researcher identifies the common ancestor and works their way forward in time. The genealogist, on the other hands, is focused on working backwards in time.

All three types of processes, genealogical, parent identification and law enforcement depend on identifying cousins that lead us to common ancestors.

At that point, the only question is whether we continue working backwards (genealogically) or begin working forwards in time from the common ancestors for either parent identification or law enforcement.

Given that the suspect’s or victim’s name or identifying information is not known, their DNA alone, in combination with the DNA of their matches can identify them uniquely (unless they are an identical twin,) or closely enough that targeted testing or non-genetic information will confirm the identification.

Sometimes, people newly testing discover that a parent, sibling or half sibling genetic match is just waiting for them and absolutely no analysis is necessary. You can read about the discovery of the identity of my brother’s biological family here and here.

Therefore, we cannot represent to Uncle Henry, especially when discussing autosomal DNA testing, that he can test and remain anonymous. He can’t. If there is a family secret, known or unknown to Uncle Henry, it’s likely to be exposed utilizing autosomal DNA and may be exposed utilizing either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing.

For the genealogist, this may cause Pavlovian drooling, but Uncle Henry may not be nearly so enthralled.

In Summary

Genealogical methods developed to identify currently living individuals has obsoleted the concept of genetic anonymity. You can see in the pedigree chart example below how the same match, in yellow, can lead to solving any of the three different scenarios we’ve discussed.

Click to enlarge any graphic

If the tester is Uncle Henry, you might discover that his parents weren’t his parents. You also might discover who his real parents were, when your intention was only to confirm your common great-grandparents. So much for that idea.

A match between Henry and a second cousin, in our example above, can also identify someone involved in a law enforcement situation – although today those very few and far between. Testing for law enforcement purposes is prohibited according to the terms and conditions of all 4 major testing vendors; Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.

Currently law enforcement kits to identify either victims or suspects can be uploaded at GedMatch but only for violent crimes identified as either homicide or sexual assault, per their terms and conditions.

Furthermore, both 23andMe and Ancestry who previously reserved the right to anonymize your genetic information and sell or otherwise utilize that information in aggregated format no longer can do so under the new GDPR legislation without your specific consent. GDPR, while a huge pain in the behind for other reasons has returned the control of the consumer’s DNA to the consumer in these cases.

The loss of anonymity is the inevitable result of this industry maturing. That’s good news for genetic genealogy. It means we now have lots of matches – sometimes more than we can keep up with!

Because of those matches, we know that if we test our DNA, or that of a family member, our DNA plus the common DNA shared with many of our relatives is enough to identify us, or them. That’s not news to genealogists, but it might be to Uncle Henry, so don’t tell him that he can be anonymous anymore.

You can pseudonymize accounts to some extent by masking Uncle Henry’s name or using your name. Managing accounts for the same reasons of convenience that you always did is just fine! We just need to explain the current privacy situation to Uncle Henry when asking permission to test or to upload his raw data file to GedMatch (or anyplace else,) because ultimately, Uncle Henry’s DNA leads to Uncle Henry, no matter whose name is on the account.

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

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I recently wrote about GDPR in these articles:

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2017 – The Year of DNA

Every year for the past 17 years has been the year of DNA for me, but for many millions, 2017 has been the year of DNA. DNA testing has become a phenomenon in its own right.

It was in 2013 that Spencer Wells predicted that 2014 would be the “year of infection.” Spencer was right and in 2014 DNA joined the ranks of household words. I saw DNA in ads that year, for the first time, not related to DNA testing or health as in, “It’s in our DNA.”

In 2014, it seemed like most people had heard of DNA, even if they weren’t all testing yet. John Q. Public was becoming comfortable with DNA.

In 2017 – DNA Is Mainstream  

If you’re a genealogist, you certainly know about DNA testing, and you’re behind the times if you haven’t tested.  DNA testing is now an expected tool for genealogists, and part of a comprehensive proof statement that meets the genealogical proof standard which includes “a reasonably exhaustive search.”  If you haven’t applied DNA, you haven’t done a reasonably exhaustive search.

A paper trail is no longer sufficient alone.

When I used to speak to genealogy groups about DNA testing, back in the dark ages, in the early 2000s, and I asked how many had tested, a few would raise their hands – on a good day.

In October, when I asked that same question in Ireland, more than half the room raised their hand – and I hope the other half went right out and purchased DNA test kits!

Consequently, because the rabid genealogical market is now pretty much saturated, the DNA testing companies needed to find a way to attract new customers, and they have.

2017 – The Year of Ethnicity

I’m not positive that the methodology some of the major companies utilized to attract new consumers is ideal, but nonetheless, advertising has attracted many new people to genetic genealogy through ethnicity testing.

If you’re a seasoned genetic genealogist, I know for sure that you’re groaning now, because the questions that are asked by disappointed testers AFTER the results come back and aren’t what people expected find their way to the forums that genetic genealogists peruse daily.

I wish those testers would have searched out those forums, or read my comparative article about ethnicity tests and which one is “best” before they tested.

More ethnicity results are available from vendors and third parties alike – just about every place you look it seems.  It appears that lots of folks think ethnicity testing is a shortcut to instant genealogy. Spit, mail, wait and voila – but there is no shortcut.  Since most people don’t realize that until after they test, ethnicity testing is becoming ever more popular with more vendors emerging.

In the spring, LivingDNA began delivering ethnicity results and a few months later, MyHeritage as well.  Ethnicity is hot and companies are seizing a revenue opportunity.

Now, the good news is that perhaps some of these new ethnicity testers can be converted into genealogists.  We just have to view ethnicity testing as tempting bait, or hopefully, a gateway drug…

2017 – The Year of Explosive Growth

DNA testing has become that snowball rolling downhill that morphed into an avalanche.  More people are seeing commercials, more people are testing, and people are talking to friends and co-workers at the water cooler who decide to test. I passed a table of diners in Germany in July to overhear, in English, discussion about ethnicity-focused DNA testing.

If you haven’t heard of DTC, direct to consumer, DNA testing, you’re living under a rock or maybe in a third world country without either internet or TV.

Most of the genetic genealogy companies are fairly closed-lipped about their data base size of DNA testers, but Ancestry isn’t.  They have gone from about 2 million near the end of 2016 to 5 million in August 2017 to at least 7 million now.  They haven’t said for sure, but extrapolating from what they have said, I feel safe with 7 million as a LOW estimate and possibly as many as 10 million following the holiday sales.

Advertising obviously pays off.

MyHeritage recently announced that their data base has reached 1 million, with only about 20% of those being transfers.

Based on the industry rumble, I suspect that the other DNA testing companies have had banner years as well.

The good news is that all of these new testers means that anyone who has tested at any of the major vendors is going to get lots of matches soon. Santa, it seems, has heard about DNA testing too and test kits fit into stockings!

That’s even better news for all of us who are in multiple data bases – and even more reason to test at all of the 4 major companies who provide DNA matching for their customers: Family Tree DNA, Ancestry, MyHeritage and 23andMe.

2017 – The Year of Vendor and Industry Churn

So much happened in 2017, it’s difficult to keep up.

  • MyHeritage entered the DNA testing arena and began matching in September of 2016. Frankly, they had a mess, but they have been working in 2017 to improve the situation.  Let’s just say they still have some work to do, but at least they acknowledge that and are making progress.
  • MyHeritage has a rather extensive user base in Europe. Because of their European draw, their records collections and the ability to transfer results into their data base, they have become the 4th vendor in a field that used to be 3.
  • In March 2017, Family Tree DNA announced that they were accepting transfers of both the Ancestry V2 test, in place since May of 2016, along with the 23andMe V4 test, available since November 2013, for free. MyHeritage has since been added to that list. The Family Tree DNA announcement provided testers with another avenue for matching and advanced tools.
  • Illumina obsoleted their OmniExpress chip, forcing vendors to Illumina’s new GSA chip which also forces vendors to use imputation. I swear, imputation is a swear word. Illumina gets the lump of coal award for 2017.
  • I wrote about imputation here, but in a nutshell, the vendors are now being forced to test only about 20% of the DNA locations available on the previous Illumina chip, and impute or infer using statistics the values in the rest of the DNA locations that they previously could test.
  • Early imputation implementers include LivingDNA (ethnicity only), MyHeritage (to equalize the locations of various vendor’s different chips), DNA.Land (whose matching is far from ideal) and 23andMe, who seems, for the most part, to have done a reasonable job. Of course, the only way to tell for sure at 23andMe is to test again on the V5 chip and compare to V3 and V4 chip matches. Given that I’ve already paid 3 times to test myself at 23andMe (V2, 3 and 4), I’m not keen on paying a 4th time for the V5 version.
  • 23andMe moved to the V5 Illumina GSA chip in August which is not compatible with any earlier chip versions.
  • Needless to say, the Illumina chip change has forced vendors away from focusing on new products in order to develop imputation code in order to remain backwards compatible with their own products from an earlier chip set.
  • GedMatch introduced their sandbox area, Genesis, where people can upload files that are not compatible with the traditional vendor files.  This includes the GSA chip results (23andMe V5,) exome tests and others.  The purpose of the sandbox is so that GedMatch can figure out how to work with these files that aren’t compatible with the typical autosomal test files.  The process has been interesting and enlightening, but people either don’t understand or forget that it’s a sandbox, an experiment, for all involved – including GedMatch.  Welcome to living on the genetic frontier!

  • I assembled a chart of who loves who – meaning which vendors accept transfers from which other vendors.

  • I suspect but don’t know that Ancestry is doing some form of imputation between their V1 and V2 chips. About a month before their new chip implementation in May of 2016, Ancestry made a change in their matching routine that resulting in a significant shift in people’s matches.

Because of Ancestry’s use of the Timber algorithm to downweight some segments and strip out others altogether, it’s difficult to understand where matching issues may arise.  Furthermore, there is no way to know that there are matching issues unless you and another individual have transferred results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch, neither of which remove any matching segments.

