Using AncestryDNA: Steps for Success

AncestryDNA, like 23andMe and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder, analyzes one’s autosomal DNA to identify ancestral origins and genetic relatives across all of one’s family lines. AncestryDNA began an early beta in November 2011, releasing thousands of free kits to loyal Ancestry.com subscribers, including me. I accepted my beta invitation and submitted a DNA sample for analysis in November 2011, but only received my results July 5th, 2012. Was it worth the wait?

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On the surface, Ancestry.com’s foray into autosomal DNA analysis appears flawless. AncestryDNA’s simple, elegant user interface exceeds expectations in an industry where competitors once delivered far less visually appealing products. Seamlessly weaving family tree data into its tree-matching analysis, AncestryDNA appears to permit users to discover genealogical connections with ease.

However, upon close examination, AncestryDNA’s seams begin to fray. Their sorting and filtering mechanisms have limited functionality. Often, their tree-matching system inexplicably fails to highlight matching surnames, locations, and ancestors when comparing the family trees of some member matches.

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AncestryDNA has yet to install a chromosome browser or provide matching DNA segment data. Without those crucial product features, no AncestryDNA customer can definitively determine how they are genetically related to their matches. AncestryDNA offers “Shared Ancestor Hints” that display a common ancestor who appears in both trees and may have contributed the DNA one shares with one’s match, but as CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist illustrated with multiple examples, customers cannot “simply be told that a certain common ancestor is responsible for a DNA match and be expected to take AncestryDNA’s word for it.” Our analysis requires genetic data and tools to analyze that data.

Ancestry ought to supply the requisite features in the future; their competitors already do. Until then, genetic genealogists can employ third-party web applications to leverage AncestryDNA’s advantage - their dense thicket of extensive family trees - and retrieve the requisite matching DNA segment data for analysis. Here’s how:

Note: You must upload your raw DNA data file to GEDmatch.com, install the Google Chrome web browser, and have access to/working knowledge of a spreadsheet application (preferably Microsoft Excel) before attempting to execute the following strategy.

  1. Install Jeff Snavely’s AncestryDNA Chrome Extension. image

  2. After installing the extension, click “full scan” on the top left side of “Your DNA Home Page” image
  3. Once the scan is complete, click “Download Ancestors of Matches” on the right side of “Your DNA Home Page”image
  4. This will produce a spreadsheet listing each of your matches and each of the ancestors in their trees.    image

  5. Sort the spreadsheet by name, then surname, then fullname, then surname again.
  6. Review the spreadsheet for ancestors that repeatedly appear.
  7. Go back to AncestryDNA. Star and annotate each of the matches who have the recurring ancestors listed in their trees.                                                                                                                              image

          
  8. Send each of the starred matches a message requesting they upload their raw DNA data to GEDmatch.com, a site that permits AncestryDNA, Family Finder, and 23andMe customers to see matches from all three of the companies - and the matching DNA segments. Include a link to Shari Simonds’ informative comic to reinforce the significance of uploading one’s data to GEDmatch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           image                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  9. Once the matches have all uploaded their raw DNA data to GEDmatch.com, use GEDmatch’s Chromosome Browser tool to compare matches who all share an ancestral line with each other. You want to see if those matches cluster on the same DNA segment and/or on the same side of your family. Matches who cluster on the same DNA segment - match you and each other on the same segment - inherited the shared DNA segment from the same ancestor. You can “tag” the common ancestor to that DNA segment. image

Following these steps, using an array of third-party resources, enables us to surface evidence that verifies known ancestral lines and identifies previously unknown ones. While we await AncestryDNA’s upgrade, the initiative, ingenuity, and generosity of volunteer app developers continue to forge a path to discovery for the genetic genealogy community. Be sure to show these tech angels your gratitude by donating to their PayPal accounts whenever possible.