Thursday, May 17, 2012

AncestryDNA autosomal testing: Is it Legit?

Just got off the phone with Ken Chahine, Ph. D, Senior VP DNA,, who graciously answered questions lingering in my mind about matching AncestryDNA (autosomal) results to a proposed cousin's Ancestry Member Tree.

Significant is that Y-DNA tests only the father and mtDNA tests the mother's side, but autosomal DNA tests everything to give a clearer picture of one's genetic ancestry.

This form of DNA testing narrows, for instance, Europe down to smaller groups than previously possible with other types of DNA testing providing increasingly detailed ethnicity results.

Breadcrumbs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) are left as the genetic code is transferred from parent to child with slight variations. It is those slight variations that are of particular interest in determining potential matches with other AncestryDNA participants.

Ken explained that once Ol' Myrt's DNA is tested, I'll log in to in the usual manner, click on "DNA" on the menu bar, and work through my report. I'll be able to review possible matches with potential cousins. Thankfully, the DNA scientists at (7 with a Ph. D. in genetics or computational biology) have created a results report that indicates a degree of confidence, say 99%, that I am related to another genealogy researcher in the AncestryDNA database. It will then remain for the two of us to determine the common ancestor.

As the database grows, the chances of a potential cousin match grow as well. Naturally, will periodically advise participants of new potential matches. It's easy for the computers to "see" these matches, and is smart for Ancestry to share this with participants, inviting additional interaction with AncestryDNA results pages.

As AncestryDNA test results point me to a likely cousin match, we may find a common location  in our compiled Ancestry Member Trees to search together, as reported in Kimberly Powell's Autosomal DNA Testing - Can it Really Predict Our Ancestors? She notes "a very intriguing match to a family tree on that includes none of my own ancestral surnames, but does include two families who were neighbors and close associates of several of my North Carolina ancestors in Edgecombe, Martin and Bertie counties." This may help her identify the maiden name of an elusive progenitor.

Finding an actual common ancestor depends on the reliability of each AncestryDNA test participant's genealogical research expertise and surviving records indicating or inferring familial relationships.

On the genetic code side, one cannot hide from the truth. With a large member base and high profile in the genealogy space, is likely to take the lead in genealogy genetic testing quite simply because their results will reflect a larger database of participants. The "legitimacy" of the trees component is still up for grabs, as has always been the case with published trees in book or online format. At least, with DNA test results to guide us, we can narrow the search to folks climbing the same genetic family tree. Autosomal matches are much closer (more recent) when compared to matches found by other forms of DNA testing.

See Blaine Bettinger's’s AncestryDNA Product published back in early April. 

Visit the website to view a video about the possibilities.

Disclosure: I'll be receiving a free AncestryDNA test from shortly. I'll have more to share with my DearREADERS after receiving my results.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont 


  1. Myrt, when you get your results back, I am particularly interested in knowing if Ancestry's DNA results tell you the specific regions on the chromosome where you match the other person, rather than just telling you that you match. The reason is because if you know the specific region, then you can triangulate with others who share with you and the match in that same region and work as a trio, rather than a duet, in finding matches. So far, I've not see that Ancestry does it that way. If they don't, I would find their service much less valuable than 23andMe. I am HOPING though that they eventually go beyond what 23andMe can do b/c of the fact that they have such a large repository of family tree data they can leverage. See my blog post -

    1. Taneya,

      They aren't currently showing the specific chromosome regions where you match another individual, but it is something that Ken Chahine, Ph. D, Senior VP DNA,, says they are looking at. Their original goal was to make DNA easy enough for everyone to find it valuable, but I think they are realizing that there are also many people who would appreciate more levels of data. On the matching chromosome region made it possible for an adoptee who matched both me and one other person on the exact same region to contact both of us and put us in contact with one another to help narrow down potential families where we might match, which will hopefully someday lead her to learn more about her birth family.

      Kimberly Powell

  2. Myrt, I enjoyed your article and I fully agree with the point that the primary result of any DNA test is that it helps to identify other individuals who are in your genetic tree. Unfortunately, if you are not able to find the genealogical research to show who is the joint ancestor, the information is of limited value. I believe that FamilyTree DNA has a better reputation and a larger database than any of the other companies in the DNA field. I have participated in several of the test produced by FamilyTree DNA. Unfortunately, while I have had several very close matches, none of the matches have produced the necessary genealogical research to help me break through any of my brick walls. FamilyTree DNA has an autosomal DNA test that identifies individuals who may be your 3rd-5th cousin. I suspect most researchers have not identified very many 3rd-5th cousins. I have enough trouble identifiying my direct lines and first cousins. I support the idea of new and different test. I hope Ancestry is serious about this effort. Several years ago they acquired DNA resuls from the Sorenson project but then did nothing with the information Hopefully the participants in all of the various tests realize that no DNA test will tell you who is your ancestor. As you said, you still have to do the genealogical research on the people who you have now identified are in your genetic family tree.

  3. Thank you, Myrt, you just made a pie out of what, for me, was mostly just mud! :)

  4. I was in the Ancestry DNA beta test. The results were somewhat surprising, 51% Scandinavian, yet I don't have anyone from that part of the world as an ancestor that I know of. Ancestry assured me that as more people participate, the ethnicities will become more accurate and I may see changes in the percentages.
    The closest member match is 4-6th cousin at 96% confidence. I couldn't find any connections in the trees. I'm hopeful that as more results are entered into the system I might see closer connections. Time will tell.

    1. Hey Dave, or should I say "Cuz?"

      I am also an AncestryDNA Beta Tester. I am also 58% Scandinavian although I have thus far found no one in my tree from Scandinavia. From what I understand from one of the DNA Support people is that our ethnicity is based on established DNA templates identifying certain mutations with specific localities. I asked him if these "templates" where based on a fixed date in time with which all the mutations are compared, but he wasn't sure of an answer. This kind of information will hopefully be available to us in the near future.

  5. How do we know the level of their quality control if we never have access to the actual lab results? AncestryDNA can tell you that you are 58% Martian, but they won't tell you specifically where on the chromosomes they found this data. Without the actual verifiable DNA raw data, the results from ancestryDNA are suspect.

  6. Myrtle, did you ever get your test results? I just got mine and I have to say I wonder just how accurate they are. After doing much genealogy on my father's side and finding out that I am a Mayflower descendant and a descendant of one of the founders of Hartford, CT, as well as a few well known Revolutionary War heroes, I was quite surprised to find that I showed absolutely no ethnicity from the British Isles. Granted, I am somewhat of a diverse ethnic mix, mostly Middle European, thanks to some French and German on my Dad's side, with some Southern and Eastern European thrown in thanks to being half Sicilian (I presume the Eastern European is from the Greeks who settled in Eastern Sicily). But I should have come up with at least 10-12% from the British Isles.

    I called and was told that perhaps my Dad did not give me that part of his DNA. Both my father and I are suspicious about that. Either that or my relatives from the British Isles descended from people not indigenous to the region. I find it hard to believe that at least some of their DNA would be indigenous. I am going to have my Dad take the test to see how he turns out. Unfortunately I have no siblings who can take the test.

    I have to say that I am quite disappointed in the results and almost wish I had not taken the test. After being so proud of finding out that I descend back to the first American settlers especially in light of their great historical accomplishments, it is quite discouraging to know that I may not have inherited any of their DNA.

    Also, the matches I received were no closer than 4th to 6th cousin, and none of the names in any of the trees, nor even any of the regions represented bore any resemblance to my tree. I have had a lot more success at finding relatives through my tree than it looks like I'll ever have through this, unless the database expands in the future.