Ancestry Blog » AncestryDNA The official blog of Ancestry Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:08:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A 126-Year Mystery Solved with DNA: Who was Jack the Ripper? Tue, 07 Oct 2014 19:09:20 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> JacktheRipper1888

Picture complements of Wikipedia. “With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888 (unknown illustrator).

Who Was Jack the Ripper?

We’re kicking off October with a murder mystery that has recently been covered in the news. A claim that DNA evidence points to a suspect in a 126-year old cold case from England is behind the recent discussions. DNA found on a shawl that was left on one of the victims of Jack the Ripper has been lifted and tested, and points to the identity of the killer.

Aaron Kosminski was a Jewish, Polish-born immigrant.  Kosminski was one of six major suspects in the case. The Finnish molecular biologist who did the DNA testing claims that there is a perfect match between the DNA lifted from the shawl and a descendant of the sister of Kosminski. The crimes were committed in 1888 and the shawl has been passed down in a family from generation to generation, before being placed in a museum, and ultimately put up for auction in 2007. That is when the journey began for English detective Edwards Russell who began researching the case.

Advancements in DNA Testing

Technology continues to advance the field of DNA testing. Unfortunately, contamination of the shawl and the lack of details in the DNA testing process, as well as a lack of peer-reviewed or published data, casts doubt on the verdict of Jack the Ripper’s identity. However, it raises a few good questions: Could we solve this mystery with DNA? What would it take?

It is very possible.

DNA has been used in the past to answer historical questions when records weren’t available to researchers. In cases where there has been lack of evidence, DNA has stepped in to provide evidence and help prove a theory. One thing to keep in mind is that the case of Jack the Ripper isn’t closed, but new evidence has stirred the pot.

If it was possible to test descendants of the other suspects and the victim, a close shared DNA relationship between any of them could be ruled out, adding supporting evidence. To even go deeper, the DNA of the family members who had the shawl in their possession should be tested, eliminating the possibility that their DNA contaminated the evidence. For now though, there is still some lingering doubt as to who Jack the Ripper really was.

Solving Mysteries

Do you have unsolved mysteries in your own family history?

DNA can help. The important thing in any case is getting the right people tested. Start with yourself. Gender doesn’t matter. Both males and females can take this test, so you can discover something out about yourself. Keep in mind, you don’t carry all of the DNA that has come before you, so it’s important to get others in your family tested too. DNA can help, but it may take some time to find the answers you are looking for.


*This article was about how an unsolved mystery is using modern technology to solve a historical case. AncestryDNA doesn’t test the DNA of a deceased person or match your DNA to that of a deceased person.  AncestryDNA or did not participate in any of the research. Our role is simply to share industry news.



]]> 1 Between The Leaves: It’s in our DNA Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:48:24 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> In this episode, professional genealogists Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Crista Cowan, and Juliana Szucs Smith were joined by AncestryDNA product manager, Anna Swayne who shared how DNA testing can provide break through’s in your family history research.

We also learned Crista’s mom has 48 pages of possible cousin matches, wow! We hope you’ll be able to use some of the tips and strategies shared on how to best manage all your DNA matches.

See the full episode of Between the Leaves here:

Our Between the Leaves Google+ Hangouts are an informal and, hopefully, educational conversation where our professional genealogists share their methods, stories and passion for family history research. To see all our Between the Leaves episodes visit our playlist on YouTube here.

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Get It on Paper: Printing Your Ethnicity Estimate Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:10:00 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> You spoke and we are listening. You can now print your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate! This has been a highly-requested feature and gives you one more way that you can share your results with your family. This could be handy especially during the upcoming holiday season when you’ll be seeing a lot of your family members.

How to Print Your AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate

Sign into  your account and click on the DNA tab at the top of the page. Select “See full Ethnicity Estimate” (shown below).

dna homepage

Click the print icon on the right hand side of the page (see red box below).



From here you have two options to print:

First option is a print_options1summary chart of all regions that is 1-2 pages







print_options_all regions1



Second option is a more detailed report of your ethnicity regions-pages with vary depending on many ethnicity regions you have.

When you choose the second option, the system will estimate how many pages you would be printing before you click print. You can see from my example, my more detailed report will be 21 pages to print.

Click “Print” and you will be taken to your printer’s features from there.

Remember that your ethnicity estimate may change with future updates. To learn more about how your ethnicity results are calculated, check out “The Faces Behind AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Regions.”

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It’s a Small World: Discovering a 5th Cousin at FGS 2014 Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:31:48 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Recently at the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in San Antonio, Texas, I was giving a presentation on how best leverage AncestryDNA to break down brick walls within your research. I showed the audience my 5th Cousin_w/Anna Swaynelist of DNA matches and the best strategies to tackling them one by one. After the class a man approached me and said, “I am your cousin.”

