GENEALOGICAL DNA TESTING – My Opinion on Gedmatch and more.

 

Ok,  This is my opinion.  I am asked often about GEDMATCH.  It may come up when I am delivering a presentation or workshop about genetic genealogy. It may be an email or message via Ancestry from someone about a possible DNA match and the sender has surrendered their tester’s DNA to GEDMATCH and they ask what my GEDMATCH information is or ask me to surrender my dna work there also.  I don’t use GEDMATCH.  Never have, never will. Though I do admit with all of the advertising and plugs being made at one junction I seriously considered it.  Here is why I chose not to surrender any DNA or my personal information to them or any third party tool site.  The reader will have to do their own due diligence and find peace with their decision.  I can only relay my own.

I just don’t feel it is the best route a researcher should take.  Honestly I believe many of us would be much further along with our genetic genealogy if AncestryDNA, 23andme, MyHeritageDNA, and GEDMATCH didn’t exist.  WHY?  If everyone submitted kits to FTDNA the largest genealogical database would simply be more complete. Wouldn’t we all prefer to go to one repository and have all the information we needed right there and have the confidence that it was THE place to find what we need?

When I submitted my first DNA kit to establish our Matthew JORDAN branch, I found no close match for us.  As I reviewed the JORDAN SURNAME PROJECT I found a kit submitted by a Georgia JORDAN family years earlier which belonged to the same tree as our Matthew but their kit was not communicating correctly with the rest.  How did this happen?  A GA family historian was stuck trying to resolve two early Georgia JAMES JORDAN branches. One called Elberton home.  The other Franklin.  So she asked a Franklin Co JORDAN family to do a DNA kit so she could determine which JG tree they were and how that family related to her Elberton GA Jordans.   Well, she found to her disappointment the man who agreed to do the DNA kit did it through Ancestry, not FTDNA.  *at the time Ancestry included Ymarker tests.  The researcher and the Franklin Co Jordan man worked together to move the raw data of the Ymarker test to FTDNA.  It was the first transfer done by FTDNA.  Something flukey occurred.  Only 23 markers transferred so there were not enough markers to identity the Franklin Co Jordan’s DNA JG Tree branch!  And more problematic, the transferred kit was not communicating with FTDNA kits because of the missing markers.  Ancestry got out of the Ymarker testing years ago. (if your research leads to someone who did do an Ancestry Ymarker test you can transfer that to FTDNA too.  Here is the link.  https://www.familytreedna.com/landing/ydna-transfer.aspx

Ancestry gave owners a very limited window to download their Ymarker raw data.  Ancestry now only provides autosomal tests.  When I submitted our kit I found that transferred Franklin Co GA Jordan kit was not communicating correctly. And sadly the man who did the initial test (the best DNA candidate for this Franklin Co Jordan family) had died. So he couldn’t do a new kit via FTDNA. The only option was for someone else in this family to do a kit.  A son submitted a new kit directly through FTDNA and the line finally was established where the GA researcher could properly do her work.  Not only could everyone clearly see the JG Tree and branch but because the kit was done via FTDNA, the researchers could anchor their branch by upgrading the FTDNA to include the Family Finder test.  Sadly the mtDNA information possible via the elder Jordan is no longer possible.  FTDNA has developed templates for Ancestry and 23andme so folks can easily transfer their Ancestry or 23andme raw data.  BUT there is a fundamental flaw with using Ancestry or 23andme and then transferring a male kit’s raw data.

If you move the raw data you do not move the actual DNA sample submitted

The sample stays at the lab.  So if you move the raw data YOU CANNOT UPGRADE a TRANSFERRED KIT.  So if you have submitted a female kit through Ancestry, you should transfer it to FTDNA.  If you have submitted a boy’s DNA via Ancestry

you still need to get a man to swab his cheeks and do a FTDNA kit so you can establish any paternal tree!

