Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ready, Fire, Aim: Ancestry Misses the Target

Ancestry announced a change to DNA test management late this past Thursday that angered many of their core customers. Effective immediately, only one DNA test can be activated from each Ancestry account. The blog posting where the announcement was made was followed by hundreds of frustrated comments. I share many of the concerns stated by others and won't repeat them here. Rather, let me tell you about my first cousin.

Ro was raised in the eastern US, while I was raised in the west. We've now switched coasts. I can count on two hands the number of times we've seen each other in person. We email and are friends on Facebook, but we're not close. Ro lives on a fixed income, but decided to take a DNA test with Ancestry. We got together last year and she explained something that had just not registered with me before: she was an orphan.

Her father had died when she was in grade school and her mother had placed the children in boarding schools. The family unit was irretrievably broken at that point. Ro and her mother had a tumultuous relationship, but were starting to mend it when tragedy struck. Traveling on icy and treacherous roads, the two were in a horrendous accident. Both were badly hurt. Her mother never fully recovered. She died after lingering and fighting for over two years.

Ro's mother and my father, siblings, were orphaned young. Likewise, both their maternal grandparents (our great-grandparents) had been orphaned. Ro and her siblings had also been orphaned in their 20s. They were the third generation of orphans in four generations. Like many adoptees and orphans, she was curious about her heritage.

Ro had a free Ancestry account under which she registered her DNA test. When her test popped up as a match to mine, I looked over her tree and suggested a couple of changes that would make our trees align. She was able to make simple changes, but did not have an easy way to add the many generations of ancestors that I shared with her. I had done some work on her father's family, also, so had plenty of data to share.

After trying a couple of ways to get my data into her tree, we gave up on doing it the right way and used the dirty way. Ro gave me the password to her Ancestry account. Today her tree has about 100 names more than the number she started with. I maintain (or don't maintain) her tree. If there are questions from other researchers, she sends them to me.

I also have elevated rights for her DNA test. When I first logged into AncestryDNA as Ro, I was appalled at how limited her account was. Having spent as much as $100 for the test, she could only see a few of her top matches. That seems blatantly unfair. Instead, I am the one who reviews her matches and writes notes for them.

Ro also asked for a favor. Could I find any newspaper coverage of that awful car accident? I looked at several newspaper websites, including (owned by Ancestry), to which I had a subscription at the time. I found some possible matches in that collection, but there was a problem. That particular newspaper was part of the "Publisher Extra" collection. Even with my paid subscription, I couldn't check out the articles without paying additional subscription fees.

In a previous post, I stated that Ancestry wants two things. This new policy shows they want three things:
  1. Your money for subscriptions
  2. Your genealogy data to grow their database
  3. Your DNA, with permission to use it for research
I'll stay with Ancestry for now, but I won't be buying any more DNA test kits from them. We'll all see what effects this policy will bring to the Ancestry landscape.

Two of my distant cousins who are reading this (I hope) might be able to find that newspaper coverage for Ro. One of you moved a couple of years ago from a state near me to a state where we have our shared roots. You are my best hope, as you now live near the accident site. The other cousin may have access to a full subscription through your FHC. If either of you are willing to try to help Ro learn more about her past, please email me.

1 comment: