Saturday, 29 November 2014

Death of Valerie Hedgecock née Cruse

I am very saddened to learn of the death of Valerie Hedgecock née Cruse. Valerie is descended from the Ogbourne St George Cruse tree.  An obituary has been published in The Argus, her local newspaper in Brighton, Sussex:

Valerie had been researching her family tree for many years, and I'd corresponded with her on many occasions. She very kindly made a generous contribution towards the Cruwys/Cruse/Cruise DNA Project, and the last time I heard from her she was still maintaining an active interest in the Cruse research.

I would like to pass on my condolences to Valerie's family and friends.

With thanks to Geoffrey Lloyd

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Family Tree DNA holiday sale

Family Tree DNA have announced that their holiday sale is now on. The Family Finder test is reduced to $89 (£57). The 37-marker Y-DNA test is $129 (£82). The mtDNA full sequence test is $169 (£108). The Big Y test for advanced users is $525 (£334). A full list of prices is shown below. Upgrades are also included in the sale so it's a good opportunity to upgrade your kit if you've not already done so. E-mails are in the process of being sent out to group administrators. FTDNA customers will be notified separately. The sale prices are provided below. There is a new mystery reward discount scheme so you might be able to get a further reduction on the sale prices. If you receive a mystery award and you are unable to use it for any reason do make sure you share it with the fellow project members. I've copied below for reference the e-mail that was sent out to the genetic genealogy bloggers.

Family Tree DNA Sale

For this holiday season we’ve got an exciting new twist to the sale - Mystery Reward discounts! The Mystery Reward will be a randomized discount (up to $100 off) that can be applied on top of the already reduced Holiday Sale prices. 

The Mystery Reward icon will appear on testers’ myFTDNA dashboard each week and the code will expire the night before the next Mystery Reward appears. When you click the icon, you'll to go to the reward page to open the Mystery Reward for savings up to $100. We’ll also send an email notification to the kit’s primary email address when a new code is available for use or sharing.

Best of all, there will be a new Mystery Reward every week. Customers can use the discount or can share it with a friend. 

In addition, all customers who have purchased the Big Y test will receive a coupon for $50 off a Big Y test. That's ON TOP of the sale price. Yes, you read that right. A coupon that can be used on top of a sale price. The coupon can also be "regifted," meaning shared with a friend or fellow project member.

Thank you for helping us to generate excitement about the holiday sale. We appreciate all the cooperation you give us throughout the year!

Here are the prices:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Improved cousin matching at AncestryDNA

Yesterday afternoon AncestryDNA rolled out their much anticipated new matching algorithms. When I wrote last week about AncestryDNA at Back To Our Past in Ireland I reckoned that I had about 7400 matches (148 pages of matches at 50 pages per match). Now when I check into my AncestryDNA account I find that I have a much more manageable 1100 matches (22 pages of matches). This represents an 85% reduction in the number of matches. Previously I had matches with 20 people who were predicted to be fourth to sixth cousins. Now I have just seven matches with fourth to sixth cousins. The remainder of my matches are predicted to be fifth to distant cousins. Thirty-three of these distant cousins are described as high confidence matches. The remainder are shown as good confidence matches. Here is a screenshot of my AncestryDNA home page.

As I side note I find that I can no longer access AncestryDNA from my subscriber account. When I click on the DNA button I am taken to the usual page which advises me that AncestryDNA is not yet available outside the United States.

I used to be able to click on the orange button to view my DNA results. Now when I click on this button I get redirected to the URL but the page doesn't load. After much frustration yesterday I eventually discovered that I could access my results by going direct to It may be that these changes have been made to prepare the website for the launch in the UK and Ireland. (The AncestryDNA test is currently only available in the US, though a few non-Americans like me managed to place an order in the early beta-testing days before shipping outside the US was stopped. It is also possible to order a kit by using one of the package forwarder services.)

Ancestry have done a good job of providing some FAQs to explain how the new matching process works in easy-to-understand language.

They have also provided a very informative table showing the explanation of the different confidence levels. For the first time they have given us the all-important information on the range of shared centiMorgans for each of the confidence scores.

