Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tech Tuesday - AncestryDNA Review

The Good, The Bad and the Frustrating.  My experience with AncestryDNA.

I was one of the early guinea pigs to pay to try Ancestry.com's latest DNA service, AncestryDNA.   The new offering really appealed to me for several reasons, but the most compelling was the ability to find male and female relatives through Ancestry.com's new process of being able to tell the degree of relationship between you and other people pursuing their family histories.  As anyone who has read my blog will notice, I have dug deep into my family history and continue to find great stories.   There is one line in my family which has been a total mystery to me, my father's father's family.  My father was adopted.  I have uncovered his mother and have been researching his mother's family.  However, there is no record of his father.  AncestryDNA may be the only chance I have to try to track down any connection to my dad's father's family.

So I do have high hopes for the results from AncestryDNA.

The Good

Taking the test is very easy.  They send you a kit with explicit instructions on how to provide a "sample" to send to them.   You collect saliva and gently drool or spit it into a vial that you send back to Ancestry.com.  It sounds a lot grosser than it is.  Then you wait.

It took a little over a month to get my results.  I think it may be faster now.  My results came back July 11, 2012.  I immediately followed the link to the results on Ancestry.com and linked my results to one of my several family trees.  

The results were interesting.  

They showed that my DNA indicated that I was 45% Eastern European, 40% Scandinavian and 15% Central European.  My research indicates that my mother's family was from present day Poland/Ukraine (which would count as Eastern European) and Germany (which would count as Central European).  The results seem to capture this part of my ancestry, but I am not sure I understand the percentages.  

But what about the 40% Scandinavian heritage?  The part of my father's family I am aware of is almost exclusively English, Scottish and Irish.  Not a 6'5" tall, blond anywhere to be found.  My DNA was telling me that I had no lineage from the British Isles.   Regardless of my research, I knew I had a British lineage.  My dad had very red hair and as as family, we don't tan very well.  Where else could we be from?  

As it turns out this is a common complaint about the AncestryDNA results.  There have been quite a number of people who have received their DNA results that believe them to be in error, because they know they have British heritage and the DNA results state Scandinavian.  

An interesting fact about the history of Great Britain is that it was invaded multiple times by the Vikings in 8th and 9th centuries.  The good folks at AncestryDNA use the instances of Viking influence in the British Isles to explain the results.  I guess I have to trust them on this, but it does sound unlikely.  I must have 100's or 1,000's of British ancestors and the fact that most or all of them were of Scandinavian descent seems unlikely.   Of course, I don't know about my dad's birth father, so that is a wildcard to my DNA.

Another good thing about the AncestryDNA results.......are they keep coming.  Almost daily, I can see that there are additional people that show up on Ancestry.com as being DNA relatives.  Since July 2012, close to 400 DNA matches have appeared.  

The Bad

AncestryDNA is supposed to help you connect with unknown relatives.  Ok.  Where are the close relatives?  

I don't expect a long lost brother to show up, but someone that I can connect to my family somehow.

Of those 400 DNA matches, about 120 were better than 8th cousins.  These matches are described as being "moderate confidence" of a match.  To put that in perspective, it would mean that as 5th cousins that we share a great-great-great-great grandparent.  

As it turns out most people haven't been able to complete their family trees to their great-great-great-great grandparents.  So it is very difficult to find how are families are connected.  I am sure I am not the only one to experience this.

My closest DNA match results are 4th cousins.  I have 8 of those matches.   We share a great-great-great grandparent.  Of those 8 "close" matches, I haven't been able to find any genealogy evidence of family connections.

Out of the 400 matches, I have found exactly ONE DNA match that I can connect to my family.  I share
Thomas Woodbury with that person, our 7th great grandfather.  

The Frustrating

I am disappointed with not finding any close relatives, but it is ongoing and I have hope that a breakthrough will come.  I will update this post when and if I find any great matches.

My frustration has more to do with how other Ancestry.com members "use" their AncestryDNA results.  

It seems reasonable to assume anyone who pays to get their DNA information will be interested with finding and potentially connecting with unknown relatives.  If so, they aren't making it easy.


  • Private Family Trees - I see I have new DNA matches, but they have made their family trees private. Only the tree owner or people they invite to see their family trees can see them.  So I can't see how we are related.  I can send them a message and they may invite me to view their tree, but since most of the DNA results haven't had a known connection, I don't want to be sending 100 or so requests to strangers to see their trees.  It gets a bit unmanageable.  
  • Small Family Trees - I have been seeing a lot of trees with DNA results with less than 12 people in them!!  With completed family trees this small you are only going to connect with people you know. Not sure the purpose of participating in AncestryDNA with a tree this small.  I have two 4th cousin matches where one tree has 4 people and another has 16 people.  I can suspect where we are related, but I almost feel compelled to do research for them to complete their family trees so we can prove some kinship.
  • No Family Trees - Ok, having 4 people in a tree is not optimal, but some people have NO TREES!  Ugh!  Nothing attached to their DNA results.  One of my 4th cousins.....no tree.  Nothing.  Very frustrating.  In some cases, they have trees, but haven't associated the DNA results to any of their family trees.  
  • No Response to Messages - Since I have about 400 DNA matches, I don't try to contact everyone. I try to target the ones that seem likely to be closely related.  I have contacted all of my 4th cousin matches.  Of those 8, I have received responses from 3.  Now, not everyone is as interested in connecting with relatives as I may be, but it does seem to be the reason why you would participate in AncestryDNA.  It is possible that many participants are only interested in connecting with 2nd or 3rd cousins and aren't interested in connecting with someone so distantly related.  Who knows.