Don’t hear those words every day. He saw himself in my list of matches! Wow, in a room of 300 people from across the country – what are the chances I had a cousin sitting in the audience? He lives in New York, I live in Utah, and we meet for the first time in Texas. We quickly figured out how we were related (we both have public trees linked to our DNA results online). We committed to each other to stay connected. After all, we share ancestors and some DNA – what more reason do you need to stay connected?

Glad that Scott, my DNA cousin, introduced himself and we became fast friends. Who will you connect with? Making a DNA connection isn’t lucky, it’s likely. Click here to make a connection of your own.

Next week, I’ll share more in-depth about this connection and how it can happen for you.


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This Grandparents Day, Honor Your Grandparents by Preserving Their Legacy Wed, 03 Sep 2014 13:47:56 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> looking at results

Emily and her grandmother

Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 7th. It’s a great time to stop and remember a story or two about them or, if they are still around, take the opportunity to see them. One of my favorite times before my grandfather passed away was listening to him tell stories about his childhood. If you are the grandparent, don’t wait around for your grandchildren to ask questions — write the stories down now. Chances are they will be interested later in life and what better way to remember you than by your first-hand accounts? I am lucky because my grandmother wrote a little book and it’s even more meaningful to me as an adult. The one thing I wish was around before my grandparents passed was DNA testing. If you have older members in your family, get them tested to help preserve your family legacy.

Emily and her grandmother took the AncestryDNA test her during Christmas break last year and planned to review the results during her summer visit. She was surprised to find out that she had quite a few different ethnicity regions and wasn’t 100% European. Emily discovered that one of her grandmother’s matches actually lived close by. That started a conversation about her grandmother’s childhood and how they were related to the long-lost ancestor.  Her test not only preserved her DNA but created the opportunity to make new discoveries on that side of the family.

On this Grandparents Day, take the time to remember your grandparents. Their stories are part of their legacy and so is their DNA. Preserve it for the generations to come. If you don’t, who will? You might be surprised in what you find out. Start here with AncestryDNA for you or your grandparent.

What are some of your most treasured memories with your grandparent(s)? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below!

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Back to School with AncestryDNA Tue, 26 Aug 2014 19:03:45 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> chalk broad blog

It doesn’t matter what clothes you buy or the school supplies you have for this back to school special, let AncestryDNA take you back to school in DNA testing. If you are just getting started this will help you understand the process. If you have already been tested but haven’t looked at your results in a while, this will help you revisit the results and refresh your mind on the power of DNA.

Below you will see 5 unique lessons/topics of what you need to know about DNA testing. If you are like a few of my classmates and need the cliff’s notes version before you read the actual book, see this blog post to give you a taste of what you can learn below.




Lesson 1: Take the AncestryDNA test

This is the first step, after ordering the kit. The collection of saliva is simple and easy but you need to review the instructions before hand.

In fact did you know how much saliva you actually need to provide? (1 teaspoon)

To review the instructions on how to provide a sample click here.





inheritance you Lesson 2: Genetic Inheritance

While you are waiting for your DNA sample to be processed at the lab, let’s walk you through how you got your DNA and why it’s important.

Click here to learn about genetic inheritance. It’s fun to learn about how unique you are in your family and that DNA that makes you so unique also opens up a world of discoveries to your past.



ethnicity Lesson 3: Ethnicity Estimate 

Now that you understand whom you got your DNA from and why that matters, check out the first part of your DNA results, ethnicity estimate.

Click here to learn how diverse you are.  Perhaps you already have your DNA results and you were a little surprise at the results, click here to read why that could happen.



matchesLesson 4: Matching Process

Ethnicity estimate is only half of your DNA results. Diving into your matches can lead you to unknown discoveries of your own.

Click here to learn a few tips and tricks in exploring your matches.


If you can do the first one I think it’s one of the most important steps. Check it out, we don’t want you to miss any thing.  Reference this post as you revisit your results every so often. As more people get tested, the more matches you could possibly have. The more matches you have, the more DNA hints you can discover.


settingsLesson 5: Settings and Features

The button to the left you can find on the DNA homepage.


This is where you can change the name of a test, change the tree the DNA results are linked to and share your DNA results.

If you purchased the kit for your grandmother and had the results posted to your account and now she wants access to them-you can now share them with her. Click here to get the step-by-step instructions on how to do this.


Now that you have gone through all 5 lessons we congratulate you on going back to school with AncestryDNA!


Extra Credit

Watch this video, Getting started with AncestryDNA, and see Crista Cowan and myself walk through AncestryDNA results and answer questions from a live online audience.


The best advice I can give is, don’t give up. DNA may be a new thing to a lot of you and as you revisit your results often you may find gems along the way. I remember it took a few months before I was able to make a connection on a family line I had been researching.

