Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Why We Can't Just Browse Around


In my perfect world, all genetic genealogy services would come complete with a chromosome browser. That way, in a snapshot, we could all see which matches share specific locations on each chromosome. Alas, the largest DNA database in our current world still opts not to provide such a tool. And yet, that same company is my source for most of the possible matches which could lead me to an answer to my current research puzzle: locating the parents of my husband's second great-grandmother, Johanna Falvey of County Kerry, Ireland.

This has led to a hunt and peck compare and contrast exercise at the other companies which do allow that visual snapshot. The problem then becomes: which Falvey matches tested at which companies?

Our best Falvey match was a father-daughter duo from New Zealand, whom I first discovered through MyHeritage. This duo also had another family member test at a different company, and my husband's two sisters also tested at that other company. The fortunate discoveries from that showed me which one of the Stevens siblings best matched the New Zealand family, and I have used that observation to seek out further matches. And, of course, all six DNA tests were uploaded to GEDmatch, as well.

The plus to these details is that various members of each family set could be compared to other matches at four companies: Ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe, three of which all provide chromosome browsers. And, of course, all six could be compared via the chromosome browser at GEDmatch.

The downside at GEDmatch was that there were only a few others who match at least one party from each group. One match was clearly another New Zealand resident. The other transferred a kit from Ancestry and, on closer inspection, was a very weak connection. While it is wonderful to access such tools as the ones made available at GEDmatch, those tools only help if people actually have transferred their data to GEDmatch.

As you might have suspected, there is also a downside to 23andMe. While that company includes a chromosome browser and other helpful tools, they only become useful when the owner of the data permits that kit to be included in such usage. Unfortunately, many customers have not stretched to that level of participation, rendering the limited information available on their kit a near-blank slate.

Of the two remaining companies, the more useful, in my opinion, has been MyHeritage. There, the company affords its clients some useful tools for analyzing matches—and yet, even there, one can experience a drawback. Many trees are restricted to all but those who have requested access from the tree manager, thus stranding those whose inquiries receive no answer to their request.

Even so, I've found ways around such hurdles. I've taken what limited information may be gleaned from one site and researched that person in the trees and documents from another site. Sometimes, I've run into others as consumed with this research as I am: they have also tested at more than one site. Searching that name at the other companies leads me to a match I might otherwise have overlooked.

Still, there is no escaping one detail: in order to chase these elusive matches from company to company, or find a way to place them within the bigger picture, I inevitably end up sketching out potential trees for these other families. I may as well face up to it: if I have any hope of pushing back the curtain obscuring Johanna Falvey's parentage even just one more generation, it is likely the only way I'll do it is by building out other matches' family trees. May as well pick a likely candidate and get to work.



  1. You have led me astray - LOL. I have a little collection of secret trees of my own now.

    1. With no evil intent, of course! (Spoken with glint in eye.) I find I come back to those hidden trees often, as research seems to wind through those areas over and over again. Hang on to those; you may find yourself revisiting the question, too.


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