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Great tool

Sometimes The Legal Genealogist is the last to know. But oh boy… what a wonderful tool was sent my way last night! And AncestryDNA users who don’t have it are really missing out.

A DNA cousin who found me via Gedmatch sent me a list of her AncestryDNA matches whose family trees contain the surname Gentry — a surname that’s prominent in my ancestry. The DNA cousin is trying to figure out whether she should focus on the possibility that she also has Gentry ancestors, so what we’re trying to figure out is which of those folks who have Gentry family members in their trees match both of us. That’s a process called triangulation and it’s useful in trying to narrow down the possible lines where you and a match might intersect.

Now one of the big complaints I’ve had about AncestryDNA from the outset is the absence of any method to search for a match by username or search all matches for a common surname. And there isn’t any easy way to compare my matches to the matches of my first-cousin-and-genealogy-buddy Paula to see who we might match in common.

As of last night, that all changed. One simple browser plug-in and I can now do all of those things — and more.

Its official title is the AncestryDNA Chrome Extension Beta 5.4, and it’s a browser plug-in written by Jeff Snavely, an AncestryDNA user from Oklahoma.

From the title of the plug-in, you might surmise — and you’d be right — that you need to use the Chrome browser to run it. That’s not exactly a hardship, since Chrome tends to be faster and leaner than, say, Internet Explorer, not to mention less prone to problems. (I only use Chrome and Firefox anyway, so “having” to use Chrome is not a problem for me.) So start by downloading that browser from Google.

The next step is to locate Jeff Snavely using the internal Ancestry system and send him a message asking him to send you the plug-in. (As far as I can tell, he hasn’t posted his email address publicly, so you will need to use the Ancestry system to send him the message.)

If you’re not familiar with how to do that, just point your browser to the Ancestry Member Directory, switch to the Basic Information tab, and enter his name — Jeff Snavely — in the User Name box. Click on his name in the results box and in the Profile that pops up, choose Contact and send him your request. And remember to provide the email address to which you want the plug-in sent. [Update: If his name doesn’t show up in the search, try using this link to go directly to his public profile.]

You’ll get an email with the plug-in attached, and directions on how to install it. Once it’s installed, the first step is to give the plug-in access to the information you see when you click on the Review Match link for each of your matches. The plug-in can’t report back to you on things like shared surnames until it’s had the chance to see those surnames.

Now if you have unlimited time and aren’t afraid of repetitive motion injury, you could sit there and open up each of your match results so the plug-in can see them. Me, I like automation, and the plug-in provides it beautifully. You start by running the Scan feature on any test to which you have access. You’ll find the scan buttons at the top on the “Your DNA Home Page” (see the graphic above).

Warning: it’s time-consuming. Because AncestryDNA reports all those outlier matches in the very low confidence distant cousin range, most users have thousands and thousands of matches. And the plug-in has to automatically what you’d have to do to review each one.

So be patient. I started the scan when I went to bed last night on my 4000-plus matches. It was finished when I woke up this morning. If anything goes wrong, you can use the Resume Scan button to pick up where it left off.

And once the scan is finished, oh boy… You’ll have a lot more options:

As shown in this graphic, from the “View your DNA Results” page,

     • You can search for a user by username to see if that person is in your match list.
     • You can search for a user by username in the match lists of all tests you manage.
     • You can search for a specific surname to get a list of all your matches whose online trees show that surname.
     • And you can search the text of any notes you’ve made about your matches.

And from the “Your DNA Home Page” you can compare the match lists of any two tests that you manage to come up with a list of matches in common. If you’ve tested two parents and a child and manage all three tests, you can run a phasing option that will help show you what matches the child has in common with the father and what matches come from the mother’s side. And you can download your match list in its entirety.

Now I know that Ancestry is promising to provide some of these search capabilities in its interface later this summer. And I know this plug-in is still not the full set of tools we all hope for as genetic genealogists. (Can we say chromosome browser, boys and girls? I knew we could…)

But AncestryDNA went from being a royal pain last night to being at least marginally useful this morning.

Thanks to one AncestryDNA user. Jeff Snavely, we all owe you. Big time.

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