Ancestry.com’s recent announcement that they were discontinuing some of their DNA tests confused some people. (See “Ancestry.com Announces Retirement of Several Websites.”) In the Ancestry.com blog AncestryDNA’s Ken Chahine clarified the announcement.
“We are not retiring our autosomal AncestryDNA test that we launched in May 2012,” he wrote. “We are only retiring the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests that we launched in 2007.”
If your test results look like mine, above (I told you I’m a descendant of an Indian princess!), then you have the new autosomal test. Your results are not going away and your sample is not being destroyed.
“As part of the decision to retire Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, we were faced with another difficult decision of what to do with the customer samples,” wrote Chahine.
We take customer privacy seriously and, regrettably, the legal framework used to collect these samples does not allow us to retest or transfer those samples. Practically speaking, many of these samples are also no longer useable. For example, many of the swabs were exhausted of genetic material during our testing or the sample may be past its shelf life. In the end we made the difficult decision to destroy the samples and are committed to trying to find solutions to these roadblocks for future products.
Some of you may feel abandoned by this. You may recall I felt violated when Ancestry.com purchased Sorenson Genetic’s DNA samples. I was a Sorenson contributor. I’m glad to see that, perhaps, my Sorenson contributed DNA will no longer be exploited.
Y-DNA and mtDNA Tests
The Y-DNA test looks at the Y-chromosome carried by men. The Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, changing infrequently due to random mutation. The mtDNA test looks at the mitochondrial DNA passed from mothers to all their children, again, largely unchanged.
Accompanied by conventional research, these tests can provide important evidence in proof arguments. For an example, see David Ouimette’s article in the September 2010 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. It is titled, “Proving the Parentage of John Bettis: Immigrant Ancestor of Bettis Families in Vermont.” Indirect evidence indicated John Bettis was the son of Joseph Perrin. Ouimette obtained DNA samples from several descendants of each man. An exact match existed between a Bettis descendent and a Perrin descendent. Several more differed by just one marker, all in fast mutators. This Y-DNA test confirmed the possible relationship between two men that conventional evidence showed to be father and son.
Autosomal tests are not capable of such lineage-specific results. Today they provide generalized information, such as “you and he are related to such-and-such a degree” and “your ancestors had such-and-such ethnicity.” I don’t know if it will ever be possible to say, “here are the DNA markers associated with ancestor number 17 on your pedigree.”
Chahine wrote, “We understand that many of you have spent years using the Y-DNA and mtDNA products for genealogy and no amount of justification will offer you comfort in our decision. It is our hope that our future products will convince you that the autosomal test is a powerful and useful tool for family history.” (For the full text of his message, see “Comments on Y-DNA and mtDNA Tests.”)
It seems that Ancestry.com is conceding the Y-DNA/mtDNA market to other companies. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is promptly jumping on the opportunity. Just five days after the Ancestry.com announcement, I received an email from FTDNA inviting me to transfer my Y-DNA test results to them. (How did they get my e-mail address?) They offer various costing options, starting from $19. In any case, you must download your data from dna.ancestry.com before 5 September 2014.