Monday, February 18, 2013

Ancestry DNA Adventures Part 1

I'm taking a little time off from searching baptismal records to review the matches I've received with my autosomal DNA test from Here is what I've found so far.
A little background, my genealogical ancestry is Australian and then British Isles with possibly an emigration from Europe (in the region of France and Switzerland) in the mid to late 18th century or thereabouts. Everything else is solidly East Anglia or the Greater London area with the addition of a couple of convicts from the Scottish Highlands, another from Gloucestershire, and a catholic girl from the workhouses in Ireland who was sent out to the colonies.

When I took the Ancestry DNA test (it's the autosomal DNA they test for) I was hoping to find some connections from Norfolk and possibly something that led back to France. So far I've got thousands of potential 5th-8th "cousins" and I haven't really figured out how to handle all these tree matches. The name matches are only for the direct line for the person the DNA results are attached to. Here are some things I've found:

  • Private Trees - you can't see what name or place in your direct line is matching one of yours, if any. You have to contact the private tree holder. It's not worth the effort for me, I'm sending them all to the garbage bin.
  • People with no trees or trees with no data - straight off to the garbage again. And how people expect to find matches with nothing in their tree beats me!
  • Trees that don't go back to Europe at all in their direct line. This is very common. Ancestry, after all, is a US site and the people taking the test are resident in the US. Even those with large and seemingly well documented trees don't go back to Europe very often. These I'm ignoring but not sending to the garbage can.
  • Sheer volume - I've got 3-4000 trees to match.
  • Trees with junky data; no birth place (or even country), no last names, no first names ... You get the idea.
  • Very common surnames (Taylor, Baker, Thompson, Wright ...). These are the ones getting the most hits. I'll have to view the results from every tree to find the few I'm really interested in (Tissott, Brothers, Reeder, Barnard). I've found a few Reeder and Barnard but so far neither of the others.
  • When a name is mis-spelled there won't be a match on the name. This is obvious of course but it has only just occurred to me. 
  • Place name matches: I've been looking for some specific counties in England but I know I haven't caught them all because it took me a while to realise that I would have to make a note of them. 
Ancestry is supposed to be working on some tools to let us manage this enormous amount of data. A search function for a specific name or place would be wonderful. However I can see that this could be an enormous resource hog and their servers are already struggling with TreeSync volumes. Well, we'll see what happens. Ancestry also indicated that they would let us have the raw data so we can then use it on other DNA sites. This is supposed to happen in 2013. Again, we'll just have to wait and see.

Ancestry also provides you with your ethnicity. This has proved to be very controversial because many people can't wrap their minds around the fact that it can have little relevance to their genealogical data.  Ancestry has said that they are working on this and the more data they get the better it will be. My ethnicity shows as 48% Scandinavian, 41% British Isles and 11% Southern European. This fits me pretty well. The Vikings raided the British Isles centuries ago and I'm sure some settled there. That's the Scandinavian. The Southern European is probably the Romans who conquered Britain back in the time of the Caesars, had garrisons there, and the soldiers stayed when the armies withdrew because they had families there.
I can't say whether the hint system is useful because I haven't had any hints. I'm also not surprised by this because my heritage is totally European and until there are more people in the database from this area I won't see any hints.
Here are a few statistics:
Total number of matches: 3350
Matches in the garbage can: 250
Matches not in the garbage can: 3100
Matches reviewed: 410
Matches to be followed up:  250


  1. I found both your DNA posts interesting as it is something that I have been thinking about. I didn't realise that they provide you with possible names.
    I wouldn't discount the private trees. I have found that often the ones who have private trees have the most information. I have changed my tree to private since I linked all my certificates and photos (over 5000 records) to the tree and synchronised. The synchronised tree is my offsite back up.

    1. Sharon, I have contacted some people with private trees when Ancestry says they are 3rd-5th cousins. I don't get any matches that are closer because my ancestors are all Australian and the British Isles and the people taking the test are all in the US or Canada. Of those I contacted, 1 member and I had a serious discussion and we concluded that if we were related it was somewhere back in Scotland and neither of us have trees that go back that far. Other members I contacted wanted to know which person I matched which I couldn't tell because their trees were private. They were unwilling either to do the work involved comparing my tree to theirs or letting me have access to their tree so I could do the work. And at that point the conversation ended.

      If you are going submit a sample to AncestryDNA I encourage you to set up a skeleton public tree with, at the minimum, your direct line and include Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths and Burials with places. You can then attach your AncestryDNA results to this public tree and all contact will be through this tree and not your private one. You then have control as to whether you wish to allow access to someone else.

  2. Good idea Rosemary. I have been thinking for awhile that I should have a duplicate tree without the photos and certificates to make it easier for contact.

    The bad news is that Ancestry DNA testing isn't available for Australians yet. Hopefully soon.

    1. Sorry, I'm so late getting back to you Sharon. I was down in Oz and am now catching up with everything.

      Meanwhile, have you considered FamilyTreeDNA at They do world-wide testing. I haven't had much luck matching there for the same reasons that I haven't had much luck with Ancestry ... too few European or English people in the database. And I seem to remember seeing somewhere that your results can be added to your member tree on Ancestry.

      It's worth a look, anyway.

  3. Thank you Rosemary. So you have done tests with both? What would be your preference?

    1. I think this will depend on what you want to accomplish. I tested my brother at FTDNA with its worldwide base hoping to find the region of France that his Y-DNA comes from. So far the results are slim because it turns out that his haplogroup is the most common in Western Europe and the British Isles. Also, we'll need more people in the database to pursue this in detail. We had similar results with our MTDNA where I was hoping to find some matches in East Anglia, Norfolk in particular. Once again, the database is too small.

      With AncestryDNA I was hoping for tree matches. I've got lots of matches and I'm still trying to find a good way of massaging the data. From the discussions on the message boards the people getting useful matches here have well documented North American ancestors. Once this opens up to worldwide testing I'm looking for better results.

      I've also got a test running with This vendor does more medical analysis of the DNA.

      My advice would be to watch for the sales and to read as much about genetic genealogy as you can. Then you can make an informed decision.

  4. Hi Rosemary,

    This genealogy research is so much fun! I am using a Mac so I'm not sure if this would work on a pc but if you highlight all the names on the page you can copy and paste them into a spreadsheet. The links remain intact so I access my tree directly from the spread sheet. Then once you do that in the next column next to the person I write any notes I have such as last names or location. It is a tremendous amount of work but you end up with a searchable database. So for example if I want to pull up all the trees that have the last name Martin all I have to do is type Martin in the search box to do this. Or if I see a tree that was administered by a person I can search their name to see if I am related to any other people they may have tested. Another thing I am doing is writing people and asking them if they are connected to any of my 4th-6th cousins. I am fortunate as I have 7 matches. This way I can categorize people onto certain branches of my tree. I am also writing groups of people that share a surname and asking them if any of them are connected to each other. This has worked out well so I would email 10 people and usually a few write back and often a person is connected to at least one other person in my tree. Even with doing all of this it is a very very slow process. By the way we are very low matches. I will write you through the email. I don't see the connection between us but it is always nice talking to someone who is also passionate about genealogy. I am likely to be on your last page on close to last page, look for the cat avatar Lisa.

  5. Hi Rosemary, I made a mistake. I originally found your blog because I googled the name of one of my dna matches. That was spider63lady, and without reading I thought that was you. I actually don't know if we are connected or not but I am a low or very low match with one of your 4th cousins. Good luck with all of your research!