  • Other developments of note include the fact that Family Tree DNA moved to mitochondrial DNA build V17 and updated their Y DNA to hg38 of the human reference genome – both huge undertakings requiring the reprocessing of customer data. Think of both of those updates as housekeeping. No one wants to do it, but it’s necessary.
  • 23andMe FINALLY finished transferring their customer base to the “New Experience,” but many of the older features we liked are now gone. However, customers can now opt in to open matching, which is a definite improvement. 23andMe, having been the first company to enter the genetic genealogy autosomal matching marketspace has really become lackluster.  They could have owned this space but chose not to focus on genealogy tools.  In my opinion, they are now relegated to fourth place out of a field of 4.
  • Ancestry has updated their Genetic Communities feature a couple of times this year. Genetic Communities is interesting and more helpful than ethnicity estimates, but neither are nearly as helpful as a chromosome browser would be.

  • I’m sure that the repeated requests, begging and community level tantrum throwing in an attempt to convince Ancestry to produce a chromosome browser is beyond beating a dead horse now. That dead horse is now skeletal, and no sign of a chromosome browser. Sigh:(
  • The good news is that anyone who wants a chromosome browser can transfer their results to Family Tree DNA or GedMatch (both for free) and utilize a chromosome browser and other tools at either or both of those locations. Family Tree DNA charges a one time $19 fee to access their advanced tools and GedMatch offers a monthly $10 subscription. Both are absolutely worth every dime. The bad news is, of course, that you have to convince your match or matches to transfer as well.
  • If you can convince your matches to transfer to (or test at) Family Tree DNA, their tools include phased Family Matching which utilizes a combination of user trees, the DNA of the tester combined with the DNA of family matches to indicate to the user which side, maternal or paternal (or both), a particular match stems from.

  • Sites to keep your eye on include Jonny Perl’s tools which include DNAPainter, as well as Goran Rundfeldt’s DNA Genealogy Experiment.  You may recall that in October Goran brought us the fantastic Triangulator tool to use with Family Tree DNA results.  A few community members expressed concern about triangulation relative to privacy, so the tool has been (I hope only temporarily) disabled as the involved parties work through the details. We need Goran’s triangulation tool! Goran has developed other world class tools as well, as you can see from his website, and I hope we see more of both Goran and Jonny in 2018.
  • In 2017, a number of new “free” sites that encourage you to upload your DNA have sprung up. My advice – remember, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Ask yourself why, what’s in it for them.  Review ALL OF THE documents and fine print relative to safety, privacy and what is going to be done with your DNA.  Think about what recourse you might or might not have. Why would you trust them?

My rule of thumb, if the company is outside of the US, I’m immediately slightly hesitant because they don’t fall under US laws. If they are outside of Europe or Canada, I’m even more hesitant.  If the company is associated with a country that is unfriendly to the US, I unequivocally refuse.  For example, riddle me this – what happens if a Chinese (or fill-in-the-blank country) company violates an agreement regarding your DNA and privacy?  What, exactly, are you going to do about it from wherever you live?

2017 – The Year of Marketplace Apps

Third party genetics apps are emerging and are beginning to make an impact.

GedMatch, as always, has continued to quietly add to their offerings for genetic genealogists, as had DNAGedcom.com. While these two aren’t exactly an “app”, per se, they are certainly primary players in the third party space. I use both and will be publishing an article early in 2018 about a very useful tool at DNAGedcom.

Another application that I don’t use due to the complex setup (which I’ve now tried twice and abandoned) is Genome Mate Pro which coordinates your autosomal results from multiple vendors.  Some people love this program.  I’ll try, again, in 2018 and see if I can make it all the way through the setup process.

The real news here are the new marketplace apps based on Exome testing.

Helix and their partners offer a number of apps that may be of interest for consumers.  Helix began offering a “test once, buy often” marketplace model where the consumer pays a nominal price for exome sequencing ($80), significantly under market pricing ($500), but then the consumer purchases DNA apps through the Helix store. The apps access the original DNA test to produce results. The consumer does NOT receive their downloadable raw data, only data through the apps, which is a departure from the expected norm. Then again, the consumer pays a drastically reduced price and downloadable exome results are available elsewhere for full price.

The Helix concept is that lots of apps will be developed, meaning that you, the consumer, will be interested and purchase often – allowing Helix to recoup their sequencing investment over time.

Looking at the Helix apps that are currently available, I’ve purchased all of the Insitome products released to date (Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism), because I have faith in Spencer Wells and truthfully, I was curious and they are reasonably priced.

Aside from the Insitome apps, I think that the personalized clothes are cute, if extremely overpriced. But what the heck, they’re fun and raise awareness of DNA testing – a good thing! After all, who am I to talk, I’ve made DNA quilts and have DNA clothing too.

Having said that, I’m extremely skeptical about some of the other apps, like “Wine Explorer.”  Seriously???

But then again, if you named an app “I Have More Money Than Brains,” it probably wouldn’t sell well.

Other apps, like Ancestry’s WeRelate (available for smartphones) is entertaining, but is also unfortunately EXTREMELY misleading.  WeRelate conflates multiple trees, generally incorrectly, to suggest to you and another person on your Facebook friends list are related, or that you are related to famous people.  Judy Russell reviews that app here in the article, “No, actually, we’re not related.” No.  Just no!

I feel strongly that companies that utilize our genetic data for anything have a moral responsibility for accuracy, and the WeRelate app clearly does NOT make the grade, and Ancestry knows that.  I really don’t believe that entertaining customers with half-truths (or less) is more important than accuracy – but then again, here I go just being an old-fashioned fuddy dud expecting ethics.

And then, there’s the snake oil.  You knew it was going to happen because there is always someone who can be convinced to purchase just about anything. Think midnight infomercials. The problem is that many consumers really don’t know how to tell snake oil from the rest in the emerging DNA field.

You can now purchase DNA testing for almost anything.  Dating, diet, exercise, your taste in wine and of course, vitamins and supplements. If you can think of an opportunity, someone will dream up a test.

How many of these are legitimate or valid?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m exceedingly suspicious of a great many, especially those where I can find no legitimate scientific studies to back what appear to be rather outrageous claims.

My main concern is that the entire DTC testing industry will be tarred by the brush of a few unethical opportunists.

2017 – The Year of Focus on Privacy and Security

With increased consumer exposure comes increased notoriety. People are taking notice of DNA testing and it seems that everyone has an opinion, informed or not.  There’s an old saying in marketing; “Talk about me good, talk about me bad, just talk about me.”

With all of the ads have come a commensurate amount of teeth gnashing and “the-sky-is-falling” type reporting.  Unfortunately, many politicians don’t understand this industry and open mouth only to insert foot – except that most people don’t realize what they’ve done.  I doubt that the politicians even understand that they are tasting toe-jam, because they haven’t taken the time to research and understand the industry. Sound bites and science don’t mix well.

The bad news is that next, the click-bait-focused press picks up on the stories and the next time you see anyone at lunch, they’re asking you if what they heard is true.  Or, let’s hope that they ask you instead of just accepting what they heard as gospel. Hopefully if we’ve learned anything in this past year, it’s to verify, verify, verify.

I’ve been an advocate for a very long time of increased transparency from the testing companies as to what is actually done with our DNA, and under what circumstances.  In other words, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.  Period.

Family Tree DNA answered that question succinctly and unquestionably in December.

Bennett Greenspan: “We could probably make a lot of money by selling the DNA data that we’ve been collecting over the years, but we feel that the only person that should have your DNA information is you.  We don’t believe that it should be sold, traded or bartered.”

You can’t get more definitive than that.

DTC testing for genetic genealogy must be a self-regulating field, because the last thing we need is for the government to get involved, attempting to regulate something they don’t understand.  I truly believe government interference by the name of regulation would spell the end of genetic genealogy as we know it today.  DNA testing for genetic genealogy without sharing results is entirely pointless.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but an update is warranted and I’ll be doing that sometime after the first of the year.  Mostly, I just need to be able to stay awake while slogging through the required reading (at some vendor sites) of page after page AFTER PAGE of legalese😊

Consumers really shouldn’t have to do that, and if they do, a short, concise summary should be presented to them BEFORE they purchase so that they can make a truly informed decision.

Stay tuned on this one.

2017 – The Year of Education

The fantastic news is that with all of the new people testing, a huge, HUGE need for education exists.  Even if 75% of the people who test don’t do anything with their results after that first peek, that still leaves a few million who are new to this field, want to engage and need some level of education.

In that vein, seminars are available through several groups and institutes, in person and online.  Almost all of the leadership in this industry is involved in some educational capacity.

In addition to agendas focused on genetic genealogy and utilizing DNA personally, almost every genealogy conference now includes a significant number of sessions on DNA methods and tools. I remember the days when we were lucky to be allowed one session on the agenda, and then generally not without begging!

When considering both DNA testing and education, one needs to think about the goal.  All customer goals are not the same, and neither are the approaches necessary to answer their questions in a relevant way.

New testers to the field fall into three primary groups today, and their educational needs are really quite different, because their goals, tools and approaches needed to reach those goals are different too.

Adoptees and genealogists employ two vastly different approaches utilizing a common tool, DNA, but for almost opposite purposes.  Adoptees wish to utilize tests and trees to come forward in time to identify either currently living or recently living people while genealogists are interested in reaching backward in time to confirm or identify long dead ancestors. Those are really very different goals.

I’ve illustrated this in the graphic above.  The tester in question uses their blue first cousin match to identify their unknown parent through the blue match’s known lineage, moving forward in time to identify the tester’s parent.  In this case, the grandparent is known to the blue match, but not to the yellow tester. Identifying the grandparent through the blue match is the needed lynchpin clue to identify the unknown parent.

The yellow tester who already knows their maternal parent utilizes their peach second cousin match to verify or maybe identify their maternal great-grandmother who is already known to the peach match, moving backwards in time. Two different goals, same DNA test.

The three types of testers are:

  • Curious ethnicity testers who may not even realize that at least some of the vendors offer matching and other tools and services.
  • Genealogists who use close relatives to prove which sides of trees matches come from, and to triangulate matching segments to specific ancestors. In other words, working from the present back in time. The peach match and line above.
  • Adoptees and parent searches where testers hope to find a parent or siblings, but failing that, close relatives whose trees overlap with each other – pointing to a descendant as a candidate for a parent. These people work forward in time and aren’t interested in triangulation or proving ancestors and really don’t care about any of those types of tools, at least not until they identify their parent.  This is the blue match above.