In addition there is a very detailed technical white paper which explains the methodology behind the new phasing and matching algorithms. Phasing is the process of determining which DNA you inherited from your mother and which DNA inherited from your father. There is a more detailed explanation in the ISOGG Wiki. If you have tested yourself and your parents then you can do your own phasing but currently none of the testing companies use phased trio data. The Ancestry approach involves inferring the inheritance from reference populations. It is a computationally intensive exercise and Ancestry are currently the only company who phase their customers' data before doing the matching. The new matching algorithms are based not just on the amount of DNA shared but also on the frequency of the segments in the database. Ancestry have found that there are some segments of DNA that are shared by large numbers of people and these segments are likely to be indicative of ancient ancestry rather than the sharing of a recent ancestor in a genealogical timeframe. Because 99.% of the AncestryDNA database is in America I've never been able to do anything with my matches, but the new algorithms certainly seem to be a very useful improvement, and I hope that I will reap the benefits when Ancestry start to sell their test in the UK.

The old matches have not yet been lost completely and it is now possible to download a spreadsheet with a list of all your Version 1 matches. This facility will be available for a limited time. The spreadsheet lists the Ancestry user names of your matches, the user names of the admins of the accounts, and the predicted relationship range. There are additional columns labelled "Starred", "Viewed", "Hint" "Archived" and "Note". The spreadsheet is available via the settings menu with the little gear icon on your AncestryDNA home page. When I downloaded the spreadsheet I found that I actually had 9449 matches. I'm not quite sure why there were so many more matches in the spreadsheet than I'd previously estimated by extrapolating from the number of pages in my match list. However, this new figure actually means that I've seen an 88% reduction in the number of my matches. It would be helpful if Ancestry could let us have the ability to download a spreadsheet with a list of all our new matches as well, and preferably with additional details such as the matching surnames. Both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA allow us to download a list of our matches. It is much easier to scan through a spreadsheet rather than clicking on each individual match page.

DNA Circles
The other new feature that has been introduced with this update is called DNA Circles. I'm not yet in any DNA Circles so I can't explore how this feature works. However, Roberta Estes, Blaine Bettinger, Judy Russell and Diahan Southard have all written about the DNA Circles and I suggest you read their articles to find out more:

Ancestry's better mousetrap - DNA circles by Roberta Estes
- Goodbye false positives! AncestryDNA updates its matching algorithm by Blaine Bettinger
- Changes at AncestryDNA by Judy Russell
AncestryDNA Review and Breaking News! Updates Launched by Diahan Southard

There is also a post on the Ancestry blog with a description of the new feature:

New AncestryDNA technology powers new kinds of discoveries

Ancestry have prepared some FAQs about the DNA Circles and have published a detailed white paper explaining the methodology. The white paper is a very interesting read but it is currently very hard to find if you are not included in any DNA circles. To get to the white paper go to your matches page (not your DNA home page) and click on the question mark. Click on the tile with the magnifying glass labelled "What can I do with my DNA matches". Scroll down to the paragraph headed "Find DNA evidence for your genealogical research". At the end of that paragraph click on the green underlined lettering "Learn more about DNA Circles".  That takes you to a page explaining how the DNA Circles are created. At the very bottom of the page there is a green link labelled "Check out our DNA Circles White Paper". I hope that Ancestry will make the paper easier to find so that more people will be encouraged to read it. Note that both the AncestryDNA white papers can only be accessed by Ancestry subscribers. (Thanks to Ann Turner on the ISOGG list for alerting me to this workround which was first posted in the Ancestry forums by Laura Davenport.)

It will be interesting to see how these circles work when AncestryDNA start to roll out their test in the UK and Ireland. I can see that the feature will work well for American genealogists. This is because a large percentage of the Ancestry subscriber base in the US appears to have deep roots in Colonial America, and they all trace back to a small founding population. Consequently Americans will often be related to each other on multiple ancestral pathways in the last three or four hundred years which greatly increases the chances of them sharing DNA segments and finding connections. It also seems to be the case that family sizes in America in historical times were much larger than they were in the UK, which means that the gateway couples in America can often have literally thousands of living descendants. To put this problem into perspective it is cautionary to remember that the population of America in 1700 was just over 250,888, whereas the population of England in 1700 was over six million. It was not until some time after 1851 that the population of the US exceeded that of Great Britain and Ireland. We therefore have a much smaller population of living people who are tracing their ancestry back to a much larger population pool. Nevertheless I shall be very interested to see how this feature works when the AncestryDNA test finally becomes available over here.

