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Ancestry.com’s AncestryDNA Product

I’ve written before about Ancestry.com’s new AncestryDNA autosomal test.  See, for example:

Webinar with Ancestry.com

Last week, I participated in a webinar with Ancestry.com regarding the AncestryDNA test (although, unfortunately, I had to leave a bit early due to a previous engagement).  It was a great list of about 10 well-known genealogy bloggers, each one of whom is someone I’ve been reading or following for years.  It was an honor to be included among them.

One of the participants was CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist.  CeCe has a nice summary of the webinar and the important points about the autosomal test and the user interface at “New Information on Ancestry.com’s AncestryDNA Product.”  If you’re interested in autosomal DNA testing, or in Ancestry.com, I highly recommend reading her post.

The Power of DNA

The highlight of the webinar – and of the AncestryDNA product – was the combination of DNA and family trees.  I’ve said before that the ability to combine DNA and the paper trail is the future of genetic genealogy, and the true power of DNA.

The AncestryDNA test automatically compares your family tree (if you have one hosted at Ancestry.com) to the family tree of your genetic matches (if they have one hosted at Ancestry.com, and if it’s public).  The user interface then suggests overlapping individuals that might be the source of the shared DNA!  The user interface presents this information as a “Potential Common Ancestor,” and provides it as a “shaky leaf” hint.  Thus, as with all shaky leaf hints, it should be subjected to further research and not blindly accepted.

You can also see the first 7 generations of each genetic match in your user interface (again, if their tree is public), another great benefit.

While there are of course MANY caveats to this matching algorithm, it eliminates a time-consuming step in sharing information with genetic matches, as many of us know from [many hours of] experience.  (I didn’t get a chance to ask if the matching algorithm takes into account the predicted relationship range of the genetic cousins being matched, but I’ll try to get that information for you.)

If you think about it for a moment, the power of this approach is mind-boggling.  Over time it will create a mesh of DNA and genealogies, with individual data points that can be confirmed or rejected based on the results of numerous test-takers.  In other words, there will be an enormous DNA family tree.  Not only that, but that enormous DNA family tree can then be used to test genealogical hypotheses (was John Smith’s mother a White?  was John Smith Jr. adopted? etc…).  While a long way down the road, the possibilities are endless.

Concerns About Combining DNA and Family Trees

I know there is a lot of criticism and concern about the quality of third-party genealogies on Ancestry.com.  It’s impossible to know just how subjective or objective the data in any given tree is.  It’s true that there will always be concerns about third-party genealogies, and that there will be many, many errors as genealogists begin to tie DNA to specific ancestors.

But these concerns are equally true for paper records.  Any time you tie a paper record to a certain individual in your family tree, there’s a serious possibility of error, and this error can be propagated throughout numerous genealogies.  Every genealogist has seen this before, probably many times. But the fact that we’ve recognized the error likely means that the error has been corrected through careful research.

There is nothing different or exceptional about tying DNA to ancestors.  Any time you tie a piece of DNA to a certain individual in your family tree, there’s a serious possibility of error.  Over time, however, careful and methodical research – likely contributed by many different test-takers – will allow genealogists to make the most reasoned and knowledgeable judgment.

There’s enormous power in numbers.

A Roundup of AncestryDNA Posts

Here’s a complete roundup of posts around the genealogy blogosphere about Ancestry.com’s new Autosomal DNA product (AncestryDNA):

Did I miss any?  Feel free to mention them below.

Disclosure: I received a free beta test from Ancestry.com, although I have not yet received my results (I will receive them this week, I believe).  However, I have tried to review this product objectively.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

5 Comments

  1. I wonder about the trees and NPE’s? I have one on my paternal side found from testing at FTDNA.

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