December 18, 2014

AncestryDNA Review and Breaking News! Updates Launched

“This is really the first time a DNA testing company has so fully integrated genetics and genealogy.  We can now find cousins in the database who do not share our particular genetics, but who do share some of the genetics of our common ancestor.  This is huge.” -Diane Southard, Your DNA Guide

AncestryDNA product image new_1f_screens2I blogged a couple of weeks ago about some changes taking place over at AncestryDNA. You will recall that they are planning to slash your match list to allow only “invited guests” to your personal DNA party. (Read that post to be reminded why this is a good thing.) Ancestry has officially announced the launch of this feature update and reports that on average users will see an 80% reduction in the number of matches shown. I had a chance to look at the new site before it launched and one of my favorite features is the question mark that appears next to your match. Clicking on the question mark on your match page will bring up a menu of references to help you better understand the inner workings of matching at Ancestry, including those confidence levels that are a part of every relationship prediction. In this table below you can see that ancestry has tried to give you some fairly solid guidelines by which to assess the quality of your matches. You will want to focus on those matches with a confidence score of “High” or above to have the best chance of genealogical success. confidence chart But an update to the matching feature is only the beginning of the new features at AncestryDNA. Today Ancestry announced “DNA Circles,” a tool that helps you identify others who share common ancestors with you.  The new “DNA Circles” feature has the potential to impact the way you do genetic genealogy at Ancestry.  Here’s why: Autosomal DNA (the kind that Ancestry is testing) has a spotty inheritance pattern. On average we only have half of the DNA of each of our parents, only 25% of our grandparents, only 12.5% of our great grandparents and so on.  This means that AncestryDNA and its competitors (Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) are only able to genetically identify 50% of your genetic 4th cousins. This means that there could be 50% MORE people in these databases that you are actually related to, people that should have been invited to your DNA party, but didn’t have a ticket. Now with DNA Circles, there is a metaphorical “after-party.” After parties are “hosted” by one of your relatives. Ancestry searches your pedigree and that of your matches back 7 generations looking for suitable hosts.  An ancestor qualifies as a host if they have two or more descendants who hold an invitation. At this after-party you can meet some of these long lost cousins that, while related to you, lost their ticket to your DNA party. After-party invitations are provided to those who meet three very important qualifications:

  1. They have their DNA attached to their PUBLIC family tree.
  2. AND that PUBLIC family tree has the name of the hosting ancestor on it.
  3. AND this person shares DNA with at least one other person who also meets the above two criteria.

Here’s an example.  Below is an image of the new AncestryDNA home page. You can see I am a part of two DNA Circles (some of you will be much more popular and invited to several after-parties. For me–just the two for now).  Let’s take a closer look at my DNA Circle hosted by my paternal 5th great grandfather Minus Griggs (who knew the guy liked parties?!). AncestryDNA HomePageNov2014   Clicking on the DNA circle brings up this page where there are three things I want to show you: AncestryDNA

  1. This is your relationship to the host.
  2. This is a list of the individuals who have passed the three criteria listed above and have been invited to this after-party.
  3. This is the innovative part.  You see that the first two matches (after me–I am listed first) have only “Tree Match” in this column. This means that these two people, both descendants of our host, Minus Griggs, didn’t ever appear on my DNA match list. We do not share enough DNA to be considered genetic relatives. However, the third member of the circle has the “DNA Match” designation, meaning that this match DOES appear on my match page. In fact, this is my ONLY DNA match in the circle (there are three others not shown here).  That means that this DNA circle has connected me to FIVE other cousins.  All because I share DNA and genealogy with the third member of this circle, and he shares DNA and genealogy with everyone else.

I can click on each circle member to see exactly how Ancestry THINKS we are related.  This is my first opportunity to DOUBLE CHECK this relationship that Ancestry has handed me, to be sure that both my match and I really did receive tickets to the same after party.

Here is what that page looks like for me and one of my matches.

GriggsCircleDetail This is really the first time a DNA testing company has so fully integrated genetics and genealogy.  We can now find cousins in the database who do not share our particular genetics, but who do share some of the genetics of our common ancestor.  In my opinion, this is huge. 

There is one catch, and it is going to be a big one for some of you.  In order to see your DNA Circles, you have to be an Ancestry.com subscriber.

