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After many years of using outdated matching methods, FamilyTreeDNA finally updated their algorithms to more accurately reflect true DNA inheritance.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?