Thursday, October 25, 2012

AncestryDNA Launch and Other Related News

AncestryDNA's Wide Release
AncestryDNA is now available to all without an invitation. The new price is $129 for subscribers.

For non-subscribers the price is $199, however if you order a package deal with the 6 month US Discovery membership, the price drops to $189. The package deal with 6 months of the World Explorer membership is $249. Obviously, this is a loss leader with the intent of acquiring and retaining subscribers. (You can order here.)

There is a chart provided to compare the options. I have reproduced the relevant portion below:

Based on the information provided in the chart, it appears that even non-subscribers will receive new matches and be able to contact them, however it is unclear if they will be able to access their matches' trees (see line 4 in the graphic). I called the AncestryDNA customer service, but the rep wasn't sure of the answer, although he said that he thought they would be accessible since "that is an important part of the service". [*10/26/12 Update - I spoke with another customer service rep today named Jeremy. He told me that "Connect with your DNA matches" from the chart above does NOT mean that you will be able to contact them unless they contact you first. It only means that you will be able to see the match and review their family tree.  So, non-subscribers WILL be able to see their matches' family trees, but they will NOT be able to initiate contact with them. 10/31/12 Update - The information contained in the last update was inaccurate. Please see the official clarification here.]

In other AncestryDNA News... 
Earlier this month, Dr. Ken Chahine announced a significant addition to the AncestryDNA service in his keynote presentation at the Consumer Genetics Conference in Boston. Crista Cowan reported the news from the conference on the blog:

AncestryDNA believes that our customers have the right to their own genetic data. It is your DNA, after all. So we’re working to provide access to your raw DNA data in early 2013, which includes related security enhancements to ensure its safety during every step of the process. Moving forward, we plan to add even more tools and improvements for our customers, and any new features will be available to all AncestryDNA members.

I'm very glad to hear that AncestryDNA is listening to its customers (well, the really vocal ones at least). Back in March when I was first introduced to the product, I cited the lack of raw data as one of the major drawbacks to their offering and have continued to beat (and beat) on that drum since then. So, in addition, to the other bloggers and customers who have repeatedly asked for this feature, I feel like this is a victory for genetic genealogy. (Now, we just need to keep pushing for the matching segment data!) I was concerned that the raw data would not be released in a downloadable format due to the wording in the announcement "access to your raw DNA data...which includes security related enhancements", especially after reading Dr. Chahine's comments to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues in Washington D.C in August. So, I was happy to be informed by Stephen Baloglu, Director of Product Marketing, during a recent AncestryDNA webinar in which I participated, that the raw data would be in a "downloadable format". Hopefully, that format will also be uploadable to third party sites like so, in the absence of AncestryDNA providing it, we can access the matching segment data that genetic genealogists require for their research.

Stephen Baloglu also provided some insight into AncestryDNA's matching system when he responded to a inquiry from Shannon Christmas, "We use total amount of DNA shared and contiguous shared length of segments to calculate how closely you match someone else." I know this doesn't seem like earth-shattering news since it sounds pretty much like what their competitors are doing, but with so little of the scientific method behind AncestryDNA's algorithms public knowledge, every little bit is noteworthy to some of us.

Crista also reports:
We plan to continue to be a part of the genetics landscape moving forward and will be at more events, including the American Society of Human Genetics in San Francisco, where we will present some amazing new discoveries that our scientists have been working on.

I will be keeping my eyes and ears open to hear what that might be!

And, last but not least, I'm sure everyone has already heard about's impending sale to Permira and might be wondering what this will mean for the DNA portion of the business. I am told that there should not be any major changes and we can see from the press release that DNA appears to be an area they expect to expand in the future, "'s focus will continue to be on investing in content, technology and its user experience, expanding its product offerings in areas like DNA, and building the brand and the family history category, all on a global basis." Although according to the website, the "AncestryDNA test is not yet available for purchase outside of the United States", this sounds like they intend to promote the DNA tests beyond the United States in the future which would be a positive development for those seeking their genetic connections overseas. 

As always, I will continue to follow the developments of all genetic genealogy related news and make sure my readers are updated. 

[While I was writing this post, I glanced at my new AncestryDNA matches and found a confirmed 5th cousin on my Roderick/Long line with a predicted range of 4th -6th cousins and a 96% confidence level. Yay! I sure do wish I could see our matching segments though! In that vein, Tim Janzen reports that he called today and asked if would be releasing the matching segment data as well, "The representative said that might not do that, but that they might  create an 'opt in' option that would allow people to share the matching segment data if they are interested in doing so."]


  1. I tried ordering the test but it said "An item in your order cannot be shipped to Ireland."

    1. A great post CeCe. A lot has been happening in the last week or so. Your efforts, several months ago, to get 23andMe to modify their plan to disconnect those whose subscriptions had expired seems to have been a learning experience for Ancestry as well.

  2. CeCe I enjoy your website but could you please stop being so darn politically correct about everything. For instance, making the dna test not available outside of the USA... even if for 1 day is moronic. One of the biggest intrinsic weaknesses of their database is that EVERYONE IS AMERICAN... YET most Americans have their roots overseas. This is equivilent to the term "clusterF**k" You mention this like its a minor flaw... the same way you fail to mention how utterly useless their population finder output is. Ancestry has websites in Canada, Australia, the UK and other countries... and by the way MOST Canadians, Australians and Americans have common ancestry... AND the most common place for THAT ANCESTRY is the UK! Websites like yours should be blasting commercial companies who do asinine things...

    It is folks like Aidan above that WE NEED at!