What these various groups of testers want and need, and therefore their priorities are different in terms of their recommendations and comments in online forums and their input to vendors. Therefore, you find Facebook groups dedicated to Adoptees, for example, but you also find adoptees in more general genetic genealogy groups where genealogists are sometimes surprised when people focused on parent searches downplay or dismiss tools such as Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and chromosome browsers that form the bedrock foundation of what genealogists need and require.

Fortunately, there’s room for everyone in this emerging field.

The great news is that educational opportunities are abundant now. I’m listing a few of the educational opportunities for all three groups of testers, in addition to my blog of course.😊

Remember that this blog is fully searchable by keyword or phrase in the little search box in the upper right hand corner.  I see so many questions online that I’ve already answered!

Please feel free to share links of my blog postings with anyone who might benefit!

Note that these recommendations below overlap and people may well be interested in opportunities from each group – or all!!

Ethnicity

Adoptees or Parent Search

Genetic Genealogists

2018 – What’s Ahead? 

About midyear 2018, this blog will reach 1000 published articles. This is article number 939.  That’s amazing even to me!  When I created this blog in July of 2012, I wasn’t sure I’d have enough to write about.  That certainly has changed.

Beginning shortly, the tsunami of kits that were purchased during the holidays will begin producing matches, be it through DNA upgrades at Family Tree DNA, Big Y tests which were hot at year end, or new purchases through any of the vendors.  I can hardly wait, and I have my list of brick walls that need to fall.

Family Tree DNA will be providing additional STR markers extracted from the Big Y test. These won’t replace any of the 111 markers offered separately today, because the extraction through NGS testing is not as reliable as direct STR testing for those markers, but the Big Y will offer genealogists a few hundred more STRs to utilize. Yes, I said a few hundred. The exact number has not yet been finalized.

Family Tree DNA says they will also be introducing new “qualify of life improvements” along with new privacy and consent settings.  Let’s hope this means new features and tools will be released too.

MyHeritage says that they are introducing new “Discoveries” pages and a chromosome browser in January.  They have also indicated that they are working on their matching issues.  The chromosome browser is particularly good news, but matching must work accurately or the chromosome browser will show erroneous information.  Let’s hope January brings all three features.

LivingDNA indicates that they will be introducing matching in 2018.

2018 – What Can You Do?

What can you do in 2018 to improve your odds of solving genealogy questions?

  • Test relatives
  • Transfer your results to as many data bases as possible (among the ones discussed above, after reading the terms and conditions, of course)
  • If you have transferred a version of your DNA that does not produce full results, such as the Ancestry V2 or 23andMe V4 test to Family Tree DNA, consider testing on the vendor’s own chip in order to obtain all matches, not just the closest matches available from an incompatible test transfer.
  • Test Y and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA.
  • Find ways to share the stories of your ancestors.  Stories are cousin bait.  My 52 Ancestors series is living proof.  People find the stories and often have additional facts, information or even photos. Some contacts qualify for DNA testing for Y or mtDNA lines. The GREAT NEWS is that Amy Johnson Crow is resuming the #52Ancestors project for 2018, providing hints and tips each week! Who knows what you might discover by sharing?! Here’s how to start a blog if you need some assistance.  It’s easy – really!
  • Focus on the brick walls that you want to crumble and then put together both a test and analysis plan. That plan could include such things as:

o   Find out if a male representing a Y line in your tree has tested, and if not, search through autosomal results to see if a male from that paternal surname line has tested and would be amenable to an upgrade.

o   Mitochondrial DNA test people who descend through all females from various female ancestors in order to determine their origins. Y and mtDNA tests are an important part of a complete genealogy story – meaning the reasonably exhaustive search!

o   Autosomal DNA test family members from various lines with the hope that matches will match you and them both.

o   Test family members in order to confirm a particular ancestor – preferably people who descend from another child of that ancestor.

o   Making sure your own DNA is in all 4 of the major vendors’ data bases, plus GedMatch. Look at it this way, everyone who is at GedMatch or at a third party (non-testing) site had to have tested at one of the major 4 vendors – so if you are in all of the vendor’s data bases, plus GedMatch, you’re covered.

Have a wonderful New Year and let’s make 2018 the year of newly discovered ancestors and solved mysteries!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

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The Best and Worst of 2015 – Genetic Genealogy Year in Review

2015 Best and Worst

For the past three years I’ve written a year-in-review article. You can see just how much the landscape has changed in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 versions.

This year, I’ve added a few specific “award” categories for people or firms that I feel need to be specially recognized as outstanding in one direction or the other.

In past years, some news items, announcements and innovations turned out to be very important like the Genographic Project and GedMatch, and others, well, not so much. Who among us has tested their full genome today, for example, or even their exome?  And would you do with that information if you did?

And then there are the deaths, like the Sorenson database and Ancestry’s own Y and mitochondrial data base. I still shudder to think how much we’ve lost at the corporate hands of Ancestry.

In past years, there have often been big new announcements facilitated by new technology. In many ways, the big fish have been caught in a technology sense.  Those big fish are autosomal DNA and the Big Y types of tests.  Both of these have created an avalanche of data and we, personally and as a community, are still trying to sort through what all of this means genealogically and how to best utilize the information.  Now we need tools.

This is probably illustrated most aptly by the expansion of the Y tree.

The SNP Tsunami Growing Pains Continue

2015 snp tsunami

Going from 800+ SNPs in 2012 to more than 35,000 SNPs today has introduced its own set of problems. First, there are multiple trees in existence, completely or partially maintained by different organizations for different purposes.  Needless to say, these trees are not in sync with each other.  The criteria for adding a SNP to the tree is decided by the owner or steward of that tree, and there is no agreement as to the definition of a valid SNP or how many instances of that SNP need to be in existence to be added to the tree.

This angst has been taking place for the most part outside of the public view, but it exists just the same.

For example, 23andMe still uses the old haplogroup names like R1b which have not been used in years elsewhere. Family Tree DNA is catching up with updating their tree, working with haplogroup administrators to be sure only high quality, proven SNPs are added to branches.  ISOGG maintains another tree (one branch shown above) that’s publicly available, utilizing volunteers per haplogroup and sometimes per subgroup.  Other individuals and organizations maintain other trees, or branches of trees, some very accurate and some adding a new “branch” with as little as one result.

The good news is that this will shake itself out. Personally, I’m voting for the more conservative approach for public reference trees to avoid “pollution” and a lot of shifting and changing downstream when it’s discovered that the single instance of a SNP is either invalid or in a different branch location.  However, you have to start with an experimental or speculative tree before you can prove that a SNP is where it belongs or needs to be moved, so each of the trees has its own purpose.

The full trees I utilize are the Family Tree DNA tree, available for customers, the ISOGG tree and Ray Banks’ tree which includes locations where the SNPs are found when the geographic location is localized. Within haplogroup projects, I tend to use a speculative tree assembled by the administrators, if one is available.  The haplogroup admins generally know more about their haplogroup or branch than anyone else.

The bad news is that this situation hasn’t shaken itself out yet, and due to the magnitude of the elephant at hand, I don’t think it will anytime soon. As this shuffling and shaking occurs, we learn more about where the SNPs are found today in the world, where they aren’t found, which SNPs are “family” or “clan” SNPs and the timeframes in which they were born.

In other words, this is a learning process for all involved – albeit a slow and frustrating one. However, we are making progress and the tree becomes more robust and accurate every year.

We may be having growing pains, but growing pains aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are necessary for growth.

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who work on these trees, and in particular, to Alice Fairhurst who has spearheaded the ISOGG tree for the past nine years. Alice retired from that volunteer position this year and is shown below after receiving two much-deserved awards for her service at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November.

2015 ftdna fairhurst 2

Best Innovative Use of Integrated Data

2015 smileDr. Maurice Gleeson receives an award this year for the best genealogical use of integrated types of data. He has utilized just about every tool he can find to wring as much information as possible out of Y DNA results.  Not only that, but he has taken great pains to share that information with us in presentations in the US and overseas, and by creating a video, noted in the article below.  Thanks so much Maurice.

Making Sense of Y Data

Estes pedigree

The advent of massive amounts of Y DNA data has been both wonderful and perplexing. We as genetic genealogists want to know as much about our family as possible, including what the combination of STR and SNP markers means to us.  In other words, we don’t want two separate “test results” but a genealogical marriage of the two.

I took a look at this from the perspective of the Estes DNA project. Of course, everyone else will view those results through the lens of their own surname or haplogroup project.

Estes Big Y DNA Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/26/estes-big-y-dna-results/

At the Family Tree DNA Conference in November, James Irvine and Maurice Gleeson both presented sessions on utilizing a combination of STR and SNP data and various tools in analyzing their individual projects.

Maurice’s presentation was titled “Combining SNPs, STRs and Genealogy to build a Surname Origins Tree.”
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/building-a-mutation-history-tree

Maurice created a wonderful video that includes a lot of information about working with Y DNA results. I would consider this one of the very best Y DNA presentations I’ve ever seen, and thanks to Maurice, it’s available as a video here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyHY4R6DwE&feature=youtu.be

You can view more of Maurice’s work at:
http://gleesondna.blogspot.com/2015/08/genetic-distance-genetic-families.html

James Irvine’s presentation was titled “Surname Projects – Some Fresh Ideas.” http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/y-dna-surname-projects-some-fresh-ideas

Another excellent presentation discussing Y DNA results was “YDNA maps Scandinavian Family Trees from Medieval Times and the Viking Age” by Peter Sjolund.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/ydna-maps-scandinavian-family-trees-from-medieval-times-and-the-viking-age

Peter’s session at the genealogy conference in Sweden this year was packed. This photo, compliments of Katherine Borges, shows the room and the level of interest in Y-DNA and the messages it holds for genetic genealogists.

sweden 2015

This type of work is the wave of the future, although hopefully it won’t be so manually intensive. However, the process of discovery is by definition laborious.  From this early work will one day emerge reproducible methodologies, the fruits of which we will all enjoy.

Haplogroup Definitions and Discoveries Continue

A4 mutations

Often, haplogroup work flies under the radar today and gets dwarfed by some of the larger citizen science projects, but this work is fundamentally important. In 2015, we made discoveries about haplogroups A4 and C, for example.

