Tuesday, November 25, 2014

AncestryDNA and DNA Circles

Ancestry.com announced last week an improvement and an addition to its DNA product: enhanced DNA matching and a beta of DNA Circles.

Improved Matches

Ancestry.com improved DNA matching so that there are fewer distant, inaccurate relatives. Ancestry.com says these distant cousins are 70 times as likely to be actual relatives. If I understand correctly, as the number of people who have taken an Ancestry.com DNA test increases, the better Ancestry.com can determine DNA segments that are common among a large number of people and are not useful in determining kinship.

The table below shows how the number of my results changed. The number of distant cousins dropped dramatically, from over 13,000 to over 3,000.

  New Number of Matches Old Number of Matches
Parent/Child 1 1
Close family 1 1
1st cousin 2 3
2nd cousin 5 4
3rd cousin 10 14
4th cousin 150 162
Distant cousin 3,150 13,018

If you are an existing customer, you will enjoy the improved matches immediately. Temporarily, you can download your old list of matches via the Settings tab on the DNA home page. The download is in the form of a spreadsheet.

DNA Circles

Ancestry.com has also added a feature called DNA Circles. A Circle contains all the AncestryDNA customers that Ancestry.com has determined are descendants of a common ancestor. The group share DNA and share an ancestor in their Ancestry Member Trees.

AncestryDNA releases beta: DNA Circles

Before I go on, let me warn you that this feature is reserved for DNA customers who are also paying for an Ancestry.com subscription. Businesses like annuity-type revenue. Microsoft would rather you buy a subscription to Microsoft Office and pay year-in and year-out, rather than buying a DVD every four or five years. I used to buy a CD of the Chicago Manual of Style. Now, to get electronic access I have to buy a subscription. Businesses like annuity-type revenue. And while Ancestry.com is used to that for its website subscriptions, it hasn’t enjoyed that with its DNA offering. You pay for a kit once, and you’re done. With DNA circles, Ancestry.com gets a chance for recurring revenues. But I digress…

Ancestry.com spokesperson, Anna Swayne, says “DNA Circles can potentially uncover new relatives that DNA matching alone would not have found.” I need someone to help me understand that. According to the AncestryDNA website,

Members of this group have a family tree that includes a direct ancestral line relationship to [the common ancestor].

If there is already a paper trail using Ancestry.com Member Trees that shows a common ancestor, how do you uncover new relatives? Can’t you use shaky leaf tree hints to see all the trees that share a common ancestor? I’m guessing that Swayne is referencing future functionality, but I’ll ask and see what I can learn.

What is interesting with DNA circles is that some members of the circle are designated tree matches but not DNA matches. (See L.S. in the screen shot below.)

DNA Circle members don't have to match your DNA.

The AncestryDNA website states

Each DNA circle member shares DNA with at least one other member of the circle. These DNA connections create a network of related people and provides genetic evidence of shared ancestry.

For example, Kenny Freestone may share enough DNA segments with P.F. to solidify their kinship through William Grey. And while Kenny may not share matching segments with L.S., P.F. and L.S. may share enough to establish their kinship through William. (Remember that through the generations an ancestor’s autosomal DNA is gradually displaced and the particular portions are different in each child. See “#FGS2014 Conference: Autosomal DNA.”)

This presents an interesting scenario. AncestryDNA can build a bigger picture of William Grey’s DNA. Imagine one day an adoptee takes an AncestryDNA test and AncestryDNA tells him that William Grey is his great grandfather. No tree necessary.

That’s heady stuff. Now if they would only allow you to download the matching segment data…

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