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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

DNA – Changes in Ancestry And
How to Work Through the Issues

      Recently, your author was not so delighted to find a Message from Ancestry – NOT a Message from another researcher relayed to my email by Ancestry – but a Message From Ancestry and it did not contain news I wanted to hear. Since receiving that delightful little missive, my time has been split between actual research and that tedious research essential to maintaining my equilibrium!

      Ancestry is delightful. Ancestry is an absolutely incredible source of information. Ancestry is my mainstay in researching and maintaining my primary tree and all those ancillary trees we are wont to build in order to not clutter up the main thing with rabbit trails. (You know rabbit trails, don’t you? Those leads that entice your curiosity and enthrall your senses – a NEW ancestor with an exciting history! Oops. Not MY ancestor – even after a week’s worth of research and ALL those wives and children and stories … Oh. No. Another rabbit trail.)

      So, the Message From Ancestry that they are changing how they provide leads based on my DNA tests did not thrill me, entice me, or please me. Sometime in August 2020, Ancestry will no longer provide information regarding shared DNA matches where the cMs are 8 or lower. Currently, at most recent count (today) I have a total of 144,856 DNA matches, of which 138,985 are for those individuals whose DNA and mine share 6 to 20 centiMorgans on a variety of segments. If only 6 cMs are shared, the relationship that person bears to you is hard to pin down. For instance, one online DNA Painter program indicates a 64% probability that person is either your 6th cousin, your 6th cousin 1x removed, or 6th cousin 2x removed, 5th cousin (once, twice, or three generations removed), your 7th cousin (or 7th once removed), 8th cousin, a Half cousin of some relationship or could be more distantly related – OR, could be an error????

      Many of these elusive relationships I’ve diligently attempted to pin down, checking for a tree (so many people either provide no link to a public tree or keep their tree private and refuse to share info or merely took the test out of a desire to examine their projected ethnicity) and making notes where I could determine a probable shared relative. In some cases, there IS a tree – although it is not linked to the test. In that instance, a quick look at the tree Not linked to the tree may provide clues to the relationship by virtue of the surnames listed therein.

       Ancestry is quick to assure us, however, that the changes are improvements of their computer algorithms and will fine-tune the process of determining relationships. DNA segments where matched patterns occur can be short segments or long segments although the number of cMs shared will not change. The determination of segment matching should be an improvement, undoubtedly. As Ancestry’s site explains: “The length of the longest segment you and a DNA match have in common can help determine if you’re actually related. The longer the segment, the more likely you’re related. Segment length is also the easiest way to evaluate the difference between multiple matches that all show the same estimated relationship. Our updated matching algorithm can show you the length of the longest segment you share with your matches.

      Furthermore, Ancestry advises: “Our updated matching algorithm will increase the likelihood you’re actually related to very distant matches. As a result, you’ll no longer see matches or be matched to people who share 7.9 cM or less DNA with you unless you’ve messaged them and/or included them in a note, or added them to a group (including your starred group). This means you will have fewer DNA matches and ThruLines™. Based on customer feedback, we are delaying this change until late August so you have time to review and determine if you want to save any very distant matches by sending them a message and/or including them in a note or group.”

       Key in that message UNLESS you have messaged them or included them in a Note. And they are delaying the change to eliminate those matches from your list until LATE August to provide time to make sure any real gem of a find is KEPT.

      Not so easy when you have almost 139,000 matches between 6 and 20 cMs.

      Thus, your tireless (should say TIRED) author has spent a few hours (understatement) trying to find out how to salvage those real treasures with only 6 to 7.9 cMs shared. Fortunately, Ancestry has also upped their game in the filtering and sorting processes.

      First of all, for those of you new to Ancestry, it’s easy to message others. Hardly merits a tutorial on that process. But the Note adding might need a bit of explanation. Formerly, Ancestry only provided a little icon on the Shared Match that looked like a page of typing with a corner turned down. That icon indicates a NOTE. One needed only to click on that icon to pop up a dialog box and fill in whatever information was pertinent. Now Ancestry has a new row of headers on your Match list:

       Unviewed: These matches are given a little blue dot (confused me at first because I thought all these folks had been added to my Group with that color dot. A few months ago, Ancestry added the feature that permitted color coding for Shared Matches with a personalized label, for instance “Bullard” or “Bullard-Capps” or even “Bullard-Davenport-Joslin” if you chose to identify more than one common ancestral line for that group.)

