Posted by Anna Swayne on November 19, 2014 in AncestryDNA, Website

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We’re excited to tell you about some major improvements we’ve made to help you find your possible relatives with AncestryDNA.

AncestryDNA scientists have innovated new and better ways to identify family relationships by comparing DNA between AncestryDNA members. Now, AncestryDNA is almost 70x more likely to find distant relatives, and all existing AncestryDNA members will see improved results.

What this means for you:

  • More accurate — Each of your DNA matches will be more accurate and is more likely to be related to you. You can feel confident that you share a recent ancestor (up to 5–10 generations).
  • Less is more — Because DNA matching is more accurate, some people who you matched before will no longer be on your list. So you’ll see fewer matches, but each of the ones you have will be more likely to result in a new family discovery.
  • This innovative way of DNA matching lays a foundation for new DNA features.
  • Best part — you don’t need to provide a new sample. We simply compare your DNA results again to everyone in the database using our new matching algorithms and give you an improved, higher-confidence list of DNA matches.
  • Check out your matches and see more detail around the confidence levels for each match.

Here are a few of the ways we were able to improve DNA matching:

Separating What Makes Us Human from What Makes Us Related

Now that AncestryDNA has more than 500,000 DNA samples, the science team has been able to identify patterns in DNA matches that only become apparent with a unique data set like this. One of those patterns is something people call “pile-ups” for lack of a better term. The basic description of a “pile-up” is an area in DNA where there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people sharing the same genetic code. Ken Chahine describes this in a recent blog post where he says, “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…”

This tends to happen when people share an ethnicity or traits, but not a recent common ancestor. These kind of matches won’t appear in your results anymore because they aren’t relevant to family history research.

Phasing

AncestryDNA not only uses sophisticated mathematical models to identify DNA matches, we are also one of the few autosomal DNA tests to apply a technology called “phasing” in order to better identify the strands of DNA you inherited from each of your parents. While this can’t necessarily separate your matches by which side of the family they come from, it does improve the ability to find possible relatives who share DNA by keeping the strands of DNA you inherited from each of your parents intact.

Validation

The AncestryDNA science team continues to validate the new matching algorithms and techniques and evolve the technology to help AncestryDNA customers make new and exciting  discoveries.

We’ve shared lots more details on how DNA matching at AncestryDNA works. Check out our white paper for the full details. To view the white paper, go to your DNA homepage, click View all DNA matches, and then click the help question mark in the upper-right corner. That will give you access to all the help content for matching and the white paper.

 

Anna Swayne

Anna Swayne has 9 years of experience in the DNA genealogy world. At Ancestry, she leads efforts in developing education to help our community maximize their experience with AncestryDNA. She believes there is real power behind DNA and the story it can unlock for each of us. When she is not talking DNA you can find her hiking or cycling in the mountains or cooking at home.

46 Comments

  1. Thanks for the update and for providing better DNA matches – I’m off to check it out! I have a few “cousins” that I want to reach out to and more accurate results and the new DNA Circles feature will make it easier!

  2. TMH

    Lets talk about the circles. It looks like your DNA Matches who have a common ancestor will show together in a circle. The circles I would like to see are if I have multiple DNA matches all with a common ancestor in their tree that I do not have in mine. That may indicate that this is the common ancestor. How can I glean this data from the circles?

  3. Anna Swayne

    @TMH I like the way you are thinking. One step at a time. @scfline you can download your old DNA matches from the settings button for each test-similar to the raw data download process.

  4. kk

    Hmm. I have a public tree, 6 DNA kits including a parent and sibling, thousands on my tree, and many generations. “Currently you aren’t in any DNA circles.” My question is, why not?

  5. Jade

    @Anna – that was not an answer to TMH’s question. If you do not know the answer, why not tell him where exactly to find it?

  6. On another blog, Blaine Bettinger made some comments on this topic.

    Blaine, you said: “However, automatically complaining about the loss of a match because you’ve “proven” a common ancestor and you have shared DNA is NOT a valid complaint without considerable additional evidence.”

