Sunday, April 14, 2019

Malaise over Matches

As my DNA matches count ratchets skyward, the more the possibilities, the more I'm paralyzed with indecision. More is becoming overwhelming.

This is where I'm tempted to play with new tools for sorting and analyzing: it's at a point of desperation. And at that very time, Ancestry offers up new gadgets to pacify that growing desperation. After all, now that I'm at 1,585 "close" matches—meaning fourth cousin or closer at AncestryDNA—I need something to help sort through the pile-up.

At the close of RootsTech last February, Ancestry did launch some handy tools designed to help us find that needle-in-haystack DNA match, which they trumpeted in a press release on February 28. At that point, the Ancestry team mentioned that they have "nearly fifteen million people" in their DNA network. No wonder those matches just keep on coming! And small wonder we need computer-assists in matching up this multitude of previously unknown relatives.

To their credit, Ancestry is still working on the beta version of the three product features and is quite receptive to feedback. Just this past week, they provided an update in their company blog, assuring subscribers that they will tighten up algorithms to make ThruLines suggestions even more spot-on.

All well and good, though I find the graphics for the ThruLines connections rather clunky at times—perhaps because I'm one of those Firefox users for whom the laggard scrolling mechanism needs more coaxing. But isn't there more that can be done, other than pile up more lists of how people match my DNA results?

That's when I turn to the rest of the market to see what innovations are popping on the scene. MyHeritage has my vote, hands down, for exceeding expectations with their DNA-match developments in their cleverly-named "Theory of Family Relativity," where their reach goes beyond the many trees posted at MyHeritage to include "collaborative trees" like those at Geni and FamilySearch. They use network-building capabilities of computers to connect possibly-like people from a multitude of other trees—both on MyHeritage and off.

It's not a surprise to see genetic genealogy bloggers write enthusiastically about these developments at both Ancestry and MyHeritage—or to see webinars quickly pounce on the topic in sessions offered.

Yet, even with all that, I find myself going back and revisiting other devices which promise to help sort those myriad DNA matches. Back in September, Blaine Bettinger observed that "testing companies have not provided users with the tools necessary to organize these matches." He advocates "clustering" of matches—"to identify information that is not visible or apparent when the matches are unorganized"—and worked with a computer programmer to develop an extension which works with Google Chrome.

He calls it the DNA Match Labeling Extension for Chrome. When I revisited Blaine's blog post from September 16, 2018, I remembered my good intention to hop on over to Chrome and give this one a try. After all, I'm a sucker for color coding, and I desperately needed a way to sort through these unorganized piles of cousins. The downside was that I don't use Chrome (hence my woes over clunky scrolling on Ancestry's MyTreeTags function), so last year, I set that thought aside for another day...and promptly forgot about it.

Now is a good time to revisit this—as well as go back to my half-done work on my account at DNA Painter. More color. And more opportunities to sift through matches. After all, it's not the cousins I know whom I want to find in my DNA matches—it's the ones I don't know about who may hold the breakthrough answers in this brick-wall-smashing mission. A little progress in getting those walls to tumble down might prove encouraging.

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