Thursday, July 16, 2020

Save Your Sevens!

With the momentous news that AncestryDNA now has over eighteen million tested in their database comes a second, less than thrilling, development. Come the beginning of next month, the company has announced they will cull from subscribers' matches any which are considered "false matches."

While on the surface, this seems a noteworthy strategy, it uncovers some less-welcome implications. For one thing, the move will likely impact any matches with whom customers share less than eight centiMorgans. By August 1, such entries will be removed from your match list, with three exceptions:
  • Those matches whom you have already contacted through the Ancestry messaging system
  • Matches for whom you have entered any notes
  • Matches included in any color-coded group designation you have created 

Normally, I wouldn't have been too concerned about this development. While I seldom see a DNA match with whom I share more than 100 centiMorgans, I have recently launched into a research project to break through a persistent "brick wall" in the person of my husband's second great-grandmother, American immigrant Johanna Falvey Kelly from County Kerry, Ireland.

News travels fast. While the original announcement was made by through a conference call, the pertinent facts—plus ample analysis—were passed along by key members in the international genealogical blogging community.

I first spotted the announcement thanks to Debbie Kennett's tweet sharing her post on the development. Also from the U.K., Peter Calver of Lost Cousins mentioned that AncestryDNA will soon post a warning on the website to alert customers of this plan, as well as issue a white paper describing the new match policy. In Canada, Gail Dever made note in Genealogy à la carte, as well as share some other Ancestry updates.

The main message has been: get to work saving your smaller matches. Roberta Estes put together a detailed post on how to best go about saving those smaller matches on her blog, DNA Explained. Of course, she hasn't been the only one rushing to do so, as I noticed from reading the multiple comments on Debbie Kennett's blog—including one comment with the rallying cry, "Save our sevens!" from which I took my inspiration.

But why the frenzy to save those small matches if they really are "false" matches? Well, if they truly are mistaken connections, all would be just fine. But in some cases—particularly if there is other supporting documentation to indicate otherwise—the wholesale deletion of such records represents a loss. With thousands of such small matches in any given account, a two week warning would hardly be sufficient to adequately evaluate which matches would be superfluous.

Take this very project I've been working on for the better part of the past month: the search for Johanna Falvey's parents in County Kerry. There are several DNA matches to my husband which, taken all together, are clustering to help point me in the right direction, regarding this brick wall ancestor; the drawback is that some of them share small segments of genetic material. And yet, they also share the Falvey surname from County Kerry in their pedigrees.

You can be sure I'm racing to preserve any such possibly helpful matches by earmarking them for further study. I've suddenly grown a whole garden of green-tagged group members under the label "Kelly-Falvey connection" in my husband's AncestryDNA account. I don't want to wait, in hopes that Ancestry will change their mind and alter this recently-announced policy. I and some of my husband's Falvey DNA matches are already working together to explore our mutual connections. We certainly can't afford to lose some of the pertinent data through Ancestry's unilateral move.


  1. Oh my...where to start, how to sift through? I often feel like I have TOO MANY matches, and "who are these people," etc etc. But on the other hand, I have seen some fascinating trees and color-matches at the 6 and 7 levels, and always think some day I'll trace them out. In fact, I have traced a few and put that little link mark on their place in my tree. Thanks for alerting us to this plan.

    Why are they doing this? From our perspective, it's easy to sort by descending strength of relationship and ignore the distant matches if we want to. They don't really cause a problem.

    1. Lisa, asking your first question is the right way to begin moving forward: develop a plan for how you can best handle the challenge. For some, this will be a non-issue, because they don't have research problems which require them to depend on small centiMorgan matches. For others, there may be a need to preserve some, or possibly all, of their small matches. It depends on your own research challenges.

      I've already formulated a plan for how I'm going to deal with this challenge, which I'll discuss in a post tomorrow. In the meantime, I noticed Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings put together a tutorial on how he is approaching the challenge. Perhaps his recent post will be of help as you develop your own plan.


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