1. The Gendocs website has a useful page on population statistics in the UK and Ireland over time:
2. For statistics on the US population see the Wikipedia article on the demographic history of the United States: history of the United States

© 2014 Debbie Kennett

Friday, 14 November 2014

The ongoing saga of BritainsDNA and the BBC

I wrote back in March this year about yet another misleading interview with Alistair Moffat of BritainsDNA which had appeared on the Mark Forrest programme on BBC radio. I wrote to the BBC at the time to complain about the interview. Since then I've been engaged in a lengthy exchange of correspondence with the BBC. I eventually escalated my complaint to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit. They conceded that the interview did constitute "a breach of editorial standards". A summary of my complaint and of the findings of the Editorial Complaints Unit was published on the BBC Complaints website on 29th October. However, the summary was somewhat misleading and does not tell the full story. We've devoted a whole page on the UCL Debunking Genetic Astrology website to our correspondence with the BBC about Alistair Moffat and BritainsDNA. I've now added all my correspondence with the BBC dating from 1st May through to the present to our BBC complaints page in order to ensure that the information is available as a matter of public record for all interested parties.

It has been a somewhat frustrating and protracted process. Although the ECU classified my complaint as "resolved", the main substance of my complaint fell outside the ECU's remit.  I wanted to find out how Alistair Moffat had been invited onto the Mark Forrest show to talk on the subject of Viking DNA when he has no expertise in the subject. I was also concerned about the sheer amount of exposure given to Alistair Moffat and his company by the BBC in the last couple of years and the BBC's failure to give qualified experts the right to respond to his inaccurate, misleading and sometimes ludicrous statements. Richard Hutt, the BBC Complaints Director, advised me in an e-mail dated 1st May
However it isn’t open to me to look at the circumstances which led to Mr Moffat being booked to appear, or the question of whether others might have been booked instead. Generally speaking, the choice of guests is a matter of editorial discretion and does not fall within the remit of the ECU. In practice that means I can consider whether what was said during the broadcast met the BBC’s editorial standards but not whether the programme ought to have invited him to participate. 
You have also raised the issue of Mr Moffat’s appearances across the BBC over a number of years. Again, this falls outside our remit – we are limited to considering specific items broadcast or published by the BBC and are not able to investigate claims of editorial breaches over time and across output. I should also note that the complaints framework asks that complaints are logged within 30 days of broadcast, whereas most of the examples cited in the document you point to were aired some time ago.
In the final stage of the complaints process I sent an e-mail to the BBC Trust on 26th September asking them to investigate these outstanding concerns. I have been told that they will let me know by 21st November whether or not they will take up my case. It is somewhat frustrating that there is no mechanism within the existing BBC complaints framework to deal with such issues. I shall await with interest to see how the BBC Trust respond.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

AncestryDNA at Back To Our Past

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I made a special effort at the Back to Our Past show in Dublin to attend the presentation by Mike Mulligan, International Product Manager of, on "AncestryDNA - DNA testing for family history".

Before I discuss the presentation I just want to start off by providing some background on Ancestry's autosomal product and their entry into the marketplace which you can skip if you're already familiar with the situation in the US. Autosomal DNA tests look at thousands of markers from across your entire genome and can be used to find matches with genetic cousins on all your family lines. These tests are most effective at making connections within the last five or six generations. AncestryDNA is one of three companies which currently offer such a test. 23andMe introduced a cousin-finding feature to their autosomal DNA test in the autumn of 2009. The 23andMe test can be purchased online in fifty-six countries including the UK and Ireland. Family Tree DNA's Family Finder test has been on sale worldwide since February 2010. AncestryDNA began to roll out their autosomal DNA test in the US in the autumn of 2011. They kickstarted their autosomal DNA database by offering free tests to over 10,000 selected subscribers. The test was officially launched in the US on 3 May 2012. I filled out the form to register my interest and received an invitation to order a test in June at the special introductory price of $99. Although the test was at that time supposedly restricted to the US, I was still able to place an order from the UK. This loophole has since been plugged, though you can still circumvent the restriction by using a package forwarder. Tim Janzen has compiled a very useful autosomal DNA testing comparison chart for the ISOGG Wiki which provides further details of the different tests.