Haplogroup A4 Unpeeled – European, Jewish, Asian and Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/05/haplogroup-a4-unpeeled-european-jewish-asian-and-native-american/

New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/11/new-haplogroup-c-native-american-subgroups/

Native American Haplogroup C Update – Progress
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/25/native-american-haplogroup-c-update-progress/

These aren’t the only discoveries, by any stretch of the imagination. For example, Mike Wadna, administrator for the Haplogroup R1b Project reports that there are now over 1500 SNPs on the R1b tree at Family Tree DNA – which is just about twice as many as were known in total for the entire Y tree in 2012 before the Genographic project was introduced.

The new Y DNA SNP Packs being introduced by Family Tree DNA which test more than 100 SNPs for about $100 will go a very long way in helping participants obtain haplogroup assignments further down the tree without doing the significantly more expensive Big Y test. For example, the R1b-DF49XM222 SNP Pack tests 157 SNPs for $109.  Of course, if you want to discover your own private line of SNPs, you’ll have to take the Big Y.  SNP Packs can only test what is already known and the Big Y is a test of discovery.

                       Best Blog2015 smile

Jim Bartlett, hands down, receives this award for his new and wonderful blog, Segmentology.

                             Making Sense of Autosomal DNA

segmentology

Our autosomal DNA results provide us with matches at each of the vendors and at GedMatch, but what do we DO with all those matches and how to we utilize the genetic match information? How to we translate those matches into ancestral information.  And once we’ve assigned a common ancestor to a match with an individual, how does that match affect other matches on that same segment?

2015 has been the year of sorting through the pieces and defining terms like IBS (identical by state, which covers both identical by population and identical by chance) and IBD (identical by descent). There has been a lot written this year.

Jim Bartlett, a long-time autosomal researcher has introduced his new blog, Segmentology, to discuss his journey through mapping ancestors to his DNA segments. To the best of my knowledge, Jim has mapped more of his chromosomes than any other researcher, more than 80% to specific ancestors – and all of us can leverage Jim’s lessons learned.

Segmentology.org by Jim Bartlett
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/12/segmentology-org-by-jim-bartlett/

When you visit Jim’s site, please take a look at all of his articles. He and I and others may differ slightly in the details our approach, but the basics are the same and his examples are wonderful.

Autosomal DNA Testing – What Now?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/07/autosomal-dna-testing-101-what-now/

Autosomal DNA Testing 101 – Tips and Tricks for Contact Success
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/11/autosomal-dna-testing-101-tips-and-tricks-for-contact-success/

How Phasing Works and Determining IBS vs IBD Matches
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/02/how-phasing-works-and-determining-ibd-versus-ibs-matches/

Just One Cousin
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/11/just-one-cousin/

Demystifying Autosomal DNA Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/17/demystifying-autosomal-dna-matching/

A Study Using Small Segment Matching
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/21/a-study-utilizing-small-segment-matching/

Finally, A How-To Class for Working with Autosomal Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/10/finally-a-how-to-class-for-working-with-autosomal-dna-results/

Parent-Child Non-Matching Autosomal DNA Segments
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/14/parent-child-non-matching-autosomal-dna-segments/

A Match List Does Not an Ancestor Make
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/19/a-match-list-does-not-an-ancestor-make/

4 Generation Inheritance Study
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/23/4-generation-inheritance-study/

Phasing Yourself
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/27/phasing-yourself/

Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/25/autosomal-dna-matching-confidence-spectrum/

Earlier in the year, there was a lot of discussion and dissention about the definition of and use of small segments. I utilize them, carefully, generally in conjunction with larger segments.  Others don’t.  Here’s my advice.  Don’t get yourself hung up on this.  You probably won’t need or use small segments until you get done with the larger segments, meaning low-hanging fruit, or unless you are doing a very specific research project.  By the time you get to that point, you’ll understand this topic and you’ll realize that the various researchers agree about far more than they disagree, and you can make your own decision based on your individual circumstances. If you’re entirely endogamous, small segments may just make you crazy.  However, if you’re chasing a colonial American ancestor, then you may need those small segments to identify or confirm that ancestor.

It is unfortunate, however, that all of the relevant articles are not represented in the ISOGG wiki, allowing people to fully educate themselves. Hopefully this can be updated shortly with the additional articles, listed above and from Jim Bartlett’s blog, published during this past year.

Recreating the Dead

James Crumley overlapping segments

James and Catherne Crumley segments above, compliments of Kitty Cooper’s tools

As we learn more about how to use autosomal DNA, we have begun to reconstruct our ancestors from the DNA of their descendants. Not as in cloning, but as in attributing DNA found in multiple descendants that originate from a common ancestor, or ancestral couple.  The first foray into this arena was GedMatch with their Lazarus tool.

Lazarus – Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again
https://dna-explained.com/2015/01/14/lazarus-putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/

I have taken a bit of a different proof approach wherein I recreated an ancestor, James Crumley, born in 1712 from the matching DNA of roughly 30 of his descendants.
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I did the same thing, on an experimental smaller scale about a year ago with my ancestor, Henry Bolton.
https://dna-explained.com/2014/11/10/henry-bolton-c1759-1846-kidnapped-revolutionary-war-veteran-52-ancestors-45/

This is the way of the future in genetic genealogy, and I’ll be writing more about the Crumley project and the reconstruction of James Crumley in 2016.

                         Lump Of Coal Award(s)2015 frown

This category is a “special category” that is exactly what you think it is. Yep, this is the award no one wants.  We have a tie for the Lump of Coal Award this year between Ancestry and 23andMe.

               Ancestry Becomes the J.R. Ewing of the Genealogy World

2015 Larry Hagman

Attribution : © Glenn Francis, http://www.PacificProDigital.com

Some of you may remember J.R. Ewing on the television show called Dallas that ran from 1978 through 1991. J.R. Ewing, a greedy and unethical oil tycoon was one of the main characters.  The series was utterly mesmerizing, and literally everyone tuned in.  We all, and I mean universally, hated J.R. Ewing for what he unfeelingly and selfishly did to his family and others.  Finally, in a cliffhanger end of the season episode, someone shot J.R. Ewing.  OMG!!!  We didn’t know who.  We didn’t know if J.R. lived or died.  Speculation was rampant.  “Who shot JR?” was the theme on t-shirts everyplace that summer.  J.R. Ewing, over time, became the man all of America loved to hate.

Ancestry has become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world for the same reasons.

In essence, in the genetic genealogy world, Ancestry introduced a substandard DNA product, which remains substandard years later with no chromosome browser or comparison tools that we need….and they have the unmitigated audacity to try to convince us we really don’t need those tools anyway. Kind of like trying to convince someone with a car that they don’t need tires.

Worse, yet, they’ve introduced “better” tools (New Ancestor Discoveries), as in tools that were going to be better than a chromosome browser.  New Ancestor Discoveries “gives us” ancestors that aren’t ours. Sadly, there are many genealogists being led down the wrong path with no compass available.

Ancestry’s history of corporate stewardship is abysmal and continues with the obsolescence of various products and services including the Sorenson DNA database, their own Y and mtDNA database, MyFamily and most recently, Family Tree Maker. While the Family Tree Maker announcement has been met with great gnashing of teeth and angst among their customers, there are other software programs available.  Ancestry’s choices to obsolete the DNA data bases is irrecoverable and a huge loss to the genetic genealogy community.  That information is lost forever and not available elsewhere – a priceless, irreplaceable international treasure intentionally trashed.

If Ancestry had not bought up nearly all of the competing resources, people would be cancelling their subscriptions in droves to use another company – any other company. But there really is no one else anymore.  Ancestry knows this, so they have become the J.R. Ewing of the genealogy world – uncaring about the effects of their decisions on their customers or the community as a whole.  It’s hard for me to believe they have knowingly created such wholesale animosity within their own customer base.  I think having a job as a customer service rep at Ancestry would be an extremely undesirable job right now.  Many customers are furious and Ancestry has managed to upset pretty much everyone one way or another in 2015.

AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/ancestrydna-has-now-thoroughly-lost-its-mind/

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/kenny-kenny-kenny/

Dear Kenny – Any Suggestions for our New Ancestor Discoveries?
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/dear-kenny-any-suggestions-for-our-new-ancestor-discoveries/

RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss
https://dna-explained.com/2015/05/15/rip-sorenson-a-crushing-loss/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Getting the Most Out of AncestryDNA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/02/getting-the-most-out-of-ancestrydna/

Ancestry Gave Me a New DNA Ancestor and It’s Wrong
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/03/ancestry-gave-me-a-new-dna-ancestor-and-its-wrong/

Testing Ancestry’s Amazing New Ancestor DNA Claim
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/07/testing-ancestrys-amazing-new-ancestor-dna-claim/

Dissecting AncestryDNA Circles and New Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/09/dissecting-ancestrydna-circles-and-new-ancestors/

Squaring the Circle
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/29/squaring-the-circle/

Still Waiting for the Holy Grail
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/04/05/still-waiting-for-the-holy-grail/

A Dozen Ancestors That Aren’t aka Bad NADs
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/14/a-dozen-ancestors-that-arent-aka-bad-nads/

The Logic and Birth of a Bad NAD (New Ancestor Discovery)
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/12/the-logic-and-birth-of-a-bad-nad-new-ancestor-discovery/

Circling the Shews
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/24/circling-the-shews/

Naughty Bad NADs Sneak Home Under Cover of Darkness
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/24/naughty-bad-nads-sneak-home-under-cover-of-darkness/

Ancestry Shared Matches Combined with New Ancestor Discoveries
https://dna-explained.com/2015/08/28/ancestry-shared-matches-combined-with-new-ancestor-discoveries/

Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them – Now You Don’t
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/24/ancestry-shakey-leaf-disappearing-matches-now-you-see-them-now-you-dont/

Ancestry’s New Amount of Shared DNA – What Does It Really Mean?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/06/ancestrys-new-amount-of-shared-dna-what-does-it-really-mean/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Confusion – Family Tree Maker, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/13/confusion-family-tree-maker-family-tree-dna-and-ancestry-com/

DNA: good news, bad news
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/01/11/dna-good-news-bad-news/

Check out the Alternatives
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/09/check-out-the-alternatives/

GeneAwards 2015
http://www.tamurajones.net/GeneAwards2015.xhtml

23andMe Betrays Genealogists

2015 broken heart

In October, 23andMe announced that it has reached an agreement with the FDA about reporting some health information such as carrier status and traits to their clients. As a part of or perhaps as a result of that agreement, 23andMe is dramatically changing the user experience.

