Opening your AncestryDNA account to find a New Ancestor Discovery can be a bit like the experience my nine-year old had at the beach today. He noticed something unusual in the sand on his way down to the beach and excitedly used his hands to unearth the treasure. However, it turned out to be a Captain Hook figurine long lost by another (likely much younger) beach-goer. His initial excitement quickly dissipated. He was disappointed as he had clearly found something he did not need or want.
I have heard from many of you that are confused and disappointed with Ancestry’s attempts to merge your genetics and your genealogy. Keep in mind that AncestryDNA matches are only using your genetics. Your DNA Circles and your New Ancestor Discoveries incorporate your linked treeinto your genetic test results.
Lisa recently forwarded me a comment from Kate that perfectly illustrates the confusion I’m talking about. “We had DNA done thru Ancestry,” she writes. “The results [have] made me seriously question what they are showing me. I believe they are using my tree to show me results that are more vague than they are revealing. The latest example they show is a person not related by blood. This family is related by name only (my uncle’s spouse).
“My results from Ancestry show that they use my tree to make matches. Just checked the web page for DNA results. They show numerous matches….Three or 4 contacted me because they were convinced they were related by blood when they may have had a remote tree connection. They contacted me because the DNA results showed they were a 3rd or 4th
cousin, when in fact they would only be a 3rd or 4th cousin in my tree.”
I can see why she’s confused. First, let’s review what an AncestryDNA New Ancestor Discovery (NAD) actually IS. NAD’s are based on the DNA Circle idea created by Ancestry. Remember that a DNA circle is when Ancestry can identify a shared genetic AND genealogical connection between three or more people. Using various standards and measures, they name an ancestor as your connection. This is the ancestor I affectionately call our Party Host. This is the ancestor who passed his or her DNA down to all of their descendants, like tickets inviting them to this party in the future. So, everyone who holds a ticket, AND who has honored that party host ancestor by placing their name in their pedigree chart, is listed as a guest in the form of a DNA circle connection. (Click here to read a blog post about this concept.)
The New Ancestor Discoveries just take that one step further. The NAD is an attempt to find ticket holders who have not yet taken that extra step and added that important Party Host ancestor to their family tree. The NAD is like a nudge, inviting us to double check our family tree to see if this particular ancestor might need to be added. It is important to remember that a NAD comes only after a DNA circle has already been formed, and there could have been errors in that formation. So the very first thing you need to do with a NAD is to correspond with circle members and double check that the Party Host of the circle, their common ancestor, is correct. Then we can move on to evaluating the NAD.
Ancestry admits on its help pages that there are three reasons why you might get an NAD, and only one is “right” in the way you and I might view it.
The “right” answer comes when the DNA circle was drawn correctly, the Party Host properly identified, and your DNA connection is strong to two or more members of the circle. You are then able to verify through traditional genealogical methods that you are an actual descendant of the Party Host, holding that coveted ticket, shown in blue in this modified image from the AncestryDNA help page.
There are two other alternatives.
First, you are related to the NAD Party Host (the New Ancestor that was discovered) via marriage. In this second example from Ancestry’s help page, we see that your ancestor was married twice. The members of the DNA circle are descendants of her other marriage. Remember, that you do not share DNA with every member of the DNA circle. In this case, you share the purple DNA with a few members of the circle. But there are other members that share the blue. So the super computers at Ancestry first put all the blues together in a circle with the Party Host at the top. Then you come along with purple DNA that matches a few in the circle and their supercomputer erroneously assumes that you too must have been invited to this “blue” party, but in fact, the blue/purple members of the circle are double booked. They have been invited to both the blue and the purple party.
How can you fix this? If you can identify your purple Party Host, then you can add that person to your tree, and the trees of your DNA matches and likely then a new DNA Circle will form with the purple Party Host at its head, and the blue NAD will disappear.