      Common Ancestors: Very cool idea. Tricky, though, because this lists not only those with Shared Ancestors on their linked tree, but inferred Common Ancestors through Ancestry’s new version of what was originally their DNA Circles – Thru Lines. This feature gleans potential ancestral connections through computerized examination (all background stuff, folks) that cull through multiple DNA matches to suggest potential ancestors where you may have blanks. Takes a bit of playing around to follow the suggestions through, review the trees and documents and determine whether or not you agree this suggested person is truly YOUR ancestor and worthy of an add.

       Messaged: Simple enough, Ancestry keeps track of those Shared Matches you have previously messaged, as promised above. But, this lets you SORT your matches to include only those you have messaged. An exclusion of Messages button would be helpful here, but not as essential as one for the next category – Notes.

       Notes: Finally! You can sort matches to include only those with Notes you have previously added. However, I wish Ancestry had also added a way to exclude those with Notes since I’ve already researched those.

       Trees: This has a drop-down box for fine-tuning your selection: All, the locked Private Linked Trees, Public Linked Trees, and the dreaded Unlinked Trees. Lets you filter out all those harder to research matches that have (might I say “selfishly”?) chosen to not provide access to their tree data.

      Shared DNA: Now, this is getting sexy! This drop-down box lets you not only filter to a selected group of folks by the number of cMs shared, but even gives a count of how your current matches fit into the range. The choices? [Select the category you wish to review by clicking on the empty circle in the drop-down box.] Below are the choices you are given:

      Close Matches – 4th Cousin or Closer: (the number in parentheses shows how many matches you have in this category), and explains the number of cMs required to qualify for this relationship – in this case 20 to 3,490 shared centimorgans.

      Distant Matches: Again, the number in parentheses shows how many of your matches fall in this category, and the number of cMs is 6 to 20.

      Custom centimorgan range: This is where it gets sexy! You can enter a custom number of cMs shared, minimum of 6 and max of 3,490.

      Groups: This drop-down box provides information if you have not yet utilized the color coding Family Group feature as to New Matches (a count), Starred Matches (a count), and for those of us who have utilized the Family Group feature lists your Family Groups and gives a count of matches included in each while displaying the chosen color coded button for each as well.


      By all means, explore each of the filtering (sorting) methods offered by Ancestry as explained above. Take the time to see what fulfills your own needs in research. Get familiar with the results a combination of filters provides.

      For my current needs, I wanted to see how many of those soon-to-be-gone distant (possible) relatives that matched my DNA were worthy of keeping. So, I filtered the Common Ancestors key first and used the custom cM range provided by the Shared DNA button to get down to the less than 7.9 cMs and began exploring. My thoughts were that the Common Ancestors filter would let Ancestry’s heavy duty computers help cull through the 139,000 list (please, please, PLEASE). This pulled up the Thru Lines feature which deserves a bit of study. For every potential ancestor shown on the Thru Lines, a great deal of research is typically required to include or exclude that possibility. (Whoa!)

      Perhaps, as the deadline nears, it will be necessary to select different filter combinations to zero in on whatever Shared Matches I really want to keep in my list. It is rather daunting to have nearly 140,000 folks to research!

      And, last of all, I will probably take a look at Common Ancestors and Groups to see where I want to group those newly discovered, honest-to-goodness cousins!

      The moral to this story is to be open to change. Embrace improved technology but be willing to expect to have to adapt in order to utilize it to your own advantage. Most importantly, keep building your tree, use every resource available to you. Especially as we face the threat of a worldwide pandemic, with the United States leading in new cases and number of deaths, it is imperative that we do our part in social distancing and working on your Armchair Genealogy is a great way to enjoy that time of separation!

      May this find all my readers in good health. Those who have experienced loss, my most sincere condolences. This Coronavirus has also affected our family. We lift prayers every day and night that God will bless our world with the scientific and medical expertise to find a cure.

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