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The numbers keep climbing

One of the keys to success in using DNA for genealogy is luck: having someone else who shares your DNA who’s also tested with the company (or companies) you tested with and who’s willing to connect and collaborate with you on your research.

When that luck strikes, there’s almost nothing like it. The Legal Genealogist felt that one day when, logging in to DNA results, it finally became clear what had happened to one family member.

William Robertson was the oldest brother of my great grandfather Jasper Carlton Robertson, and he disappeared from our radar in the records of the late 1880s. We knew he had still been in Delta County, Texas, in August of 18881 and had moved to Wilbarger County by January of 1889.2

And then he disappeared.

We won’t talk about that missing 1890 census that could have answered so many questions3 but trying to find the right William Robertson, born in Mississippi, in the 1900 census proved to be just about impossible. The wife and child he’d been recorded with in 18804… well, they weren’t with him in 1900.

So when I woke up one morning, logged into a set of DNA results and found the great grandson of William M. Robertson in my match list, it was like Christmas morning. He didn’t know who William’s parents were, and boy could we tell him about that! And we didn’t know what had happened to William, and boy could he tell us about that!

That is the great joy, great power and great value of DNA in genealogy.

But you can see that it depends, in part, on luck: what if this cousin had never tested?

In addition to blind luck, success in using DNA in genealogical research depends on the testing databases reaching a critical mass: as the sheer number of people who have tested goes up, it makes it more and more likely that anybody who tests — and those of us who tested long ago — are going to find those critical matches.

And we’re getting there.

At a simply astronomical rate.

On January 10, 2017, AncestryDNA posted in its blog that it had reached three million people in its database: “It took us 11 months to go from 1 million to 2 million customers and just seven months later, we’ve surpassed 3 million customers in our AncestryDNA database.”5

Yesterday, just three months after hitting three million, AncestryDNA hit the four million mark: “The AncestryDNA database grew from 3 to 4 million in the last three months,” the graphic on the company’s Twitter post read. “That’s about as fast as babies are born in the United States.”6

In 2015, 23andMe said it had one million people in its testing database.7 But just a few days ago, here in April 2017, news came that 23andMe had crossed the two million mark.8

Other DNA companies are experiencing the same growth9 and, with the entry of new players to the DNA testing world like LivingDNA and MyHeritage, the pace of growth should continue and, if anything, accelerate.

In other words, the chances for any of us to log into our accounts some morning and find that key cousin with the answers to our questions waiting for us in our match list is going up.

And if you want to help that along, this is the time. Because there are DNA Day sales going on just about everywhere as I wrote on Thursday in the post “DNA Day sales for 2017.”10

It really is an exciting time to be a genealogist — and to be or to become a genetic genealogist.

Join the crowd! Come on in… the water’s fine.


  1. Delta County, Texas, Deed Book Q: 29-30, Robertson to Fisher; Delta County Courthouse, Cooper.
  2. Delta County Deed Book N: 138-139, Robertson to Hargrove.
  3. See Kellee Blake, “‘First in the Path of the Firemen’: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census,” Prologue Magazine (Spring 1996), online version, ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
  4. 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, Texas, Justice Precinct 3, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 501B (stamped), dwelling 108, family 109, William M. Robertson; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300.
  5. Ancestry Team, “AncestryDNA Surpasses 3 Million Customers in DNA Database,” Ancestry blog, posted 10 Jan 2017 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
  6. DYK,”, Twitter post, 22 Apr 2017 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
  7. AnneW, “The Power of One Million,” 23andMeBlog, posted June 2015 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
  8. Leah Larkin, Ph.D., , “23andMe Breaks Two Million!,” The DNA Geek, posted 9 Apr 2017 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
  9. See ibid., “AncestryDNA Hits Four Million!,” posted 22 Apr 2017.
  10. Judy G. Russell, “DNA Day sales for 2017,The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Apr 2017 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2017).
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