    AncestryDNA says on these new changes: “Less is More”

    George Jones says to AncestryDNA’s Tim Sullivan: “Hogwash” … “LESS is WAY TOO MUCH LESS”. AncestryDNA did not do any or sufficient customer facing Beta Tests and these PhD inspired changes show it. With a Beta Test of 100 or 500 Customers, AncestryDNA would have easily found out IT’S NOT A BRILLIANT IDEA TO ELIMINATE A CUSTOMER’s STARRED RELATIVES … BUT THEY DID IT ANYWAY! This is analogous to Apple coming out with a IOS software update and erasing all your FAVORITES in the Phonebook.

    So, YES! Blaine, I am complaining about the loss of my “GOOD” “STARRED MATCHES” Who in the heck is AncestryDNA or Tim Sullivan to say othervise. He deserves to lose his job over this. I recommend customers switch from AncestryDNA to FTDNA.

    Blaine, you can try to say this Pig is a Silk Purse but others know that AncestryDNA is not worth the money or the headaches any more.

  7. rs7495174

    @Jade. I think that’s about the best answer you can expect at this point because TMH’s question does a great job in pointing out what DNA Circles is NOT.

    What DNA Circles is, from my perspective, is an interface redesign. All of those people in the circle who DNA match a common ancestor — I could have found them before by applying a surname filter in search. This admittedly does make it better/easier and it also adds in people with trees who tie into the circle, but if your tree does not reflect that knowledge already, it is of zero assistance. Zero.

    What DNA Circles is NOT is what TMH suggested: Something to show you how you *seem* to be related to this group of people who *seem* to all be descended from this person according to their trees. A person who is not on your tree. Very speculative, and perhaps a bit dangerous to those who aren’t too demanding of the evidence, but actually suggesting new information rather than telling me I’m a DNA match with someone who I could have already looked before to see if they were a paper match.

    But this makes sense, if you consider that, if AncestryDNA really did say something like “We suspect you might be related to this DNA Circle, even though your paper trail doesn’t show it,” the next natural, reasonable questions would be “How? What’s the common link? What are you seeing that we’re not?”

    But they won’t respond to that question because the answer would be a segment visible in a chromosome browser. Enjoy the wait on getting something actually relevant like that. Unless when she said “one step at a time” she was actually referring to AncestryDNA catching up to its competitors at some point in the future.

  8. John

    To me, Gen Circles are like a DNA Homepage for each of my ancestors. A homepage that shows a list of my ancestor’s descendants who have taken the DNA test. Each descendant in that list matches at east one other member in that list and has that ancestor listed in their public tree. I may not DNA match everyone in that list and therefore a surname search of my matches would not find everyone. By the way Anna, you’re doing a great job! I look forward to reading your entries in ancestry’s blog.

  9. bgj107

    I lost a huge amount of work when you made the DNA “better”. I even lost some of my matches with hints. How can that be better?

  10. Kim

    I don’t see any improvement. All I see is that a ton of potential matches have been dropped from my database of DNA matches. Those potential matches are needed for the serious researcher, especially the further back you need to research. When I try to figure out an ancestry line from the 1600s or 1700s, I need the lower potential matches.

    In searching one surname, I went from finding 32 trees with the surname to now, under your new way, finding only 6 trees. Under the old way, I knew which matches should “get more weight” as you ranked the match potential. I didn’t need for you to eliminate all the lower potentials. I am angry with Ancestry for doing this after I’ve invested so much time into this research. I agree with George Jones that “Less” is not an improvement. You’ve only taken away! All the data I was collecting on certain ancestors is gone. My hard work has literally vanished away. Ancestry.com, this was not nice!

    If you want to downsize my list of matches, drop the “no family tree” matches until they create a tree and give me back my “distant” matches!

  11. Raymond Nolan Scott

    I hate the changes!

    I lost matches that are 10 cM and longer, and I know they are IBD matches because they match me and a full Acadian woman in the same locations. triangulation

    A lot of people with Acadian ancestry are related to each other,sharing 17th Century ancestors. Of course, there are going to be a lot of people matching each other in the same location. Those aren’t necessarily pileups.

    I am upset with losing paternal matches. They are people that are white and can give clues to my African American father’s paternal white ancestors. Many of these have Acadian family lines that fit with my father’s Louisianian roots.

    I am waiting for my paternal Aunt Carrie’s results.

