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!
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with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode:
- You’ve heard of “burned counties,” a phrase used to describe places where courthouse fires or other disasters have destroyed key genealogy records? In this episode, a listener presents the problem of her burned city?Chicago.
- Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares some of the latest buzz about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history?and some opinions about them
- News from the Genealogy Gems Book Club
- Get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury
- The Archive Lady Melissa Barker shines the spotlight on archival collections that haven’t even been processed yet (and suggestions for getting to them)
- Five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on researching your family in the 1940s and preparing for its release
MAILBOX: GEMS FOR YOU AND YOUR SOCIETY
Gail mentioned the free step-by-step Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
Great news! Your genealogy society or group may reprint articles from Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems blog! Click here to learn more.
MAILBOX: GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB
Shannon by Frank Delaney and Ireland by Frank Delaney
(Thank you for supporting the free podcast by using our links to get your copies of these books.)
Book Club Guru Sunny Morton recommends the novels of Frank Delaney, beginning with Shannon (and now she’s reading Ireland). Frank is a master storyteller, and family history themes wind throughout his stories. Tip: he narrates his audiobooks himself. They are well worth listening to! But they’re so beautifully written Sunny is buying them in print, too.
MAILBOX: THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE
“Burned county” research tips
Sam Fink’s list (an index of Cook County marriages and deaths)
Family History Podcast episode #37: “I discussed a book specifically on Chicago research: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginners Guide To Family History In The City Of Chicago by Grace DuMelle. As I recall, it was a very comprehensive book and could give you good leads on where to look.”
How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke
Premium Podcast Episode 143: Johnstown Flood story
Premium Podcast episode 145: Eastland disaster story and tips on researching disasters in your family history
Fire, Flood or Earthquake? 5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Your Family History (includes mention of GenDisasters)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
ARCHIVE LADY: UNPROCESSED RECORDS
As an archivist, working in an archive every day, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the genealogical and historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Archives receive donations of documents, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts almost on a daily basis.
Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.
Images courtesy of Melissa Barker and Houston County, TN Archives.
Many times record collections haven’t even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn’t allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say “It doesn’t hurt to ask!” The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help you decide if a particular collection will be of help to you and your genealogy research.
The answer to your genealogical question could be sitting in a box of unprocessed records. I like to always encourage genealogists to put “unprocessed records” on their to-do list. As genealogists, we should leave no stone or box of records, unturned.
DNA WITH DIAHAN: MORE DNA HEALTH REPORTS
Recently, Family Tree DNA offered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.
How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder test with Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”
At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard:
There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:
Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports: Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”
Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”
Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”
And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”
This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these. Click here to read about their health reports, and click here and here to read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)
Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.
Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.
When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.
Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report?based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report?that includes some nutritional factors. (I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports. Click here to read it!) Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.
GEM: COUNTDOWN TO THE 1950 CENSUS: 5 TIPS
Get a copy of a census record for yourself or a relative (1950-2010). This costs $65 per person, per census year. In addition to genealogy uses, census records are legally-recognized documents to prove your identity, citizenship or age if you’re applying for a passport and you’ve lost your birth certificate or other situations like that. Order it through the “Age Search Service” offered through the US Census Bureau.
Video tutorial: How to obtain a copy of your census record
Find your family in all possible records before and during WWII
City directories, WWII draft registrations, military yearbooks, the US Public Records Index, military enlistments, and even alien registrations or internment camp records for foreign-born residents during WWII.
WWII-era newspapers: Searching for coverage
Finding family history in WWII-era newspapers: Narrowing the results
5 places to find city directories:
“U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995” at Ancestry.com (subscription required)
City Directories of the United States
Library of Congress
WorldCat.org to see holdings at different libraries (may require copy service request, since originals may not circulate through interlibrary loan)
Local public libraries/societies
Find your family in all possible records AFTER the war
City directories, yearbooks, deeds, divorce records (the divorce rate went up after WWII)
Post-WWII draft registrations: Click here to order copies of draft registration records for men born 1897-1957. Requires full name of applicant, address at time of registration (tip: get it from a city directory).
