Thursday, April 2, 2015

AncestryDNA Launches New Ancestor Discoveries Feature

AncestryDNA announced the launch of "revolutionary new technology" that powers "New Ancestor Discoveries" today - see the press release here, and the example images here.

There is an "Introducing Ancestry's "New Ancestor Discoveries" at

There are several new features in this launch - the DNA Circles graphic which shows graphically who shares common DNA with others in the DNA Circle, and the link to a combined LifeStory of the common ancestor (if I am an Ancestry subscriber).

One paragraph in the press release stood out to me:

"It is effectively a shortcut through time -- you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don't need to research records or build a family tree -- AncestryDNA now transports you to the past," said Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA. "It's a combination of three things that allowed us to achieve this breakthrough innovation: 1) millions of family trees created by Ancestry members, 2) the fastest growing genetic database in the world, currently with more than 800,000 genotyped members and 3) a dedicated team of scientists who are pushing the boundaries of genetics and statistics to help people make family history discoveries in ways never before possible."

Lookee there - "You don't even need to research records or build a family tree..."  Just take the test, and they'll tell you who you are related to.  Cool.  But...they're probably a long way away from being able to tell me who ALL of my ancestors are.

Rather than just publish the press notice and nod my head and agree it's cool, I decided to look at my own results.

Unfortunately, I had no "New Ancestor Discoveries" when I checked my AncestryDNA page today.

Here is my DNA Circle page for James Richman, one of my 2nd great-grandfathers (two screens below):

The graphic above shows that I share specific DNA segments with two other persons in the DNA database (note I have hidden the administrator's names).

If I click on the green button for "More about James Richman" I can see the Life Story of this person, based on what has been added to James Richman by all of the persons in the DNA Circle (four screens below):

The LifeStory presented shows:

*  A short biography of the person
*  Family members (parents, spouse(s), children
*  Journey map
*  Photo gallery (attached by users)
*  Records (Ancestry records attached to the person)
*  Historical Insights (historical events that Ancestry has created)

For the gallery, records and insights, there is a film strip below the image to see more of each collection.

I think that these are useful.  Some comments:

*  I would be more excited if I had more DNA Circles - right now, I have only two, and they are husband and wife.  I have corresponded with the two cousins in the DNA Circle so I have no real revelations at this time.  Even with my rich New England ancestry, I have only two, and they were born in England.

*  I would be more excited if there was a DNA Circle for a person I don't have in my database - if it had found an unknown ancestor, especially in my Knapp, Newton or Lanphear surnames!  I keep hoping!  Maybe I'll be excited next year, or in five years, who knows!

*  Will AncestryDNA ever be able to tell me, just based on DNA, who all of my ancestors are, at least back 6 or 7 generations, as implied by Ken Chahine's statement?  I think that it has a long way to go.  It probably needs 10 to 20 million AncestryDNA test results.  Ken's statement is another "You don't even have to know what you're looking for" advertising message, which I don't particularly like.

*  The LifeStory feature will be coming to all users in a month or two, it's still in beta testing.  I have used it as a beta tester.

The combined LifeStory short biography for James Richman says:

"James Richman was born on April 8, 1821, in Hilperton, England. He moved 4 times during his lifetime. He lived in Hilperton, England, in 1841 and moved to Putnam, Connecticut, by 1900. He was married on September 7, 1845, in Hilperton, England. At the age of 34, James departed from Liverpool, England, in 1855 and he arrived in New York, on October 4, 1851. He left Liverpool, England, for New York, arriving on October 22, 1855, at the age of 34. He departed from London, England. He departed from Stowlangtoft, England. James died on December 20, 1912, in Putnam, Connecticut, at the impressive age of 91, and was buried there."

Note that he "departed from Liverpool, England in 1855, and arrived in New York on October 4, 1851."  There are also two other departure "facts" and another arrival fact.

These discrepancies occur because Ancestry has combined information from 11 different Ancestry Member Trees in order to create this combined profile.  In addition, there is a duplicate wife (Hannah/Ann) and a duplicate child (Emma), which are from the eleven separate profiles.  There are also duplicate record images (because some were uploaded and some were attached from Ancestry), plus a spurious 1881 English census record that doesn't include James Richman, apparently attached in error by one of the 11 tree owners.

Unfortunately, the short biography cannot be edited because it is derived from eleven different profiles.  I can edit the LifeStory elements when I'm in my Ancestry Member Tree, and those changes should be incorporated into this combined LifeStory.  However, if the other profiles that contribute to the LifeStory don't edit their profile, the discrepancies will remain in the combined profile.

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Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver


Geolover said...

You are quite right to have pointed out the "treebieness" of the "circles." seems fixated on persuading customers that doing ancestral research via trees is a lot more likely to be fact-based than is the case.

Shades of the mercifully deleted "OneWorldTree."

Greta Koehl said...

I got a message from Ancestry today that told me to "click below to see your new ancestor." Unless he is the father of my brick wall great-grandmother (and I don't think he is) - I don't think so.

Jason Lee said...

If this sort of idea is going to work, the people at Ancestry are going to have to learn the essential importance of triangulation.

T said...

I had put off renewing my subscription but now......I don't know if I ever will. Ancestry is determined to let people think they can build their tree on a Saturday afternoon with no research skills necessary and everything they need on ancestry's web site. The trees I've looked at are either abandoned or so wrong I'm impelled to leave comments on them.

As for the story feature. I've tried a few web sites that offer that option. They don't work. I'm writing my stories myself using a time line and documents for every fact. If I am making a guess as to what happened I call it a guess using the information I have. I don't call guesses facts like ancestry does. In the long run, it doesn't cost any more to buy documents than it does to subscribe to ancestry. I will keep my tree there for convenience and cousin bait. If ancestry ever makes it possible to anyone else to edit my tree without my permission it will disappear from that site.

Kay Haden said...
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