Even though I am excited about these changes, I can’t help but hope for just one step more.  In order to identify these DNA Circles, Ancestry has identified pieces of DNA that can be fairly reliably assigned to a particular ancestor.  There are likely others in the Ancestry database who have these pieces of DNA, we can call them partial tickets to the after-party, but who are lacking the second requirement: a pedigree documenting a relationship to that ancestor.  I hope in the future the folks at Ancestry will honor those partial ticket holders, and allow them to the after-party, so we can sit around with our peanuts and pretzels and figure out how we are all related. Until then, I am going to enjoy the two after-parties hosted by my two generous ancestors.

your_dna_guideGenealogy DNA Quick Reference Guides Cheat SheetsReady to walk through the process of using DNA for your genealogy? Let me be your guide! Check out my quick guides (left) Purchase each guide individually or pick up the bundle of all 4 for the best deal!

Visit my website to learn about expert consultations with me. You’ll get customized guidance on which tests to order and how to maximize your results for your genealogy research.

Inspiring Ideas in Genealogy Gems Podcast 173

Genealogy Gems Podcast and Family History“We all need a little inspiration now and then!”

That’s Lisa’s theme for the recently-released FREE Genealogy Gems podcast episode 173 (click here for the podcast in iTunes, and here for how to our app). Here are the highlights:

  • Lisa talks about creating family history ambiance in her new home office. The podcast episode page includes a picture of her new heritage display. (I love the vintage cameras and family photos.)
  • Catch Diahan Southard chatting about exciting updates to autosomal DNA research at AncestryDNA.com.
  • We hear from a listener with an inspiring story about using MyHeritage.com. If you still mentally categorize MyHeritage as “best for non-US only” research, check out this story of discovering a Civil War casualty in her family through MyHeritage. (Did you catch our recent post about the new institutional MyHeritage access at FamilySearch Centers?)
  • genealogy book club genealogy gemsLisa and I chat about the fantastic response we’re hearing to the launch of the NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club and some additional reading suggestions from listeners. Click here to read about books recommended by two of YOU.
  • Finally, catch our link to a story about a couple who is celebrating 80 years of marriage. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!

Finally, in this episode Lisa also catches us up on some exciting news: a digital WWI archive on Europeana; newly-available German records the 1865 New York (US) state census online; and plans to digitize important Indiana records. Catch up on all the great news and get inspired in Genealogy Gems podcast 173!

Savvy DNA Shopping Tip: Transfer Genealogy DNA Test Results to FTDNA for FREE

DNA shopperSavvy shopping can save you money and time. So what does savvy DNA shopping look like? Genetic genealogy tests–yDNA, autosomal and mDNA–do require a financial investment. They aren’t cheap. But they can save you hours of traditional research and give you results that no paper trail may provide.

Three main companies are currently selling autosomal DNA tests (that’s the test that is not limited to a direct maternal or a direct paternal line, and that can help you find genetic cousins with connections back as far as six or seven generations).  Those three companies, 23andMe.com, DNA Ancestry and Family Tree DNA  are all competing for you genetic genealogy dollar. All offer a good service, and it can be difficult to decide who to give your $99 to.

When your success or failure in finding matches depends entirely on who else has also been tested, it would be nice to have a crystal ball to tell you which testing company has the most participants who are useful to your research. FTDNA has no crystal ball, but they now are offering a reasonable substitute: FREE access to their database for anyone who has test results from 23andMe (if you received results before November of 2013) and AncestryDNA. Yes, I said FREE!

There are conditions. You can see your first 20 matches (but they can’t see you), and try out some of the tools that FTDNA has to help you identify how you are related to others. To have full access to the tools and results, you can pay $38, or just recruit four of your family members or friends to transfer, and then your transfer is FREE.

So, if you have been tested by Ancestry or 23andMe, run, don’t walk, to transfer your Y-DNA results to Family Tree DNA and take a look inside their version of the crystal ball. If you haven’t “done DNA” yet, currently the best option is to be tested with AncestryDNA and then transfer to FTDNA.” (watch for holiday sales, which would probably drop the price to $79). This gives you access to TWO databases of potential relatives for around $110–if you are a savvy shopper!

