Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to get the most out of AncestryDNA

We all know that Ancestry.com is an immensely popular website for family genealogical research. They were one of the early adopters of using DNA to help in finding your deepest hidden roots, and their AncestryDNA offering is well integrated into the rest of their tools. As more and more people add their family trees and DNA, it really becomes exciting to see how the power of our collected wisdom and spit can bring widely fractured families back together.

It can be very heartwarming to firmly and finally know that you are not alone. You have blood relatives you didn't even know about!

But, let's first start with talking about how not to use AncestryDNA.  I don't know why we have to go over this, but we do. People do these things all the time, and it makes no sense. 

Top Five Wrong Ways to use AncestryDNA 


1) Don't Build a Tree - I can't tell you how many times I have gotten a DNA match and found no tree associated with that person. That's a complete dead end, a waste of my time, and a waste of their money (did I mention that DNA tests are $99 each, and don't get me wrong: this is amazingly cheap, but it's still a lot of money to waste). I've tried to figure out why this happens, and the only thing I can think of is that they took the test, got some results they didn't like (related to me or something horrible like that), and then tried to delete everything. There is a "Delete This Test" button just for that case. Use it. It would be better than running into a test with no tree.

For those of you using who are using AncestryDNA to find your birth parents after a closed adoption, you still need to build a tree so that you can make full use of the tools. Put in guesses, unknown, generic terms like "paternal grandfather". Most of us want to help you, we really do! Please name your tree something like "Adopted, Searching for Birth Parents" that will give us some context. 

2) Have a Private Tree - Why why why why why! I have heard all the pros and cons about private trees -- trust me, I have.  They are all nicely thought out and mostly wrong (but that's another post). However, in the case of DNA that are absolutely wrong. Ridiculously wrong. Using DNA tools requires us all to cooperate and compare our DNA. Give and take. It's just plain wrong to use the tools while hiding in the background and not sharing your tree. That would be all take and no give. Having a private tree is in some ways worse than no tree at all: you get to see all the hints, leaving everyone else locked out. Nice.

Again, just in case you are adopted and think that searching in secret is best: don't make it more difficult for me to help you! Make it simple and welcoming. Not locked.

Just a quick side note, this example is really a classic. It is a real match in my own tree.
Take a close look at it. I mean, at least they have a tree -- a big wonderful tree. Private and locked out.  But the worst is that there is a tantalizing green leaf -- one of only six that I've ever seen. That means there is a hint. That Ancestry actually knows how we are related. When I click on "View Match", my only option is to message the owner. I've done this and been ignored. He or she knows how we are related, as my tree is public, and that's good enough for them. 

3) Ignore Messages - However, if you really do need to have a private tree because your life is in danger (like I said, I've heard them all), you absolutely need to respond to private messages and give access to those you deem trustworthy enough not to kill you. I still don't know why you'd have your DNA on a public site if you are in witness protection, but that's just me thinking out loud again.  

4) Test Only Yourself - Yes, this is where everyone starts. Do the test yourself. You you you.  However, guess what you get. You get results back on everyone who matches you. Great. Now which branch of the family tree do you need to research. Argh! The whole tree! Yikes!   Testing other people, even just your parents, allows you to divide and conquer. Finding someone who matches your father lets you ignore half the tree -- and, oh by the way, they also match you (obviously).  Testing second cousins is great too, as any matches that you share with them narrow your search way up the tree to your great grandparents lines (that's only an eighth of the tree instead of the entire tree). Ancestry just released a bunch of new tools for finding common matches between multiple tests you've administered. 

5) Give Up and Never Come Back - Here's what happens. You get excited and buy an AncestryDNA kit and test yourself. You find a few hundred distant cousins with no trees, and you have no way to figure out the connection. Even if they do respond, which they often don't, you trade a few e-mails and give up. You don't go back, and you don't answer any Ancestry messages. You are one of the ghosts. Zombies. However, here's the problem. The DNA database is growing every day. In June, AncestryDNA celebrated passing the one million people mark. You need to come back and check again. Their are a lot more matches and messages waiting for you! Come back! There are a million of us waiting for you!


So therefore, a quick refresher on the right way to use AncestryDNA correctly.

Top Five Ways to get the most out of AncestryDNA 

  1. Build a Tree - Build a tree that includes all your blood DNA relatives, including uncles, aunts, cousins, and all. Not just grandparents. 
  2. Have a Public Tree - Make your tree public for goodness sake. 
  3. Visit Message Center - Check your messages and respond to them. Follow up! These might be long lost 6th cousin that you'll want to stay with in New Zealand. 
  4. Buy More Tests - Test your parents, and then start testing your parents cousins. Second cousins are the best! Divide and conquer! Use the new tools that AncestryDNA are creating to handle multiple tests. 
  5. Come Back - More and more people are uploading DNA every single day. Come back and check again. Just because you didn't find something the first time, doesn't mean that the world stopped turning. 


