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Interesting New DNA Features at Ancestry

Do you know that Christa Cowan, Ancestry’s Barefoot Genealogist, posts Youtube videos every month describing new features? The changes that a number of readers have asked about were described in her June video. First of all there are some new DNA communities so go have a look at your ethnicity breakdown. These are based on some of the other 20 million DNA testers and their trees on the Ancestry site.

The other new item of interest is a change to the match list page. You are now asked if you know who your matches are. Some long-time users find this annoying, but it gives you a nice way to separate paternal and maternal matches when your parents are not both tested. It also lets you specify a specific relationship which is then listed for that person. Christa describes that feature about ten minutes into her June “What’s New at Ancestry” video below.

Those of us with German ancestry are excited by the new breakdown of those communities. Click here for Ancestry’s blog post about German DNA. My maternal grandmother was born in Munich to Bavarian Catholic parents. Apparently my brother got more of her DNA than I did, since I have much more from our Jewish maternal grandad: 34% as compared to Shipley’s 27% plus I get a Jewish community and he does not. By the way his Ashkenazi used to be only 22% and that is close to what both 23andme and MyHeritage find. To further investigate this, we convinced a Catholic half second cousin in Germany to do a DNA test. This was additional confirmation of our uneven maternal DNA inheritance, click here for that post.

This is the image of my brother’s latest ethnicity results which now include “Central and Southwest Germany” so perhaps Bavaria – red arrows are my addition. By the way, clicking on a community will not only tell you more about that history but will show you those matches who share it.

New ethnicities for my brother

Our father was 100% Norwegian in descent so my brother’s extra 10% Norwegian must be German. My Norwegian has now risen to 49% which pleases me. That plus the 1% Finnish are presumably from my dad.

Many users are starting to see the question “Do you recognize them? “ next to matches on their DNA relatives list with a Yes button and a Learn More button underneath.
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New Ethnicities at Ancestry

Ancestry just did a major update to its ancestry composition estimates based on DNA tests. I was sad to see that my brother and I lost all our German. That seems strange and incorrect, as our grandmother was Bavarian. Now her ethnicity appears to be some combination of Swedish, English, Norwegian, and Eastern European. Germany was a crossroads between Eastern, Western, and Northern Europe so one expects to be very mixed, still I was sorry to see her German and Italian go away. On the other hand, I am pleased to now be 49% Norwegian since my father was the son of Norwegian immigrants in Brooklyn and I am also happy to be even more Jewish.

Kitty Cooper's ethnicity at Ancestry.com

Kitty Cooper’s ethnicity at Ancestry.com

The ethnicity comparison with my first cousin who shares my German grandparents (one Jewish, the other Bavarian) seems to show the new view of my grandmother’s ethnicity

Today was the day that I finally got the email from Ancestry announcing the update to my ethnicity estimates. Vivs, an administrator of one of the many DNA FaceBook groups I follow, pointed out that this is an ideal time to send messages to DNA relatives you have not heard from as they may well log in and see your message because of that email. In fact, just now, I got a reply from a cousin I had messaged over a year ago!

Clicking on the button that says Learn more in Ancestry‘s email took me to a page that explained the update and included a nice map. Here is a quote from there with the essence of the changes:

“In our latest update we have been able to break larger regions—like England, Wales & Northwestern Europe; Ireland & Scotland;  Italy; China; Japan; the Philippines; Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples; and Eastern Europe & Russia—into smaller, more precise ones.”

Of course, I had to go look at some of the people I have helped who have interesting ethnic mixes.
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The Small Matches at Ancestry are Gone!

The genealogy airwaves have been burning with discussions about losing DNA matches with less than 8 cM shared at Ancestry. For my own family there is no loss, but I feel for those who were impacted. If the site responds faster and better then it was worth it in my opinion. Who can look through some 25,000 matches anyway?

To see how many matches you have left click on the Shared DNA in the list of filters as shown below with my added red arrow.

Personally I happened to save 72 of my small matches because I had made a note or grouped them with a colored dot. These included 35 with common ancestors who were grouped; I always group matches with shared ancestors. Whether the shared DNA is actually from those common ancestors is unclear. The half of them from my endogamous Norwegian area may well not be, but the others are probably good.

I liked the suggestion a reader made in a comment on another post that suggested Ancestry look for common ancestors and if found, keep these small matches. I wonder how hard that would be to do for new matches.

To see my remaining small matches I tried entering a minimum size of 6 and a maximum of 8 but that did not work at all well since all the matches of 8 plus a fraction showed up. So I had to use 7 for the high number as shown below with my added red arrow.

I had collected some statistics for me, my brother, and my tested cousins before the change and added the new numbers just now to look at the differences.
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Ancestry and the Longest Segment

All the DNA testing companies, except Ancestry, show you a chromosome map of the segments you share with a DNA match. For the casual user those maps, called chromosome browsers, may not be of interest. However those of us with intermarried families among our ancestors (endogamy) need to see the segments in common in order to know if a match is a findable relative who shares large chunks of DNA with us or just someone who shares multiple distant ancestors. Third cousins and closer family will always share some large segments, at least 20 or 30 centimorgans and even larger for closer relatives (see Blaine’s chart below).

Ancestry now shows the longest segment on a DNA match’s profile page which could be very useful to help decide which matches to pursue and which ones to ignore.

A known fourth cousin on my Norwegian line with some endogamy, notice how much larger his largest segment is than the size of the match

A word of warning, the size of the largest segment that they show is uncut, that is it is listed before they remove matching DNA that is expected to be population specific. For example, many of my one segment matches show a longest segment that is larger than the match size as shown above! If you click on the longest segment number there is a very informative popup about relationships and segments that includes this statement:

“In some cases, the length of the longest shared segment is greater than the total length of shared DNA. This is because we adjust the length of shared DNA to reflect DNA that is most likely shared from a recent ancestor. Sometimes, DNA can be shared for reasons other than recent ancestry, such as when two people share the same ethnicity or are from the same regions.”

A Jewish match not to pursue, likely related many times since the largest segment is 15

My often requested advice for Ashkenazi Jewish researchers is to look for one segment greater than 20cM and another greater than 10cM plus several others in order for a DNA match to be recently related enough to find the common ancestor(s). Therefore it would be even better if Ancestry showed the two largest segments. Subtracting the largest segment from the total to figure out the sizes of the other segments is not very accurate since the total is adjusted by removing population specific sections (Timber algorithm) while the largest is not.

Blaine Bettinger includes the longest segment in his DNA statistics collection form and below is a chart of those 2015 results by cousin level; click here for his blog post.

Chart of longest segment statistics collected by Blaine Bettinger. Click it for the full article

I spent some time looking at the cases where matches are tested at both Ancestry and 23andme in my family’s results.

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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

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