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Fun New Features at Ancestry DNA

I really like a number of the features that have come out recently at Ancestry. My favorite is that the total amount of DNA shared with each DNA relative is now shown on the match list page in centimorgans (cMs). This means that you no longer have to click through to the match page to find that number. Those total cMs are needed in order to look up the possible relationships at the DNApainter calculator. You want to check there because the cousin designations at Ancestry are just groupings based on the amount of DNA and many relationships share very similar cM numbers.

Look at the current top of my 2nd cousin list. These are all children of my first cousins except C.S. who is the grandson of a first cousin. (spot quiz – what is my relationship to each of them? Answer at the end of this article). In each case it shows not only the possible relationship but also the actual cMs and the number of segments.

The other recent feature that I truly appreciate is that Ancestry.com indicates whether there is a family tree linked to the DNA, a tree that is not linked, or no tree at all next to the View Match button. In the past there would only be a tree listed when it was linked to the DNA, so you had to go to the match page to see if there was a family tree that was just not connected to the DNA. A word of warning about unlinked trees, they may not be for the tested person. One of my real second cousins did his DNA test through a friend’s account so he is not in their tree at all!

Did you notice that little blue compare icon under the green View Match button? Click on that to get a comparison of the ethnicity of two tests. It always fascinated me to see the amount of difference between two full siblings. Here I am compared with my brother (click it for a larger version).

A word of warning. A friend complained that his sister only had a tiny amount of XYZ heritage while he had a good 33%. I pointed out that her ethnicity had not been updated to the new version. Once that was done, she had a bit more XYZ than him!

Another benefit of this comparison is the much larger versions of the profile pictures which are on top of the ethnic breakdowns on that page. Space considerations got me to cut them off in my image above. However it is quite nice to get a better idea of what your match looks like than you get from the tiny picture on the match page.

Now for a discussion of the new traits feature …
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The We’re Related App

I have shown a number of fellow genealogists the We’re Related app from Ancestry on my smartphone because it is so much fun. Let’s face it, we all like being related to famous people. My latest “famous” match is my 7th cousin thrice removed, Hans Christian Andersen, which delights the writer in my soul.

This app has also figured out how I am related to a number of my Facebook friends. Of course, they are usually cousins I that found myself with genealogy or DNA and then friended. I must have connected this app to my FaceBook account when I first installed it and of course I connected it to my Ancestry account as well.

An exciting recent surprise was that We’re Related found my relationship to fellow genetic genealogist Kelly Wheaton, famed for her free online beginning genetic genealogy course. We had long wondered about a smallish DNA segment that we share on chromosome 16, which is also shared with other relatives, so expected to be real. We had assigned it to a location – Seljord, Telemark, Norway but had not figured out the ancestor.

Tree Icon

In the app, each cousin match has several icons below it (two on my phone, three on my tablet). The one with two boxes then another below them represents a family tree. Click on that icon or the person’s photo to learn more about the relationship. Although you most often share an ancestral couple, it only shows you one of them, usually the man for most of mine.

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Collecting Family Trees with Automation

Did you know that there are chrome add-ons that can collect pedigree trees from many genealogy sites and DNA testing sites? These tools can collect a tree of ancestors as an ahnentafel list which is a very useful and compact format to scan for common ancestors and locations.

Click here for my post explaining an Ahnentafel list and the tool DNArboretum to create one from a tree at Family Tree DNA.

The pedigree view of a family tree on Ancestry.com or MyHeritage can also be collected into an ahnentafel list with another chrome add-on, a tool called Pedigree Thief (click here to download it).

Saving a new cousin to my tree

When it is just a few new relatives at Ancestry, you don’t need those add-ons. After all, it is easy to use the Tools menu on the Profile Page of the ancestor you want from a tree at Ancestry.com to copy over a few people. In fact, if you copy one person over, you can click back to the original tree and copy them again in order to get their whole family group, just like in an Ancestry hint. I do recommend that you check sources and make sure that this is good information. Even if you are making a Quick & Dirty tree (Q&D) for an adoptee, it is best to check it over, as some trees on Ancestry.com are quite unrealistic with parents born after their children and other such errors.

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Figuring Out An Ancestor’s Actual Birth Year

Records that include your ancestor’s birth year are not necessarily accurate. Most records before the modern computerized era have self-reported ages, from censuses to marriage records, so often show incorrect information.

I remember being asked by a census taker about my neighbors. I really did not know the answers and said so, but in many cases I think people do answer for their neighbors. Also no census taker has ever asked me for an id. This made me realize how inaccurate census records could be for birth years as well as for the spelling of names, which I already knew about.

Dada’s gravestone shows a year of 1853

A fine demonstration of these inaccuracies are the many records for my great grandfather Henry H Lee (born H. Halvorsen Skjold in Norway) known to his family as Dada. I found that he kept getting younger in each document and census. A letter from his daughter written in the early 1900s states he was born in 1849 but most documents in America have 1852. His gravestone, shown above, has a birth year of 1853! Please remember that the birth year reported on your ancestor’s death certificate and gravestone came from the surviving family members, so can easily be incorrect.

So is the birth record reliable? Back then births happened at home so they were reported by the family or midwife. Several of Dada’s children had a mother of Mary Walters listed by the midwife in Brooklyn when her name was actually Maren Wold (proven many times over with DNA!). So birth records can have errors too, especially when your ancestors may have had thick accents while speaking English.

People in the 1800s baptized their children as soon as possible. Thus the baptism date, entered by a churchman, is one date that is surely accurate.

The Norwegians have put many of their country’s church books online. To solve the question of Dada’s birth year, I looked through all the pages of births for Dada’s original home town, Etne, Hordaland from 1849 until nine months after his father died in 1852.

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Will I see you at Jamboree?

Next Thursday is DNA day at the Southern California Genealogy Society’s Jamboree in Burbank, one of my favorite events. I particularly love the outdoor bar restaurant between the hotel and the conference center. Usually the weather is perfect for spending the evening there with friends. If you have been wanting to buy me a glass of wine, here’s your chance!

Thursday also has a series of free events all day long, including a DNA round table at 5:00 pm with a number of DNA experts at tables. You can come to mine to ask questions about 3rd party DNA tools. [UPDATE 28 May 2018: I should also mention that the exhibit hall with all the main DNA vendors is also free on Thursday but parking is $15]

The speakers for the paid DNA day sessions on Thursday, besides myself, include Blaine Bettinger, Leah Larkin, Paul Woodbury, Emily Aulicino, Tim Jantzen, Shannon Christmas, David Nicholson, Daniel Horowitz, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, Diahan Southard, Barbara Rae-Venter, David Dowell, and many more. My sessions are “DNA Segment Triangulation” and Using DNA and GWorks for Unknown Parentage Cases.” Click here for the full schedule.

If you can’t get there, you can sign up for live streaming at http://genealogyjamboree.com/live-streaming-2018/ – sadly it is not free this year, but very inexpensive. In previous years you could buy recordings of many of the sessions, hopefully that will happen this year too.

The main genealogy sessions start Friday morning, but there is at least one DNA related session at every time slot including an “Ask the DNA Experts” at 5pm (and yes I am one of them). Saturday also has plenty of DNA sessions.
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