Many Ancestry pedigree charts will claim they have confirmed relationships using only autosomal tests done via Ancestry.  This many times is what I call PRIMROSE PATH genealogy work.  Sadly Ancestry, 23andme, and now GEDMATCH are just splintering the effort, making more work for each of us while they profit at our expense.  Ancesstry allows people who don’t quite understand DNA or just don’t care about the details and are doing sloppy work, to pollute the data streams including their own repository.  But hey, anyone who has used Ancestry can usually share where they found misinformation on Ancestry’s site.  Ancestry doesn’t seem to care about the quality of information they provide.  And it seems this is true for their DNA tests too.

I personally know 20 families whose research has been compromised because the best candidate, a father or grandpa or uncle did a kit through Ancestry and by the time the researcher(s) realized a ymarker test was necessary their best candidate had died.  Consequentially this family’s research efforts suffered a set back.  You can’t move DNA samples from one lab to another.  So, for economy, efficiency, and effectiveness I believe it is better to start and stop with FamilyTreeDNA.com when it comes to genealogical DNA work.   If folks want they can ADD an Ancestry DNA kit but at no time should anyone start or confine their genealogical DNA work to Ancestry or 23andme in my opinion.

Because the efforts are now split between three labs it has created three separate repositories. This means finding matches is more complicated.  Gedmatch just creates a fourth database AND it is not lost to me that they are building their database for their “FOR PROFIT” business out of Florida via researchers surrendering their autosomal dna raw data (and their own personal information) to them.  I have yet to see anything submitted to the Florida Secretary of State that explains how they make their profit.  This troubles me for a number a reasons.   Many may recall how FINDAGRAVE.com began and how “volunteers” spent their time sharing their research data regarding graves only to have the site grow to a point where the owners SOLD it to Ancestry.com and we are all waiting for the day when the folks who did the work will be locked out unless they pay a fee.  If you have been doing genealogy work long enough you will recall how FOOTNOTE evolved into FOLD3 after Ancestry bought that site.  The way military records attached to your ancestor suddenly were gone from their Ancestry profiles, and the military records shuffle that continues to this day.  Ancestry is making it next to impossible to see and use any military records unless one’s membership includes Fold3. Some folks are uploading raw records collected from the National Archives or elsewhere directly to an ancestor’s Ancestry.com profile as a direct result of what happened with footnote.com data.   I would argue FOLD3 is not as good as FOOTNOTE was.   Ancestry asks folks who pay membership fees to build out Ancestry’s holdings.  Ancestry creates multiple index collections of the same records.  Most of us simply want to find the raw record. We don’t need multiple indexes based on the same raw data.  Ancestry’s circles are not able to be filtered by geo tags and not a single one establishes or confirms a single paternal line.  Since my background is research I understand the necessity of collaborating and properly citing the particulars so research can be evaluated and confirmed.  Sharing is key to genealogical work be it a paper record, an oral history, or DNA. Since the way genealogical DNA testing works is by comparing DNA from others who also submitted kits I find it illogical and more complicated to start with Ancestry or 23andme and then move raw data to GEDMATCH because the labs/companies/sites don’t have the ability to provide fundamental information and don’t have the tools to even allow the ability to work matches properly!  Why not move the raw data to FTDNA instead?

GEDMATCH is using the shortcomings with Ancestry.com and 23andme’s’s DNA features to develop an independent database of their own.  I can see how this may appeal to some.  And since DNA kits are not cheap, it may be attractive to use a site that offers specialized tools for free!  IF YOU USE FAMILYTREEDNA.COM (aka FTDNA) in the first place you won’t have these shortcomings to hurdle and the costs of autosomal kits are competitive between Ancestry and FTDNA.  (at times FTDNA’s tests are more economical!  They run an annual sale in December where sale prices apply. And there is an additional possible discount on top of the sale price if you have a kit there before December or are working with others who can gift you a coupon.  Anyone with existing kits are provided coupons to use to help get the absolute best price for any test they need to submit!  The coupons change per kit per week during their sale. And for the last two years they have also run a sale in August too where an autosomal test is a terrific value, and they run flash sales at various times during the year.  If you have a kit you will receive notification of any sale via the email address you used for your kit-s).