The other situation that many of you are seeing, especially those of you with ancestry from small communities, is demonstrated in Figure 3 of the Ancestry Help page, reproduced here. As you can see, this one is much more complicated. (In fact, the colors I added aren’t even quite accurate, as not all descendants of the blue NAD have the same blue, but rather different shades of blue depending on the segment they received- but this is a story for another post!)
The short of it is, the members of the previously established DNA circle share one single ancestor with each other, but they share multiple separate and distinct ancestors with you. Looking at this chart it seems very clear, but remember, in the database we only see you and the people you match. We cannot tell from the DNA shared which piece came from which ancestor. So, it is very important to check and double check the pedigrees of those in the circle to identify additional shared lines.
The short of it is, these NAD’s are following the guilt by association rule, but in fact, you could be innocent. Just keep in mind the simple principle that you DO share a common ancestor with those members of the circle that you share DNA with. You do NOT necessarily share common ancestry with those in the circle that you do not share DNA with.
The key is to take these NAD’s for what they really are: research suggestions. Keep your expectations low, and then you will be pleasantly surprised when you are able to verify a connection.
Ready to learn more about DNA testing for family history? Click here to watch two video interviews in which Lisa and I chat about genetic genealogy.
My DNA quick reference guides can get you started on your own DNA research, or help you unpuzzle and maximize results you don’t fully understand. Click here to see all six guides: purchase them individually or as value-priced bundles.
From Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems: DNA testing is one of the most personal ways to get involved in your family history. You have DNA from your parents, who have DNA from their parents, and so it goes, back into your greats and great-greats. The technology of genetic genealogy is all about tapping into that DNA record and pulling out information that might be useful in your family history. DNA can do this for you in two ways:
First, it connects you to places. These are places where your ancestors came from a hundred, a thousand, or tens of thousands of years ago.
Second, it connects you to people. These people are your genetic cousins, other living people who have taken the same DNA test that you took. The similarities in your DNA tell you that you share a common ancestor. You can then examine the pedigree of your match and work with them to help verify your family history, or give you new ideas about who your ancestors might be.
Types of DNA Tests for Family History
You have three choices of DNA tests, each with its own unique purpose.
Autosomal DNA – For any ancestor, male or female, who is fewer than 5 generations from you, you can take the autosomal DNA test at either Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage to find out more about that individual. Remember with the autosomal DNA that you always want to test the oldest generation first. So anyone who does not have both of their parents living should take the autosomal DNA test.
mtDNA – If I want to know about a female ancestor, let’s say Mary West, I need to find Mary’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s, etc. child (male or female) to take the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Family Tree DNA.
YDNA – Essentially, if you want to know about a male ancestor, you need to find a direct male descendant to be tested. So if I want to know about my 3X great grandfather Morris Mitchell, I need to find Morris’s son’s son’s son, etc. until I find a living male with the Mitchell surname who can be tested on the Y chromosome DNA (mtDNA) test at Family Tree DNA.
DNA Testing Companies
There are several companies that test DNA for family history including:
Each of these companies offers a very similar autosomal DNA test, but each has its own unique tools and databases. Decide which company you want to test with by evaluating things like:
their website accessibility
their company goals
and especially the size of their database
You can see a table comparing these companies here.
Great (DNA) Expectations
The best thing you can do when setting out on your genetic genealogy journey is set good expectations. You can expect that the test will document the personal genetics of the person who takes it. By so doing, you are creating another genealogy record that will last for generations. This test will link you to your ancestors via your cousins. That means that you may take the test looking for ancestors, but what you get are cousins. It will take traditional genealogy work to turn those cousin connections into ancestral connections. Above all, expect that this is a growing industry, and what we know today is different than what we will know tomorrow, so enjoy the journey!
Genetic Genealogy for the Layman
There are several comprehensive books on Genetic Genealogy out there. However, for the layman who just wants to understand their DNA test results and get some additional value from them, an entire book full of scientific explanations can be overwhelming and daunting. The following email is one we receive regularly:
“Could you direct me to an understandable publication which explains dna results in layman’ terms ? Thank you” – Anne B.