Suggestions for AncestryDNA 


Since I am a very Product Management professional, I can't end there. I have to put in my two cents for any Ancestry.com employees that happen to read this. Please pass these along to your Product Management team.
My AncestryDNA Pet Peeve
  • Private Trees - Let me make my tree private only to those people with private trees. Just desserts. I'm sort of kidding with this one, but it really is a pet peeve.  Perhaps another alternative is for them to have a setting for "allow DNA matches to view my tree, keeping it Private for everyone else."  And, at the same time, make it a one-button step to "allow access" and "ask for access" -- I think in many cases people with Private trees just don't know how to share them. 
  • Triangulation - Yes, AncestryDNA just released a new feature that allows you to filter by other tests. This is fantastic, and allows for "phasing" or triangulation.  I think more of these tools are necessary.  Sorting through all the results is very difficult. We need more divide and conquer methods. Make it easier for me to buy more tests and use them to narrow my searches. 
  • Test Suggestions - Give me suggestions on who to get tested.  Who will give me the best bang  for my buck.  Yes, I obviously work in Product Management. Get more money from me by giving me good tools and reasons to buy more tests!  
  • Tagging or Placing - Once I've finally figured out how someone is related to me, I should be able to note that in big bold letters in some manner. Let me place them in my tree, and show the DNA verified relationship as a special checkmark or something.  Then, let me filter by them as well in my normal DNA searches. I can filter by "Father" as my Dad has taken a test, but I can't filter by "Aunt K." or any other known matches. Yes, you can view shared matches once you click through to a person, but I want to be able to create my own filters and apply multiple to my Search (I have 149 pages of DNA results; 50 per page). 

Links



8 comments :

  1. I took the Ancestry test because I found an important cousin, and the test was on sale. I kind of detest Ancestry, so I don't really want to have my tree there. However, my tree is on Wikitree, so it's not as though it's private. But I've been working and working and working to get every fact documented on Wikitree, which emphasizes including sources and I don't trust all the inaccurate and ridiculous information I inherited from my beloved great aunt the genealogist or my beloved cousin the genealogy fanatic, and least of all my mother, who is not good at facts. Ancestry's trees look pathetic and cumbersome. And they're filled with errors and duplication. Although Wikitree is far from perfect, the goal is to have one entry for each person, and that's a much better system. Why should I add to the Ancestry clutter with my tree?

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  2. It would be nice to filter by "not mother" so I can see my son's paternal matches.

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  3. Agree with Jude on WikiTree. They have a DNA capabilities for trees. My "working, in progress" tree on Ancestry is private; I put confirmed, sourced trees at WikiTree. My observations about Ancestry public trees is that I found others will attached non-relatives to trees with no sources which I found perturbing and bad research. At WikiTree, someone needs a source to get attached to your tree. BTW, I have not done DNA tests yet and enjoyed your article.

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  4. Thanks for this article. I agree that a no-secrets approach is the only way to gain knowledge as a community. Every day I ask myself, "Why are these people [zombies and ghosts] taking a DNA test in the first place?? What do they want to know? Or is knowing their ethnicity breakdown a narcissistic excuse of making conversation with others in person? I'm trying to find two great-grandfathers who are unnamed on my grandparents birth certificates. Sadly, people with private or no trees (or haven't logged in to Ancestry.com for over a few months) are the people slowing down my search.

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  5. I got an email thru Ancestry from someone claiming to be related (1st cousin). She does not have a tree linked and I asked her but she said she didn't know much about her family. She did give me correct names, dates, birthplace and sibling info(no names). Not sure if this is legitimate or if she/he has obtained this info from another source. If she is legitimate, this is a person no one knew about! Some advise is helpful!

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  6. It is very common for adopted children to use AncestryDNA to try and find relatives. They are coming in scared, so be kind and understanding. Also, be prepared to be shocked to find out family secrets.

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  7. Thanks for the info! Needless to say I am very shocked! Didn't know this person existed! What she has provided all fits in place though so there is no disputing it. Now to figure out where to go from here.

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  8. Double-check to see that the DNA matches, or ask her to upload to GEDmatch and compare yourself with you. If it isn't a DNA match, then I might be a little more skeptical.

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