DNA is another tool to help us make connections, be patient with it and with yourself as you start to discover new things about your past. Remember if you haven’t taken the test you can do so now, click here



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AncestryDNA Goes to DNA Days in DC Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:14:23 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Last weekend we attended the 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference in Washington, DC. Over three days, 500+ people joined together to learn more about DNA testing and how to use it as a tool in your family history research. It was exciting to see so many come out and spend three days focusing entirely on genetic genealogy.

I taught attendees about AncestryDNA and gave tips on how to make the most of AncestryDNA results with the tools we have available online. Julie Granka, PhD, one of our full-time scientists, taught us about matching and the science behind it.


Julie Granka, PhD, Population Geneticist at AncestryDNA

Involvement of the Science Team

Reaching a half-million people in the AncestryDNA database has given our science team a lot of exciting data to look at and carefully analyze. I think it is impressive that we have so many full time PhDs working behind the scenes to improve and make enhancements to AncestryDNA results. This is good for us — we have brilliant minds working hard to make things better for our results.

Let’s quickly review genetic inheritance and how we determine a DNA match, and then we can share Julie’s update. (Jump to Julie’s report now).

Genetic Inheritance

We inherit DNA from our parents (50% from each), and they each inherited DNA from their two parents – and so forth, generation after generation. Looking at the diagram below, you can see that the child inherited random DNA segments from his two parents, 4 grandparents, and 8 great-grandparents. This example demonstrates how one pair of chromosomes can represent the DNA of one’s ancestors.

This inheritance pattern is random and what you get depends on what the previous generation contributed. This is why you and your siblings won’t inherit all the same DNA. But, you’ll inherit some of the same DNA – and that shared DNA is what enables us to find out whether you’re related to someone with DNA matching.

inheritance 50_50

Determining a DNA Match

You share DNA with another individual if the two of you both inherited the same DNA from your common ancestor. Your relationship determines how much DNA you share with another individual. (See the diagram below for an example.) The closer the relationship and the more recent your common ancestor, the more DNA you share. The more distant the relationship is, the less DNA you will share.



We test 700,000 markers across your genome and compare you to every single person who has taken a test in the database and see how much DNA you seem to share with each of them.  Based on how much you share with another individual, we can then estimate if you are 4th or 5th cousins, or maybe you share more DNA and you are possible 2nd cousins.  Maybe you don’t share any DNA and you might not be related at all.

That is the power of DNA — it can confirm relationships you already know about, put you in touch with relatives you never knew you had, or give you new unexpected results! DNA matching really is a great tool in helping us make meaningful connections to discover more about our personal stories. AncestryDNA can help. There is a story inside each of us, waiting to be unlocked.

But the matching process doesn’t end here. Read Julie’s blog post for more insight into how the science team determines whether you and someone else share DNA, and what the science team has discovered by studying the large database of AncestryDNA matches.

We look forward to sharing more of our findings in the future and hope to see you at another event soon. Don’t be shy, come say hello!

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AncestryDNA Delivers Up A Few Ethnicity Surprises Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:42:03 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Didn’t know you had Spanish in your family? If your AncestryDNA results delivered up a few ethnicity regions you weren’t expecting, it’s alright. It happens. This portion of your DNA results can provide you insight into where in the world your ancestors came from 500-1000+ years ago. DNA is helping connect the dots.

How is the Ethnicity Estimate Determined?

Your DNA is compared to one of our 26 global regions to see how similar you are to each region. Depending on how much DNA you have in common with each region we will predict an estimate. You may have a random combination of Eastern European, Great Britain, Italian, Greek, Scandinavian and Iberian Peninsula and you might be wondering how that is possible if you only know of ancestors from Poland, Ireland and Italy. Remember, these results can go back 500+ years and is just an estimate is based on current research today and may change or update depending of further population genetic research.


What It Means to Have Scandinavian Ethnicity

If you have Scandinavian ethnicity (or any other group) it means that you had ancestors living or mixing with people from these regions 500+ years ago. The ethnicity portion of these results most often goes beyond the paper trial. Like in the previous example, how do you have so many groups represented if you only know that your ancestors were from Poland, Ireland and Italy? Because these results can go beyond the paper trail, perhaps we can say my Irish ancestry that dead ends in the 1800s really came from Great Britain and or Scandinavia. Using the ethnicity results with our paper records to build out a tree helps us to navigate where we have come from and understand better our own personal migration.

Your DNA Results Show a Piece of Your Unique History

Your ethnicity results are unique to you. It is a record of what you inherited randomly from your two parents. Your siblings’ DNA results may look at little different; for example, your brother didn’t inherit the exact same DNA from your parents that you did. Your ethnicity results may not include all regions your brother has. My sisters have one ethnicity group more than I do (West Europe). I didn’t inherit any of that DNA that would give me that group. In the matching portion of the results where it shows relationship, we show as immediate family but her ethnicity results are slightly different because of the DNA she inherited that I didn’t from our two same parents.