DNA Guide Cheat Sheet Diahan Southard

Final DNA shopping tip: be an educated consumer! Check out these quick guides I wrote to help genealogists find and use the DNA products that will help their research. Purchase each guide individually or pick up all 4 for the best deal!

Visit my website to learn about expert consultations with me. You’ll get customized guidance on which tests to order and how to maximize your results for your genealogy research.

MORE German Genealogy Records at Ancestry.com

German genealogy recordsNearly 12 million German genealogy records are newly searchable on Ancestry.com! You’ll find these in more than 30 databases of civil registrations of birth, marriages, residences and deaths between 1874-1950.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • around a million each of births and  deaths for Berlin, and about 2 million marriages;
  • over a million parish register transcripts for Pomerania and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (some are updates to existing records);
  • over 300,000 records of the Rhineland-Palatinate area (family registers, marriages and emigration registers);
  • over a million vital records for Saxony.

Click here for a full description of these records, with direct links to each dataset. Happy hunting for your German roots!

Indiana Genealogy Records to be Digitized by Ancestry.com

ebook ereader for Mac Digital Genealogy books at Google BooksA recent news article at Indianapublicmedia,org reports that more than 13 million Indiana genealogy records will be digitized and put online–and Ancestry.com is picking up the tab.

Among the records doing online are early 20th-century birth and death certificates and marriage records since 1958. According to the report, it would take the state a decade and over 3 million dollars to digitize these records. So Ancestry.com’s offer to take on the work is a godsend for both the state and those who want to use these records.

The deal gives Hoosier residents the first free access to the digitized records (onsite at the state archives). Three years after the the project is completed (which should happen in 2016), the state archives will offer records for free through its own website. Some records may still have confidentiality restrictions. But this still represents a great step forward for those whose ancestors helped to settle Indiana!

Family History Genealogy Made Easy PodcastLearn more about using vital records in your family history research with these episodes from our FREE Family History Made Easy podcast, a step-by-step series for beginners and those refreshing their skills:

  • Episode 24 on using U.S. marriage records;
  • Episode 25 on using U.S. civil birth records;
  • Episode 4 on using death records and a variety of additional vital records resources in the U.S.

1865 New York State Census Now on FamilySearch

New York State Census 1865Good news for those who had relatives in New York in the 1860s: the 1865 New York State Census is now searchable online at FamilySearch.org.

Just five years earlier, the 1860 U.S. federal census counted nearly four million people in this its largest state. New York claimed two of the three biggest U.S. cities: New York City and Brooklyn, with a combined population of over a million.

According to FamilySearch, “This collection contains most of the 1865 New York state census records still in existence. Ten schedules were filed for each locality, including population, marriages, and deaths schedules. The population schedule included the name, age, birthplace, and occupation of each household member. Most counties are covered, but some records were destroyed. The record is a printed form that was filled in by hand by the enumerator. The records are usually arranged by county and town.”

Several counties are missing from this dataset. But it’s got a hefty 2.5 million records, over 60% of the population as counted in 1860. So check it out if you have Empire State ancestors!

Didn’t know New York conducted state censuses? Check out these additional resources:

  • Ancestry.com has a database of New York State censuses for 1880, 1892 and 1905. The 1892 census is especially critical because of the 1890 U.S. federal census is almost entirely lost.
  • Learn more about U.S. state censuses and other special censuses in Episode 10 of our Family History Made Easy podcast. (This episode is the second of a three-part series on using census records: click here for the full list of episodes of this step-by-step free genealogy podcast.)

AncestryDNA Results Improving for Jewish and Hispanic Ancestry

dna_magnifying_glass_300_wht_8959Ancestry.com has improved the ability of AncestryDNA to find good matches for Jewish, Hispanic and other ancestries that maybe weren’t so precise before. Here’s the lowdown, quoted liberally from Ancestry.com’s press release:

The problem: Predicting genetic relatives among customers of Jewish and Hispanic descent and some other groups. “In DNA matching, we are looking for pieces of DNA that appear identical between individuals,” says the release. “For genealogy research we’re interested in DNA that’s identical because we’re both descended from a recent common ancestor. We call this identical by descent (IBD). This is what helps us to make new discoveries in finding new relatives, new ancestors, and collaborating on our research.”

