Saturday, 28 April 2018

DNA Testing is Changing Face of Family History

One of the first forays of family history into an electronic world was the introduction of computer software which allowed the user to enter details of their ancestry and produce charts and reports. 

Over time the GEDCOM format was introduced to facilitate the export / import of family tree data between computers, and more recently several companies began offering the ability to create a family tree online and share it with others.

Genealogists have an unquenchable thirst for data (names, dates, places), and Ancestry was quick to capitalize on this, providing access to historical records and the ability to link those records to a family tree.  They have certainly been the market leaders, especially in the North American market.

But recently the big game changer has been the introduction of autosomal DNA testing, introduced by 23andMe in 2007.  But 23andMe is not run by genealogists, focussing instead on ethnicity and health indicators, while providing some family history assistance.

Family Tree DNA is run by a genealogist and in 2010 added autosomal DNA testing to their existing suite of Y-DNA and Mitochondrial-DNA tests, providing the opportunity to have additional testing undertaken without having to submit a new DNA sample.

Ancestry saw the opportunity to add DNA to their product offering in 2012, and in 2016 they were joined by My Heritage and Living DNA.

The current offerings of the major players in the Family History / DNA testing arena is shown in the chart below -

Comparison of DNA / Family History Companies
It boggles my mind that Family Tree DNA offers the best tools for use with family history DNA tests, offers the greatest variety of tests, is often the cheapest test available, and yet after 8 years has the smallest database of autosomal tests of the 4 largest DNA test companies. 

On the other hand, Ancestry has the least useful tools (without an ongoing subscription to other Ancestry services), is one of the more expensive tests, yet after only 6 years has the largest database of autosomal DNA tests.

As indicated in a previous post, I think that My Heritage is the company to watch going forward.  My Heritage is led by a genealogist, they are the only major player to still offer family tree software for the home computer, and their database of autosomal DNA tests has gone from 0 to 1.2 million in just 2 years.  They are also not resting on their laurels, but rapidly introducing features that genealogists want, something lacking from the other leading DNA testing companies over the past 12 months.

There is perhaps some opportunity for consolidation in the industry.  One obvious alignment would be Living DNA and Brightsolid - both are UK companies, they have complementary product offerings, but over time will not able to compete, unless they each broaden their product offering.

Perhaps My Heritage will absorb Family Tree DNA, adding FTDNA's tools to their autosomal offering, but also bringing Y-DNA and Mt-DNA into the mainstream.

By 2020 I see a very different family history / DNA industry than we have in 2018, and as I have pointed out, the early entrants will not necessarily be the survivors.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

MyHeritage DNA is Showing Promise

In past posts I have been somewhat critical of MyHeritage DNA, but by the end of 2018 they could well become the supplier of choice for autosomal DNA tests.

My Heritage was a late entrant into the world of autosomal DNA testing, and their initial offering was very basic - they did not identify which segments of DNA were shared by matches, there were no tools to filter or analyse your DNA matches, and being new, the database of testers was very small.  Their big draw card was that you could upload a DNA test result from other testing companies to My Heritage for free.

Over the past 12 months MyHeritage has greatly increased the size of their database (their database is already larger than the FamilyTreeDNA autosomal database), they have added a chromosome browser, improved their matching algorithm, and generally made the process of reviewing DNA matches a more user-friendly experience.  So what is next?

I watched a presentation by MyHeritage CEO Gilad Japhet, given at Roots Tech 2018, describing new features they have planned for 2018, and a general outlook on the future of family history and DNA testing, and I was left with the impression that this guy really get it.

Later in 2018, MyHeritage plans to release the first tool utilizing their Big Tree.  The Big Tree is a huge graph with billions of data points taken from family trees, historical records and DNA results on MyHeritage.  The first feature, which is referred to as The Theory of Family Relativity, will analyze your DNA matches, and within milliseconds will create a theoretical paper trail between two DNA testers, to explain how they are related - assuming of course that there are datapoints in the Big Tree to explain the connection.

All I can say is Wow! 

My only question is whether this tool will be available to those of us who took advantage of the free upload of our DNA result from another testing company, or will it be limited to those who have tested with MyHeritage directly, or perhaps limited to only those who have a paid subscription to MyHeritage?