AncestryDNA and the Comforting Feeling of Being Comforted Comfortably

DNA testing is one of those things you set in motion and then wait for. Time marches on while you’re waiting. I decided to take some personal time away from autosomal DNA for a while, right about the time I also decided to jump in to AncestryDNA with tests for myself and my wife. I thought it would be fun and give us some minimal information on how related my wife and I are (our Sutherland families cross in some family trees). That kind of information is good for my sons. I share about 10cM of fully identical DNA because my dad’s mom and my mom are related a few different times in history. I wanted to see if I was passing something similar on to my sons.

Ancestry DNA testing and I go way back. My Y testing was done through who used SMGF as their lab. I struggled with a lack of matches, or better put, with a lack of meaningful matches. Many of my matches ended up being the core of my haplogroup years later, but it really did take years and switching companies and you can see that struggle here.

At every turn along the way I was reminded that I tested with a company that A. was not interested in DNA outside of a sales gimmick and B. was not interested in going any further than the last ice age as far as analysis. In some ways they were far ahead of family tree dna, but it became clear that Y DNA progress was not on their to do list. Eventually they dropped their Y DNA support entirely.

Now you can imagine with those experiences under my belt that I was not first in line to buy an AncestryDNA test. I held off from buying one for my own research even after recommending them to others and after purchasing one for my aunt. What would I do with one? My experince with my aunt’s results were that they are completely opaque, they don’t show you where someone matches. For someone with one unknown parent that is critical information.  The search is horrible (I can search for a name get no results and then go right to one of the trees of a relative and find it). The shared matches list seems to be broken (Gedmatch comparisons show that). They basically require a subscription to get any of the information (like the summary list of relatives in a match’s tree). The list of woes goes on and on and any discussion on ISOGG’s facebook feed or in various DNA groups will inevitably cover more than I want to spend time on here. So I can boil down everything to this: Basically, Ancestry is selling another parlor trick.

So Why Mike? WHY??


Look, they dropped the ball on Y. A lot of companies did. It stunk. For a lot of people that is money down the hole and equates to lost research. Booo. Wait though. Have a look in there. They successfully identified 10 or more families that form the core of my haplogroup today. They got it right, in what ever weird board room decision making scheme they use, they actually nailed it years before anyone who tested with FTDNA had figured it out. They just didn’t know they had nailed it! They totally Forrest Gumped into the right answer without having any idea how they did it. They didn’t really know what they were doing, but they knew their audience.

I and hundreds of people like me are their audience. Sure I’m a much more informed shopper now, but most of my relatives aren’t. They are interested in genealogy, they’re a captive audience and chances are, Ancestry already has their credit card info. Purchasing a test is a piece of cake. Tie it to your tree, even before your results come in. Buy multiple tests and tie them to your tree too! Cheap, easy, done.

We’ve tried to explain chromosomes and sides and segment matching til we’re blue in the face. Ancestry doesn’t do that. They won’t even try. They give you shaky leaves and a warm mug of cocoa, which is what 99.99% of people want from genealogy anyway. I want that! They know their audience and they can tap into their audience. The people they want are not DNA enthusiasts who love the science of it, they want my Grandma, who could care less, but knows in her heart of hearts that we’re Irish and now she wants a DNA test to tell her what she already knows.

So there you have it. Ready made access to millions of family trees and a huge customer base who have watched enough “who do you think you are” to want to jump in and see what they see, as long as it’s not too technical. This is DNA comfort food and I find myself liking it.

In the next post, I’ll get into what I’ve been excited by the last few days since the results came in and compare and contrast to my experiences with my aunt and my wife’s results.

~ mike


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