“However, we also find pieces of DNA that are identical for another reason. At one extreme we find pieces of DNA that are identical because it is essential for human survival. At the other, we find pieces of DNA that are identical because two people are of the same ethnicity. We call these segments identical by state (IBS) because the piece of DNA is identical for a reason other than a recent common ancestor. This, we have found, often happens in individuals of Jewish descent.”

“The challenge in DNA matching is to tease apart which segments are IBD, and which ones are IBS….Most Jewish customers find that we predict them to be related to nearly every other Jewish customer in the database….Detecting which cousin matches were real and which ones were bogus has always been a challenge for these populations.”

First step toward a solution: “By studying patterns of matches across our more than half a million AncestryDNA customers, we found that in certain places of the genome, thousands of people were being estimated to share DNA with one another–likely a hallmark of a common ethnicity. Our scientific advancements… have allowed us to effectively “pan for gold” in our matches–by throwing out matches that appear to only be IBS, and keeping those that are IBD.”

“While the problem was more pronounced in customers of Jewish and some Hispanic descents, we observed this problem across all ethnic groups.  So, all customers will see increased accuracy of their DNA matches, and significantly fewer ‘false’ matches.”

AncestryDNA results with better matches found by this method “will be available in the coming months,” says the release. They plan to email existing customers when results are ready.

DNA for Genealogy Quick Reference Guide Bundle by Diahan SouthardAre you pursuing DNA testing on your family tree (or do you want to get started)? Our inexpensive quick guides can help! These guides are laminated and can be shipped throughout the U.S.

 

Here’s How AncestryDNA is Improving Autosomal Testing

AncestryDNA product image new_1f_screens2You may recall from our recent DNA discussion on the Genealogy Gems podcast (Episode 168) that Ancestry.com recently discontinued their mtDNA and YDNA tests (the two that trace our direct maternal and direct paternal lines) to focus on autosomal DNA (which delivers information about both your mother’s and your father’s side of your ancestral tree).

Well, recently I attended an all-day meeting hosted by Ancestry.com: a summit to talk about current trends and accomplishments at Ancestry DNA, and ideas about the future of DNA testing at Ancestry.com.

The meeting included a diverse group of Ancestry representatives, from CEO Tim Sullivan to members of the marketing, scientific, communications, and even computer science departments, as well as some of the top voices in genetic genealogy. It was an open and lively discussion, and I walked away with a few gems I want to share with you today.

More Powerful DNA Hints Coming

In AncestryDNA, the ‘shaky leaf” hints are meant to help you find a common ancestor between you and your DNA matches. The computer code behind the old hints was not very efficient. Lazy, in fact. It started at the bottom of your tree—and the bottom of your match’s tree—and slapped on a shaky leaf at the first sign of a shared common ancestor.

AncestryDNA shared hintWhile this method worked for a large number of cases, it was leaving a lot of stones unturned. But the IT guys at Ancestry have beefed up the computer power, allowing them to cover a much greater distance through our trees and the trees of our matches before making a judgment about the best place to assign that shaky leaf.

The result? Better hints about how you and your match COULD be related. Remember, the leaf is still just a SUGGESTION on how you and your match might be related. It is not a crystal ball.

 

Did You Know?

  • Ancestry DOES store your DNA samples in a secure location.
  • Ancestry spent months designing their own DNA collection kit.
  • Ancestry was able to attract some of the brightest scientists in the field of population genetics because of YOU. You with your documented pedigree charts and your willingness to help move this science of discovering our ancestors forward.

Looking Ahead

There is no question that the genetic genealogy industry is rapidly advancing, and our discussion with Ancestry certainly didn’t disappoint. While I will be sharing with you in future posts about some of the exciting changes, I do want you to be ready for one that will be coming online fairly soon.

It has to do with your matches. If you have been tested by AncestryDNA, you may have been initially excited, then nearly immediately overwhelmed, by the number of individuals listed in your match page, all claiming to have some kind of connection to you and your family tree.

All three major genetic genealogy testing companies (AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe) are using basically the same laboratory methods to glean information from your DNA. What differs is how they use that data to draw conclusions about your ethnic heritage and about your relationships to other individuals. As it turns out, AncestryDNA has been reporting far more individuals as your relatives than it should have.

