A new AncestryDNA opt-out option allows DNA test takers to not participate in DNA match lists: they do not receive matches or show up in others’ match lists. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs on in the implications for genealogy researchers who may worry about cousin matches they may miss.
New AncestryDNA Opt-Out Policy
When you take a DNA test, you receive two different kinds of results from the DNA sample that you submit to your testing company:
- information about your ancestral origins and
- a list of your DNA cousins.
Opting out of matching essentially cuts the value of this product in half. You only get the ancestral origin information, and you forfeit access to your list of genetic matches. Opting out doesn’t just mean you can’t see them: it means that they can’t see you either.
AncestryDNA joins 23andMe in providing this option to their clients. You can look at this move as Ancestry’s response to an ever-expanding global audience, many of whom are not genealogists or are reluctant to have their DNA compared to others for a variety of reasons. It is important for them as a company to provide options for their clients to experience their product in a way that works best for them.
What the AncestryDNA Opt-Out Policy May Mean for You
What does this new opt-out option mean for genealogists? Hopefully, not much will change. Ancestry reports that overwhelmingly, people are opting in.
There has been quite a bit of push-back to this announcement, especially from the adoption community. DNA testing has been a tremendous source of information for those seeking out their biological relatives, and many fear that this change will limit access to quality DNA matches. But we will all still be able to do good genetic genealogy work, even as we are each allowed to choose whether to participate in the matching feature. To understand this better, it is important to see this issue from the other side, from the side of a person who might want to opt out. Here are two possible scenarios:
Scenario #1: Susan would really like to explore her heritage. She hasn’t tested before because she didn’t want to see cousin matches for a variety of personal reasons. But now she does test and opts-out. The community hasn’t lost anything because Susan would never have tested in the first place. But after exploring her ethnicity results and noticing membership in a couple of Genetic Communities, she begins to wonder more about her ancestors and decides to opt-in to matching, after all. In this scenario, the Opt-Out policy offers users a way to comfortably give DNA testing a try.
Scenario #2: Ryan heard about AncestryDNA while watching TV last year and ordered a kit. But then last week he heard about the ability to opt out, and went in and changed his account settings. So one day you could see Ryan on your match list, and the next you didn’t. We as a community would certainly see that as a loss. However, consider the circumstances that might have caused Ryan to hit that opt-out button. Perhaps Ryan had no idea how to use the match list, no interest in using it, and found it a bother to get correspondence from people. Perhaps Ryan found something unexpected, like that he wasn’t his father’s child, and he needed some time to deal with it. Maybe Ryan is under pressure from his sister, who didn’t want him to test in the first place (perhaps she knows something he doesn’t about their family tree, or she’s afraid of how any results and revelations might impact her). The short of it is: It doesn’t matter why Ryan opted out, it is his personal right to do so. Just as an adoptee has the right to seek out their heritage, others have the right to keep their family secrets to themselves. This scenario does support the idea that you should review your DNA matches frequently and record information about them in your own master match list, which I talk about in my quick reference guides, Organizing Your DNA Matches and Next Steps: Working with your Autosomal DNA. By promptly recording matching results, you will have them to work with even if the tester decides later on down the road to opt out.
As a genealogy community, we can educate others about the value of the match list, while at the same time cautioning them that unexpected connections may appear. So in everyday conversations, share your own experiences—whatever these may be. Maybe it was affirming for you to see that the dad you grew up knowing is indeed your biological father. Perhaps you can share a story about the power of using a list of fourth cousins to discover information about your third-great-grandfather. Maybe you’ve discovered a new connection—and maybe that connection isn’t yet comfortable or fully explained, but you’re glad to know about it.
Learn More about AncestryDNA Testing
Get the most out of your AncestryDNA testing experience with my AncestryDNA bundle of quick reference guides. You’ll save 15% off the individual guide price when you purchase this value bundle–and you’ll enrich your testing experience by a lot more than that!
Included in the bundle are:
Has it been awhile since you have perused your DNA matches? Here’s how reviewing your DNA test results regularly can help your family history.