Add FTDNA was the first genealogical lab and database,and they were and are the only one chosen to partner with National Geographic, the DAR, the Lost Colony Consortium, all very relevant entities for researchers who are working early North Carolina (or really any family who lived in any American Colony), and finally at FTDNA a researcher does not surrender their DNA information (like one does if they test at Ancestry.com, 23andme.com, MyHeritageDNA, or use GEDMATCH), I don’t see why anyone would chose to use inferior (and in one case a company who is partnering with the HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY and makes clear they are designed as open source, aka privacy is not a priority) sites.  Sure these places run tons of commercials using genealogy as a means to attract.  And I have seen and read many blogs or webisodes where someone is encouraging folks to ‘use’ GEDMATCH.  I believe all of the commercials and the endorsements are nothing more than advertisements. I believe each researcher needs to take the best road, deploy the best strategy, and use the best candidates, AND submit to the best lab!  In my opinion the choice is so easy.  You don’t find FTDNA saturating the airwaves with commercials.  They don’t have to do that.  There is a reason over 98 percent of professional genealogists use FTDNA for their DNA work.  Some may also use Ancestry. And some hobby genealogists might adopt the same strategy.  Since there are so many who have used Ancestry or 23and me, some professionals because of time considerations use both labs.  Remember a paid genealogist is normally working a particular defined project.  They are not working every line of a your pedigree.  These professionals may be hunting to help a family break through a brickwall.  Or delineate back to a particular Revolutionary War soldier.  Their focus is short term.  Their work is short term.

For the actual family who hired the professional they may be interested in one person or line today but tomorrow they may turn their attention to a different person or line.  IT IS CRITICAL in my opinion to take the steps now to set up your work so you can work ANY LINE correctly.  This means each individual today taking the time to establish at the very least their mom’s and dad’s lines by getting a boy who carries each surname to do a kit. The older the tester the better.  WHY?  Because a Family Finder test will reach back 5-7 generations from the tester.  Think about this.  We have a finite window of opportunity to get the best candidates’ dna submitted. (see chart below)

 

WHY submit it to a lab where only one test can be done?  And of all tests the only test available is the Family Finder (aka autosomal) test; the one with the shortest reach?  If a kit is submitted by your eldest living candidate to FTDNA you can order any of the full compliment of genealogical DNA tests – Ymarker 37 or greater, mtDNA, and Family Finder. There is no reason to submit new kits or have more swabbing done.  The sample is at the right lab!   And that lab is in the business of progressively improving the science.  So by using FTDNA lab you give the scientists in the back room more information so they can fine tune and improve the information passed down to us by our ancestors. That is precisely what happened with the Ymarker test!  It began with only one panel of 12 markers.  Now a man can learn 111 markers!  Many families of early NC want to learn more about Native American connections.  If you look at the haplo work or Ancestry’s latest population clusters (another disappointment) you will NOT see the Native Americans who called NC home during or before the 1700s are delineated.  The only way we are going to learn more about these tribes is if folks submit DNA using their eldest and best candidates AND the scientists work to help us find the information in our genome.   And we work together with families who track back to early NC (and VA and SC and FL) and get as many families from this region of the USA established and confirmed.

Ancestry’s and 23andme’s autosomal tests reach is less than FTDNA’s.  The reach of Ancestry’s test is reliably 4 generations.  The reach of FTDNA’s test is 5-7 generations.  Keep in mind choosing the right candidate can determine how long a reach one achieves.  Let me give you an example.  Say your ancestors travel back to a particular county or even a particular township. However your line includes a man who left that region and married a gal from a different state who has zero ancestors in early NC. If YOU do a kit your autosomal DNA mixture will decrease by around 50 percent to be relevant to NC work.  However, if you use someone in your line who never left that region and is still in NC and even better in that region of NC you will have more DNA specific to the region to use!

