Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Difference Four Days can Make

Just as I am agonizing over the thousands of DNA matches I can't fathom in my own family's lists, AncestryDNA issues a press release with the astounding news: in the four days from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, they "more than tripled the number of kits sold during the same period in 2016."

While that is indeed news, it doesn't present the entire picture. We need to have a number to help us get our heads around this nugget of information, and The DNA Geek was just the one to do the math. In her own blog post, she estimated that, since Ancestry sold about 560,000 DNA kits last Thanksgiving weekend, "more than tripled" would mean sales exceeding 1.7 million kits for the 2017 Thanksgiving weekend.

There is a corollary to that news, of course. According to Ancestry's press release, this turn of events marks the first time the year-to-date number of kits sold exceeds the entire count of Ancestry subscribers.

That's right: that means even more of those mystery cousins sans family trees. And we're just the ones to help them out.

While you and I—and the genealogical societies we belong to—may not have foreseen that turn of events, we may find ourselves standing in the exact path of a tsunami of interest (or at least questions) regarding what to do with all this "stuff." Now that nearly two million more DNA customers will be opening their pretty packages—and eventually taking their first peek at those colorful ethnicity reports—they may begin wondering, "What's next?"

You and I already know that "what's next" may include a learning curve whose arc rivals that of the tsunami of interest we're already eyeing with caution. While I can easily see that such circumstances may evolve to insert genealogical societies straight into a love-hate relationship with facts like these, we need to focus on the up side to the situation.

For one thing, more test kits out there eventually will translate into more matches for all of us. That is a good thing, especially for those of us still struggling just to pinpoint our immigrant origins. It's the enormity of the possibility, though, that astounds me: if the Ancestry DNA database already crested six million as of last October, this past weekend's sales nudge the eight million mark.

Will any of those eight million customers be interested in a personalized, hands-on approach to learning more about their DNA results?

For the first time, this past fall, our genealogical society experimented with offering a beginner's workshop in using DNA testing to augment family history research. We offered the workshop at two different library settings, and were pleased with the response. Indeed, a third library requested us to get our show on the road and bring it to their city.

Perhaps because DNA testing seems relatively new and unknown, I am still surprised when the first thing strangers ask me is, "Does that test really work?" The new normal, in the world of family history, may turn out to be a scenario in which, when people think the word "genealogy," they automatically connect it with "genetic." This is what is happening, I'd like to note, not with brainiac academics, but with man-on-the-street genealogical novices.

The opportunity to step up and provide hands-on, personalized training to people who are brand new to the world of genealogy is right at our doorstep now. The chance to meet a community need may well be the shot in the arm so needed by flagging societies worried that online databases had sounded the death knell for genealogical organizations. When those online services are running sales reports like this, boots-on-the-ground genealogical societies like ours certainly can remain alive and well.   


  1. Count me among the record sales. I have wavered for a long time but the price was right and I pushed the button.
    Hopefully I am ahead of the game since Ancestry has been the building block for my tree for several years. And I have been viewing their DNA tutorial videos in preparation for the big day. (USPS say its being delivered today) I plan to submit it tomorrow and then patiently(?) wait for the results.
    Now if Ancestry and FTM will just solve the current 'caution' status for syncing, sigh.

    1. Oh, that's wonderful news, Gayle! Good luck with the "patience" part, though. However, it's good that you'll be getting your test back in the mail right away--ahead of the bulge that's sure to appear in the Ancestry pipeline, once all those holiday packages get opened up and sent in.


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