By now, many (if not most) of the genealogists I meet at conferences have had their DNA tested. Good for you! But how often are you checking on your DNA matches? It’s easy to forget about them after that first exciting look at your match list and the flurry of emails that you received. You should be checking in regularly! Here are two great reasons why:
1. You may have new DNA matches.
More and more people are flocking to these companies to have their own DNA tested. Why just this month, AncestryDNA announced they have tested 5 million people. It was only in January of 2017 that they announced they’d hit 3 million, so they’ve added more than two million people so far this year.
What this means is that just as new records are constantly being added online (we cover millions of new additions every Friday on this blog), so are new DNA test profiles. That means you will keep discovering new DNA matches in your list over time. That elusive cousin you’ve been hoping would test may do so tomorrow. A key relative on your dad’s side–maybe on a line with unknown parentage–may have tested three weeks ago, with results now pending. (Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton told me she has had two ground-breaking DNA matches in the past two months alone. Lucky her!)
In AncestryDNA, you can actually sort to view new matches. From your AncestryDNA home page, click View all DNA matches. Then select the filter New by clicking on it.
AncestryDNA will now just show you, in order of degree of relation, any matches you haven’t yet clicked on to review more closely. This can be quite a time-saver. And it can also help remind you of any matches you may have already seen in passing but haven’t closely reviewed.
Another tip: under each of your AncestryDNA matches, you can also see how long it’s been since that person logged in, as shown here.
Perhaps you emailed someone a while back but never heard anything (or didn’t notice a response). If you can see that a person is actively using the site now, it may be worth reaching out again.
2. New tools to review your DNA matches may be available.
While you’ve been busy recently tracking down census records and virtually visiting the courthouses, your DNA testing companies have been busily adding to their offerings. Just recently, MyHeritage revealed a beautiful, streamlined way to review each of your DNA matches. (Remember, it’s free to upload your DNA there. Click here to see how. You can also purchase a test from MyHeritageDNA.)
At MyHeritage, your list of DNA matches shows your genetic relatives who have tested, how much DNA you share, and your possible relationship. The new DNA Match Review page helps you navigate that information and decide what to do with it. This is what the new MyHeritage DNA Match Review experience looks like:
In the past, I’ve talked on this blog about several excellent (and still-evolving) tools on AncestryDNA, such as:
Competition in the DNA market space means that every company continues to add new and improved features to their site and testing experience. It’s worth checking back to explore what new information and tools might be available.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that your testing company is always working to improve your DNA testing experience. So you should regularly return to your lists of DNA matches at the website of every company where you have tested. If you’re not sure how to use the site, please read some of my DNA posts on this blog and consult my quick reference DNA guides about these testing companies:
Keep checking back on those DNA matches. You never know what discovery might be just a click away.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Trying to contact your DNA matches can be frustrating when they don’t respond, but it’s still worth reaching out to them. This researcher’s example shows a good reason why.
Contact Your DNA Matches
Recently, I heard from Genealogy Gems Premium website member Ruth*, whose DNA success story reminds me of the value of reaching out to DNA matches, even if the general response rate is low or slow. She says:
“I’ve been researching my family tree for over 20 years and sometimes it can get boring…because most of the lines are pretty much out as far as I can go and I’m now just working on brick walls! I love listening to your podcast because it motivates me to keep going!
Like many of your listeners, I have taken the autosomal DNA test. It has been an awesome tool helping me confirm family lines and sometimes finding new ones. However, I’m sure most of your readers know that for some reason a lot of those DNA matches and even tree owners in general, do not respond to emails or messages. It can be very frustrating, especially if it is one of those lines that you really could use some help on. The lack of response to inquiries sometimes makes me wonder if I should even try to make contact. Well, I want to tell your listeners, that yes it is worth it.
Recently, I was browsing trees and I came to a tree that listed my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel Cannon; however, this tree listed Daniel’s wife as Mary Ann Watkins and I had her as Mary Ann Cook! Well, I decided to contact the owner of that tree and explained I had Daniel’s wife as a Cook. The two of us started emailing back and forth and I found out this gentleman, whose last name is Watkins, had taken a DNA test and was in Ancestry.com’s database.