The AncestryDNA database has grown very rapidly in the last two years and they have now tested over 500,000 people. Ken Chahine, Senior Vice President and General Manager of AncestryDNA, revealed in a recent presentation that the company are currently selling an astonishing 30,000 to 50,000 DNA kits every month. If the growth continues at the existing rate, they are expecting the database to grow to one million probably by the middle of 2015. This is all well and good if you are American, but a large all-American database is unfortunately not much help for the rest of us unless we are trying to reconnect with the descendants of family members who emigrated to the US in the last 200 years or so. Autosomal tests do also give us matches with more distant cousins, and in fact most of our matches are with people who are predicted to be fifth or more distant cousins simply because we have so many of them. However, finding the genealogical connection with these distant cousins can be difficult if not impossible. While some genealogists are lucky enough to be able to identify all of their 32 great-great-great-grandparents there are probably very few people who can name all of their 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents. I currently have over 7400 matches at Ancestry DNA. Twenty of these matches are with predicted fourth to sixth cousins and these matches have been assigned a confidence level of 95%, which means that there is a very low chance that these matches will be false positives. However, none of my fourth to sixth cousins at AncestryDNA have surnames in common with me and their trees are all in America whereas all my ancestry is in the British Isles so it is an impossible task trying to establish how we are related. My remaining matches are all predicted to be fifth to eight cousins who have been assigned as moderate confidence or low confidence. AncestryDNA add the following note of caution about these distant matches: "Even though there is a 50% (or less) chance that you are related, these matches are still good leads." Nevertheless it seems to me that it would be a futile exercise trying to work my way through all these 7000+ matches with little hope of ever identifying the genealogical relationship, if any. Ancestry do a have a potentially useful "shaky leaf" feature which could help in this situation. If you and your matches have both uploaded trees Ancestry will search the trees for you and will identify the ancestral couples who appear in both trees who might have contributed the shared segment of DNA. However, I do not yet have the benefit of any of these shaky leaf hints.

People are typically getting many more matches at AncestryDNA than at 23andMe and FTDNA, even when you take the comparative sizes of the databases into account. The reason for the large number of matches is that AncestryDNA have set a much lower matching threshold. Ancestry recently announced plans to introduce a new improved matching algorithm, and it is expected that this feature will be rolled out some time before the end of the year. As a result, we can expect our match lists to be drastically pruned but it will be a change that is very much for the better. Blaine Bettinger, who writes The Genetic Genealogist blog, attended a bloggers' summit hosted by AncestryDNA in San Francisco in October where the attendees were given much more detailed information about what to expect. Blaine has provided an excellent write-up in his blog post "Finding genetic cousins - separating fact from fiction". I shall be interested to see how this new feature works out.

We were told at Back To Our Past that the AncestryDNA autosomal test will be launched in the UK and Ireland some time next year. The date has not yet been revealed but my money is on a launch in April 2015 at Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Birmingham. Although the AncestryDNA test is lacking many of the essential tools that we take for granted at Family Tree DNA and 23andMe (for example, a chromosome browser and the ability to download your segment data), Ancestry do have the advantage of a large subscriber base of over 250,000 people in the UK and Ireland. Many of these people will no doubt be tempted to take the test and a lot of them would probably have never considered testing at FTDNA or 23andMe. Family Tree DNA now offer a free autosomal transfer programme though it's necessary to pay a small fee of $39 to unlock additional matches and features. Anyone who tests at AncestryDNA will be able to transfer their results to FTDNA so that they can take advantage of all the extra tools and receive matches in FTDNA's international database. Another option for people who have tested at Ancestry and who wish to do more detailed comparisons is to upload their results to GedMatch, which is a free third-party website. GedMatch also have many additional useful features, such as a variety of admixture analyses, though there is a small fee to access some of the advanced tools. GedMatch also serves as a database where you can compare your results with people who have tested at all three testing companies, though the vast majority of people in the database are currently Americans. DNAGedcom provides a further range of tools for advanced users including Don Worth's wonderful Autosomal DNA Segment Analyser.

Now to get back to the subject of the AncestryDNA presentation at Back To Our Past. Mike Mulligan provided an introduction to autosomal DNA testing in a presentation that was pitched very much at a basic level. I was interested to learn that the headquarters are in Ireland. In order to prepare for the launch, testing has been done on eighty people who are either employees or their friends and family members. In contrast with my experience, Mike seems to have found quite a few close matches in the database. I suspect this is because a lot of Americans have quite recent Irish ancestry so people in Ireland are much more likely to get meaningful matches in the database. Mike has also had matches with a number of adoptees, and he's been corresponding with them and trying to help them. The price of the AncestryDNA test has not yet been decided. Mike mentioned that Ancestry did not want to give out segment data because of what they perceive as potential health issues.
Mike Mulligan of
Mike showed us some examples of the ethnicity reports provided by AncestryDNA. I've included photographs of a couple of the slides below but unfortunately the lighting at the RDS was rather bright and, even with my best attempts at upping the contrast in Photoshop, I'm afraid the images are still rather over-exposed.
The most interesting slide was one which showed a comparison of the ethnicity estimates received by some of the Ancestry employees in Ireland who were included in the "friends and family" testing. Although it was only a very small sample it seemed apparent that the people who were from the north west of Ireland were the ones who came out with the highest percentages of  "Irish". Most of the Ancestry employees were between 70% and 100% "Irish" though one person was only 29% "Irish". However he had a Scottish great-great-grandparent and also some English ancestry.

