Optimism for 2021

While 2020 was an awful year in many respects—covid, social unrest, political chaos, and economic strife—it was good for one thing:  genealogy.  Many of us devoted our extra time at home to research.  When we’re able to travel and visit record collections in person again, I predict the Family History Library in Salt Lake City will need to hand out numbered tickets!

File:Family History Library - Salt Lake City, Utah - 2 May 2020.jpg

 

The Year in DNA

The DNA testing companies have continued to innovate.  Some highlights are:

  • Newly released Genetic Groups at MyHeritage can link you to more than 2,100 geographic regions based on your matches.
  • 23andMe now generates an automatic family tree based on how much DNA your matches share with you and one another.
  • AncestryDNA updated their matching algorithm to improve accuracy and started reporting the size of the longest segment.  They also updated their ethnicity estimates, which they’re now doing annually.
  • Living DNA kicked 2020 off with their the long-awaited relative matching, followed by significant improvements to their ethnicity estimates.

Another plus, albeit brought about by desperation, is that genealogy societies around the world began meeting virtually.  This allowed many of us to join local societies and participate in discussions and webinars that might have been too far away to attend in normal times.  I fully expect societies to adopt a hybrid model once the pandemic is over.  (Thank you to a reader for reminding me of this bright spot in 2020.)

We also had some dark days.  Verogen’s GEDmatch suffered back-to-back hacks in July.  And in December, the LA Times reported that the owner of FamilyTreeDNA had not only allowed the FBI to search their customer database starting in 2017, his lab had done the DNA analysis.  He’d previously said he did not know how long the FBI had been using FTDNA and had only discovered their files in his system in late 2018.

Even so, the DNA databases have continued to grow apace.  AncestryDNA and MyHeritage recently released new customer numbers, and Dr Tim Janzen has updated his estimate for FamilyTreeDNA.  23andMe typically reports their numbers once a year, in the spring.

Living DNA’s Database Size

We don’t know how many people are in Living DNA’s matching database.  However, we can estimate it by comparing how many matches we have there to how many we have at sites with known database sizes.

The math is:

and when we rearrange the equation, we get

I did the calculations using my and my husband’s match totals at AncestryDNA and MyHeritage and got estimates of 113,125, 166,351, 85,814, and 192,884, with an average of 139,544.  The average is remarkably close to the estimate Dr Janzen recently posted.  They undoubtedly have many more in their total database, but not everyone has opted in to the matching feature.

You can help refine this number, as well as Dr Janzen’s estimate for FamilyTreeDNA, by filling out this short survey.  Your answers are completely anonymous. I’ll report the updated estimates in a few weeks.

4 thoughts on “Optimism for 2021”

  1. Good numbers and scaling of all the DNA companies you listed. Now if everyone out there who has taken a DNA test would upload theirs to Gedmatch, this would help many of us who only subscribe to a paid site like I do at Ancestry.I think all companies that does DNA should have like Ancestry the option for you to make your DNA available to Law enforcement as long as they have an actual Genealogist who can read and research correctly so they can get the right person. All kits I manage on Ancestry I have uploaded to Gedmatch and check marked for law enforcement to utilize it. Hopefully when babies are born, an automatic DNA test is done and put in the system(s).

    1. I deleted all of my kits from both GEDmatch and FTDNA and no longer recommend either precisely because of the law enforcement issue. Both companies have violated their own Terms of Service and failed to put their customers first. No one should be exposed to criminal investigations, especially for-profit ones, without their fully informed consent. I certainly hope you got permission to upload those managed kits. As for testing babies when they’re born, talk about a violation of the Constitution!

  2. Just when I’d given up hope of LivingDNA ever being genealogically relevant, a (Ohio based) client has a “Parent” match. Boom! A very happy adoptee! The other sites had only 155 cM matches or lower. Always worth uploading/testing with every database!

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