Genealogy Gems Publications is proud to publish Diahan Southard’s wonderful series of DNA quick reference guides for understanding your DNA results in plain language, and helping you get the most out of the investment you made in testing.
8 Guides to Help You Understand and Use Your DNA Results
The complete collection of DNA quick reference guides cover:
The testing companies: AncestryDNA, 23andme, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage
The tests: Autosomal, YDNA, Mitochondrial
How to find your ancestors using your DNA.
All guides are available in convenient digital download format.
Click here to shop now: Save on the set of 8 DNA quick reference guides at the Genealogy Gems store.
Free Podcast: Diahan has a regular segment on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast where she answers your questions and provides invaluable insights into the latest in genetic genealogy.
Free Articles: You can browse the complete archive of DNA articles at Genealogy Gems. The most recent will appear first and then scroll down to read through the past articles.
DNA in the News
As of March 28, 2017, AncestryDNA customers can see if their ancestors belonged to about 300 different Genetic Communities, small migratory groups that can be identified by DNA. In the next free Genealogy Gems podcast episode #202, you will learn more about it straight from Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball. For more information on Genetic Communities, watch the video below:
Hear my interview with Daniel Horowitz in Genealogy Gems Podcastepisode #221.
Searching and Browsing on MyHeritage to Get the Most Out of Your Research
with Cyndi Ingle
With 10 billion historical records, MyHeritage is able to provide the most extensive genealogy searches available on the Internet. Learn how to use them efficiently to find new and relevant information to incorporate into your research.
Every immigrant has a story. Learn how to leverage the immigration records collection at MyHeritage to uncover key clues and make amazing discoveries about your immigrant ancestors from both sides of the pond.
Using MyHeritage to Find Ancestors from the Netherlands
with Yvette Hoitink
If you have ancestors from the Netherlands, this talk introduces you to the most important records and shows you what you can find online, even if you don’t know any Dutch. Learn how naming traditions and emigration patterns can help you find your Dutch ancestors.
Evaluating Your Smart Matches™ and Record Matches on MyHeritage
with James Tanner
Smart Matches™ and Record Matches on MyHeritage supercharge your research. Learn how to review and evaluate these automatically generated matches and effectively use them to advance your genealogical research goals.
An Overview of Western European Record Collections on MyHeritage
with Mike Mansfield of MyHeritage
With over three billion records from thousands of collections of European origin and a vibrant user community, MyHeritage is an incredible resource for European research. This session will provide an overview of these collections and highlight how to best find access and utilize these sources.
Using Geni and How it is Different from Other Genealogy Platforms
with Mike Stangel
Learn more about the benefits of collaboration in a single-family tree, including adding sources to shared profiles, communicating with public discussions, understanding the revision history of profiles, and working with projects. Learn how Geni and MyHeritage work together to help improve the quality of the World Family Tree and connect you to new relatives.
MyHeritage provides an extremely valuable platform for conducting systematic and source-based research. A formal research plan can help you organize all the information presented in a coherent, useful way, and keep you moving towards your genealogical goals.
Using Census, Immigration, Newspaper, and Yearbook Records at MyHeritage to Explore the LIves of Your Ancestors
with Lisa Alzo
In genealogy, cluster and collateral research is a key strategy for solving complex brick wall problems. Learn how to use census, immigration, newspaper, and yearbook records at MyHeritage to explore the lives of your ancestors and their inner circles.
Click the video player below to watch my conversation with Diahan about common genetic genealogy misconceptions:
What Exactly is a Centimorgan? An Introduction to the Science of DNA Testing
with Ran Snir
Whether you have already taken a DNA test or this is the first time you’re hearing about it, in this session we will start from the very beginning. We’ll go over the basic terms of DNA testing and learn how DNA is passed down through generations, how and why individuals have shared DNA segments and how we’re able to estimate one’s ethnicity origins.