Autosomal DNA Ancestry You can think of it like this: You have sent out tickets, in the form of your genetic code, to an exclusive party where you (of course!) are the star. However, you have lost the guest list and you are counting on the testing company to check the ticket of each guest before they enter your party to be sure they were really invited.

AncestryDNA was relatively new in the role of party bouncer, and in the interest of not turning away any VIP guests, they initially allowed guests into your party who had (gasp!) forged tickets!! But as AncestryDNA admits more guests, the experience it’s gained in party monitoring is starting to show.

AncestryDNA forged party ticketsYou see, each of the forged tickets has some unique qualities that have started to send up red flags to the team of scientists at AncestryDNA. They are now in the process of carefully documenting what each forged ticket looks like and tossing those unwanted guests out on their ear.

The short of it: in the near future your match list at Ancestry will be much shorter. Which is good news to you, as it means only those invited genetic cousins will be around eating hors d’ oeuvres and ready to talk about your shared common ancestry.

Each testing company has its strengths and weaknesses. It was good to have a bit of insight into this one company and come to a greater understanding about why it is they do what they do. It is a great time to be in this young genetic genealogy industry, with so much room to grow and change. I will let you know when I find the next genetic gem.

Returning Orphaned Heirlooms to the Family

custom_text_present_14586Recently my Premium Podcast included a letter from Pat, who was looking for advice on how to return lost or orphaned heirlooms to a family. Ancestry.com had a few family trees posted. Pat didn’t know “whom to contact to get the materials to the most interested, closest family members.” This was my advice–and here’s the inspirational report back.

My advice:

I would first focus on the tree where the tree owner is most closely related to the folks mentioned in the memorabilia. I would probably make copies (depending on what the items are) and offer to all. If I didn’t get a confirmed answer from the first choice in a reasonable time I would offer to my second choice. I would ask the recipient to allow me to pass their contact info on to any others who get around to responding after the fact since it’s everyone’s “family”.

Pat’s response:

“I finally took up the challenge, determined to find a family and offer up the material I had recovered. This material contained old (labeled!) photos, school records, dance cards and letters home to Mom and Dad and seemed potentially quite precious.

It proved difficult to determine which family seemed to have the closest connection, so I decided to offer the material to the person whose Ancestry.com tree contained the most (valid) sources. Fortunately, the tree owner was quick to respond, eager to receive the materials I had to offer. I sent them off and the tree owner is delighted as she is the granddaughter to the original party and believes herself to be the only living descendant of that person!

Mailbox question from Beginning GenealogistIt feels just right to get those materials back “home”!  I encourage other listeners to do the same.  It produces a great sense of genealogical balance.  So many others have done blessedly wonderful things for me in my research, making it easy to pay it forward just a little bit.

Thank you for the encouragement and the advice. I have loved both podcasts for a number of years now–you are consistently wonderful!”

Thanks, Pat, both for the compliment and for the inspiring message! I love hearing these kinds of stories.

“Who Else Has Viewed This Record?” Find Living Relatives!

There are lots of ways to find historical records about your ancestors online. Did you know there are also ways to learn who else has added that record to their trees–or who else is researching the same people you are? Here are two ways:

1. On Ancestry.com, when you are looking at an image of a record, there’s a sidebar to your right called “Related Content.” Click on it. Below other suggested records you will see a list showing anyone who has saved this record to their trees. You’ll see a link to that username and you can contact them. This is what it looks like:   Ancestry screen shot who else saved this record

2. On LostCousins.com, you can enter the names of relatives whose names appear on specific censuses. Their database will search for others who are looking for the same people. This is a great resource for people with British Isles roots, as the site originates from there. Here are the censuses they support:

  • England and Wales, 1841, 1881, 1911
  • Scotland, 1881
  • United States, 1880, 1940
  • Canada, 1881
  • Ireland, 1991.

Basic membership at LostCousins.com is free, but has limited functionality. You can only contact new people during certain windows of time during the year. With a £10 annual subscription, you can make new contacts anytime.

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership and Podcast
Looking for more ways to find living relatives? Genealogy Gems Premium members can click here to access my full-length video class, Unleash Your Inner Private Eye to Find Living Relatives. Not a member? Click here to join.