Sunday, November 5, 2017

Things That Count

For a seemingly never-ending task like "completing" one's family tree, it helps to keep track of progress. Most likely, it's because I need the encouragement that I do a bi-weekly count of how many names have been added to my family trees and our DNA matches at three separate companies. I like the fact that the numbers keep going up—well, everywhere except the DNA match count at 23andMe, where customers apparently didn't take the test to work on their pedigree—and it helps me gauge my progress.

For instance, lately I've been working on a puzzle regarding my mother-in-law's Rinehart ancestors. It's easy to see that is where I put my focus in the last two weeks' work, for her tree has jumped from 12,822 names to 13,209—387 names added in a mere fourteen days. Correspondingly—since I can't keep up a blazing pace like that on all four of the trees I regularly maintain—my own mother's tree simmered on the back burner, adding only twenty six names to bring the new total there to 11,644.

Sometimes, I hit a fluke in my progress—like realizing I had forgotten to add in all my husband's cousins' families—and a quick straightening up can add a tidy increase. For my father-in-law's Irish family, that means adding thirty nine names to boost the total up to 1,392. (I even managed to add one more name to my own father's tree with an accidental discovery of an obituary, so now there are 452 in that tree.)

But it's all on account of those DNA tests that I'm pushing the margins on those four family trees. I can't very well trace the connections to fourth cousins in our DNA results if I don't know the most recent common ancestors—in that case, third great grandparents—that connect us. Given how so few DNA test takers seem to have built their trees to that depth, I also like to build my own trees out in the opposite direction—what people now call "reverse genealogy."

The idea is that, having contacted those DNA matches, we can all work together to fill in the missing parts of the branches in the family tree. Of course, the flip side is that it becomes irritating to see a viable match show up on the list, yet discover the person has no interest in participating in the genealogical side of the process. That is what makes the disappearing match numbers at 23andMe so bothersome for me. I can only imagine the amplified sense of frustration for adoptees who are hoping for a breakthrough with this last-ditch DNA effort.

Perhaps that is the throbbing pain point that AncestryDNA jabbed this past week in issuing their blog post entitled, innocuously enough, "Continued Commitment to Consumer Privacy and Control." Considering the 270 reactions to the Ancestry post—most of respondents, especially adoptees, protesting the change—this is not simply a matter of people disliking the prospect of change.

Perhaps I'll just have to resign myself to seeing shrinking match numbers at two companies now, instead of just one. After all, I lost three more matches this week at 23andMe—in the face of what surely must be an overall increasing count for their business—to total 1,149. Similarly, for my husband, the count at 23andMe was down by eleven to 1,183. With that company, we started the year with 1,198 and 1,256, respectively. The down trend will likely replicate itself at AncestryDNA with this new change.

Hopefully, the other company we've tested at—Family Tree DNA—will not follow suit. There, I have 2,485 matches (up 26 for the past two weeks), and my husband currently has 1,588 (up 20)—with the major holiday sales about to boost the numbers well into the new year.

It's understandable, with the litany of naysayers taking their complaints to the pages of digital news outlets, that direct to consumer DNA testing companies are seeking to pro-actively protect themselves, legally. Privacy is an important issue, and there are no guarantees that current legislation designed to protect consumers in this instance will continue to remain on the books in an unaltered form. Perhaps we don't realize how good we have it, as genealogical researchers, with the current testing atmosphere. If only there were a way to pedal faster.


  1. Jacqi, I understand why people are so disappointed in this move by Ancestry, but at this point I hope they actually promote the option to people who have already tested. Hopefully that would eliminate people who don't respond to emails and have no interest in Genealogy. I t would make working through my matches a lot easier and hopefully productive

    1. Good point, Kat, but as someone had mentioned in the comments to the blog, there is already the option to disallow contact. There is likely no way to simply make a change and retain collective customer satisfaction at an unchanged level. Wouldn't it be wonderful to simply make it so that people just wanted to connect with all their newfound cousins? And yet, we're back to the drawing board for finding ways to more effectively entice our remaining cousin matches to please, please, please answer our emails, no matter what the official policy comes up with.


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