I'm personally not convinced that the AncestryDNA test is reliably able to distinguish between "Irish" and "British" DNA. According to my Ancestry DNA test my percentages are:

47% Europe West
21% Great Britain
20% Ireland
8%   Iberian Peninsula
4%   Trace regions

I have one Irish ggg grandmother, one Scottish ggg grandfather, and all my remaining known ggg grandparents are from England. However, I do have some gaps in my family tree, including a London-born great-grandfather whose parentage is unknown and who is my biggest brick wall, so it's possible that I do have some more distant Irish ancestry of which I'm unaware, though not enough to account for such a high percentage. I also have a surprisingly low percentage of "British" DNA. I've found that lots of Americans come out with very much higher percentages of "British" than me! also had a stand at Back To Our Past and the displays provided information about the Ancestry DNA test. The stand was always busy when I went past but I was surprised to see them advertising the test without being able to offer visitors the chance to buy a kit.
The stand at BTOP.
What's your story? at BTOP.
On the Monday after Back To Our Past the ISOGG members who had helping out at the show were treated to a special day out which had been arranged with meticulous detail by Gerard Corcoran, the ISOGG regional representative for Ireland. (I wrote about our day out in my previous blog post.) Gerard had arranged for us to have dinner on Monday evening at Ka Shing, a Chinese restaurant in Dublin city centre. The evening was hosted by, and three of the Ancestry team joined us for the dinner: John Halvey, Operations Manager, Ancestry International; Eric Booth, Senior Product Marketing Manager, International; and Mike Mulligan, the International Product Manager who had given the presentation on Saturday at BTOP. The evening provided us with an excellent opportunity to quiz the Ancestry staff about their autosomal DNA test. I was sitting next to Mike Mulligan. Mike had mentioned in his presentation that his DNA test had "confirmed" a genealogical connection with a sixth cousin once removed which had shown up as a shaky leaf hint. However, such a statement is highly misleading as it's quite possible that the shared DNA could have come from a different ancestor altogether. You can only verify such relationships by having access to the underlying segment data, and using techniques like triangulation and chromosome mapping to determine which ancestral couple contributed the matching DNA segment. For examples of how the AncestryDNA leaf hints have the potential to lead people up the garden path have a look at Heather Collins' blog post My AncestryDNA review: a cautionary tale and CeCe Moore's article AncestryDNA, raw data and Rootstech. Mike conceded that this is potentially a problem. He told me that Ancestry have done a lot of research and it is apparent that the vast majority of their customers are not interested in doing the advanced autosomal DNA analysis that is being conducted by some of the members of our genetic genealogy community, which is why Ancestry have not provided the tools. Their research certainly confirms my own findings from talking to people in the UK who have taken autosomal DNA tests. I find that very few people are up to the challenges of using the advanced techniques, and many struggle with the basics such as trying to download their list of matches into Excel. Intriguingly, however, Mike did mention that Ancestry have some sort of triangulation tool in the pipeline. He said he'd seen the results for one of his US colleagues using this tool and they were very interesting. We shall have to wait and see what materialises.
Dinner at Ka Shing courtesy of 
I didn't get round to discussing the discontinuation of the AncestryDNA Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests. AncestryDNA stopped selling these tests in June this year, and their Y-DNA and mtDNA database was scheduled to be destroyed in September much to the horror of the genetic genealogy community. I understand that John Halvey, who was sitting on the other table from me, was getting a hard time from my fellow ISOGG members about the potential destruction of this irretrievable asset. However, CeCe Moore, who was at the bloggers' summit, has since advised me they were informed that the "legacy" database has not been destroyed after all. She tells me  "It's fate remains up in the air for now, but fortunately all hope is not lost."

Competition is very healthy, and it will be interesting to see how the genetic genealogy market evolves in 2015.

This post was updated on 13 November to correct the information on the AncestryDNA Y-DNA and mtDNA databases following a comment received from CeCe Moore.

See also my blog post dated 8th January 2015 - The Ancestry Y-DNA and mtDNA samples have not been destroyed after all.

© Debbie Kennett 2015