Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ancestry and Me

In Parts Two and Three of my series on What I did Over the Summer, I mentioned testing my DNA with

While I was in Seattle, I spoke with Crista Cowan about getting access to Aunt Betty's kit and to her son Ed's. Crista did whatever hocus-pocus she does and I was invited to see those two kits. One time. After that, any attempt to look again gave me this, on the right.

That happened both with Aunt Betty's kit and with Ed's.

In the meantime, I had posted a tree on Ancestry, of only my own personal ancestors. With none of the collateral lines that just tend to confuse people. But more importantly with none of the lines of the other Pikholz descendants who have tested. I am not sure what I need to do here or what would just make it more complicated.

So a couple of days ago, I received a notice that my results had come in.
I clicked through and reviewed the settings which determine what information my matches can see. I told them they can show my actual name rather than my Ancestry user name. They don't have a "none of your business" option for birth year, so I chose 1881.

But then I saw a button called "View Another Test" that had not been on the screen previously and that gave me access to Aunt Betty and Ed.

I peeked at the ethnicity, even though I know not to take it seriously. Aunt Betty is 98% "European Jewish" with bits of "Middle East" and "Iberian Peninsula." Mine is 92% "European Jewish" and 4% "Middle East" with bits of Caucasus, Iberian Peninsula and Ireland. Ireland? Really? Maybe that explains why my parents painted the kitchen on Stanton Avenue and the living and dining rooms on Denniston in green.

So on to the matches. I have no "shared ancestor hints" and no "starred matches" - I suppose if I ever have one, I'll find out what it is - and 5134 "4th cousins or closer." When I looked, that was not exactly the case. Aunt Betty and Ed show up first, of course. Then Berek, a known third cousin once removed on my mother's side. (Until about two years ago, we thought his mother and all her family were killed in the Holocaust. In fact we didn't even know the names of his grandparents' five children.)

Those are followed by four people called "Possible range: 3rd - 4th cousins Confidence: Extremely High." 

After that a long list of "Possible range: 4th - 6th cousins" - two of whom with "extremely high" confidence and others just "very high." Ancestry and I clearly have a different understanding of "4th cousins or closer." I don't see 4th-6th" as meeting that criterion.

Most of those matches do not use anything resembling real names. I am used to Family Tree DNA, where most people use their real names.

They offer no information about any of these matches except a few words on their ethnicities, how recently they logged in and whether or not they have trees on ancestry. That last is not always correct - I am a match to Aunt Betty and it says I have no tree - but of course I do.

They have a "send message" button and I wrote to the first dozen or so with a message something like:

I have just received my matches from I have never worked with Ancestry, but I am deeply involved with Family Tree DNA, so I know a thing or two about genetic genealogy.
Ancestry says we are fairly closely related, but give no information other than this contact link.
If you want to talk, you can find me at . I can send you an invitation to my ancestry tree - which in order not to waste your time includes only my ancestors, not collateral lines.
Perhaps I'll hear back from some of them. I then looked for those same people among Aunt Betty's matches. I mean, any of my matches on my father's side are likely to match Aunt Betty. Problem is, after looking through the first dozens of matches for both of us, none of them do. My matches are certainly not all on my mother's side, so I am not sure why it shows up like this.

There is a limit - and it's pretty restricted - to how many of these 4th-6th that I am going to contact, at least at this stage. 

Meantime, I have heard from three other people who see me as a match, people I do not see as my matches, at least not near the beginning. One says I'm a 5th-8th cousin (do people really write to people that obscure?), a second who just says "distant" and a third whom I already know from FTDNA as some kind of fairly close relative on my mother's side.

Maybe I'll get this figured out. Or maybe more important things will get in the way. Perhaps one of my matches will respond and I'll learn something that way.

Housekeeping notes
After several weeks of selling Family Finder kits at the sale price of $69, Family Tree DNA has set the price at $79. Apparently that replaces the regular $99 price, though I have not seen an announcement to that effect.

FTDNA has also been getting results out earlier than planned for the last few weeks. I have some new family results that are not what I expected and I'll be writing about some of them soon.

The incomparable Lara Diamond has completed her trip to her ancestral towns in Ukraine. She should be reporting soon at her blog, Lara's Jewnealogy. It should have much more than she has shown us thus far on Facebook.


  1. Israel: You echo my thoughts. Ancestry testing was almost useless except for one person who wanted to learn more. Even though she appeared to be fairly distant, I spent an hour on the phone with her explaining a little bit about how to use GEDMATCH. Outside of her, nobody responds, even a person who is known to me.

  2. I agree. There is a very low response rate with Ancestry and part of that reason, I think, is because people are drawn into doing the test by the extensive advertising campaign which focuses on 'ethnicity', so many people only do the test for that reason. Also, anecdotally, there are suspicions about how effective the Ancestry internal messaging system is and it's frustrating that there is no way to contact the match directly. I wonder if messages sometimes get bumped if the match is not a subscriber. However, I keep track of who I contact and then just keep sending reminders - and that has actually been successful in a few cases. In the end, though, I definitely prefer FTDNA.

  3. The starred matches come about when you add the star when you're viewing the match. I use it to highlight my known relatives. As someone with many generations in America, I have many colonial ancestors.

    In order for your results to show that you have a tree, you want to link your DNA results to you on your tree. However, you will be unlikely to have any shared ancestor hints unless you have a very close cousin test and link his/her test to a tree.

    Where I have 136 shared ancestor hints (not all correct) and 269 4th cousins or closer, my husband has 0 shared ancestor hints and 2,294 4th cousins or closer - the difference between English-Scottish ancestry and Eastern European ancestry. Using AncestryDNA is a very different way of thinking, but has been helpful for some testers. Best of luck!

    1. Thank you for your comments. I in fact do have a tree and it is connected. Now it actually shows up.