    She’s going to be missing out on matches that might help me out like the matches through the Acadian ancestry.

    Because of these new algorithms, I am afraid that I am going to be missing out on other IBD matches that you mistakenly identify as false positives because of some pile-up.

    Thank you very much for your “Improved DNA Matching” , ancestry.com!

    Another thing

    How am I going to figure out my African American father’s white DNA matches without a chromosome browser? I haven’t uncovered a single paternal white ancestor yet. I really would like to find who my Acadian ancestors were.

  12. Tanya

    It doesn’t work. I believe Ancestry is trying to save space by deleting possible matches past 4th great grandparents. I matched over 40 trees by researching relatives higher up on their tree that matched mine. All lost if I didn’t save to my tree. If they want to save space delete the Private trees that don’t do rest of us any good and the no family trees.
    You can download a CSV “for a limited time” and get the owner name and some of the notes I put on mine.

  13. Tanya

    To download a CSV, Go to settings beside your name and click on “Download 1v matches”. It warns “Available for a limited time” I got a spreadsheet but it only has the tree owner not the tree name or who matches and it shows some of your note.
    Good luck

  14. Kim

    I am not having any luck downloading the old match information. Once ancestry says it’s done downloading, I can’t find it in my download file on my computer. I may need to call ancestry for help not this one.

  15. Irene

    After seeing Tanya’s and Kim’s comments, I decided to try to download my old match information. I was able to and it was in my “download” folder. And I also want to comment that I, too, am sick and tired of “Private Trees.” I am not chasing people that have more than likely stolen the information I have worked hard to find and added to my tree, and they in turn add it to their tree. And I say “stolen” simply because they won’t publicly share their information. On an almost daily basis, I get a notification that someone has saved something from my tree, and when I click on their name………guess what…….their tree is private. What is the mentality of that?

  16. Raymond Nolan Scott

    I think AncestryDNA people need to read up on Acadian genetics.
    They have to consider the strong intermarriage (including cousin marriages) between Acadians and their genetic bottleneck that happened as the result of the Acadian Expulsion.
    This would make it hard for them to dismiss DNA cousin matches as meaningless pile-ups which lead to being read as false negatives which result in missing out on cousins that could help them understand their ancestral roots. This is my concern as a person who has Acadian roots on both parents’ side but have yet to know who my Acadian ancestors were.

  17. Raymond Nolan Scott

    A lot of African Americans are finding that they lost a lot of white matches and left with a vast majority of African American matches , and that some of those were segment lengths as long as 34 cM.

    My mother is mostly European (over 80 percent), and so I still have mostly white matches.

    I have lost white matches and European segment matches on my African American father’s side.

    At least 3 are Acadian segment matches, and I know this from looking at them matching both me and a full Acadian woman on my paternal side of the chromosomes. One is a match to me at both 23andme and FamilyTreeDNA and shares 13 cM segment with me. Her mother was Cajun.

    My father was born and raised in Louisiana, and his Louisianian roots are known to go back to the mid 1800s.

  18. Cindy Thomas

    I agree with so many of the comments above. I worked hours and hours on the matches I and other family members had. I starred many for future research and now it’s all gone. Is there any way this can be restored for us? I think it was very short sighted for the person who made this decision to elimnate all our matches without giving people an opportunity to make some type of adjustment or record of those they were interested in keeping for future research! I am very very disappointed in what you have done from a resesarch standpoint as welll as from the standpoint of all my wasted time and effort–which was conisderable!

  19. ECD

    I don’t understand how I had 9 hint matches for a particular family in my tree and now there are only 5. Seems like something of value was lost.

  20. prp

    Isn’t the graphic wrong at the top of this page? Aren’t those folks second cousins? Hard to tell, but third cousins is wrong.

  21. Joy

    This “upgrade” is terrible! I have lost 90% of my matches, and of the remaining connections very few have a public tree. So far I have not found one family connection, and have no “circles”. I lost 5 pages of starred matches who all were related to the same Scottish noble family that I have researched for years. How dare they remove all my hard work! I am furious! Ancestry.com has lost my faith in their business and I will not renew my subscription. This was a huge mistake and I hope the company gets what they deserve for this disservice to their customers… They lost all credibility as far as I’m concerned.

