Looking Back, Looking Forward: 2022

As the covid pandemic rounded out its second year, 2021 was a rough year for many of us.  We lost some dear friends, others were ill, in-person events were canceled, and many of us struggled with isolation and uncertainty.

There were many bright spots, as well.  The genealogy community adapted quickly to the virtual world.  RootsTech, in particular, provided a stellar event available for free around the world and in multiple languages.

We were able to participate in genealogy societies that are local to our ancestors if not to us.  And many outstanding educators launched their own lecture series and courses.

The DNA companies continued to offer new and improved features to help us with our research.  In April, AncestryDNA upgraded their color-coding system for DNA matches in a way that allows us to automate a lot of the work.  And in November, MyHeritage introduced their own color labels.

After many years of using outdated matching methods, FamilyTreeDNA finally updated their algorithms to more accurately reflect true DNA inheritance.  This is a great improvement!

And despite the slow-down in the market brought about by forensic genetic genealogy, the top databases continue to grow steadily.  AncestryDNA broke 20 million tested in May, 23andMe has more than 12 million (but see here), and MyHeritage has more than 5 million.  Those numbers should continue to climb thanks to holiday gifts of DNA tests.

Meanwhile, the two companies that sell access to law enforcement lag far behind.  Both FamilyTreeDNA and GEDmatch continued to play fast and loose with the genetic data entrusted to them this year, impacting their own credibility and that of the entire market.  Fortunately, the state of Maryland moved to regulate forensic genetic genealogy, a trend which may ultimately stabilize the industry and restore trust.


Looking Forward to 2022

Despite the challenges, 2022 is a new year with new opportunities.

What’s in store?  Curiously, when I recently asked on social media what DNA features people want most in the coming year, almost all of the requests were for tools that already exist at other companies:  color labels at 23andMe, for example, or the eternal quest for a chromosome browser at AncestryDNA.

That may speak to a maturing of the industry, where truly novel advances are no longer possible.  I don’t think so, though.  There’s still plenty of room for ground-breaking tools.

Here is my wish list for 2022:

  • Anyone who’s serious about genetic genealogy is in multiple databases.  I would love to see new tools that help us integrate our match lists and tree discoveries across different testing companies.  Obviously, this would have to be done through third-party tools.  I think DNA Painter and DNAGedcom are best positioned to help us here.
  • My own workflow is much like a jigsaw puzzle; I start with individual “pieces” (DNA matches inn multiple databases), connect them to one another (in sketching software), and eventually fit those groups into my larger tree.  We need a single visual tool to integrate these steps, so that partially built trees for our matches are easy to see and connect.
  • What Are the Odds? continues to be the single most useful tool for solving DNA puzzles with autosomal DNA.  But it can only analyze one descendant lineage at a time.  Being able to integrate match data from multiple lineages (e.g., from the in-laws of both MRCA partners) would be a major advance.
  • Analyzing multiple lineages will require us to incorporate negative DNA evidence.  For example, if our closest DNA matches are descended from John Watson and Mary Jones, but we don’t match any tested descendants of John’s siblings, does that mean we’re only related to Mary’s family?  We need better data to answer that, essentially WATO-like probabilities for non-matches.
  • And finally, there’s the Holy Grail of DNA tools:  something that can address endogamy.  Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

12 thoughts on “Looking Back, Looking Forward: 2022”

  1. I think that a solid family tree predictor for DNA matches is long over due. Put AI to good use I say. Ancestry would be the best candidate for such a tool. 23andMe has a predictor but it is clumsy and not very “smart”.

  2. Great article! Good way to get more information about what we want. I know that I am still in my DNA infancy, at this point, and I wish I had unlimited time to stick my head into the information. I look forward to the next installment…btw, i am wading my way through your archive and learning a lot…and shaking my head a lot…lol

  3. Hi Leah,

    I have a wish, although somehow I missed your invitation to contribute to the Big Wish List. I would like a simpler way of trying to phase matches. I am not sure I am using the term correctly, but so far, I have been using lucidchart or other visual designer software, to compare my cousins, uncles, and my own/brother’s matches, to try to sort out who belongs to which grandparent.

    There must surely be an easier way.

    1. Yes! That’s what I was referring to when I described my workflow as like a jigsaw puzzle. I connect my matches to each other using Lucidchart, while adding them to my research tree in parallel. It’s a lot of duplicated effort. This seems like an area ripe for a third-party tool.

  4. In addition to your Autosomal DNA Database Growth chart, I would like to see you add a Y-DNA Database Growth chart for the various testing companies. Not clear how to indicate test types (37, 111, BigY, etc), but a chart with at least the total number of testers at various companies (FTDNA, YSeq, etc.) would be informative.

    1. It would be fairly easy to do a graph for FTDNA’s overall Y-DNA database, but not broken down by test type. Does YSeq publish that information?

    2. Update: I was able to get the data for FTDNA from 2009–2019. For some reason, the web archive isn’t pulling up the pages for 2020 and 2021. I’ll try again in a day or two. At some point, FTDNA stopped reporting the breakdowns by test level and now only report Y-DNA and mtFULL.

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