Using the Theory of Family Relativity™ to Research Your DNA Matches
with Ran Snir
Learn about the revolutionary technology that saves you dozens of hours of research by synthesizing billions of data points to craft multiple theories about how you and your DNA Matches might be related.
DNA testing can be expensive, but DNA evidence is a component of exhaustive research when it is available. Identify some of the ways you can minimize costs while maximizing results by formulating a DNA testing plan early in your research.
Why You Should Complement Your DNA Data with Genealogy Research
with Diahan Southard
Building a family tree is free and adds a lot of value to your DNA test. Learn how it can help improve the accuracy of relationship estimates, trace common ancestors to uncover how exactly you are related, increase the chances DNA Matches will contact you, help you identify the family members whose DNA results would contribute the most value to your research, and more.
Introducing the MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry Test
with Yaniv Erlich
Discover how your genes affect your health and explore the valuable insights you can gain from this latest addition to our DNA product line. The MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test gives you dozens of personalized health reports that explain your genetic risk for developing certain conditions, and tell you whether you’re a carrier for hereditary conditions that can potentially be passed on to your children.
Ancestry.com is packed with all kinds of mostly-undiscovered genealogical treasures, and some of them you’ll never find from a search box.
Here, expert Nancy Hendrickson shares some favorite treasures, tips for finding those treasures, and helpful reminders for improving your genealogy research.
(We provide links for your convenience to the various online resources and some may be affiliate links for which we receive compensation at no additional expense to you. Thank you for your support.)
Ancestry.com is a “genealogy giant:” one of the four biggest global records resources. Whether you subscribe or have free access through your local library or Family History Center, you should not miss exploring this website for your family history.
Ancestry is also a financial investment. If you’ve been using the site for quite a while, you may be wondering if you are really getting all you can out of it’s vast genealogical record collections and many research tools.
Nancy Henrickson, author of the Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook
4 Tips for Using Ancestry.com More Effectively
1. Verify what you learn.
Any single record can be wrong, incomplete, or misread by you or by the person how indexed it. Double check the assertions made in the record by looking for that same information in additional sources. Be careful to make sure your sources weren’t getting their information from the same person or place. Otherwise, they’ll naturally say the same thing!
Nobody wants to discover conflicting information, of course. But you do want to know if something is inaccurate before it leads you down a wrong research path.
The best thing about verifying facts in additional sources is that sometimes you find NEW or BETTER information such as:
a middle name that proves key to someone’s identity,
or a burial place.
For example, let’s say you find an ancestor’s death date in the Social Security Death Index. While it’s a great source, don’t stop there!
Like any record, the SSDI is sometimes wrong and the information it contains is definitely limited. Use the Ancestry.com Card Catalog to see what records about death may be on the site for that time and place. You’ll find the CardCatalog under Search in the main menu.
Ancestry Card Catalog
Use the filters on the left side to drill down to death records for the location you want. Remember that records collections have been created on a specific geographical level: try local, regional (such as state or province) as well as national levels.
Using the Card Catalog search filters
2. Don’t just repeat what other people’s trees say.
Seeing the same information over and over can provide a false sense of accuracy. Remember, just because seven different online trees name the same parents for one of your ancestors doesn’t mean those are the correct parents. Those Ancestry users may all be misquoting the same wrong source without actually verifying the information!
You often come across likely matches in others’ trees when you review Ancestry’s automated “leaf” hints, or when you run a general search on a name. When you do, it’s simply an indication that the tree may be worth exploring. Here’s an example:
Exploring Ancestry Hints
Let’s take a closer look at this example.
The purple arrows: You can see that multiple pieces of very specific information are the same on your tree and another one.
The red arrow: You see sources attached to that person’s profile, such as the news article thumbnail image. (Note the difference with the record shown below, with just an empty profile image.) Yes, you will definitely want to review that news article!
The blue arrow:In addition to either of the above, you also see specific information that is unknown to you.
This tree profile looks promising enough you might naturally consider reviewing the tree hint and attaching it to yours. But then you wouldn’t be able to see the news article or other sources attached to that tree.
