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