This post has been updated.
Today, GEDmatch has a new look at https://app.gedmatch.com.
It’s a long-overdue upgrade for a site that has always been a bit overwhelming and user unfriendly. This is a glimpse of the old GEDmatch: a wall of text with very little explanation.
The first time I used it, I cursed out loud! I may have cried. One-to-many what?!? Which admixture do I use? People who match both of what?!? None of it made any sense to me as a newbie.
The new site is certainly a lot more aesthetically appealing.
But the fundamentals? They’re exactly the same. In fact, they may be even more confusing. Here’s the One-to-Many tool (called “DNA matches” or “DNA relatives” anywhere else) in the new GEDmatch.
There is no explanation of offset, limit, cM size, tag groups, or overlap cutoff. The Tips popup doesn’t explain any of it. The simpler version of the tool, called One-to-Many DNA Comparison Result on the old website—is gone.
There is presumably a how-to video, but the link doesn’t work. And there appear to be no resources for people who prefer written explanations.
If you were new to GEDmatch, you’d still be cursing.
What’s more, the new site is very slow. (UPDATE: It’s much faster on a tablet than on a computer.) The old format produced a list of 50 matches almost instantaneously for the first kit I tried; the new one took more than a minute to generate the same list.
Segment Start–End Positions: This issue has since been corrected. My original observations are in italics below.
Some features are also missing. Many genetic genealogists enjoy tracing their DNA segments to specific ancestors, a process called chromosome mapping. To do that, you need to know the precise start and stop points of each segment that you share with a DNA relative.
Here’s the same two people compared in the old (top) and new (bottom) versions of GEDmatch. The data on the bottom cannot be used for chromosome mapping. (Hat tip to Jonny Perl of DNA Painter for pointing out this issue.)
Gedcoms: An astute reader pointed out another issue, this time with gedcoms. (Recall that a gedcom is a file containing family tree information.) In the old version of GEDmatch (below left), a gedcom link takes you to the record for an individual person, with links to view the pedigree or descendants. Those links are gone in the revamped version of GEDmatch (below right). As a result, in the new version, the only way to view a match’s ancestral tree is person by person.
Speed: The new site is incredibly slow for computer users.
Hopefully, these are temporary oversights that will be fixed soon.
GEDmatch and Law Enforcement
The two key changes that GEDmatch should have made—for ethical and potentially legal reasons—they didn’t.
Recall that GEDmatch is a repository of data files that were generated by other companies. As such, each DNA kit in their database has to be uploaded from somewhere else. And the upload form is not transparent.
For new uploads, the default privacy setting is to be exposed to law enforcement kits. But GEDmatch doesn’t tell you that. They know that most people don’t change the default settings, especially if they don’t understand what they’re doing. And they want people to be exposed to police investigations.
What’s more, GEDmatch recently changed their own definition of “law enforcement”, again without being transparent with their users. They no longer consider the identification of human remains to be police related, even if the case will ultimately lead to criminal charges. Those so-called Doe kits can now “see” all public kits, even those that have opted out of law-enforcement matching. To my knowledge, GEDmatch has never told their users explicitly about this change.
Even worse, GEDmatch prominently features a 2-year-old video about the opt system at GEDmatch that was filmed before the surreptitious alterations to the Terms of Service.
These two lapses may have implications for GEDmatch down the line. Both houses of the Maryland General Assembly have passed legislation governing “forensic genetic genealogy searches”, and the governor is expected to sign it any day. The bill limits law enforcement to genealogy databases where users have acknowledged and consented to that purpose. Defaulting people in with no explanation is neither acknowledgement nor consent.
But GEDmatch knows that. As does Verogen, the forensics company that now owns GEDmatch.
Let’s face it: GEDmatch belongs to law enforcement now, not genealogists.
Updates to This Post
- 5 May 2021 — This post has been updated for clarity and to note the omissions from the One-to-One and gedcom features. If you find any other issues with the new site, please feel free to comment.
- 6 May 2021 — The segment start-stop points have been restored.
- 14 October 2021 — Deleted an incomplete sentence.