Help create location tools for the 1950 US Census
Steve Morse’s “Project 1950”
Google your family’s history during the 1940s and 1950s
Google Earth for Genealogy (FREE)
Premium video: Ultimate Google Search Strategies for the Family Historian
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox 2nd ed, by Lisa Louise Cooke (there’s an entire chapter on YouTube)
Follow-up your discoveries with Google and YouTube search questions. Example: You find your grandmother working as a telephone operator in the 1940s in a city directory. What would her job have been like? Search YouTube:
YouTube videos on 1940s telephone operators
LEGACY TREE TIP: START YOUR SWEDISH GENEALOGY
Click here to read Paul Woodbury’s tips on the Genealogy Gems website.
PROFILE AMERICA: THE OPEN ROAD
“The busiest spot on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Library of Congress photograph; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click here to see full citation.
BONUS CONTENT for Genealogy Gems App Users
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a lightning-quick tech tip from Lisa Louise Cooke on how to undo that last browser you just closed and didn’t mean to! The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users
Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer
Sunny Morton, Editor
Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor
Hannah Fullerton, Audio Editor
Lacey Cooke, Service Manager
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If you’re doing DNA tests for family history, you may see lots of predicted cousin matches: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc…..But what does that predicted genetic relationship actually mean? Learn about centimorgans, the powerful genetic genealogy unit of measure, and how it helps your research.
How DNA Tests Measure Genetic Relationships
When we are looking at genetic relationships, there are also many ways we can measure them. But ultimately, we want the testing company to tell us how likely it is that a particular individual shares a single, recent common ancestor with us. One factor in this calculation is to take into account the total amount of DNA we share with that match.
Currently, all the testing companies are reporting this sum in centimorgans (cMs). Every company reports to you the total number of shared cMs, as outlined below.
- AncestryDNA: Click on the match to access the personal profile page for that match. In the second section, under Predicted Relationship, you will see the confidence level. To the right of the confidence level, you will see a grey circle with a little “i” in it. Clicking there will show you the total amount of shared cMs as well as how many pieces of DNA you share.
- Family Tree DNA: On the main match page for your Family Finder results, you will see the total amount of shared cMs in the third column.
- 23andMe: You can see the percentage of shared DNA from the main DNA Relatives home page. To convert the percentage into centimorgans, just multiply your percentage by 68 (that will at least get you close). You can also see total shared cMs in the chromosome browser tool (go to Tools > DNA Relatives > DNA).
- MyHeritageDNA: The total amount of shared DNA is shown on the main match page under the title Match Quality. MyHeritage also has a new DNA Match Review page. Click here to read more about that.
Centimorgan: A Genetic “Crystal Ball”
It is very tempting to think of a cM just like you would think of an inch or a centimeter, and for all practical purposes, that is okay. But it is actually much more complicated than that.
A cM is actually more like a crystal ball: it helps us predict how likely a piece of DNA looks exactly as it did a generation ago. This, in turn, helps us calculate how far back we should be looking for the common ancestor between two people.
But for our practical purposes, you can use the total amount of shared DNA, in combination with this chart compiled by Blaine Bettinger and the Shared cM Project, to better assess your genealogical relationship with your match based on your genetics.
To use the chart, take the total amount of shared DNA you have with a match, and look up that number in the chart to get an idea of what kind of genealogical relationship might best fit the genetics that you see. For example, if I share 69 cM with my match, we might be third cousins. But we might also be second cousins once or twice removed.
How do you figure out which one? Simply put: do genealogy research! It’s time to use traditional records and research skills to better understand the genetic clues in your family history mysteries.
My series of DNA quick reference guides can help you get the most out of your DNA tests for family history. I definitely recommend the value-priced bundle of all 10 guides. But I especially recommend the guides listed below if you’re to the point where you’re trying to understand what genetic relationships mean:
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