New tools are hints only

The buzz at this past week’s RootsTech conference was all about new tools for analyzing DNA results at AncestryDNA and MyHeritage DNA.

Ancestry announced its ThruLines: “ThruLines™ shows you the common ancestors who likely connect you to your DNA Matches—and gives you a clear and simple view of how you’re all related. When you link your public or private searchable family tree to your AncestryDNA results, new chapters of your family story may be revealed.”1

And MyHeritage announced its Theory of Family Relativity: “This unprecedented feature helps you make the most of your DNA Matches by incorporating genealogical information from all our collections of nearly 10 billion historical records and family tree profiles, to offer theories on how you and your DNA Matches might be related. If you’ve taken a MyHeritage DNA test or uploaded your DNA results to MyHeritage, this revolutionary technology may offer astounding new information on your family connections.”2

Both of these tools try to combine data from DNA tests, family trees and — in MyHeritage’s case — other record sources to provide clues to possible ancestral lines.

And despite their enormous promise, here’s the simple truth:

magic wand

They are not magic wands.

No matter how much we want tools like this to be the end-all-and-be-all of family history research using DNA, there’s no such thing as a magic wand.

They are providing hints or clues only, and not rock-solid-take-it-to-the-bank evidence that we can use without question in our family histories.

We’re still going to have to work — and work hard — to analyze, verify, validate and, yes, often disprove and reject what these hints and clues are telling us.

Any time you combine DNA evidence — which can tell us, reliably, that we are related in some way to another person — with family tree data — which is self-reported and often speculative and undocumented — you’re going to end up with a whole bunch of hints and clues that are — let’s say it outright — often just dead wrong.

If the family trees are wrong, the suggested common ancestor is going to be wrong. It doesn’t matter if 500 family trees on Ancestry say that my Virginia Baker family descends from Alexander Baker of Boston. It’s still fiction. We have definitive YDNA evidence that the Virginia Bakers and the Boston Bakers are two entirely different families, and no fudging of the family tree data is going to merge them into one.

Sometimes it’s a matter that the DNA itself suggests a relationship that isn’t so. I’m not going to be descended from my third great grandfather’s brother and his wife no matter how many DNA matches I have to the descendants of my third great grandfather’s brother and his wife. The fact is, the wives of these two brothers were sisters and so all descendants of both of these couples share the same two sets of fourth great grandparents.

So let me repeat: these tools offer hints or clues only, and not rock-solid-take-it-to-the-bank evidence that we can use without question in our family histories. We’re still going to have to work — and work hard — to analyze, verify, validate and, yes, often disprove and reject what these hints and clues are telling us.

They’re giving us ideas and places to start. They don’t give us the end of the story.

There’s no such thing as a magic wand.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “No magic wands,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 3 March 2019).

SOURCES

  1. Ancestry® Announces Coveted Content Releases and New, Game-Changing Family History Research Tools at RootsTech 2019,” Ancestry.com blog, posted 28 Feb 2019 (https://blogs.ancestry.com/ : accessed 3 Mar 2019). See also Judy G. Russell, “Ancestry advances at RootsTech,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Feb 2019 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 3 Mar 2019).
  2. Introducing The Theory of Family Relativity™ — a Genealogy Game-Changer,” MyHeritage Blog, posted 28 Feb 2019 (https://blog.myheritage.com/ : accessed 3 Mar 2019). See also Judy G. Russell, “New MyHeritage DNA tools,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Feb 2019.
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