When it comes to Ancestry’s DNA problems it doesn’t stop with the way their tests are more complicated for older folks to do, their lab’s spotty ability to process results at all, it also bleeds over to their trees, pedigree building feature, the heart and soul of their company.  Ancestry’s results are posted on their site and they have made zero effort to incorporate the DNA data into their trees.  You will find multiple different icons being used by folks to denote DNA matches. Each researcher is using their own system.  And much of the work is PRIMROSE PATH genealogy.  Some attach icons to ancestors who are far outside the limits of the test!  Others may have matches along a particular line or person but if neither bothers to do a Ymarker test via FTDNA they can’t know for sure what surname or families are truly involved at any generation node!  Some on Ancestry claim DNA relationships with others which are just wrong.  They continue along a particular line even though their line was part of a surname switch. Ancestry as a company still uses pedigrees or trees and they have created weird CIRCLES where a person can learn if any of their kits are in common with others who have pedigrees which point to a particular ancestor based on the pedigree work done by matches.  Ancestry.com doesn’t provide actual autosomal chromosome centimorgan segments (location and size).  They only provide an aggregate shared centimorgan size.  This is why GEDMATCH blossomed in my opinion.  Folks NEEDED to be able to see more particulars. Think of it as the difference between finding an index record with simply a name and location and date for a marriage versus finding an actual marriage license record with the name of the groom, his parents, where they each lived, what the groom’s occupation was at the time of marriage, whether or not he was single, divorced, or widowed at the time of the marriage, the date of the license and actual wedding, who performed the ceremony, ….  Honestly that is how different Ancestry DNA is from FTDNA!  So wouldn’t it make more sense to just start at the lab where you get the better data than pay good money for less and then out of frustration surrender your data to a third party to learn what you couldn’t learn via the initial lab.  The really crazy thing I can’t understand is why would someone not just move their raw data to FTDNA and pay the $19 to unlock it if they did a kit through Ancestry or 23andme?

Gedmatch is based in Florida but their company involves one man in TX and another in FL.  If you have followed their filing at the Secretary of State’s office the two men switch back and forth as different officers of their company. It was always designed as a FOR PROFIT Business.  It was and is not represented as a nonprofit.  And if you read the many who want you to surrender your data they mention the many “volunteers” who work there.  These minions are not named and I personally have concerns about who actually has access to my information be it my contact information or any tester’s raw data.  At FTDNA when you submit a kit you determine who sees what.  Privacy for them is a priority. Even though they were the first and are the largest lab they have had zero privacy failures.  Some may recall a man who was a film producer whose father in Louisiana.  The father did a test after a presentation at his church. The test was part of Ancestry.  I am still not sure exactly when the man did the test. Was it after Ancestry owned and were continuing Dr. Sorenson’s tests?   The son was arrested by police based on ‘familar dna’.  Dr. Sorenson’s work involved both genealogy and medical information.  I have wondered if including medical information where family history work goes is crossing over some of the same data points law enforcement are using?  I remember when I first researched genealogical DNA tests I found where some folks thought all DNA tests were alike.  And others thought there was a one giant repository.  Neither is true. There are so many different DNA tests done for so many different reasons. Our genome is huge. The particular segments or markers used are different based on who does the test.  With FTDNA I have confidence all is safe, their privacy protocols are the best, and their focus is genealogical, not medical!!  And there has never been anything like what happened with anyone who tested with FTDNA.  Since FTDNA doesn’t do any health information they have no such problems. Keep in mind FTDNA did set up a partnership with a third party company where a researcher may CHOOSE to learn more about their family’s health information. With Ancestry and 23andme and GEDMATCH what they do with your raw data once they get it is their choice, not yours.

For Gedmatch, the tech saavy guy is supposed to be in TX yet their hardware is in FL.  The company was started by two men interested in the RODGERS/ROGERS surname.  Ancestry began as a company that sold printed genealogical information.  23andme was begun by a group of folks (at least one associated with GOOGLE) with a desire to capture DNA to help advance the healthcare industry.  Only FTDNA was founded and continues to do genealogical DNA!

At Gedmatch they have a Chromosome slide feature and several filters.  But Gedmatch just copied (and not as sophisticated) FTDNA’s on site tools!  FTDNA has a chromosome slide.  They have in common filters. They have X chromosome filter. (something Ancestry’s test doesn’t do!).  They have phasing – meaning lab assisted sorting for a kit’s results along either the paternal or maternal side or both.  (something else Ancestry doesn’t do).

