27 February 2013

No Tree and Private Tree DNA Results

The most common complaint from those who have taken Ancestry.com's autosomal DNA test is about the number of test takers who either have a private tree or no tree at all. Frankly I'm sick of the whining and need to vent. So here goes...


For the private tree issue I have suggestions for both sides. For those wanting to see private trees, take a break from your complaining and message the tree owners. If you message them you stand a chance of opening a line of communication. If all you do is grumble about people who have private trees I can guarantee you'll get nowhere and accomplish nothing. And if your message has even a tinge of "Why the heck is your tree private?" attitude you shouldn't expect a response.
If you really want a response don't demand to see their tree. Don't even politely ask for an invite to view it. Ask if they can tell who your common ancestor is or if they have an idea where the link may be. I did just that and now know where my connection is to the person with a private tree. If someone does give you an invite to their tree don't start copying all their media to your public tree. Anyone who does that is the reason those with private trees are wary about letting others view their tree.
To those with private trees I'll ask you to consider something. Please think about making a public tree. Hear me out. You don't need to add media. You don't even need to attach records. Create a tree that has only your direct line with names, birth dates/places and death dates/places. That's it. Attach your DNA results to that tree. I'd also suggest that if you are interested in finding family that you should message your matches. There are plenty of people who are doing what I'm doing and putting matches with private trees in the trash. I'll go back and look at them periodically to see if any have decided to switch to a public tree but I'm overwhelmed with matches and have decided to focus on finding connections on the closer matches with public trees.


If a match shows "no family tree" check to make sure. The person could have multiple trees and be undecided about which tree to attach their DNA results. If they have a tree, or two or three, they may show as "no family tree" on your match list but when you click to their match profile you'll see this:

"Select a tree to preview" and you may find a clue or even an exact match.
Another reason someone may not have a tree is they were adopted. Y-DNA and mtDNA each focus on a single family line. Autosomal DNA looks at all of them and can be taken by both men and women. This is the ideal test for those who have been adopted and want to find out something, anything, about their background. Chances are if you have someone who was adopted on your match list they will be contacting you. I recently had someone who was adopted contact me. She is a very distant match and has realistic expectations. She just wanted to know more about the ethnicity we have in common. I told her what I know and hope I can help her more in the future.


Some people may not care about making contact with distant relatives. This applies to everyone whether the trees are public, private, or non-existent. They may want to contact only 1st or 2nd cousins or may not want to contact anyone at all. You're probably wondering why they bothered taking the test at all. They took the test for the ethnicity results. Period. Just because they are your 7th cousin twice removed does not mean they have to return your messages. They did not take the test for you.


One last reason for no response may be Ancestry's glitchy message system. Last week I received emails for every message on Ancestry. This week? Plenty of new messages but not a single email from Ancestry's message system. Be sure to keep an eye on the number next to the envelope in the top right toolbar on the Ancestry.com page. That number should reflect the number of new messages whether you get an email or not.

Whatever the case you cannot force anyone to answer your message so quit whining and move on to your next match.

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  1. Fantastic suggestion about creating a direct ancestors-only tree! My tree is private for a variety of reasons (one of them being the people who automatically copy everything in my tree to their own trees, even where I have noted that the info is just a guess for research purposes), but I could easily create a tree with direct ancestors only and link that to my DNA results. Thanks!

  2. I blogged about this problem at http://gretabog.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-im-creating-junk-tree-on-ancestry.html because I reached the exact same conclusion as to the solution - creating a pedigree-only tree. It only took me a few evenings of work (I included a few sources but was not super-consistent about it) and would encourage everyone who wants to keep their private trees private to do this - it is to their advantage because people are more likely to contact them and share with them. I have written to all the private trees with hints and have about a 75% answer rate so far; some have invited me to view their private trees. I will also be contacting matches on the top of my list of matches (closer relations) to ascertain the matching names, and for names where I think I may be able to figure out the match, will ask for the names of the ancestors with that name. It never hurts to ask!

    1. "Junk trees" have a completely different meaning around here Greta ;-) If you take a look at the posts labeled "head/desk" you'll see what I mean. But yes, the tree doesn't need to be completely detailed or fully sourced. And I agree, it never hurts to ask!

  3. Thanks for the Great advice. This morning I received my results from my second DNA test from Ancestry. Still many questions to answer and hopefully my matches reply to my emails and not ignore me like they did on the first test.

    1. I'll be doing DNA posts for almost two more weeks so I hope you'll keep reading ;-) Good luck with your matches!

  4. Awesome post! I came here from your comment on the Ancestry FB page. I recently took my A.com family tree private after years of being public--but I'm always happy to respond to queries. Most people have been most gracious, and we've had good exchanges; those who've demanded information and not replied to my responses ("can you tell me your ancestor's name? is there something specific you're looking for?") I figure can't be very serious about their research. Maybe I'll even go to the effort of creating a "blank" public tree to connect to the test results. Now I'm going to read everything else on this blog... well, much of it, anyway. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Jen! I think the biggest complainers just want things handed to them on a silver platter. Some are convinced that private trees hold the secrets of the universe. If only they'd share with everyone else! ;-) They're the same people who are sure that 3 or 5 or 8% "uncertain" in their DNA results hold the key to their brick wall. (Can you tell I've had my fill of their complaints? ;-))
      Thanks for reading!