In some aspects, the process will be simplified for genealogists with a universal opt-in. However, other functions are being removed and the price has doubled.  New advertising says little or nothing about genealogy and is entirely medically focused.  That combined with the move of the trees offsite to MyHeritage seems to signal that 23andMe has lost any commitment they had to the genetic genealogy community, effectively abandoning the group entirely that pulled their collective bacon out of the fire. This is somehow greatly ironic in light of the fact that it was the genetic genealogy community through their testing recommendations that kept 23andMe in business for the two years, from November of 2013 through October of 2015 when the FDA had the health portion of their testing shut down.  This is a mighty fine thank you.

As a result of the changes at 23andMe relative to genealogy, the genetic genealogy community has largely withdrawn their support and recommendations to test at 23andMe in favor of Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.

Kelly Wheaton, writing on the Facebook ISOGG group along with other places has very succinctly summed up the situation:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153873250057922/

You can also view Kelly’s related posts from earlier in December and their comments at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153830929022922/
and…
https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg/permalink/10153828722587922/

My account at 23andMe has not yet been converted to the new format, so I cannot personally comment on the format changes yet, but I will write about the experience in 2016 after my account is converted.

Furthermore, I will also be writing a new autosomal vendor testing comparison article after their new platform is released.

I Hate 23andMe
https://digginupgraves.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/i-hate-23andme/

23andMe to Get Makeover After Agreement With FDA
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/21/23andme-to-get-a-makeover-after-agreement-with-fda/

23andMe Metamorphosis
http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/post/131724191762/the-23andme-metamorphosis

The Changes at 23andMe
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-changes-at-23andme/

The 23and Me Transition – The First Step
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/05/the-23andme-transition-first-step-november-11th/

The Winds of Change
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/11/08/the-winds-of-change/

Why Autosomal Response Rate Really Does Matter
https://dna-explained.com/2015/02/24/why-autosomal-response-rate-really-does-matter/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

Now…and not now
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/12/06/now-and-not-now/

                             Cone of Shame Award 2015 frown

Another award this year is the Cone of Shame award which is also awarded to both Ancestry and 23andMe for their methodology of obtaining “consent” to sell their customers’, meaning our, DNA and associated information.

Genetic Genealogy Data Gets Sold

2015 shame

Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year that the goals of both 23andMe and Ancestry have become clear in terms of our DNA data. While 23andMe has always been at least somewhat focused on health, Ancestry never was previously, but has now hired a health officer and teamed with Calico for medical genetics research.

Now, both Ancestry and 23andMe have made research arrangements and state in their release and privacy verbiage that all customers must electronically sign (or click through) when purchasing their DNA tests that they can sell, at minimum, your anonymized DNA data, without any further consent.  And there is no opt-out at that level.

They can also use our DNA and data internally, meaning that 23andMe’s dream of creating and patenting new drugs can come true based on your DNA that you submitted for genealogical purposes, even if they never sell it to anyone else.

In an interview in November, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said the following:

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

Given that the future of genetic genealogy at these two companies seems to be tied to the sale of their customer’s genetic and other information, which, based on the above, is very clearly worth big bucks, I feel that the fact that these companies are selling and utilizing their customer’s information in this manner should be fully disclosed. Even more appropriate, the DNA information should not be sold or utilized for research without an informed consent that would traditionally be used for research subjects.

Within the past few days, I wrote an article, providing specifics and calling on both companies to do the following.

  1. To minimally create transparent, understandable verbiage that informs their customers before the end of the purchase process that their DNA will be sold or utilized for unspecified research with the intention of financial gain and that there is no opt-out. However, a preferred plan of action would be a combination of 2 and 3, below.
  2. Implement a plan where customer DNA can never be utilized for anything other than to deliver the services to the consumers that they purchased unless a separate, fully informed consent authorization is signed for each research project, without coercion, meaning that the client does not have to sign the consent to obtain any of the DNA testing or services.
  3. To immediately stop utilizing the DNA information and results from customers who have already tested until they have signed an appropriate informed consent form for each research project in which their DNA or other information will be utilized.

And Now Ancestry Health
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/06/and-now-ancestry-health/

Opting Out
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/26/opting-out/

Ancestry Terms of Use Updated
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/07/ancestry-terms-of-use-updated/

AncestryDNA Doings
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/07/05/ancestrydna-doings/

Heads Up About the 23andMe Meltdown
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/04/heads-up-about-the-23andme-meltdown/

23andMe and Ancestry and Selling Your DNA Information
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/30/23andme-ancestry-and-selling-your-dna-information/

                      Citizen Science Leadership Award   2015 smile

The Citizen Science Leadership Award this year goes to Blaine Bettinger for initiating the Shared cM Project, a crowdsourced project which benefits everyone.

Citizen Scientists Continue to Push the Edges of the Envelope with the Shared cM Project

Citizen scientists, in the words of Dr. Doron Behar, “are not amateurs.” In fact, citizen scientists have been contributing mightily and pushing the edge of the genetic genealogy frontier consistently now for 15 years.  This trend continues, with new discoveries and new ways of viewing and utilizing information we already have.

For example, Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project was begun in March and continues today. This important project has provided real life information as to the real matching amounts and ranges between people of different relationships, such as first cousins, for example, as compared to theoretical match amounts.  This wonderful project produced results such as this:

2015 shared cM

I don’t think Blaine initially expected this project to continue, but it has and you can read about it, see the rest of the results, and contribute your own data here. Blaine has written several other articles on this topic as well, available at the same link.

Am I Weird or What?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/03/07/am-i-weird-or-what/

Jim Owston analyzed fourth cousins and other near distant relationships in his Owston one-name study:
https://owston.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/an-analysis-of-fourth-cousins-and-other-near-distant-relatives/

I provided distant cousin information in the Crumley surname study:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/roberta-estes-crumley-y-dna

I hope more genetic genealogists will compile and contribute this type of real world data as we move forward. If you have compiled something like this, the Surname DNA Journal is peer reviewed and always looking for quality articles for publication.

Privacy, Law Enforcement and DNA

2015 privacy

Unfortunately, in May, a situation by which Y DNA was utilized in a murder investigation was reported in a sensationalist “scare” type fashion.  This action provided cause, ammunition or an excuse for Ancestry to remove the Sorenson data base from public view.

I find this exceedingly, exceedingly unfortunate. Given Ancestry’s history with obsoleting older data bases instead of updating them, I’m suspecting this was an opportune moment for Ancestry to be able to withdraw this database, removing a support or upgrade problem from their plate and blame the problem on either law enforcement or the associated reporting.

I haven’t said much about this situation, in part because I’m not a lawyer and in part because the topic is so controversial and there is no possible benefit since the damage has already been done. Unfortunately, nothing anyone can say or has said will bring back the Sorenson (or Ancestry) data bases and arguments would be for naught.  We already beat this dead horse a year ago when Ancestry obsoleted their own data base.  On this topic, be sure to read Judy Russell’s articles and her sources as well for the “rest of the story.”

Privacy, the Police and DNA
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/08/privacy-the-police-and-dna/

Big Easy DNA Not So Easy
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/03/15/big-easy-dna-not-so-easy/

Of Babies and Bathwater
http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/17/of-babies-and-bathwater/

Facts Matter
http://legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/05/03/facts-matter/

Genetic genealogy standards from within the community were already in the works prior to the Idaho case, referenced above, and were subsequently published as guidelines.

Announcing Genetic Genealogy Standards
http://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/01/10/announcing-genetic-genealogy-standards/

The standards themselves:
http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Genetic-Genealogy-Standards.pdf

Ancient DNA Results Continue to Amass

“Moorleiche3-Schloss-Gottorf” by Commander-pirx at de.wikipedia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ancient DNA is difficult to recover and even more difficult to sequence, reassembling tiny little blocks of broken apart DNA into an ancient human genome.

However, each year we see a few more samples and we are beginning to repaint the picture of human population movement, which is different than we thought it would be.

One of the best summaries of the ancient ancestry field was Michael Hammer’s presentation at the Family Tree DNA Conference in November titled “R1B and the Peopling of Europe: an Ancient DNA Update.” His slides are available here:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA/r1b-and-the-people-of-europe-an-ancient-dna-update

One of the best ongoing sources for this information is Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog. He covered most of the new articles and there have been several.  That’s the good news and the bad news, all rolled into one. http://dienekes.blogspot.com/

I have covered several that were of particular interest to the evolution of Europeans and Native Americans.

Yamnaya, Light Skinned Brown Eyed….Ancestors?
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/15/yamnaya-light-skinned-brown-eyed-ancestors/

Kennewick Man is Native American
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/18/kennewick-man-is-native-american/

Botocudo – Ancient Remains from Brazil
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/02/botocudo-ancient-remains-from-brazil/

Some Native had Oceanic Ancestors
https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

Homo Naledi – A New Species Discovered
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/11/homo-naledi-a-new-species-discovered/

Massive Pre-Contact Grave in California Yields Disappointing Results
https://dna-explained.com/2015/10/20/mass-pre-contact-native-grave-in-california-yields-disappointing-results/

I know of several projects involving ancient DNA that are in process now, so 2016 promises to be a wonderful ancient DNA year!

Education

2015 education

Many, many new people discover genetic genealogy every day and education continues to be an ongoing and increasing need. It’s a wonderful sign that all major conferences now include genetic genealogy, many with a specific track.

The European conferences have done a great deal to bring genetic genealogy testing to Europeans. European testing benefits those of us whose ancestors were European before immigrating to North America.  This year, ISOGG volunteers staffed booths and gave presentations at genealogy conferences in Birmingham, England, Dublin, Ireland and in Nyköping, Sweden, shown below, photo compliments of Catherine Borges.

ISOGG volunteers

Several great new online educational opportunities arose this year, outside of conferences, for which I’m very grateful.

