24 August 2012

Autosomal Testing: Genetic Genealogy's Current Buzz-Word

A Buzz-Word; Don't Get Stung

The BUZZ around genetic genealogy circles is that autosomal testing is GREAT for genealogy, but with one company, you could get STUNG!

A few years ago I posted on how to choose a company for DNA testing.  That was before autosomal testing arrived on the scene, but the guideline are still very useful.

Thousands have already tested their autosomal DNA and more companies are seeing a profit in offering this type of test.  Until recently the major players were 23andMe and Family Tree DNA.  Now Ancestry.com's DNA testing arm (AncestryDNA) is offering autosomal testing.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is found throughout our genome and in all 23 pairs of chromosomes.  It is recombined at every conception and gives us, among other things, our physical features so that we look like our relatives, but not exactly unless someone is an identical twin.  The test for this type of DNA allows males to match females and helps determine relationships.  You can learn if your matches are likely to be 1st cousins or 4th cousins or aunts and uncles, if your 2nd cousin is really related to you (one of mine was not!), if you have half-siblings, etc.  This gives you more relatives to help on your genealogy, and it can straighten out your family tree.  It is great for adoptees as matches are usually within six generations on your pedigree chart.

Those who have tested several relatives have become interested in determining which sections of their DNA came from which ancestors.  This is a growing trend and makes it much easier to find a common ancestor with a complete stranger who is related to you.  This is called Chromosome Mapping.  Others wish to phase their data to know which allele (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, or Thymine) came from each parent on each SNP.  There are many citizen scientists in the field of genetic genealogy who are recognized by some of these companies and these companies listen to them.

After all, the educated public knows what it wants when it comes to genetic genealogy and those companies that listen will benefit.  Members of the community of genetic genealogists have big voices and do speak to hundreds and hundreds of people.  (Personally, I have given presentations to many hundred just this year.)  The genealogy public turns to the genetic genealogist whenever possible to understand DNA testing.  We know what works and let our followers know.

That brings me to today's subject.  With the three major companies now doing autosomal testing for genealogists, only AncestryDNA will not let you see your raw data.  For some that may be of no interest, but later many from the general public may wish to do the chromosome mapping or phasing I previously mentioned.  For others that is a major factor in their choice to test or not to test with AncestryDNA; hence, those who aren't interested in chromosome mapping right now will be deprived of some matches as many of us are doing chromosome mapping and phasing.

You cannot see your own raw data even though AncestryDNA states that it is YOUR DNA. BUT, their consent form requires that you allow THEM to use it for research which could mean profits to them.  At this point, there is no way to opt out of allowing them to use it for their research, other studies, or anything else they choose.  So...it's OUR DNA, but we can't see it, but they can use it?  Hummm....that bee stings!

Currently, the AncestryDNA company isn't listening, so I'm urging all of you who pick a company just because they have a nice sale that week, because they have extensive ads, or because they tell you how easy everything is, beware.

A good genetic genealogy company provides the following:

1.  A large database
2.  A variety of products to meet a variety of needs
3.  Sales several times a year
4.  Excellent customer service by email and by phone
5.  Wonderful webpages to help you find out about your DNA test
6.  Matches on your DNA that you can contact directly
7.  Excellent FAQs (frequently asked questions) to help you understand everything
8.  Project managers who, even though they are volunteers, understand testing and can help you
9.  Storage for your unused DNA sample so you can upgrade or order a new test as needed
10.  A stable company with a solid business policy
11.  A method preventing your data from being used for anything other than your personal use.  If the company wants to use it, they need to contact you regarding the study and have you sign papers allowing it.
12.  An ear to the customer, listening to what is needed and what more is desired to help their genealogy

Please read the following blogs from two very fine genetic genealogists. Follow their blogs, you'll learn a lot! Each blog hits upon one of the current issues at AncestryDNA.  Do not be mistaken that these issues aren't widespread among the genetic genealogy community and it reaches beyond US borders.  From that community (thousands strong), I have not read one positive comment regarding these issues.

Robert J. Estes, scientist and genetic genealogist

CeCe Moore, genetic genealogist

Scroll down to the post, if needed.

Choose wisely and do not get stung!  These are not the only issues with AncestryDNA.  If you do not have a subscription you can access your matches, but cannot see the "trees" that connect.  ALSO, the admixture they are doing is wrong in some cases:  See Debbie's post (from the UK) entitled:  My Ancestry autosomal DNA Test

Sorry to omit your blog Debbie!

If any of you have questions, please contact me directly.

24 Aug 2012


Debbie Kennett said...

I was also concerned about the Consent Form for Ancestry's "Human Genetic Diversity Project" and the way that it was hidden away as part of the activation process. I've written about my experiences with the Ancestry test on my blog:


As you will see, my admixture analysis was way out. I've written to Ancestry to find out what they are using as their reference populations for the British Isles, but they have not yet replied.

Debbie Kennett said...


From what I can gather you have access to your matches but without a subscription you won't be able to access the trees of your matches. All the tree on Ancestry are restricted to members only. This effectively means that people will be tied into an Ancestry subscription to get the genealogical information they need to determine whether or not the match is worth pursuing. The blogger Genealogue was granted six months' free access to "Ancestry Connections" because he couldn't view the trees of his matches:


Debbie Kennett said...

I was also concerned about the way that Ancestry have disguised the Consent Form for their "Human Genetic Diversity Project" as part of the activation process. I've blogged about my experiences with the Ancestry test and you can read my posts here:


As you will see, I also found that their admixture analysis was way out for me. I've written to ask them what they are using as their reference populations for the British Isles but I haven't yet received a reply.