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 Breaking Down Brick Walls with 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 quick reference guides! I recommend:
A Guide to AncestryDNAHow to find your best DNA matches, interpret ethnicity results, link your tree, understand relationship ranges and DNA Circles, and work with Shaky Leaf hints.
Breaking Down Brick Walls with DNA.What to do next to maximize the power of DNA testing in genealogy. Take your DNA testing experience to the next level and make new discoveries about your ancestors and heritage!
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“I don’t need DNA testing for family history: my pedigree is full!” I still hear this occasionally. But here’s why everyone doing their family history should take at least one DNA test.
Teenagers (including my own) are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcolm Gladwell describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” for change in human behavior. For my kids, it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11-year-old).
In DNA testing for family history in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed.
Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it. But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!
“I don’t need DNA testing for family history.” Really?
This got me thinking though: who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test is those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.”
To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP anyway to your invitation to DNA test.
1. To create and preserve a unique record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.
2. Because you have second cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.
3. To verify what’s on your tree. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart to a story and a life worth preserving.
Verifying what’s on your tree brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, it’s true. In fact, in the process of verifying your tree, you may discover new genetic truths about it. You may find that some who you thought biologically related actually aren’t, and you may discover new biological relatives you didn’t know about. Not everyone is prepared for this, especially if they’re pretty sure they know everything about their ancestry. But increasingly, I’m finding, people do want to know about a second cousin who was adopted out of the family or their grandpa’s secret half-sibling–and these connections may never emerge unless you participate in DNA testing for family history.
Remember, your genealogical pedigree is not the same as your genetic pedigree! Click here to read about different things you may learn from each one.
4. To help someone else build their tree. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.
So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!
Click here to get started with DNA testing for family history. You’ll learn who to test, why to test, what tests you can take and where to purchase them. You can watch a short video about getting started and see additional resources that will help you get the most out of your testing experience all along the way.
Step 1 – Preparing for Success in Irish Records Research
Without the right preparation, researching in Ireland can be frustrating! Before you jump the pond, start your research at home to determine a place in Ireland, as well as details to help differentiate your person from someone of the same name. This guide shows you how to idenitfy records in the US to set you up for success in your Irish research.
Guide #2 – Irish Civil Registration and Church Records
Civil Registration for all of Ireland began in 1864, with Protestant marriages dating back to 1845. Even if your ancestors left before that date, they likely had relatives that remained in Ireland. Prior to Civil Registration, the only records of births (baptisms), marriages or deaths (burials) are in church records. This guide explains how to use the new online Civil Registration records as well as how to identify the surviving church records for your ancestors in Ireland.
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