My Thoughts on the Changes at Ancestry

Drop down menu from messages icon top right, red arrow added by me

The changes to my messages on Ancestry are more of a problem for me than the upcoming changes to small matches. Most of the major bloggers have weighed in with their opinions about Ancestry removing matches of less than 8 cM to people not starred, grouped, or messaged. So I will list some of those articles at the end of this one. Fortunately the date for this change has been moved from early August to late August.

Personally I do not have a strong opinion about small segments. For my family, those matches are not at all useful, so I pay them no attention. About half of them rate to be false matches anyway, although Ancestry has good algorithms for phasing, making more of them real than elsewhere. However I do understand that small matches can be important to people looking into deeper ancestry. Note that I have never used those very small matches even when solving unknown parentage cases.

The other upcoming changes to segment information like showing the size of the largest segment and using decimals for the centimorgans (cM) instead of rounding to the nearest whole number are clear improvements. [UPDATE 30-Aug-2020: the longest segment is here. Click here for my blog post about it.]

However my messages, carefully filed into 50 folders, have just been converted to the new system months after everyone else’s. One major annoyance is that every message thread was suddenly marked unread, all 64 of them! I had previously read almost all of them (only 4 listed unread on my icon). At least they gave me the option to download my old folders of messages.

My Messages look like this now, red arrow is my addition

Sadly the download did not work very well. When I tried to unzip the file it downloaded for me using the windows extract I saw this:

Luckily when I unzipped it with the free tool 7zip it worked fine. Further investigation showed that the filename referred to in the error message now has underbars where those double quotes were around the “extremely high” in the zip file. Thus Ancestry’s algorithm of naming files by the message subject has a major flaw if you ever used double quotes there. Those are illegal in Windows filenames.

Happily for me, those 50 folders are all folders in my new Ancestry_Messages folder on my PC and each message is a little text file named by the date of the contact followed by the subject line as shown in the sample below.

Clicking on one of them gets it to open in the Windows notepad app which looks like the following

I checked that those messages were still on Ancestry, just filed by person, and they are, thank goodness, so I may not really need this little text files. We will see.

I think I can get used to having all my exchanges with any one person be in a single message thread. In fact, I like it, but I wish I could tag them with the family line or ancestor, plus a few other things like DNA relative or deceased. Currently I often have to go back to the first message to figure out why I am in touch with this person. When have been in contact with a few hundred people, you are just not going to remember them all. I do have a folder called Contacts filed in Genealogy where I have notepad files named by person so probably I will continue use those to help me remember.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out another benefit of the new messaging system, you can see if they have read your message! When it has been sent to the account it will say in small letters at the bottom “Delivered” with a time,  but once they have read it is says “Read” and also has a time stamp.

I also wish there was some way I could mark all these messages read! But it will be interesting, although time consuming, to review them.

Here is that promised list of clickable posts from other bloggers about small segments (alphabetical by blogger’s surname)

28 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Changes at Ancestry

Click here to add your thoughts at the end of the comments
  1. I also extensively used the folder system at Ancestry and will miss the organizational system. But I like the idea of what Ancestry is trying to do to make it more like Facebook Messenger ie indicating if people have actually READ your message. I guess change is good and will take the improvements.

  2. One of my DNA matches below 8, is a “GI Baby”, whose father is a US Army man who was in Germany during the “Reconstruction Era” after World War ll. Please do not abandon these children, now adults, who search for their fathers. Abandoned by their fathers, the Army (who refuses to unseal records) and now Ancestry DNA. Callous.

    • Judy Ruffino … please advise your match in Germany to check out and the associated forum ( if she hasn’t already. There are people there who can help. It sounds like she is eligible for information from the NPRC in St Louis under the War Babes Settlement. However, there is a very specific process for applying.

  3. I’ve downloaded my messages onto two different computers to make sure I don’t lose them, although I rarely go back to them.
    What I’ve found with the small matches is that I have several known 4th cousins that show up in the 6-8 cM range. We had a paper trail before we had DNA results. To me this makes sense if 50% of 4th cousins don’t share any discernible DNA that a few would show up in the small segment range. I’ve been told this is a straw argument.
    Autosomal DNA is so random, I have a difficult time with absolutes. For example my aunt has a 3c3r that looks like a 2nd cousin and 3c1r that looks like a 6c-8c. So really how can anyone tell me that these small matches are irrelevant?

  4. I have been using the new Ancestry messaging service for a couple of months.
    I have noticed:
    1) Some of my old messages are just gone.
    2) The search functionality frequently fails to find messages. This is not the same as #1; sometimes if I scroll back far enough, I can find the messages that search
    3) I have crashed the messaging system multiple times “Please reload the page or try again later”
    4) There’s no way to download all your messages.

    I wish that Ancestry would provide an interface that I could use an email client to manage. (Local backup, local search, archiving, etc)

    • Yes, I have found this as well and it’s so disappointing. A match of 22 centimorgans has vanished!
      My distant cousins and I are attempting to find where our ancestors meet and although our surname group shares the same haplogroup, Y DNA doesn’t help with closer matching and finding common ancestors beyond a thousand years or so. We all are using Ancestry at this point because it was/is the most helpful in comparing small segments, but it may be time to move on.

