Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The AncestryDNA international roll-out, shaky leaves and AncestryHealth

The AncestryDNA test is now starting to be rolled out in other countries. The test was officially launched in the US in May 2012. It became available in the UK and Ireland in January 2015, and was launched in Australia and New Zealand at the end of May. The test became available in Canada this week. It is not known if Ancestry will sell the test in any other countries. They also have offices and a subscriber base in Sweden and Germany. Germany has restrictive laws on direct-to-consumer testing so it seems unlikely that the test will be offered there. However, Sweden might well be another target market for the company in the near future.

It is interesting to note that the AncestryDNA test is much more expensive outside the US, and it remains to be seen how this will impact the take up of the test in other countries. Here is a comparison of the prices.

US $99 + $9.95 for shipping = US $108.95
Australia and New Zealand AUS $149 + $29.99 for shipping = $178.99 or US $138
Canada CAN $149+ $19.95 for shipping = $168.95 or US $138.40
UK and Ireland £99 + £20 shipping = £119 or US $183

Note that we are paying much more for the test in the UK and Ireland than in any other country. However, Ancestry do have frequent promotions such as the current offer of 10% off for Father's Day so do look out for these special offers.

I put myself on the invitation list when the AncestryDNA test first came out in the US, and was able to order a test in June 2012 despite the fact that I don't live in America, though this loophole was quickly closed. The AncestryDNA database has grown at a phenomenal rate and by the end of March this year they had DNA results for over 850,000 people. However, with a database that has until this year been 99.9% American I've had very little out of the test so far. I have no known cousins in America. Nevertheless I have had a lot of matches but they are nearly all with very distant cousins with deep roots in Colonial America. They generally have no surnames or geographical locations in common with me and it would be an impossible task trying to find the genealogical connection in these circumstances.

Now that the first results are starting to come in from the UK the situation is changing and I'm pleased to report that I have my first ever shaky leafy hint at AncestryDNA which has enabled me to confirm a genealogical connection with a third cousin in the UK. The shaky leaf hints are well named because the leaf really does shake when you first see it! This is what my match page now looks like.


The predicted relationship for my new match was third to fourth cousin. When I click to view the match I get taken to a page where I can see the shared ancestor hint and an outline of our two trees showing our connection to the common ancestral couple, my great-great-grandparents Charles James Wiggins and Mary Ann Thorn. (I've blurred out the names of the recent generations in the screenshot below.)


In this particular case the shaky leaf hint has worked exceptionally well, and my match turned out to be a third cousin. Because it's a close relationship it probably would have been a straightforward matter finding the connection but it certainly helps having Ancestry doing all the hard work for you. I shall look forward to confirming more relationships as more results start to come back from the UK and Ireland. I also look forward to receiving matches with people in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as I have a number of links with all three countries in my family tree.

The frustrating part of the AncestryDNA test is that there is no way of verifying the validity of the match. Ancestry do not provide the underlying segment data on which the match is based and they don't offer a chromosome browser. It is rather like being given access to an index and then finding that the key records that you want in the index have been withheld for no good reason and you are expected to rely instead on someone else's transcription. I am hoping to persuade my match to transfer her results to Family Tree DNA using the autosomal DNA transfer programme. I'm also hoping that she will be able to transfer her results to GedMatch. However, we should not have to rely on transferring our data to other websites in order to access such basic data. I hope that Ancestry will fix this issue as a matter of priority.

In another development Roberta Estes reports that Ancestry are now beta-testing a new AncestryHealth website in the US. Roberta has bravely volunteered as a guinea pig and tried out the new service. I suggest you read her blog post if you want to find out more. It remains to be seen if AncestryHealth will become available in other countries. It is not clear to me what benefits can be derived from such a service as it is not telling you anything that you didn't already know. There are already a number of free tools available online to calculate your risk of developing various conditions. Here are three examples that I found in a quick internet search: Stroke Risk Calculator, Diabetes Risk Calculator, and Oncolink. However, if I had a family history of a particular condition I would much rather go and visit my GP to determine my risk rather than input the information on a website. If I want to record my own health information online I can use a free service like the Microsoft HealthVault.

Although AncestryHealth is currently a separate entity from AncestryDNA you can import your family tree and also your ethnicity estimates from AncestryDNA. I noticed that the AncestryDNA Privacy Statement and Terms and Conditions were updated on 18th May and the changes take effect for existing customers from 18th June 2015. I have not received an e-mail from Ancestry advising me of these changes but the updates were visible when I checked into my AncestryDNA account. The Privacy Statement was also updated back in February 2015 though I don't recall noticing this update at the time. On comparing the different versions the biggest change I noticed was introduced back in February this year. AncestryDNA now make it explicitly clear that users' DNA results will be internally analysed not just for genealogical purposes but also for "medicine and other topics".