    Could we pleae have some critical analysis and stop kissing you know what.

    1. It's funny that you say that since I have been the blogger who has been the most critical of AncestryDNA all along. In fact, I am the one who has repeatedly mentioned the problems with their admixture analysis since the launch of their autosomal DNA test. I am the one who first (and repeatedly) called them out on their lack of raw data and matching segment info. Most of the other bloggers who have written about these issues first heard about them on my blog and/or from my comments on various forums and/or through private email correspondence with me, so your frustration is sorely misdirected. The fact is that I have been so publicly critical of AncestryDNA, that I destroyed my congenial relationships with key players there.
      I am known for calling out the commercial companies in this space for what I see as their missteps and shortcomings AND for spearheading change. If you had been involved in our community, you would know that. You say you enjoy my website, but clearly you haven't been reading it very long or very thoroughly.
      Other bloggers in the last few days have been quite vocal about AncestryDNA's shortcomings. We don't all need to write the same things all the time.
      Anyway, if you're so brave, then why don't you sign your name to your comment just like I do to my posts.

  3. If I am wrong then please accept my apology... as it is possible that because I read several blogs, I may sterotype more than what is deserved of some.

    Having said that - and knowing that you were in fact vocal about the accessibility of data at Ancesty - I find there's a LOT OF SMOKE & MIRRORS with these products from Ancestry, FTDNA etc... and the well known bloggers rarely provide overly critical reviews.

    As for my name, I think it really doesn't matter - I just used the most expeditious route to post.

    So now that we're clear, is it not asinine to release this product and then restrict the rest of the world from participating from day 1? Stating that there is hope for expansion into int'l markets is very sugar coated to me... stating such an obvious shortcoming on their part should have been higlighted.. not mentioned in passing.

  4. I also noticed that, although kept emailing me to remind me about their invitation to me to order a kit through them, when I went to do so, I saw they wouldn't ship outside the USA. I live in Ireland.

    Margaret Jordan

  5. It's unfair to criticise CeCe as she has commented on these issues vociferously in the past. She does an excellent job keeping us all informed. I agree that it is very short-sighted of Ancestry to restrict their test to people in the US. I live in the UK and I think I'm probably one of only a handful of people outside the US who managed to order the test when it was in the invitation stage at $99. I've commented on some of these issues in my own blog post:

    1. Thanks, Debbie. I am not an expert on this issue, but you are very well informed and affected more directly being in the UK, so maybe you can comment on the possibility that it may be because of different laws governing genetic data in countries outside the US that AncestryDNA is currently not offering the test internationally. I know that the UK has much more stringent requirements for disclosure. Perhaps, they will wait until they release the raw data to offer the test to the UK.
      @everyone else - it really is a shame that the test is not yet offered internationally and will definitely hinder my ability to learn more about my recent immigrant ancestors' families from the UK, Australia, Finland and Norway. I just don't know what's reasons are for this limitation, so I don't feel it appropriate for me to criticize them for it at this early juncture. Perhaps they have a very good reason. When I hear what it is, then I will comment accordingly.
      Thank you all for your comments.

    2. CeCe, I don't fully understand all the legal issues. We do have stricter data protection laws. There are some links here which might be of interest:

      Family Tree DNA offer European customers extra protection as they have signed up to the Safe Harbor Privacy Statement:

      I had to agree to abide by US law when I signed up for my Ancestry test.

  6. Hi CeCe,
    I recently tried to order a test from 23andMe and got a warning that it's illegal for them to process saliva samples shipped from New York. Ancestry's spit test didn't have any warnings and went fine, what's different about the 23andMe test that New York has a problem with?

    Thanks and thanks for the great blog!

  7. Hola Cece
    Just for the record, I am retired and living in Mexico and AncestryDNA shipped my test kit directly to my PO Box. I had them send to Mexico because my mail forwarding service charges 50% of the invoice to ship stuff down and I wasn't sure I could get them to make an exception.

    I am so relieved to hear that Ancestry will be providing raw data. Per your suggestion, I have been sending nice notes to the feedback section every week or two.

    Thanks for the oh-so-informative blog

  8. I am an Ancestry subscriber in the UK, and just looking back through all their emails for the last year of two, I haven't received one specifically mentioning DNA. No point if I cannot order I expect.

    Having a large database of US participents will not be much of a carrot to tempt UK genealogists.

    I'm not sure of the legal issues, but FTDNA just send out a kit and I send it back. The only thing that needs a signature is their standard green release form.

  9. Hi CeCe,
    I enjoy reading your blog. Very informative. Do you know if there is talk about Ancestry offering a transfer program in the future like FTDNA? I currently use FTDNA and would love it if I could upload my raw data to Ancestry to compare matches. Thanks!

  10. Could you lobby Ancestry to offer to sell tests using their Sorenson samples? I collected a sample for SMGF in 2007 of my grandmother and submitted it with my own email address. I would love to have a test run for her DNA but because she has passed-on, her Sorenson sample is my only possible option

  11. I think it is reasonable for Ancestry to delay international release while they sort out some privacy laws... but its irresponsible for them to not make a clear statement to their international customers... something like "deal valued customer, Ancestry must delay the release of our new product to international markets while we finalize matters that address privacy laws in the international markets we operate...such as Australia, Canada, and the UK. We expect this delay to be no longer than a couple of months."


    Now, if on the other hand they really are abusing individual privacy rights but can get away with it under US Law but not in some other countries... (as I have read some believe wrt health testing etc) then the product may not be forthcoming to international markets anytime soon. So if we don't see this product out internationally soon, as an American I would start raising some alarms!