  5. Followup: Ancestry shows that I sent/received zero messages in 2014, and one message for all of 2015.

    Fortunately, I have email copies of the messages archived.
    Unfortunately, Ancestry no longer (reliably) sends email copies of messages.

  6. The email system is a mess, and has been. Most folks I’ve asked don’t get alerted to messages (myself included, and I should), so I just give my email address out to avoid the system. For the future, at least, there is an easy work-around. This, however, is an entirely separate matter from the issue of eliminating lower cm matches; once they’re gone, there’s no working around it! The fact that some Ancestry members don’t need to “milk” those lower matches does not mean they are unimportant. Sure I’ve been able to help at least three adoptees in my family without accessing the 7 cm folks on our shared list. And I really would like the Ancestry servers to function better without all the glitchiness. But what will it matter when I can no longer trace my colonial era cousins? The fact is, some of us have to make sense of relations who are unable or uninterested in making trees– the DNA is ALL we have to work with. In the rush to August 1st, I have managed to figure out who a minimum of 15 low-cm cousins are, and they are now leading the way to breaking down a serious brick wall. And those are just the ones I have managed to “rescue.” I guess I should be thanking Ancestry for prodding me to investigate them immediately. But in future, I’ll have to be content with a long list of cousins who add nothing, really, to what I need to know about my ancestors.

  7. I have many 6-7 matches who have “common ancestors”. They have helped me solve some brick walls in my tree! I will be losing future matches that could help me, I really dislike that they are no longer going to show these matches, especially the “common ancestors! They may be “false positives” as far as DNA goes but they are Very Valuable as far as my Family History Goes!

    • Margo, I talked to Tim in Marketing at Ancestry Corporate and suggested a compromise to the plan to delete all dna cousins in the 6 to 7.9 cm range. I suggested that they continue to provide us with the “common ancestors” in that range in the future. He listened and thought it was a good idea, but I have no idea if it will go any where. Clearly Ancestry is getting a lot of negative feedback and among that feedback is an Ancestry Facebook group of 99,000 and growing. Like you, I would never have found my Simpson and McFadden immigrant families if not for the low level DNA cousins. Bill

  8. After working with the big matches at AncestryDNA and sorting out which made sense and which were merely early colonial US who had a small genepool so tend to have surprisingly large matches (even after Timber); I am left with relatively small matches for people who look like real prospects. Many of them have proven to be so, even at 6 or 7 cM. (But as they are 3C or 4C, I can’t afford to lose them.) Sure I spend a lot of time back around 7-8 generations back, but the 3C and C matches are more likely to respond and exchange information about the family.
    I also have a heap of rubbish matches, too.
    But hey, some of my ancestors were gold miners and you may have to wash away a lot of dirt but you still want to keep those grains of gold!

  9. All this effort by Ancestry to rebuild the Messages function, delete matches below 8 cms, and yet, we STILL do not have a Chromosome Browser.

    • Brian – if you created and used special folders in the old system then you would have a download. If you are on the new message system then you will see the time stamp for when messgaes were delivered and when they were actually read!

  10. Thanks Kitty. I never created folders in my messages. I am seeing read timestamps so am on the new system. Is there a way to download messages without them being in a folder? Thank you.

    • No there is no way to download your messages that I know of. I cut and paste the most important ones into little text files named by the person …

  11. Kitty, other problems with the new messaging system:

    1) You don’t have the SUBJECT line of the message appearing in messages in the threaded view of the Messages page
    2) If a message is NOT in a folder but just in your inbox it is not downloaded so you don’t get a complete record of emails

  12. Encourage every match you have at Ancestry to transfer either to Family Tree DNA or Gedmatch. Family Tree DNA is still providing all those lower cM matches.

  13. Kitty, I have another low level DNA cousins for you. My 1700s Gray family in Worcester County, Maryland is a puzzle that is difficult to solve. While looking for Gray cousins in GEDmatch, I found a distant one that looked promising. When I compared DNA he matches my sister at 5.3 cm on Chr 20 and he does the same for me, with additions of 5.7cm on Chr 12, and 6.1 cm on Chr 19. Since there is an identical low level DNA match for myself and my sister, does that mean that there is some relevance to the shared DNA? Also, since he and I share DNA on 3 Chromosomes does that make any difference? thanks so much again, Bill

    • That could be worth looking into but no guarantees.
      Check if your sister and you are fully identical at that spot. If you are, there is more of a chance that it is not a true match since your distant cousin could be matching bits from each parent. Best would be if he has a close relative who also matches him there and then see if the two if you match that person as well.
      For 1700s and earlier, I try to get two male line relatives to do Y to see if the families are a match.

      • Kitty,

        Thanks so much for the help. I do need to find several Gray and Showell men to do Y testing. This family is very interesting to me as the Grays and Showells who left Maryland were abolitionists within two generations (previous slave owners) and the ones that stayed maintained the original status. One of the Showell women relocated to Alabama and had an even larger plantation and her grandson was a Confederate officer while his Gray cousin died while fighting in Alabama for the Union. (shot in the temple by a sniper while on sentry duty as witnessed by his brother and documented in his military file) Hard to believe such history sometimes. Bill

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