Ancestry Clarifies “Ancestor Discoveries”

Last week Ancestry.com announced a new feature, ‘Ancestor Discoveries’ and claimed a “Breakthrough in DNA“.

Imagine that you know nothing about your 3rd great-grandmother on your father’s side. You haven’t been able to find her name, you’ve never seen a picture of her, and you don’t know where she was born. Now by taking the AncestryDNA test you may finally discover that piece of your story. This is the power unlocked by New Ancestor Discoveries as we push technology and DNA science to the next level.

That is quite a claim, and one many quickly asserted was too good to be true. I completely agree. Sharing DNA is certainly an indication of a common ancestor– revealing whom that ancestor was is another matter. It is far too easy for a whole group of people to follow the same (wrong) tree. Ancestry’s software will then possibly match the shared DNA segment with the ancestor the group members incorrectly have in common.

Ancestry.com also doesn’t give us the proper tools to analyze the data ourselves, namely a chromosome browser. DNA research is tough enough as it is. I’ve tested at all three major autosomal testing companies and it is very rare when I can identify a common ancestor from my thousands of matches. I can see Ancestry’s motivation for not providing a chromosome browser and respect their drive to keep DNA research simple. But simple, DNA is not.

Today, Ancestry provided a bit of clarification surrounding the new feature and you could even say backpedaled a bit. The blog post does a good job discussing the limitations of the predictions as well as new information surrounding how they calculate confidence. The same clarifying information should also be presented alongside the DNA results rather than such optimistic marketing lingo as “it is now possible to simply take the AncestryDNA test and see the name of an ancestor from your family’s past appear in your DNA results”.

I can’t personally evaluate the accuracy of their results because not only do I not have any ‘New Ancestor Discoveries’, I don’t have any DNA Circles either.

Tim Flight

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I'm a web application developer, generally working with PHP and MySQL. I'm also a genealogist with primary research expertise in New England, the Maritimes of Canada, and Sweden. And I'm a former National Champion snowboarder. Formerly I was a full-time professional blogger.

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