Here is the relevant clause from the old Privacy Statement dated 20th March 2013:
v) To Research the human genome. If you voluntarily agreed to the AncestryDNA Consent Agreement we may use the Results and other information in an aggregated and anonymous form, for the purposes of research and publication and in accordance with the AncestryDNA Consent Agreement.
Ancestry do state here that your DNA results can be used for research but the implication is that this will only happen if you voluntarily sign the AncestryDNA Consent Agreement. Contrast this clause with the updated Privacy Statement dated 20th February 2015:
vi) To perform research: AncestryDNA will internally analyze Users’ results to make discoveries in the study of genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics. In addition, if you voluntarily agreed to the Research Project Informed Consent we may use the Results and other information for the purposes of collaborative research and publication and in accordance with the Informed Consent.
If you sign up for AncestryHealth you are given the option to sign an Informed Consent form to participate in research. Similarly, if you take an AncestryDNA test you are also given the option to participate in research by signing an Informed Consent form. The wording of both forms is almost identical. Here is the description of the Research Project from AncestryDNA:
1. What is the research project?
The Ancestry Human Diversity Project collects, preserves and analyzes genealogical pedigrees, historical records, surveys, family health data, medical and health records, genetic information, and other information (collectively, "Information") from people all around the world in order to conduct research studies to better understand, among other things, human evolution and migration, population genetics, population health issues, ethnographic diversity and boundaries, genealogy, and the history of our species ("The Project"). Researchers hope that the Project will be an invaluable tool for a wide range of scholars interested in genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics and that the Project may benefit future generations.
Here is the description of the project from AncestryHealth:
What is the research project?
The Ancestry Human Diversity Project utilizes genealogical pedigrees, historical records, surveys, family health data, medical and health records, genetic information, and other information (collectively, “Information”) from people all around the world in order to conduct research studies to better understand, among other things, human evolution and migration, population genetics, population health issues, ethnographic diversity and boundaries, genealogy, and the history of our species (“The Project”). Researchers hope that the Project will be an invaluable tool for a wide range of scholars interested in genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics, and that the Project may benefit future generations.
Many people will have signed the Informed Consent form on AncestryDNA without realising what they were doing as it is presented as just one extra box to be ticked to complete the order process, and it is easy to tick the box without even reading the form. I wrote of my concerns about this process when I activated my own kit back in 2012. At that time the research project was known as the Human Genome Diversity Project. As I was unable to find out any further information about what this project involved I did not sign the form and have still not done so.

I suspect many people who took the AncestryDNA test will be surprised to find that by submitting their DNA for a genealogical DNA test their results might also be used for medical research. I'm quite happy to have my DNA used for research purposes. I've tested at 23andMe, and I am participating in the UK Biobank Project which is sequencing the DNA of over 500,000 British people. However, if people's DNA results are to be used for medical research I do think that the process should be transparent and that informed consent should be obtained up front rather than changing the terms and conditions and the privacy policy and hoping that people won't notice.

Despite these concerns I do think it is worthwhile doing the AncestryDNA test. Ancestry have a big marketing machine and will inevitably attract customers who would not have considered taking a test anywhere else. However, if you are taking a test to confirm a specific hypothesis about relationships then the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA is the most cost-effective option. The Family Finder test costs around £70 inclusive of postage versus £119 for the AncestryDNA test.

For a detailed comparison of all the different autosomal DNA testing companies see Tim Janzen's Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart in the ISOGG Wiki. See also Sue Griffith's Notes for UK (and ex-US) residents on DNA testing companies where she provides advice and detailed costings on testing with all the different companies from a UK perspective.

© 2015 Debbie Kennett

4 comments:

Kelly said...

Congrats Debbie! This is what ANCESTRY does best. I hope that more UK testers means more shaky leaves. Believe it or not I have over 200 of these. Even without the chromosome browser between the CIRCLES and the shaky leaf hints I have a dozen or more with the same ancestral couple though different lines of descent. Kelly

Debbie Kennett said...

Thanks Kelly. Here's hoping for many more shaky leaves! I can't believe I'll ever get as many as you though!

Ken Gladwin said...

Hello Debbie,
I have already tested with FamilyTreeDNA but was offered an opportunity to test with Ancestry-DNA since, as you mentioned, it is now being offered in Australia. I am looking forward to those shaky leaves too.
I thought that I would be mailing the sample to an Australian laboratory (I'm sure that we must have one or two somewhere over here) and was surprised that the test was mailed to Ireland. Yet despite this, our test is considerably cheaper than in the UK. How come mail costs are the equivalent of £15 to go 12,000 miles, when you're paying £20 to go a couple of hundred? Compared to the price of a similar test on FamilyTreeDNA, I think Ancestry is ripping off early adopters and will surely have to reduce them in a few months.

Debbie Kennett said...

Ken, I believe the kits still go from Ireland back to America to be processed as Ancestry do not have a lab in Ireland. I believe there are differences in taxes. VAT is 20% here whereas I understand the average sales tax in America is about 5%. The kits are sent to the UK by courier and I believe that's something to do with restrictions imposed by the Irish postal service. I'm afraid I've no idea why it should be so much cheaper to send a kit to Australia than it is to send a kit across the Irish Sea.