DNA Lectures YouTube Channel
https://dna-explained.com/2015/04/26/dna-lectures-youtube-channel/

Allen County Public Library Online Resources
https://dna-explained.com/2015/06/03/allen-county-public-library-online-resources/

DNA Data Organization Tools and Who’s on First
https://dna-explained.com/2015/09/08/dna-data-organization-tools-and-whos-on-first/

Genetic Genealogy Educational Resource List
https://dna-explained.com/2015/12/03/genetic-genealogy-educational-resource-list/

Genetic Genealogy Ireland Videos
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnW2NAfPIA2KUipZ_PlUlw

DNA Lectures – Who Do You Think You Are
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7HQSiSkiy7ujlkgQER1FYw

Ongoing and Online Classes in how to utilize both Y and autosomal DNA
http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes

Education Award

2015 smile Family Tree DNA receives the Education Award this year along with a huge vote of gratitude for their 11 years of genetic genealogy conferences. They are the only testing or genealogy company to hold a conference of this type and they do a fantastic job.  Furthermore, they sponsor additional educational events by providing the “theater” for DNA presentations at international events such as the Who Do You Think You Are conference in England.  Thank you Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA Conference

ftdna 2015

The Family Tree DNA Conference, held in November, was a hit once again. I’m not a typical genealogy conference person.  My focus is on genetic genealogy, so I want to attend a conference where I can learn something new, something leading edge about the science of genetic genealogy – and that conference is definitely the Family Tree DNA conference.

Furthermore, Family Tree DNA offers tours of their lab on the Monday following the conference for attendees, and actively solicits input on their products and features from conference attendees and project administrators.

2015 FTDNA lab

Family Tree DNA 11th International Conference – The Best Yet
https://dna-explained.com/2015/11/18/2015-family-tree-dna-11th-international-conference-the-best-yet/

All of the conference presentations that were provided by the presenters have been made available by Family Tree DNA at:
http://www.slideshare.net/FamilyTreeDNA?utm_campaign=website&utm_source=sendgrid.com&utm_medium=email

2016 Genetic Genealogy Wish List

2015 wish list

In 2014, I presented a wish list for 2015 and it didn’t do very well.  Will my 2015 list for 2016 fare any better?

  • Ancestry restores Sorenson and their own Y and mtDNA data bases in some format or contributes to an independent organization like ISOGG.
  • Ancestry provides chromosome browser.
  • Ancestry removes or revamps Timber in order to restore legitimate matches removed by Timber algorithm.
  • Fully informed consent (per research project) implemented by 23andMe and Ancestry, and any other vendor who might aspire to sell consumer DNA or related information, without coercion, and not as a prerequisite for purchasing a DNA testing product. DNA and information will not be shared or utilized internally or externally without informed consent and current DNA information will cease being used in this fashion until informed consent is granted by customers who have already tested.
  • Improved ethnicity reporting at all vendors including ancient samples and additional reference samples for Native Americans.
  • Autosomal Triangulation tools at all vendors.
  • Big Y and STR integration and analysis enhancement at Family Tree DNA.
  • Ancestor Reconstruction
  • Mitochondrial and Y DNA search tools by ancestor and ancestral line at Family Tree DNA.
  • Improved tree at Family Tree DNA – along with new search capabilities.
  • 23andMe restores lost capabilities, drops price, makes changes and adds features previously submitted as suggestions by community ambassadors.
  • More tools (This is equivalent to “bring me some surprises” on my Santa list as a kid.)

My own goals haven’t changed much over the years. I still just want to be able to confirm my genealogy, to learn as much as I can about each ancestor, and to break down brick walls and fill in gaps.

I’m very hopeful each year as more tools and methodologies emerge.  More people test, each one providing a unique opportunity to match and to understand our past, individually and collectively.  Every year genetic genealogy gets better!  I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.

Here’s wishing you a very Happy and Ancestrally Prosperous New Year!

2015 happy new year

Family Tree DNA New Privacy Settings

As you may or may not have noticed, Family Tree DNA recently implemented more options in the privacy and sharing section of everyone’s personal DNA page.  That’s both the good news and the bad news.

Recent queries from group participants as to why their results were not showing in projects after they joined sent me on a quest to find out why.  The answer is that the new privacy and security settings at Family Tree DNA now default to a setting on new kit purchases that causes new participants results to not show in projects.  Another symptom is that as a project administrator, you’ll be able to see the participants results in your project, but you won’t be able to see their results in other projects they have joined when trying to help them with something like understanding haplogroup project grouping assignments.

In today’s more litigious society, giving people these types of options is not only a good thing, it’s necessary.  Now the bad news.  In the past, when you joined a project, your DNA results were automatically being shared on the project page, if the project had a public page.  That was the point of joining a project and is what everyone has come to expect.

privacy and sharing not sharing

Please note that people who were already clients when these new options were added, so who had already joined projects and were sharing, were not set to the default of not sharing, and were set to the value of sharing.  So if you were previously in a project and your results were being displayed, they still are.  This only affects new kit purchases.  Based on a kit I purchased on March 31, 2015, this new feature was implemented sometime after the middle of February and before the end of March, but I don’t know exactly when.

As more and more people purchase these kits with the default option set to not sharing, more and more administrators are finding themselves being asked why results are not showing up in projects…and asking themselves this same question.  The answer is, of course, that the defaults are now set for not sharing – but no one knows that.  The participants are not ASKED this question and they have no idea THAT this is happening, that there is a problem…or that they need to DO anything to rectify the situation.

Furthermore, most administrators aren’t aware of this either.  What this means, is that kits purchased since this change was made are NOT SHARING, but no one is aware of that until they stumble over it by accident.

Therefore, as interested parties and project administrators, we need to inform our participants of this default selection and that it needs to be changed.  Please feel free to share this article to accomplish this goal.

I very much hope that Family Tree DNA will implement a stepped process with options and educational “balloon boxes” so that both new participants and people whose results are now set to “not share” will be able to make selection choices when they set their account up or when they join projects.  Testers need to understand what they are being asked to select, why, and how their selections will affect their results and experience, both today and into the future.  Defaulting to not sharing is counter-productive and I fear that new testers will inadvertently be eliminated from project matching and grouping when that wasn’t their intention at all.

So, let’s take a look at the newest Family Tree DNA privacy and sharing options and how they affect participants, projects and project administrators.

Privacy and Sharing

You reach the privacy and sharing options by clicking on the “Manage Personal Information” link in the “Your Account” box to the left of your personal page at Family Tree DNA.

privacy and sharing

By clicking on the orange link, you’ll see the following Account Settings.

privacy and sharing profile

While you’re here, you may want to update your profile information.

On all selections, don’t forget to click on SAVE, or it won’t.

privacy and sharing save

Now, let’s move on to the privacy and sharing tab, to the far right of the options on the tab at the top.  Privacy and sharing options are divided into three sections.

privacy and sharing tab2

The selections greyed out on the right are the current default settings when you purchase a new kit.  There are no instructions or step-through dialogue boxes to help participants understand how these selections will affect who can see their results, and how that will affect their experience with DNA testing.

Needless to say, the power of DNA testing is sharing ancestral and genealogical information.  Otherwise, there is truly no reason to test.  Family Tree DNA has recently implemented changes which allow participants to select various levels of sharing.

Unfortunately, the default settings are in essence “off” for project sharing, once someone joins a project, which creates a great deal of confusion for participants and project administrators alike.

Participants presume their results are being shared, just the like results of the people they match.  Project administrators have no idea that the participants results aren’t being displayed in the projects, and when they discover that little tidbit, they have no idea why the results aren’t being displayed – because they always were before.

The Privacy and Sharing options are divided into three sections, My Profile, My DNA Results and Account Access

Let’s look at these one section at a time.

My Profile

Who can view my Most Distant Ancestor?

Default Setting:  Only You

This means that no one you match can see your most distant ancestor.

Options:  Share my Most Distant Ancestor with other people in projects that I’ve joined.

Creating an exception.

It appears that you can select to share within all projects (that you’ve joined), but elect to omit some projects, or you can select to not share with all projects, but to elect to share with only select projects.

privacy and sharing most distant ancestor

Note that I manage several kits with the same surname.  The default for both existing and new accounts is “only you”.  I checked and the most distant ancestor does show in both projects and matching when the “only you” selection is selected.  I suspect this is a bug, but currently, it’s how this option is functioning.  If this options starts functioning as it appears that it is supposed to, all of a sudden, your most distant ancestor information may disappear.  If so, this is why and this option needs to be changed to “share with other people in projects.”

Of course, this entire question presumes you’ve entered your most distant ancestor information.

Please enter your most distant ancestor for both your male paternal (father’s surname) line and your matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line on the Genealogy Tab, under Most Distant Ancestors, shown below.

privacy and sharing most distant ancestor setup

If you don’t enter this information, your “Most Distant Ancestor” won’t be listed in projects, example below, so if other people from this line are looking to see if their line has tested, that information won’t be available to them.

privacy and sharing project

Furthermore, if your information isn’t there, it can’t and won’t be displayed to your matches.  You certainly want that information from your matches, so be sure to provide it for your matches to see as well.  In the example below, the first person did not complete this information, but the second person did.  As it turns out, they both descend from the same ancestor, but the person matching them can’t tell, because one person doesn’t have their Most Distant Ancestor listed.

privacy and sharing match

Who can see me in project member lists?

Default:  Project Administrators

Options:

privacy and sharing project member list

This selection works in tandem with how the project administrators of various projects you may have joined choose to implement the project display.  In other words, if the project isn’t public, then the “anyone” option is meaningless, because the public won’t be able to see the project at all.

hap q front page

Fortunately, most projects are publicly displayed.

The next question about this option is what, exactly, and where is a project member list?

When you visit any project, you will see a front page.  On that page, you will see several options relating to that project.  In the Kvochick project, there are 5 members.  If you click on the 5 members, that should display the list of the names of project members.

kvochick dna page

The default setting is only for project administrators to see the names.  In this case, your name would not appear in this list if clicked on by anyone other than the project administrator.

The second option would be for project members only, and the third option would be for the general public.

Please note that as of the writing of this article, I tested several projects and none had clickable numbers, so this option does not appear to be implemented at this time.

My DNA Results

Who can view my ethnic breakdown in myOrigins?

Default:  Project Administrators

Options:

privacy and sharing myorigins

Your two options are to share with your matches, or not share with your matches.  Do not share is the default.

