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AncestryDNA raw data released

AncestryDNA came through this past week, keeping the promise it made last year to make the raw data underlying its autosomal DNA test available for download.

The data will soon be able to be uploaded for a fee to Family Tree DNA for comparison to its database of test results and to third party utility sites such as GedMatch.

The promise was made last October by Dr. Ken Chahine, Senior Vice President and General Manager of AncestryDNA, in the keynote presentation at the Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston. He said then that AncestryDNA was “working to provide access to … raw DNA data in early 2013.”1 Here it is, not quite April, so early enough in 2013.

Now, before we go on, here’s a reminder: an autosomal DNA test is the kind of test that works across genders and helps you find cousins in recent generations.2 Unlike YDNA, you don’t have to locate sons of sons of sons to test and only get results in the male line,3 and unlike mitochondrial DNA, you don’t have to locate daughters of daughters of daughters and only get results in the female line.4 With autosomal DNA, you can test the son of a daughter of a son against the daughter of a son of a daughter and get good results.5

It’s the same kind of DNA test that Family Tree DNA offers as its Family Finder test and that 23andMe offers with results called Relative Finder.

This is a very big step forward for AncestryDNA, since that service offers no — repeat no — serious tools for actually using your autosomal test results. Yes, it gives you a match list and a hint if an ancestor in your match’s online tree matches an ancestor in your online tree. But that’s really it.

A list of common surnames is useful, and the ability to see your ancestral places mapped against a match’s ancestral locations is nice, but there’s no chromosome browser so you can see where in your DNA you match the others who’ve tested. You’re stuck with hints in online family trees — and no way to see if they’re correct.

The chromosome browser is a basic and essential tool for genetic genealogy — and the reason why I for one have been nagging and nagging about getting the raw data released. It’s a tool AncestryDNA owes its customers, but if it isn’t going to provide one — or keeps it low on its priority list — then at least now we can take the raw data to another company or service that does provide one now.

We know that the chromosome browser isn’t on AncestryDNA’s priority list because its representatives said so, repeatedly, at the RootsTech conference this past week in Salt Lake City. Next up are the interface improvements promised in January.6 Those will include a greatly enhanced search function so you’ll be able to search for a username to see if that person is in your match list and to see if any of your matches have a particular surname in their family trees.

Not only did the representatives make it clear a chromosome browser wasn’t coming any time soon, they also made it clear that there are those within the AncestryDNA organization who don’t want one at all. They cite a desire to keep the service simple (for which, read: dumbed down) and a concern for privacy.

But they also made it clear that AncestryDNA is listening, and that every comment made by a customer who clicks on the feedback link on the DNA pages is read. So if actually being able to use your AncestryDNA results in a meaningful way on AncestryDNA (instead of being forced to use another company or a third-party utility) is important to you, tell them so!

Now… should you run right out and download your raw AncestryDNA results? Well, not this morning, really. It’s going to take a few weeks before either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch will be set up to accept the new raw data. It’s just a little different in format from the results reported by other companies, so the system for converting it to a comparable structure will take a little while.

Family Tree DNA’s Bennett Greenspan told The Legal Genealogist yesterday that his company should be able to accept the AncestryDNA raw data by May 1, and expects to offer an introductory price below the $89 currently charged for uploads from 23andMe. Uploading your data there gives you another pool to fish in for genetic cousins and a first-rate set of analytical tools including the so-important chromosome browser.

GedMatch, a third party utility that’s free, may be ready to accept uploads of AncestryDNA raw results sooner. A notice on the GedMatch website says: “We anticipate being able to accept … Ancestry.Com raw DNA files within the next 2 weeks.” And if you’re using GedMatch (and you should be), a donation to make sure that can happen — and that the service remains available — is a Very Good Idea.

The bottom line? This is a good move by AncestryDNA. Also a good move is their commitment to update and revise their ancestral origins reports — those percentages they give you on the first page of your results. At RootsTech, their representatives conceded that the Scandinavian percentages that have so many of us baffled are — shall we say, overestimated.

The interface improvements on the horizon for the search function will be a good move too, and standardizing the price at $99 for everyone — Ancestry subscriber or not — is a good move as well.

And without a chromosome browser, AncestryDNA remains “genetic genealogy light.” It’s that key tool that could finally put AncestryDNA into the realm of serious players.

Let’s hope they get that message.


 
SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “DNA doings,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 Oct 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Mar 2013).
  2. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  3. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 21 Jan 2013.
  4. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA test,” rev. 29 Jan 2013.
  5. See generally Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing.”
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “AncestryDNA: an explanation and a promise,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Jan 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Mar 2013).
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