Instead, click the checkbox and then click the name of the tree to look at it and its attached sources:
Select the tree to review it more closely.
Then you’ll be able to check out the news article along with the other sources and records attached to this person’s profile. You won’t just see what that person thinks about your common ancestor – you’ll see evidence of why she thinks it.
3. Ancestry.com has more than indexed historical documents.
Nancy reminds us that “Ancestry.com is a fantastic resource for old maps, stories, photos, published county histories, and more. For example, looking at the old maps in their collections can reveal the true nature of an ancestor’s daily life, hardships, travels, and more. And your chance of finding early American ancestors is high in county histories: there were fewer people and early settlers were talked about, even if the family wasn’t wealthy or prominent.”
Here are some of Nancy’s favorite collections at Ancestry:
This is a browse-only collection of “more than 2,200 volumes of county and regional histories from California, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, 1878 in the U.S., County and Regional Histories and Atlases, 1804-1984 collection
In them you’ll find history, biographical sketches, maps, business notices, statistics and population numbers, pictures, descriptions of industry and business, stories of early settlement and pioneers, colleges and universities, military history, geography, and plenty of other details.”
Reminder: you can’t search this database by an ancestor’s name. Instead, look for places, and then start reading.
A collection of maps and atlases detailing land areas that comprise the present-day United States and Canada, as well as various other parts of the world. It contains a variety of maps and atlases created for different scopes and purposes, including land ownership atlases and bird’s-eye view maps.
Warrant Plan Records in the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection at Ancestry
Land ownership atlases usually show the names of contemporary owners or occupants of land and structures.
Some of the maps depict countries and wider geographical areas, while others depict counties, cities, towns, and smaller geographical areas.
4. Expand your search to the other Ancestry resources on the Web
Ancestry owns a lot of other web resources. Search these too!
Nancy says, “They include Find A Grave, Fold3, and RootsWeb, one of the oldest online genealogy communities around. Don’t give up! Keep looking in other places for the information you want to find.”
Find A Grave
Search results from Ancestry.com do include Find A Grave entries. Many of these contain additional information about the deceased and links to their relatives. As always, be sure to confirm the information you find here.
Fold3 is home to millions of U.S. military records. Ancestry.com subscribers can upgrade their subscription to include Fold3 access, or you can subscribe separately.
RootsWeb is a free and long-lived family history web resource, now hosted by Ancestry.
“The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research,” says the site. “Most resources on RootsWeb.com are designed to facilitate such connections.” You can use RootsWeb in a variety of ways: search it, contribute records, upload your family tree, post your family surnames on a board others can see, and more.
Ancestry has changed one of the ways RootsWeb users have traditionally connected: Mailing Lists. According to the website:
“Beginning March 2nd, 2020 the Mailing Lists functionality on RootsWeb will be discontinued. Users will no longer be able to send outgoing emails or accept incoming emails. Additionally, administration tools will no longer be available to list administrators and mailing lists will be put into an archival state. Administrators may save the email addresses in their list prior to March 2nd. After that, mailing list archives will remain available and searchable on RootsWeb. As an alternative to RootsWeb Mailing Lists, Ancestry message boards are a great option to network with others in the genealogy community. Message boards are available for free with an Ancestry registered account.”
Learn More about Using Ancestry
Nancy Hendrickson’s Book
Nancy shares many more Ancestry tips and treasures in her Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook. To get the most out of this book read the section on using the Ancestry.com Catalog. Nancy does 95% of her research in the catalog. The workbook is divided into topics, such as military records, so choose a chapter that fits your current goals. It’s also important to not just read the workbook, but also do the exercises. They teach you Nancy’s thought processes for how she finds specific answers or approaches certain types of problems. Then you can apply the same concepts to your own research. Don’t miss the chapter on social history. That’s where you’ll dig into everyday life. And finally, take advantage of the forms that are included. They will help you log your findings and analyze what you’ve learned.