  22. Terresa

    I am terribly upset with the DNA improvements that I cancelled my subscription to you. I lost legitimate matches that were DNA connected and having a common ancestor, and I now have 56 pages of matches with no trees or private trees and no common link. I lost starred matches that you put in the 4-6 cousin range and GEDmatch put our MRCA at 4.3, which these were AA and I lost all my AA matches. I will do my future DNA testing at FTdna and will no longer recommend you to anyone.

  23. Mildrilyn

    I am extremely disappointed with the recent DNA changes. I am African American. Prior to the changes, I had numerous DNA matches (many with Ancestry hints) connecting me to the families of two slaveholder ancestors for whom I previously had no evidence to support the family lore. I am now down to one match for each of those families. It makes no sense to me that you would remove starred matches with an obvious common ancestor. Please bring back the more distant matches. You have eliminated many legitimate matches that are extremely helpful in sorting out our distant ancestry. I also support the numerous member requests for a chromosome browser.

  24. jeani321

    Kim – Nov 20
    I couldn’t agree with you more! I am also interested in knowing my ancestry as far back as possible! and I have found so much pertinent/valuable information in doing my research, going back to the year 950. What right does Ancestry have to eliminate our research/information; especially, since we paid dearly for the privilege of finding our own ancestral history! I have just cancelled my subscription today; not only for this reason; but, because I attempted to download/install their newest ‘upgrade’ and have lost my Family Tree Maker tree! When I attempt to re-download it form the confirmation received in sep 2013, I am informed that I already have the tree on my computer and the supplier does not recognize the serial number I have used in the past! when I try to open said tree, I get nothing but a blank page! Have had it with Ancestry. Have also had my DNA tested with 23andMe, and will continue using that option. Ancestry will have to assure me that they have fixed these issues before I will pay good money to use their ‘services’? again.

  25. jeani321

    Tanya Nov 20: Yes, I totally agree. I do not reply to the trees that are private; nor, do I share my tree with those who just joined Ancestry with maybe 5 – 10 people in it, and expect me to ‘share’ all my hard work and research from over the last nine (9) years with them. That won’t happen, not at $44.95/month.

  26. jeani321

    Teresa, Nov 22 – I have also cancelled my subscription today with Ancestry. I also have Family Tree and a few others that I can use. I am so thankful that I had printed out most of my research with Ancestry.

  27. jeani321

    Joy – Nov 22 – Exactly. and I have sent them a message explaining my total dissatisfaction with them. Also, have cancelled my subscription. This is the 2nd time I have cancelled – I did so about one year ago, when installing another one of their so-called ‘upgrades’, had to speak with a support person. When she ran me through the instructions on how to download/install/open and use said upgrade. I nearly lost it! I had done all the steps as she described in the correct order. Since then, I have had no complaints, except for the periodic freeze up and when my trees won’t ‘sync up’. Nothing major, until today.

  28. Ann

    To add to the comments about the “No Family Tree Attached” or “Private/Locked Trees”, what about those trees who have only 3 people? I did a test: out of the first 500 matches (about the first 10 pages), here are the stats: I can only look at 26% of 500 matches! The other 74% have a locked tree, no tree attached or hardly any people to even determine where the match is! I believe these folks are not interested in connecting or expanding knowledge or research on their families with other cousins. Solutions? Let them have their ethnicity stats, but keep them off the grid to make room for the trees that show their research and have enough folks listed that will provide a connection. To find a match for a cousin in the 5-8 cousin range, over 1,000 people are needed and need to go back no less than 6-8 generations to get to the common ancestor! I’m convinced my matches that fall in the 74% group above really are not interested in doing the work or connecting; I wish I could move them to “my Shoebox” and make more room for those matches who are real genealogists and interested in connecting! Also, the recent changes in the DNA test results have been devastating to my research; my complaints go unheard; I lost many good matches because of this new approach.

  29. William D Romanski

    It is unfortunate that people don’t understand how this works. I too lost starred matches, and hinted matches. Good riddance! Even though we (those matches and I) might have common ancestors, we can’t prove it genetically! Since that is what we are using this service to try to do, whether one puts a star or hint next to their names, they aren’t really matches!