My overall assessment is I am glad I am participating in AncestryDNA and that I expect that eventually an amazing match will emerge.  The one that will open up some incredible insights into the family history.

Everyone's results will vary, so your experience could be very different from mine.

AncestryDNA does have it drawbacks, but the offering is still fairly new and I have faith that the good folks at Ancestry.com will continue to improve and enhance it.

My suggestion to Ancestry.com would be to provide guidance to AncestryDNA participants about how to get the most out of their DNA results.  Everyone's DNA experience could be improved if they made their family trees public and they be open to connecting and corresponding to other DNA matches.

If you decided to take the DNA plunge, good luck!  

You never know, maybe we are related.


  1. Most of my genealogy has been of my mother. I have done minimum research on my fathers side, Ive thought about requesting the Ancestry DNA Kit, what is the approach that you use to convince a family member to provide their DNA.

    1. The beauty of the new AncestryDNA kit is that it works to track ancestry for both men and women. You can give your DNA, so you don't have to convince any family members to give any.

  2. Hi Chris. I also took the test, and share a lot of the same frustrations as you. I had half expected that at the least you would show up in my list of matches as we surely share ancestors in common in our Fuller line! :) No connection there and no interesting matches with anyone sharing a common ancestor as of yet. But like you, I have hope that this will change as more and more people take the test.

    I was surprised that my results came back with a 95% British Isles, 5% uncertain, although this shouldn't really have surprised me. My family tree thus far has about a 93% British Isles, 3% German, so the results were extremely close. But in thinking of how many more thousands of discoveries I haven't yet made (but hopefully one day will!) I had thought that there must be some other country of origin or two that I hadn't yet stumbled upon!

    Please keep us posted on any new matches that may come your way, I wish you great luck in making some good discoveries through your results!

    1. That is disturbing to me. We should be 4th cousins...I think. We share a great-great-great-great grandfather, David Fuller. I was hoping that these DNA tests would confirm our connection.

      Did you do the AncestryDNA test or one of the earlier tests?

  3. I did the AncestryDNA test. David Fuller is my 3rd great-grandfather, and I can't make any sense of our not finding each other in our matches when I have hundreds of matches that don't seem to have a remote connection to me that I can discover.

    Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Very strange! Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  4. Chris,

    Great blog posting. I have exactly your feelings, including the frustrations. I too was hoping many would be eager to communicate about common heritage, but only about 10 percent of my messages are answered and very few private trees opened.

    My ethnicity results are very curious. My father's father was 100 percent German, my father's mother was 50 percent German, and my mother is maybe one-eighth German. And yet my ethnicity shows as 98 percent British Isles and 2 percent unknown.

    I am making some connections, thanks to my mother's line being so fully developed. Since it's hard to see when a connection might be linked to my father's side, I paid to have my father's one surviving brother take a test. I'll know those results in a couple weeks. It'll be interesting to see where that takes me!


  5. Great review guys thanks! It'll be interesting to see what results my Father's DNA test reveals, espeCially being Puerto Rican. If it comes back he's 90% British isles, 10% Scandinavian...I think it's time to call 'Help Me Howard' lol...as this could be a scam. So excited to give this b'day gift to him!

    Just researched some reasons why your results may not seem accurate, check this out...

    Since Y-chromosome DNA is found only within the all-male patrilineal line and mtDNA only provides matches to the all-female matrilineal line, DNA testing is only applicable to lines going back through two of our eight great-grandparents - our father's paternal grandfather and our mother's maternal grandmother. If you want to use DNA to determine ancestry through any of your other six great-grandparents you will need to convince an aunt, uncle, or cousin who descends directly from that ancestor through an all-male or all-female line to provide a DNA sample. Additionally, since women don't carry the Y-chromosome, their paternal male line can only be traced through the DNA of a father or brother.
    DNA tests can be used by genealogists to:

    Link specific individuals - e.g. test to see whether you and a person you think may be a cousin descend from a common ancestor
    Prove or disprove the ancestry of people sharing the same last name - e.g. test to see if males carrying the CRISP surname are related to each other
    Map the genetic orgins of large population groups - e.g. test to see whether you have European or African American ancestry.

    Thanks again for your take on this hope this helps:)

    -Nadira P.

    1. Hi Nadi,

      The way the new AncestryDNA test is supposed to work is that it doesn't matter how you are related either on your mother or father's side of the family it should still show distant relatives.

      I know it does work (at least to some extent) since it did identify a second cousin of mine that I could see the connection. Unfortunately, it didn't open up a new "unknown" part of the family, but it did help show the validity of the AncestryDNA test.


  6. Just wanted to thank you for the awesome, very detailed review. Was thinking of trying this but had a lot of questions. You answered pretty much all of them for me in your review and I unfortunately don't think that ancestry.com can help me. Thanks again for the blog!!!

    1. Thanks! I had high hopes for AncestryDNA, but so far after 18 months they still haven't panned out. Mostly a bunch of people I can't find a way to connect to me. Only one 3rd cousin who has never responded to my attempts to connect.

      For me the worst part is that I haven't seen ANY new DNA matches in months. I wonder if less people have been signing up for AncestryDNA or they are all just not related to me.

      Still hopeful, but my hope is fading.....