DNA has the power to help us change the way we look at ourselves as we discover how unique we really are and understand more about our personal history. Thanks for being a part of the AncestryDNA legacy.

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AncestryDNA: You Can Now Share Your DNA Results Wed, 06 Aug 2014 22:41:39 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> You share DNA with your family and now you can SHARE your DNA results with them, thanks to the newest AncestryDNA feature. I bought a kit for my sister a few months ago, had her take the test, and I activated the test on my account. She has been interested in seeing those results and now I can easily share them with her. I can send her an invitation via the site so she can not only see the ethnicity portion, but also the matches to her own results.

This new feature works similar to the tree share feature. You can invite an individual by email or their username. The invitation is a request to access the DNA results with a level of sharing: guest, editor, or administrator (admin). Although there can only be one admin for each test, you can be an admin for many tests. (Note: Admins can delete tests and once you delete a test you cannot get the results back.)

You can find the list of roles for sharing your DNA results and what each one means by visiting the DNA tab and click on “Settings.” Scroll down to the section “Sharing DNA results” and click “Invite others to access DNA results.”

sharing your dna results

Here is where you can see who you have invited to share, what level of sharing and resend invitations that haven’t been accepted.


We wish you the best, and if you want to see the step-by-step on how to use this feature, Sharing my AncestryDNA results, click here.

This is a feature that was requested by many of our users. We appreciate your feedback and patience as we continue to improve the AncestryDNA experience for you. Learn more about AncestryDNA and what it can do for you, click here.

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AncestryDNA Matching Update Impacts Jewish Ancestry Fri, 01 Aug 2014 17:05:27 +0000 Ken Chahine Read more]]> AncestryDNA customers with significant Jewish ancestry have witnessed the challenges that we and other genetic genealogy testing companies have faced when predicting genetic relatives. Most Jewish customers find that we predict them to be related to nearly every other Jewish customer in the database! So while we all know that the cousin matches for Jewish and some Hispanic customers were over-estimates, detecting which cousin matches were real and which ones were bogus has always been a challenge for these populations.

The AncestryDNA science team has been unsatisfied with the cousin matches we have delivered to many of our customers and as part of our continued commitment to bring innovative genomics to you, we are pleased and proud to tell you that we have found the first solution to the “overmatching” experienced by Jewish, Hispanic and other customers.


When you take a step back, matching isn’t as simple as it might first appear.  After all, we are all 99% identical. In other words, determining which parts of our genome make us “human” and which make us “recent cousins” is tricky and at the heart of the cousin matching issues for customers of Jewish and Hispanic ancestry.

In DNA matching, we are looking for pieces of DNA that appear identical between individuals. But there are a couple of reasons why it could be identical. For genealogy research we’re interested in DNA that’s identical because we’re both descended from a recent common ancestor. We call this identical by descent (IBD).  This is what helps us to make new discoveries in finding new relatives, new ancestors, and collaborating on our research. However, we also find pieces of DNA that are identical for another reason.  At one extreme we find pieces of DNA that are identical because it is essential for human survival.  At the other, we find pieces of DNA that are identical because two people are of the same ethnicity. We call these segments identical by state (IBS) because the piece of DNA is identical for a reason other than a recent common ancestor. This, we have found, often happens in individuals of Jewish descent. Given the historically small population size of the Jewish community, two Jewish individuals might have a lot of DNA that looks to be identical.  But that identical DNA might only be because of their shared ethnic history – in other words, identical by state, not identical by descent.

The challenge in DNA matching is to tease apart which segments are IBD, and which ones are IBS.  How did we do it?  By studying patterns of matches across our more than half a million AncestryDNA customers, we found that in certain places of the genome, thousands of people were being estimated to share DNA with one another.  This isn’t a hallmark of thousands of people actually being closely related to one another.  Instead, it’s likely a hallmark of a common ethnicity.  Our scientific advancements using such insights from more than half a million people have allowed us to effectively “pan for gold” in our matches – by throwing out matches that appear to only be IBS, and keeping those that are IBD.

What does this mean for you? 

While the problem was more pronounced in customers of Jewish and some Hispanic descents, we observed this problem across all ethnic groups.  So, all customers will see increased accuracy of their DNA matches, and significantly fewer “false” matches.

Eager to see your new set of DNA matches?  It will be available in the coming months, and we’re planning to email our existing AncestryDNA customers when the new matching results are ready with more information about what to expect and what it means for your research. So when the time comes, we’re excited to hear about the new family history discoveries you’ve made or distant cousins you connected with through the advancements of our updated matching service. I’m expecting a lot of great stories will surface, and we can’t wait to hear yours.


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