  30. susan

    I don’t know yet how much I have lost. I have been spending time on my circles, and haven’t checked. I may be greatly disappointed. So far, I have enjoyed playing with my circles. Now when do we get chromosone numbers, segment length, cMs and SNPs? I know you have them. Please give them to us.

  31. JE

    I’m very disappointed in this change. I have lost VITAL connections that helped solved a family mystery for years. So very sad I have lost these connections, and it was connects where we shared a direct ancestor on our tree, and more that just one was lost, it very quite a few.

  32. ElaineV

    I am very disappointed in the new fewer “not better” dna matching. Even though there were more to go through before, the further back matches were very valuable in the search for missing links. Many valuable matches are gone now. WHY????

  33. Suzanne S

    I am more than disappointed that I lost so many of my DNA matches with common ancestors. I am furious. I have 9 family members that I administer DNA results for and I just ordered 4 more kits. I have just begun to determine the damage you have done to my research. So many of my common ancestor hints have just vanished as well as matches of others where I found a common ancestor on my own. According to the man I spoke with at Ancestry, they are only giving you matches that go back 5 generations, regardless of whether the ones further back show a common ancestor or not. I think Ancestry now only wants to cater to new business. The heck with those of us that have been with them for 15 years and are much further along in their research. Some of us can actually trace our ancestry back to the 1600’s here in America and are looking for others that are DNA matches that share those same ancestors so we can add their information to our tree. Well forget about that now. Five generations only go back to the early 1800’s in my family. I have branches that go back 9 or 10 generations. How can I get those matches from now on? I can’t according to the Ancestry rep. They are lost to me forever. He actually said that Ancestry can’t cater to what I want when the new method is much better for most people. I think it is not better for most people and maybe if more people complained they would find a way so that the subscriber could have an option. I would opt for all matches, no matter how low the confidence level….Some of my common ancestor matches were very low confidence levels. The “old” DNA matches are still there, right above the place where you can download your raw DNA data. We should have the option of at least having those included in our results, even if we can’t get low confidence results in the future.

  34. Conley

    I have a question regarding the presence of “African” or black links in AncestryDNA against “Caucasian” folks. Per Wikipedia, and perhaps this is a bit general, the definition of African-American is, ” is an ethnic group of citizens or residents of the United States with total or partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa.” My question is, at what point of evolution does trace African DNA origins cease to exist in Caucasians or Caucasoids?

  35. Jane Beach Soder

    Do DNA circles include matches to family trees that are “private”? Some of my closest DNA connections are with people with private family trees. All of them have given me access to their family trees, or given me information about how we are connected. I seem to have lost them now, however.

  36. John A.

    Thank you for this blog introducing these changes. The white paper for Ethnicity has a ‘download’ option to save a *.pdf — could you add this to the Nov 18 2014 whitepaper on matching? There is a lot to read here. Thanks!

  37. RD

    If RD doesn’t know who his father is how does he find a common paternal link among 136 matches many of whom don’t match his maternal line?

  38. Verna

    If I do the DNA test, will I see hints that will suggest matches that are not in my tree? I have many brick walls and have several Theoretical families for each that i’m trying to see if I can connect to any of these. can DNA testing show me hints to connect to people who are not yet direct ancestors? for example my Pyle family, I know I likely decend from one of three Pyle brothers who came to america at about the same time. is there a way to tell which brother I might decent from? and if so is there a way to tell which of that Pyles sons would be the best place to concentrate my research to find my ancestor? If I can’t apply DNA tests in such a manner, then I’m not seeing much value in DNA testing. is there anyway to apply the DNA results to persons I’m fairly sure I should connect to but can’t find how. if someone else is a ancestryDNA member and is a proven decendant of a person i’m fairly certain is my ancestor is there a way to tell if I am a cousin with that AncestryDNA member? this to me is the most logical use of DNA testing and about the only way I would be interested in spending the money for one.

    • Kristie Wells

      Hi Gilbert, we do not have any news to share at the moment, but will keep you posted if that changes!

  39. joan pontius

    how do i download all my *new* matches? I have a DNA match with someone but we don’t know how we’re related. If we could compare matches, we might figure out a third person we match and learn how we’re related. But my matches are spread out on 24 separate pages, so for me to do this, I’d need to download each page separately, and so would the other user.

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