Some folks use GEDMATCH because it is FREE while at FTDNA it costs $19 to transfer an  autosomal (AKA Family Finder) raw data from Ancestry or 23andme.  *in some cases with 23andme, it is not possible to move raw data.  You see after the Federal Government cited 23andme for misleading the public the company altered their chipset.  23andme’s main focus is medical/health information passed down family lines, so their newer chipset was not compatible with FTDNA’s 23andme template.  FTDNA can now accept transfers of 23andme chipset V3 or V4 raw data.

MyHeritage is company I initially heard about via FTDNA.  They originally were asking folks to share their pedigree information.  It appears as though they are direct competitors with Ancestry.com.  However, they ALSO have a DNA lab and it is located in Houston.  The same place where FTDNA is located. I hope this doesn’t create confusion for some!  My Heritage is based in Israel, not the USA.  FTDNA is based in the USA.  They, like Ancestry and 23andme, only offer an autosomal test so their DNA reach is 4-7 generations from the tester so for early NC researchers my opinion is stay with FTDNA.   MyHeritage is very shrewd about partnerships in order to harvest information and grow their company’s holdings and they like Ancestry are very good at marketing.  When I called to find out about their DNA test the man in their sales department mentioned Native American heritage. When I pressed him about the population clusters or tribes he didn’t know.  I believe that companies like Ancestry and MyHeritage use the term “Native American” because so many folks want to know if and how they have Native American connections.  Please see my post about Native Americans.  It is a sales gimmick.  I believe they like Ancestry and 23andme are not helping the Early NC work but splintering the effort, making more work for each of us while they profit at our expense it.

I don’t see the benefit to actual researchers who are focused on early NC families to use two or three or four labs and various third party sites/tools when it is so easy to just start and use FTDNA!

Remember my opinion is based on my research focus.  If an ancestor migrated to the US from Europe during or after 1880 you may find submitting a kit through two companies – FTDNA AND MY HERITAGE helpful because FTDNA will provide connections on this side of the Atlantic and My Heritage will provide connections on the other side of the Atlantic via autosomal testing. The Ymarker testing (all paternal tree establishment and confirmation) must be done via FTDNA!

When it comes to early NC there are many different nationalities and I bet some will be tempted to submit a kit through MyHeritage.  I may change my mind at some point as to the value of MyHeritageDNA.  But right now there is an urgency to establish many families who called NC home during or before the 1700s.  And when it comes to JORDAN work so far the JG1,JG3,JG4,JG8, and JG25 are all in NC during or before the 1700s.  The JG5 Tree which tracks back to Aaron, Moses’ brother may find it beneficial to be in both MyHeritage and FTDNA databases because of their Jewish genes. Remember in order to know IF you are JG5 you need to first do a Ymarker test and that takes a kit being done via FTDNA!  Folks who test with FTDNA and their MyOrigins map shows an Ashkenazi Diaspora population may want to add their DNA to MyHeritage’s database.  For most Early NC researchers at this time I still believe the best course is to use FTDNA.com, when you find someone who has tested through Ancestry who is working the same lines, ask them to establish their branch via FTDNA and let’s get this done before the window of opportunity closes on all of us!

I have tried to keep my site simplistic so folks don’t feel overwhelmed.  I have been at this work now for over 7 years.  Using DNA is such a critical step to genealogy work today! It is particularly necessary for the families who called NC home during or before the 1700s.

I want folks to accomplish their best results in the most simple and safe manner possible.  There are terrific reasons to join Ancestry but DNA is not one of them!  There may be some folks who can afford to do DNA kits through both FamilyTreeDNA and Ancestry.  I would argue you need to start with FTDNA. And if you do, you have zero reason to use a third party site like GEDMATCH.  I recommend if and when you get asked by someone about joining GEDMATCH you instead ask THEM to transfer their raw data to FTDNA.com!  You could also ask them to simply send YOU their raw data and you could transfer the data to FTDNA.

It is my hope you will each find peace of mind when it comes to using DNA with your family history work. As with all areas of life, it is  a question of using common sense and best practices to ensure safety. Please feel free to reach by my email via my contact form.  My whole site is encrypted and safe.