Here is an example of people who are sharing ethnic results in myOrigins.  If you are not sharing, your name would not appear on this list for your matches on the bottom left.

privacy and sharing myorigins example

Lastly, the only ethnicity that is shared with your matches is an ethnicity they have as well.  In this case, the participant only has European ethnicity, so that is the only portion of his matches ethnicity that is shown to him.

Who can view my DNA results in group projects?

This new option is the one causing havoc with administrators and projects.

Default:  Make my mtDNA and Y-DNA private.  It will only be shown to people in my project.

Options:  Make my mtDNA and Y-DNA public.

privacy and sharing group projects

I strongly, strongly suggest that you make this selection public.  Let me give you an example of why.

Let’s say I’m a female, and I want to know if my paternal line has tested.  I would check the appropriate surname project.

In this case, let’s say I’m looking to see if any descendants of John Harrold (Herrell, Harrell, Harrald) who died in 1825 in Wilkes County, NC have tested.

When people share their results, you will be able to find out if your line has tested.

You can see in the example below that my Harrold line is group 7 in the Harrell project, so I now know my line has tested, and I can see my haplogroup designation and Y markers for John’s line.

privacy and sharing Harrell

If none of these John Harrold descendants had elected to share, then I would never be able to find this information.  If you’re looking for any of your ancestral surnames, you won’t be able to find those lines either – if the people who test don’t share.  If people who are looking to test don’t see their ancestral line, they will think there is no one to compare to, and they may be discouraged from testing.  This is certainly not what we want.

The problem today is that people who purchase tests don’t know they aren’t sharing – they assume they are.  Before these new privacy options became available, by default, if you joined a project, you WERE sharing.  Now, new participants aren’t sharing – even though they joined the project – unless they change their options.

Furthermore, if you are a project member, let’s say of the Harrell project, and one of the administrators is trying to help you understand your results in a haplogroup project, the Harrell administrator can’t see your results in the haplogroup project either – so we can’t help you.

PLEASE, PLEASE MAKE THE PROJECT RESULTS PUBLIC UNLESS YOU HAVE A COMPELLING REASON NOT TO DO SO. 

To not share this information defeats the entire purpose of DNA testing.

The most information that any project at Family Tree DNA can reveal is the kit number, surname (only) of tester, paternal (or maternal) most distant ancestor name, country of origin, haplogroup and the DNA markers (Y 12-111 and mtDNA HVR1 and HVR2 only) for which the individual has tested.  Below, a sample project is shown with the maximum amount of information categories shown (except I’ve truncated the markers shown to the right for space reasons.)

privacy and sharing most shown

To review the project setting, by default, only project members who are signed into their account and looking at the project can view your data.  Anyone who is not a project member and not signed into their account cannot see your data in the project

If you select public, anyone looking at the public project page can see your results, like the example above – assuming that the project itself is public.  This is only valid for Y and mtDNA HVR1 and HVR2 data, as mitochondrial DNA coding region and autosomal DNA results are never displayed publicly.

Who can view my mtDNA Coding Region mutations?

Default:  Only you.

Options:

Privacy and sharing mtDNA coding

If you have tested at the mitochondrial full sequence level, you will have tested the full HVR1, HVR2 and coding regions.  While the HVR1 and HVR2 regions are not currently known to reveal medical conditions, the coding region has the potential to carry some medical information.  Therefore, your coding region is NEVER displayed publicly, in a project.  Displaying the coding region is not an option.  If you elect to share your coding region mutations privately, that is up to you.

However, in order for mitochondrial DNA project administrators to correctly group you in mitochondrial DNA projects, they must be able to see your coding region results to know where your mutations fall.

Therefore, you can authorize project administrators to view the coding region results, by project.  In the example above, the individual is only a member of one project.  In order to authorize the Estes project administrator to view the coding region, click the box and then Save.

Account Access

How much access to Project Administrators have to my account?

Default:  Limited

Options:

privacy and sharing project admin access

What do the various authorization levels allow?  Here’s the list.

privacy and sharing admin access

If you have given an administrator full access to your account, which means you have given them your kit number and password, they have full access to everything and that supercedes these options.

Who has full access to my account?

Default:  Only You

Options:  Give the administrator your kit number and password.

privacy and sharing admin full access

Obviously, if you have privately e-mailed your kit number and password to an admin or anyone, Family Tree DNA has no way of knowing or tracking that.

Genealogy Tab

You will find a few more options that affect how your Family Tree is displayed on the Genealogy tab.

privacy and sharing genealogy tab

If you have uploaded a GEDCOM file or completed a family tree online at Family Tree DNA, who can be seen in your tree, and by whom, is controlled by this setting.

Having an entirely private tree is the same as having no tree and is not useful to anyone, so I really have no idea why someone would do this.

Of course, you can always see which of your matches has a tree available and can click on the pedigree icon to view your matches tree, if they authorize matches to view their tree.  On the example below of a Y DNA matching page, the first two participants do have a family tree, as indicated by the little blue pedigree icon, and the third individual does not.

privacy and sharing pedigree

I encourage everyone to either upload your GEDCOM file or create a family tree online at Family Tree DNA.  You can do either by clicking on the Family Tree Link on your myFTDNA menu at the top left of your personal page.

privacy and sharing upload gedcom

Including a family tree makes finding a common ancestor so much easier.  Genetic genealogy is all about sharing and collaboration – and finding those ancestors!

Public Search

Family Tree DNA recently implemented a public search function that allows public searches of online trees and GEDCOMS.

Why would someone search like this?  To see if people from their genealogocal lines have tested.  In other words, people wondering if they should test.  Allowing your tree to be seen publicly is in essence, cousin bait – of course you want them to test – the more the merrier and the better chance you have of breaking down those brick walls.

privacy and sharing search box

Below is an example of how your tree privacy selection, made under the Genealogy Tab above, impacts what can be seen by a public search.

privacy and sharing search

As an example, I did a public search for my ancestor, Jotham Brown.  Sure enough, there are several people at Family Tree DNA who have good ole Jotham in their trees.  That’s great – because it means I have a chance of matching some of them using the Family Finder test.

In the results above, you can see the three options for how trees are listed:

  • Entirely private such that you need to test and will only see the tree if you match
  • Public tree noted by the name of the owner
  • Tree included but noted as private member – which just means the name of the tree owner is not displayed

You can see the actual trees of both the public and private trees that are shown with clickable links.  You cannot see the tree of the private family tree with no link.

Clicking on the trees shows you the following example, depending on the tree display options you’ve selected.  The tree below has selected to mask living people and people deceased within a hundred years.

privacy and sharing tree2

Both trees labeled with a source and private member trees are shown, but with the privacy screening you’ve selected.  The only difference I’ve been able to find between those two options is that the source tree name is given for the public trees, and is not for the private member trees.  However, there is no contact information for the public trees (or any trees), so this is not a way to contact other genealogists.  You can only contact them if you have a match through DNA testing.

The third option is that completely private trees are only shown to matches.  These are noted as a private family tree and the searcher is instructed to purchase a Family Finder test to see if they match.  That is, after all, the goal!!!

privacy and sharing search2

Hopefully this search function will encourage more people to test.  After all, other people who descend from their ancestor are in the data base!

Summary

Privacy settings have changed and we have to figure out the best way to work with the new features.

Let’s make sure our new participants understand their settings and what needs to be changed in order to have their results displayed in the manner they desire.

As always, the way to obtain the best genetic genealogy experience is by sharing.  That’s what collaborative research and crowd-sourcing is all about.  Everyone shares individually and the power of the group is what gives genetic genealogy its awesome results.

So, the 4 key elements for successful sharing are to:

  • Set your project sharing status to public, not private.
  • Enter your most distant ancestor information
  • Share your most distant ancestor information with matches and projects
  • Upload your GEDCOM file or create a family tree at Family Tree DNA

Hide and Seek at 23andMe, DNA Relatives Consent, Opt-In, Opt-Out and Close Relatives

To say that the matching policies at 23andMe are confusing is an understatement. Of course, that would imply that we could figure out what those policies are, this week, exactly.  What I have been able to discern is that there is widespread confusion about the entire topic.  This is my attempt to figure out which end is up, and who can see whom, under what circumstances.  I feel like this is a high-tech game of Hide and Seek, a game customers should not have to be playing.

hide and seek

On October 17, 2014, I received this e-mail for one of the 23andMe accounts that I manage. I did not receive it for any of the other accounts that I manage at 23andMe.

When I clicked on the “can’t miss it” red block in the e-mail, it did absolutely nothing. However, by clicking on the “view as a web page” link, clicking on the “Confirm your DNA Relatives participation” took me to the 23andMe signon screen.

I signed in, but was not taken to the account in question. When I switched to that account, this is what I saw – in essence, a second warning.

hide and seek2

I was not allowed to proceed further until I clicked on yes or no.

Of course, this begs the question of why my other accounts weren’t asked the same question. With the exception of one, they are sharing in DNA Relatives too.

It also made me wonder about the sharing with Close Relatives option.

I decided to check the DNA Relatives Option information in the Privacy/Consent settings, but there was nothing further.  You can visit your consent options by clicking on the down arrow by your name, shown on the upper right hand corner of the screen shot below, and selecting “account settings.”

hide and seek3

So, what the heck happened to the close relatives option?

It seems that 23andMe discontinued the “close relatives” opt-in or opt-out, according to their June blog article, below.

hide and seek4hide and seek5

At this point, if you had not ‘opted out’ then it was assumed that you had in effect ‘opted in’ and all of your matches including your close relatives would be shown.

But then the VOX article was published in September and the proverbial stuff hit the fan.

The day of the expected default opt-in change, based on the June announcement (above), 23and Me posted a retraction of the June article, on their community forum, below.

Dear Community,

We made a change from what we promised and I want to apologize. We promised that the roughly 350,000 customers that had not consented to see Close Relatives in our DNA Relatives feature would be automatically opted in at the end of a 30 day notification period. I understand that that was extremely exciting for many of you to have so much data potentially come your way. It was unfortunately a mistake that we promised that.

I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data. The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them. Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information. It is 23andMe’s responsibility to make sure our customers have a choice and that they understand the potential implications.

