The raw story at AncestryDNA

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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35 Responses to The raw story at AncestryDNA

  1. Diana says:

    I anxiously awaited your Sunday post as I was hoping for good news. I am very disappointed to hear that Ancestry will not be adding a chromosome browser to its DNA tools. I have spent over $400 on four tests and would spend at least that much more if I thought that they would be adding this extremely needed tool. Instead, I will be purchasing tests from other companies.

    I honestly expected more from Ancestry. The tests that I have purchased are useless if only comparing them to other trees. So many of the trees are copies of Ancestry trees and you frequently have to dig hard to find proof. With my four tests, I have over 15,000 matches and have no clue as to how I match most. And, of all of those matches, I have only three hints – all known family.

    Maybe they are trying to keep it simple, but there are those of us who want more advanced tools and are willing to learn how to use them.

    Thank you so much for your informative blog!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Diana, and if we keep pushing we MAY convince Ancestry on the chromosome browser issue.

  2. Tim Forsythe says:

    Judy, Do you have a link to their announcement or know where to go to download the results?

  3. Pingback: Blues Skies Cap the End of RootsTech 2013 | The Single Leaf

  4. Karla says:

    Glad you and Roberta Estes are pushing on this. I make a lot of use of Ancestry.com’s databases, but their handling of DNA testing is just ridiculous.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      We’re not the only ones pushing, Karla. Most of the serious genetic genealogists — including Blaine Bettinger, CeCe Moore, Tim Janzen and others — are all on board on this.

  5. Taneya says:

    I am so disappointed to hear that Ancestry does not consider it important to show us segment matches. I haven’t tested with them yet, and with the new price, I am very inclined to. However, not having the tools to fully analyze matches is still worrisome for me. Thanks for your post.

  6. Margaret Black says:

    Well, I must say I am a novice at all of this but, I too, was terribly disappointed there was no browser. I called and told them so and they gave me a run around that led me to believe it was impossible. Hmmmm

  7. JMB says:

    More on this please:
    “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.”
    Is Ancestry going to be lowering the price on their AncestryDNA test?

  8. Pingback: Ancestry Needs Another Push – Chromosome Browser | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  9. Teresa Devine says:

    Judy,I look forward to your weekend posts on DNA, but I confess, I’m a complete beginner on the subject. I’ve done the AncestryDNA test and my brother has done the Y-DNA testing at Family Tree DNA. Could you recommend some reading or websites I can use to educate myself? Thanks!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Teresa, why not start with the videos produced by the testing companies and National Geographic? You can get a list in my blog entry here.

  10. Dave Lucey says:

    Thanks for the update Judy. I’m happy to have the raw data and hopefully new features will continue to be added including the browser.
    On a related note, wanted to let you know that the “with hints” functionality still doesn’t show any of my old matches that had hints prior to the functionality being rolled out. If you recall you had gone back to Ken about it and he thought that it was just a matter of processing time, given it’s been several months I think it’s safe to say that’s not the case.
    Dave

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Dave, the continued loss of your hints doesn’t make any sense to me. I’d definitely contact AncestryDNA on that.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I somehow doubt that a petition is going to change Ancestry’s priorities, Shannon, but I sure understand the desire for these features. At least now, though, with the raw data, we can use utilities like GedMatch once it can again accept raw data uploads.

  11. Pingback: AncestryDNA Releases Raw Data

  12. Joe Barrus says:

    Unfortunately access to the raw data on Ancestry does this genealogist no good as I already have a FamilyFinder test done on FTDNA. What I need is access to the raw data to the extended pool of matches I found on Ancestry! That is, what you see in a chromosome browser. I really don’t need a fancy tool as much as I just prefer the ability to download the raw data of my matches and only the segments that I match on. I don’t need all the raw data of my matches, just the raw data of where we intersect in the DNA! Even with FTDNA I download this raw match data into an Excel spreadsheet where I can cross reference the intersections to find those in my matches who likely share the same common ancestor. This allows me to work bottom up from the data rather than top down through an online chromosome browser with limited capabilities.

    I hope Ancestry comes through. Being able to upload the data to FTDNA or GEDMATCH is nice but only gives us access to other matches outside the Ancestry pool. In order to get value from the Ancestry pool either everyone on Ancestry will have to move their data to FTDNA or GEDMATCH (which will never happen) or they need to give us access to the data of this pool. If they follow FTDNA’s model they won’t have to worry about privacy as you only ever get access to the small portion of data from your matches where you intersect and not all their data.

    Until then the DNA feature on Ancestry has very little value in my opinion for any serious genealogist. I don’t know why anyone at Ancestry would care to keep this as just a hobby interface given the tremendous amount of data and customers they have. They could easily lead the way with innovative DNA based genealogy.

    Joe

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Nobody who’s serious about genetic genealogy disagrees with you on the need for a chromosome browser, Joe. The issue is getting AncestryDNA into the “serious about genetic genealogy” camp.

  13. Linda Gooding says:

    Hello All,

    I was just told by a match through ancestry that in the raw data there is a medical part to it. Before I transfer this information over to GEDMATCH (when it is back up) I would like to remove this information. How do I identified this information so I can remove it. I am not interest in the medical just the DNA.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no way to separate out from your autosomal results those specific areas that might be read, by a particularly sophisticated researcher, as having some medical significance. The data itself isn’t identified in that way, and it isn’t something a hobbyist would be likely to do. Your best bet, if this is a concern at all, is to upload under a pseudonym, and that’s perfectly permissible.

  14. Linda Gooding says:

    Thanks Judy,

    The way that person talked it was something that you could tell by just looking at the raw data and I just didn’t want to make it easy for someone else to see but since it is hard to find I will be find with downloading to GEDMATCH. I am new at this and having a hard time trying to figure out how to understand and interrupted the results.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It would be nice if it were that easy, Linda, but it takes quite a bit of knowledge to read the raw data and say anything definitive about health characteristics!

  15. Thomas Ryder says:

    I’m curious about your insistence that I “should be” using Gedmatch. Why do you think so? That appears to me to be a very amateurish operation with NO assurance of intent or process to maintain privacy. There is a wealth of very sensitive and private information contained in 700,000 genotypes. For whatever conservative-ism Ancestry.com has shown, and the resulting limitations on services provided, it is consistent with their explicit policy to protect your privacy. Do you think I am overlooking something at Gedmatch?

  16. Harold Kravis says:

    I did my DNA with FamilyTreeDNA.
    Had good results.
    Is ancestry not as good?
    I am thinking to do ancestry.
    My cousin did ancestry.
    Please let me know if ancestry good.
    Thank Harold Kravis

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Harold, the test itself is just as good. You will also have a pool of new people who may be your possible matches. What you will not get is the tools to do any kind of deeper analysis. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it — I have! — but just be aware that tools we take for granted at Family Tree DNA like matches in common and the chromosome browser don’t exist at Ancestry.

  17. J. Kirby Ward says:

    I read with a lot of loss of confidence about DNA testing for genealogy. If all I get back are pie charts and inferences about past family locations, it is useless. We need to be able to compare and reach to the heart of genealogy. I don’t need to be told that my background is 75% western europe, hell, I already know that. Then I just have to figure out which one of the 250 million plus I’m related to. Don’ take my $99 and tell me something I already know.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      That’s not all you get, even from AncestryDNA. You also get specific names of specific people to whom you are genetically related and with whom you can work to determine your common ancestors.

  18. deanna ramirez says:

    i downloaded from chrome the ancestry dna helper. it show the extension on my pc but it is not showing on my ancestry page. i dont know what i have or havent done. help! Please!
    deanna

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