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The conference news

It’s an exciting time to be a genetic genealogist.

utah-dnaThe DNA world continues to develop and evolve and nowhere was that more evident than in Salt Lake City this past week as announcement after announcement came from the major players in the genetic genealogy community.

The venue was the massive combined conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and RootsTech, and what was announced shows just how much DNA has moved into the genealogical mainstream in just a few short years.

Big news from AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA dominated the landscape… but even 23andMe dropped hints of good things to come.

Ancestry’s DNA Circles

First out of the gate was AncestryDNA with its announcements that, first, it will begin selling testing kits in Australia and Canada this year after its successful launch in the United Kingdom and, second, it will expand on DNA circles by a system of tree matching using DNA — even if you don’t have a tree.

Kendall Hulet, Ancestry vice president for product development in charge of AncestryDNA, and his AncestryDNA team demonstrated the DNA Circles expansion to a group of DNA bloggers during the week, and explained that the aim of the new system will be to connect an individual who has DNA-tested to others likely descended from the same ancestors — even if the individual’s tree doesn’t show the connection.

The current DNA Circles system takes persons who do share DNA and combines them into groups based on data from their public Ancestry family trees. If I match you and you match me and we both have — say — John Smith as a direct ancestor in our online trees, we show up on AncestryDNA with a shared ancestor hint. DNA Circles then takes our group and matches it to other groups that also have John Smith in their trees but who may match only me or only you. It’s a way to build out groups of cousins who can work together to try to determine if we really do all descend from the same John Smith.

The expanded DNA Circles will take the DNA testing data alone and suggest groups that an individual could belong to, even if that individual has an incomplete tree online — or no tree at all. The intent is to group people where there is enough common DNA to say that it is likely that everyone in that circle is related through a particular ancestor or ancestral couple.

In other words, it’s a first-ever effort to link people to a family tree using DNA data by itself. (Added note: First ever by the corporate world, of course. Individuals have been doing this the hard way from the beginning!)

Hulet and Ancestry DNA Senior Product Manager Kenny Freestone added that there was, of course, no guarantee that the suggested relationship would be correct; it was — like the shaky leaf hints and shared ancestor hints — a research suggestion instead. And, they noted, only about two in seven AncestryDNA users will see a new suggested circle pop up: in the demonstration, for example, there were no new suggested ancestors in my lines.

The rollout of the new Circle system won’t be for some weeks yet and it will come at the same time as a new visual presentation for all Ancestry data that will include biographical information on these new suggested ancestral links.

Family Tree-Findmypast Partnership

Next up was the announcement by Annelies Van Den Belt, Chief Executive Officer of DC Thomson Family History, of a partnership between its service Findmypast and Family Tree DNA.

The exact details of the partnership will be fleshed out in the weeks and months to come, but starting immediately, Findmypast will be offering a special rate on Family Tree DNA tests as part of their premium service for annual subscribers, Findmypast First.

According to Van Den Belt, this new partnership is “just the beginning of Findmypast’s journey into DNA testing” for their customers, and D. Joshua Taylor, Findmypast’s Director of Family History said the partnership came about in part based on the recognition that “DNA testing has the potential to help everyone discover more about their family history, and to make even more connections in their research.”

Particularly in light of Findmypast’s European roots and strong English-Irish-Scottish-Welsh presence, this partnership may pay off strongly for Americans who’ve tested with Family Tree DNA and are looking for their British Isles roots.

Family Tree DNA links to family trees

Last but hardly least of the announcements was the announcement by Family Tree DNA yesterday that it has partnered with FamilySearch to provide direct links from Family Tree DNA to the FamilySearch Family Tree — and from that tree back to Family Tree DNA.

James Brewster of Family Tree DNA demonstrated the coming-soon linking yesterday in a presentation to the Federation of Genealogical Societies, “Five Fun New Ways to Improve Your Genealogical Research.” And it looks like it’s going to be terrific once it launches.

Anyone logged in to FamilySearch who drops down the Search menu will soon see a new menu choice: DNA. Clicking on that will present a user with the chance to search the database to see how many people with a particular surname have done a DNA test and how many people are in the family tree of a person who has done a DNA test.

For example, a search result could report that there were 1045 people with that surname in the Family Tree DNA database, that the surname appears in 14 countries, that 245 DNA projects are researching that surname and that there are 13,218 people with that surname in the family trees of people in the Family Tree DNA database. And every search report page will offer a link that allows the user to order a DNA test right then and there.

Anyone logged in at Family Tree DNA will be able to click on a link and connect testing data from Family Tree DNA to the FamilySearch Family Tree database. Anyone looking at matches at Family Tree DNA will see a new icon showing that a match has a family tree at FamilySearch — with direct links to individual entries at the FamilySearch Family Tree that match.

Users of the FamilySearch Family Tree will be able to link their Family Tree data with their Family Tree DNA test results and entries for individuals in the FamilySearch Family Tree will have links to relevant testing projects at Family Tree DNA.

Users of Family Tree DNA will also be able to link their data to trees at and MyHeritage.

There’s more to come

It’s clear from discussions with executives of all of the DNA testing companies that there’s more to come and soon. Family Tree DNA will have new groups and a global search capability. AncestryDNA will have a visual presentation of data that makes seeing connections easy. Even 23andMe — which had no announcements during the conference — made it clear that there are good things just around the corner.

Stay tuned.

It’s such an exciting time to be a genetic genealogist…

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