The timing of the change is unfortunate and I apologize the announcement came late on a Friday night at the end of the 30 day period. The article in Vox made me and others look into the language in the consent form and that is when I learned about the proposed changes coming to the DNA Relatives community. As 23andMe has moved from being a start up to a bigger and more mature company, I am not involved in every decision. This is a decision that should have come to my attention but it did not. We will learn from that. 23andMe is hiring a Chief Privacy Officer and that too will help us avoid these types of mistakes in the future. We are also already planning to evolve the consent process to make it simpler and more clear for customers.

Going forward, we will continue to prompt the customers that have not made a choice about Close Relatives to make a choice. We understand how important that is to you. We will do a mix of emails to these customers and pop-up prompts at login to get customers to make a choice.

I apologize again for the disappointment and for not having clearly communicated the reason for reversing course. 23andMe continues to grow and pioneer the way we think about consumers exploring their DNA. While we continue to innovate we may also err along the way. We can only promise that we will always listen to and do right by you, our customer, and will never fear having to redirect our course when it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely, Anne Wojcicki

So, now it appears that unless someone has specifically ‘opted in’ to DNA Relatives as a whole, they are automatically ‘opted out,’ a 180 degree reversal.  Of course, if you were one of those 350,000 customers who received a notification about opting out, and did nothing, so that you could be opted in at the end of the 30 days referenced above, you would be thoroughly confused because you THINK you’re now opted in.

23andMe has a habit of posting information on their Forum which members must actively check, instead of sending e-mails to their customers or posting this kind of information on their blog that is sent by subscription. One of the forum followers was kind enough to point out this recent posting detailing changes that have occurred in October and the 23andMe policy moving forward.

hide and seek6hide and seek7It’s signed, Chistine on behalf of the 23andMe Product Team

I can find nothing on the current customer pages providing any information about these decisions or the match status of DNA Relatives/Close Relatives.

Furthermore, 23andMe is now asking some, but not everyone, who are opted in for DNA Relatives if they are sure. My account that was asked tested in 2010, so was not caught in the 2014 selection option confusion.

I feel that this methodology discourages many people from participation. It infers that there is something frightening that you ‘ought to be’ concerned about – especially if you are asked about the same topic several times.

In summary, here is, I think, what we know, as of October 16, 2014.

  • Everyone will have to make a specific choice to opt-in to DNA Relatives, one way or another, after testing.  If you don’t specifically opt-in, you are opted out.  Consent to test apparently doesn’t count as consent for DNA Relatives.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014 who were opted in to DNA Relatives but out of Close Relatives will be prompted to select an opt-in with close relatives included, or an opt-out entirely.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014, who did opt-in to participate in DNA Relatives, but did not have any selection to make about “Close Relatives” will be required to confirm that they want to continue in DNA Relatives before they can proceed to see their matches. This is apparently the e-mail that I received for one of my kits. It’s still a mystery why I never received it for the others who tested even earlier and clearly before the “Close Relatives” option existed.
  • Clients between June 5, 2014 and October 16, 2014 who were automatically opted in to DNA Relatives with close relatives included will also be prompted to confirm their participation in DNA Relatives and until they do confirm that option, they will not be visible nor able to view close relatives.
  • New customers will be prompted to opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives and opt-in will no longer be the default.
  • Participation in DNA Relatives will now include close relatives and that will not be a separate option.

I’m very glad to see that everyone who opts in to DNA Relatives includes close relatives. To do it any other way is not only confusing, it’s more than a little disingenuous, especially given that someone may not realize why their close matches aren’t showing.  I had more than one client have a panic attack when their family member wasn’t showing as a match, especially when they were expecting to see a parent or sibling.  In my opinion, having to enable the “close relatives” option caused huge problems and wholly unwarranted stress.  If it’s truly gone, never to return, I’m very glad and applaud 23andMe for that decision.

The bad news is that many of the 350,000 people referred to in the September community forum posting are still anonymous, and they many not even realize it. Many probably presumed, quite logically, that because they were taking a DNA test that included matches, that they would receive matches without having to do anything further.  Furthermore, they received the 30 day notification that they would be opted in if they did nothing, so they expected to be opted in.  But they aren’t.

Currently, at 23andMe, you have to jump through more hoops to obtain your genealogy results than you did (when they were providing health information) to obtain your health results.  I hope that the message provided to people who are making the “Opt In – Opt Out” decision can be worded a little more encouragingly and present both sides of the risk/reward coin.  I would hate for their entire response to be fear based due to the tone of the selection message and the fact that they have to answer this question repeatedly – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s health question – back when 23andMe was providing health results.

Here, let me give you an example vignette:

Hi, 23andMe, I’d like to test for genealogy matches.

Great, send me $99 and you’re on the way.

Spit…mail….waiting…waiting…

Good news, your results are back.  Do you want to opt into DNA Relatives?  You know you could find out information about your family that is upsetting to you?  It could change your family relations?

Really?  Hmmm…I think I want to see.  That’s why I tested.

Another e-mail:  Are you sure, really positive that you want to remain in DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out really upsetting information.  You can see other close relatives and they can see you.

Geeze, I don’t know….maybe not…I’ll wait till I sign on next time to deal with this.

Signing on next time….

Do you want to opt-in to DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out some really disturbing and upsetting things about your family?  It could change your relationship with your family members.

After repeating this warning several times, it begins to appear like 23andMe is discouraging your participation, not informing you of risks and rewards.  There is no upside mentioned, only repeated negatively framed warnings.  Given that genealogy/ancestry is the only reason for the consumer to purchase this product right now, this approach seems a bit counter-intuitive and overkill.  In the least, the warning should be given up front, during the purchase process, and then not constantly repeated.

However, given that 23andMe is still gathering your health information and utilizing it in their medical research, even if you opt-out or don’t opt-in to DNA Relatives, assuming you haven’t opted out of medical research as well, warning you up front would discourage a sale and would prevent them from collecting your genetic data.  In essence, 23andMe doesn’t care one bit whether you opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives, but they care a whole lot about your money and your participation in medical research.

The constant changes and hoopla are confusing people and frightening some. Others are becoming too discouraged by a lack of positive genealogical results to continue.

23andMe was first in the game with consumer autosomal testing, but their ever-changing policies have become and remain confusing. They have done nothing to clarify publicly, leaving everyone uncertain and a little reluctant.

23andMe entered the genealogy marketspace, but they seem to be focused on protecting people from genealogy matches. This seems almost like a conflict of interest, or may be better stated, a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. It seems that the health testing aspect is causing 23andMe to adopt such restrictive procedures that it’s making the genealogy aspect of their product increasingly restrictive and difficult.  I’m sure this is reflective of their primary goal, which is medicine, and the fact that genealogists just happened to be interested in genetics as a tool was, for them, a happy accident that provided a source for test subjects.  Genealogy is not something 23andMe is primarily interested in.  I’m sure they aren’t making things difficult intentionally, but the net effect is far from encouraging.

I’m finding that their protections are barriers and the required steps are confusing for customers and self-defeating for genealogy, and they are, unfortunately, cumulative hurdles:

  • Having to specifically opt-in to DNA Relatives, even after consenting to test when purchasing the product which includes matching
  • Having to request to communicate with other participants
  • Having to request to “share DNA”
  • Having to confirm that yes, you really did want to ‘opt in’ to DNA Relatives
  • About a 10% communication request response rate
  • Most of the 10% of the people who do respond know little, if anything, about their genealogy, nor are they terribly interested
  • Having to utilize the 23andMe corporate message system instead of communicate with your matches via e-mail
  • Match limit at 1000 people unless you are communicating with more than that number. After 1000, matches fall off your list.
  • Their terrible trees. Yes, I realize they have recently partnered with My Heritage, but as Judy Russell says, we’ll see.
  • The misleading (health and ancestry) notation in a sharing request which frightens people as to why you want their health information, causing people to decline to share
  • Constant change about who you are/aren’t seeing as matches and why
  • Confusing and conflicting opt-in, opt-out information delivered on four different platforms; e-mail, on your personal page, their blog and their community forum.  In essence, this means that almost everyone except the most dedicated 23andMe follower misses at least part of the information.

23andMe is approaching the point where the pain level of participation is at the threshold of no longer being worthwhile except for extraordinary cases like adoptions where the participant is desperate for any possible crumb.

I thought more about this situation, and I believe that the underlying problem is a fundamental disconnect in the focus of the two groups.  23andMe’s corporate focus is and always has been health related research, compilation and manipulation of genomic “big data.”   Taking a look at their recent American Association of Human Genetics papers is a good yardstick of their corporate focus.  Not one paper mentions the genealogical aspect of their business, and even the paper that does indirectly help genealogists by reducing false positive identical-by-descent segments is presented from a medical perspective.  In essence, the genealogy community is a source for DNA for 23andMe.  They aren’t focused on genealogy or interested in serving this community.  That’s neither good nor bad…it’s just the way it is.

The genealogy community, on the other hand, is frustrated by the increasingly long list of confusing hurdles at 23andMe that people who test for genealogy must navigate before they can reap any of the potential benefits of matching for genealogical purposes.  Each successive hurdle reduces the number of people who complete the course and those who make it to the end are either the died in the wool genealogists who have tested elsewhere anyway or people with little or no knowledge of their genealogy.  Worst case, people who test at 23andMe for genealogy will leave with a bad taste in their mouth and never test again because, frankly, it’s neither easy nor fun.

We don’t know exactly how many people haven’t opted-in for DNA Relatives, but we can surmise some based on their publicly released information.  In the September retraction, 23andMe said that there were 350,000 who had not opted in, or out.  We don’t know how many have actively opted out.  In their ASHG abstract, they mention that 550,000 have consented for research.  That tells us that less than half of their clients are opted in for DNA Relatives, or about 200,000 (assuming no one opted out), or perhaps less now with the recent “are you sure” messages like I received.  Given that only 10% of the people who DO actively opt-in for DNA Relatives respond to inquiries, that’s a whole lot of people not clearing the hurdles for one reason or another.  Of their entire data base of 550,000, only about 20,000 people clear the hurdles and engage, or about 3.5%. That means that there are 530,000, or more if you include the unknown number of opt-outs, who don’t clear the hurdles.

I hope 23andMe gets their cumulative act together relative to genealogy customers. You’d think with genealogy customers being their only source of corporate revenue right now (except for government grants and venture capital), that they would be bending over backwards to make the genealogy related products and processes straightforward, accessible and easy to use.  Now would be a great time for some positive changes!