04 April 2015

“New Ancestor Discoveries” through AncestryDNA and beyond

My social media channels have been buzzing with information and comment, much of it adverse, on AncestryDNA's latest refinement to its service termed “New Ancestor Discoveries.” The developed is hyped in a blog post by Anna Swayne:

"AncestryDNA is turning family history inside out with our latest innovation in DNA science and technology. Within your DNA, you carry a history that goes back hundreds, even thousands of years. Today, we are pleased to announce New Ancestor Discoveries, a revolutionary new way to discover, preserve and share your family history. Now, by just taking the AncestryDNA test, you can instantly find ancestors you never knew you had, going back generations in your family. This represents an entirely new way to get more of your story, whether you’re an expert genealogist, hobbyist, or beginner."
It goes on in the same vein with this anonymously voice-overed video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wBVFoK7UVU&list=PLAC8BA8A00067460F&index=2.

For me this new analysis reveals no new ancestors so I can't comment first hand. I'm not alone. According to another less polished AncestryDNA video voiced by Kenny Freestone, AncestryDNA’s Director of Product, and kudos to him for putting his name to the product:
  • about one-third of subscribers will have no new ancestors identified,
  • about one-quarter of the matches will be false.
I've no way of knowing if these figures are at all accurate, but had the promo material by Anna Swayne included these caveats, so helping manage expectations, perhaps the comments on social media would have been less negative.

Unfortunately AncestryDNA continues to hide the basis for their ancestor (actually relative) predictions, so insulting our intelligence by telling us we wouldn't understand. Will we see that "improvement" catch on with the rest of the company, after all, interpreting conventional original records often isn't straighforward?  If so we'll just be told that certain relationships exist but there will be no access to the census or other record on which the determination is based! Perhaps that's what the majority of potential clients Ancestry seems now to be targeting want.


Mike More said...

Instead of working with the genealogical societies around the world (i.e. the people who probably know most about the hobby), from the beginning Ancestry has followed what I call the American theory of commerce: treat your customers as idiots and take them for as much as possible as quickly as possible and focus your efforts on advertising to bring in more suckers and repeat the process. It's designed for short term profits, much like a pyramid scheme, not for a long time relationship.

Elizabeth Kipp said...

I also did not have any suggested ancestors on my ancestryDNA. I wonder if its value is mostly to Americans for whom there are a lot of gateway ancestors whose lineage is well documented for a few generations (like the Mayflower descendants). There is no way that they could, from their database, come up with ancestors for my lines which are totally English (and perhaps that is to their credit that they do not do so). The DNA circles are interesting although I do not have any but have found a 3rd and a 4th cousin in my matches (both known to me). I like their ethnic breakdown as it gives me 64% English, 14% Irish, 11% Europe West, 6% Scandinavian, 1% Iberian Peninsula, 1% Europe East, 1% Italy/Greece and 1% Finland/Northwest Russia. Personally I find this to be most interesting as I am missing one great grandparent line (possibly Irish or Ulster Scot) and one 4x set of great grandparents in the London area which I am highly suspicious that they may be German given my German matches of people still living there (on FT DNA). The Scandinavian is surely my ancestry from EYR and Cumberland mixed with English. So I do find it to be interesting although do add the caution that these numbers are very fluid and probably should be viewed as such.