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

I 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.

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_guideReady to walk through the process of using DNA for your genealogy? Let me be your guide! Check out my quick Genealogy DNA Quick Reference Guides Cheat Sheetsguides (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.

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

Are you tracing the family history of someone who lived in the U.S. during the 20th century? Check out a wonderful free database in the United States called the Social SSDI SearchSecurity Death Index, or the SSDI. Keep reading for 5 FREE online sources for the SSDI, 7 tips for searching the SSDI and what you can do with SSDI info.

In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.

Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! It’s especially great for many people who were missed in the 1890 census or whose birth predated vital records registration in their home state. Remember they just needed to live past 1937 and to have worked to have been included. So they could have been born sometime in the later 1800s.

5 FREE Online Sources for the SSDI

Several genealogy websites provide free access to the SSDI, including (click to go right to the SSDI at these sites):

On the Search page, enter your relative’s name and other details you’re asked for. Hopefully you will get back results that includes your relative!

7 Tips for Searching the SSDI

If  your relative doesn’t show up in the SSDI, even though you know they worked after 1937 and you know they have passed away, try these search tips:

1. Does the website you are using to search the SSDI have the most current version available? Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated. Try searching at other sites.

2. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.

3. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.

4. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.

5. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE!

6. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.

7. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.

While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there.

What You Can Do with SSDI Information

Now, here comes the most exciting part of the SSDI: what you can do with that information. First, it usually includes a death date (at least the month and year) and sometimes a state and last known residence. Use this information to look for death records, obituaries, cemetery and funeral records. And use that Social Security Number to order a copy of your relative’s application for that number: the SS-5. Click here to read more about the SS-5 and how to order it.

Up next, read:

Get Started: How to Find Your Family History for Free

7 Great Ways to Use Your iPad for Family History

How to Find Your Family Tree Online

Best Genealogy Software

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records online

Every Friday, we blog about new genealogy records online. Do any of the collections below relate to your family history? This week seems to be all about U.S. records: newspapers, military and railroad employees.

U.S. NAVY SURVIVORS. A new collection with nearly 2 million records from case files of Navy approved pension applications (1861-1910) is now searchable on Fold3. These include Civil War survivors and later Navy veterans.

U.S. NEWSPAPERS. Over 450 historical newspaper titles for all 50 states (1730-1900) have been added to GenealogyBank. Over 160 of the papers date to the 1700s. Notable are an Ohio (Northwest Territory) paper from 1795, a New Orleans paper from 1803 and a Detroit paper from 1817.

PENNSYLVANIA NEWSPAPERS. Notable recent additions at Newspapers.com include nearly 400,000 pages of the Wilkes-Barre Record (1881-1949PA) and over 400,000 pages of the Standard-Speaker (1961-2000, Hazleton, PA).

U.S. RAILROAD RECORDS. Ancestry subscribers can access the Chicago and North Western Railroad Employment Records, 1935-1970. The line passed through Wisconsin, Minnesota, SD, Iowa and Nebraska. The collection includes Social Security numbers (born before 1912) and applications (with parents’ names), birth and death date, residences and occupational details.

check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064Google search tip: Though no longer actively digitizing and indexing newspapers, Google News Archive can help you locate online content for specific newspapers. Click here to access its alphabetical listing of newspapers. You can also enter keyword-searches in the search box on that webpage for all the newspapers listed here. There’s an entire chapter on the Google News Archive and what it can still do for us in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke, fully revised and updated in 2015.

 

New or Improved Genealogy Apps! Ancestry, FamilySearch and MyHeritage

Have you downloaded the apps that go with your favorite genealogy websites? You should! And if it’s been awhile, you should do it again. Why? They just keep organize app Evernote google keepgetting better!

Here’s a rundown of new or improved apps from

  • Ancestry.com,
  • FamilySearch.org, and
  • MyHeritage.com:

Updated Ancestry App: Now A Continuously Swiping Tree

The old version of  the Ancestry app was a great start, but didn’t actually have a tree interface on it. You could see lists of family members in your tree, but not in pedigree format. The new version (still FREE)  has a redesigned look that, at least for iOS users, includes what Ancestry calls a “continuously swiping tree.” (The way Ancestry programmers made this happen was unique enough they got a patent for the process–read about it on the Ancestry blog.)

Here’s a summary of what the iPhone and iPad apps can do (taken from the Ancestry site):

Ancestry app Apple Watch

  • New: Redesigned look for sleeker, more intuitive use
  • New: Build your tree faster by connecting to Facebook and your contact list
  • New: Read about the lives of your ancestors through story-like narrative
  • Preserve memories by scanning and adding photos to your tree
  • Explore high-res images of historical documents and records
  • Access the world’s largest online family resource with more than 12 billion records
  • Receive Hints to help reveal new family connections by finding records and photos for you
  • Fully redesigned for iOS7

Click here to download the Ancestry app for iPad, iPhone and Android.

New FamilySearch Apps: Tree and Memories

Two new FREE mobile apps, FamilySearch Tree and FamilySearch Memories, help users add information to their FamilySearch.org trees. The folks at FamilySearch describe the apps this way:

FamilySearch Tree makes it easy to add photos, stories, and audio recordings to ancestors in FamilySearch trees.

  • Browse your family branches and see portraits of relatives you’ve never seen.
  • Discover facts, documents, stories, photos, and recordings about your ancestors.
  • Easily add memories and records about your relatives.
  • Preserve and share those old photos and documents that are hidden away in storage.
  • Adding or updating ancestor details like names, dates, and relationships will be available coming soon.
  • Available for iOS 7+ and Android 2.3+

Click here to download the FamilySearch Tree App from the Apple App Store (iOS)

Click here to download the FamilySearch Tree App from the Google Play App Store (Android)

FamilySearch Memories makes collecting, preserving, and sharing your favorite family memories (photos, stories, and spoken words) easy and convenient wherever you are.

  • Snap photos of any family event, or take photos of old photos and documents.
  • Record audio interviews with family members and capture details of their life stories and favorite memories.
  • Write family stories, jokes, and sayings with the keyboard, or use the mic key to capture what you say.
  • Enrich written stories by adding descriptive photos.
  • Identify and tag relatives within a memory to automatically add it to their collection in Family Tree.
  • Available for iOS 7+

Click here to download the FamilySearch Memories App from the Apple App Store (iOS)

Everything you add with either of these apps syncs with FamilySearch.org.

Updated MyHeritage App: Now Access Your Family Photos

Now your MyHeritage family website can always be at your fingertips–along with all your family photos. Features of the newly-updated version of the MyHeritage app:

  • NEW: View all your photo albums and family tree photos;
  • Easily view and update your family tree anywhere you go;
  • Search 5.3 billion historical records;
  • Fully sync with your family site and Family Tree Builder software;
  • Supports 32 languages.

Click here to download or upgrade Family Tree Builder 7.0 so you’ll be ready to view and edit your tree with the free mobile app.

Click here to download the MyHeritage app from the App store.

Click here to download the MyHeritage app from Google Play.

So…doublecheck your mobile devices! How long since you’ve updated YOUR genealogy apps?

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