Sure enough, when I searched my mom’s matches I found him. Mr. Watkins shared the information he had [which was] an excerpt that listed the heirs of G. B. Watkins and Elizabeth Smith. On that list was Mary Ann Constable. From the census records, I knew that Mary Ann Cannon had married Thomas Constable after her husband had died. The marriage license for Mary Ann Cannon and Thomas Constable is no longer at the courthouse, but I was able to get a copy of the excerpt of the book it was recorded in. So now I’m climbing a whole different tree!
So, go ahead and reach out to those matches or those people who have trees with different information from you. You never know when you’ll find information and end up with a new line to research!”
Time to Maximize Your DNA Matches
Our resident genetic genealogist, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard, has written a series of 3 DNA quick guides to help you maximize your DNA testing experience:
This “value pack” can help you sort your matches more wisely, reach out to them in a positive way, and track your correspondence. Click here to read more about these guides and order your own. (Also available as digital downloads.)
Time to Test Your DNA Today
These companies all provide autosomal DNA testing, the most popular kind of DNA testing, and the kind Ruth used. Autosomal testing matches you to genetic relatives on both sides of your family tree to a depth of about 4-6 generations. Learn a little about each by clicking on the names below.
*Ruth’s letter was erroneously attributed to Liz when it was shared and discussed in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 200. Sorry for the mix-up!
Organize DNA matches with this innovative approach. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your DNA results, you are not alone. Learning to organize your DNA matches in an effective way will not only keep your head from spinning, but will help you hone in on possible matches that will break down brick walls. Here’s the scoop from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.
I can tell whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11,) the forks are haphazardly in a jumble, the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are nowhere to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8,) everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.
Organize Your Imaginary DNA Drawer
Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction to effective organize DNA matches. It entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. To organize DNA matches, you really need to make a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals and help determine your next steps.
Step 1: Download your raw data. The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. See these instructions on my website if you need help.
Step 2: Identify and organize DNA matches. Now, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, is that you may have ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants. These descendants may have caught the DNA testing vision and this can be like your overflowing spoon stack! All these matches may be obscuring some valuable matches. Identifying and putting those known matches in their proper context can help you identify the valuable matches that may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple.
In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet, I outline a process for identifying and drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections. Then, it is easier to verify your genetic connection is aligned with your genealogy paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.
This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down brick walls in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. The key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other.
Step 3: See the relationship between genetics, surnames, and locations. Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke–that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your genetic genealogy? Remember, the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connect you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they show up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. By plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.
So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks! Your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of measuring spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.
More on Working with DNA Matches
How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History
Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This Post
New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!
It’s no surprise to find another DNA post in the #8 spot on our Top 10 genealogy blog post countdown. The topic: understanding your AncestryDNA matches.
In this post, Genealogy Gems resident DNA expert Diahan Southard takes on a confused question sent in by a listener, who didn’t understand why certain people were showing up in her AncestryDNA results.
This post explains SO beautifully a couple of key concepts:
- the difference between your AncestryDNA genetic matches and the DNA Circles/New Ancestry Discoveries that pull from both your genetic results and your family tree; AND
- three reasons someone may show up in your AncestryDNA matches as a New Ancestry Discovery–and which one of those scenarios actually helps your research.
Since running my own autosomal test through AncestryDNA a few months ago, I find myself coming back repeatedly to Diahan’s series of posts to help me better understand and use those results. I know I’m not alone, since three of Diahan’s DNA posts made our Top 10 this year! (We covered #10 yesterday.)
Click here to read the above post, and click here to find a list of all DNA-related posts on our genealogy blog.
If you’ve done your homework and decided that an AncestryDNA test is what should be next for your family history research, thank you for purchasing one by clicking here. Your purchase supports the free Genealogy Gem blog and podcast. (Thank you! YOU are a gem!)