When I logged into my Ancestry account yesterday, my DNA homepage looked different. The brand new Genetic Communities has rolled out. I was intrigued, but thus far, what the communities are showing me is information I already knew.
I have tested several family members at this point, in fact, I will be sending the kit to two more family members this week. Although I have a fairly robust tree, the tree for my great Aunt is a bit sparse, mainly because she is so much closer to the brick walls that appear in that side of our tree. And most of the testers I have tested have far fewer circles at this point, because although I have worked on their other parts of the tree, it isn't with the same degree of intensity that I have for my own.
Thus I attribute my abundance of circles in comparison to the other kits (except my daughter and my Dad's sister) to a tree which is not as robust and most likely, fewer testers from relatives to some of the testers (like my great Aunt who has very few larger matches, the bulk only start at 38 cM on gedmatch).
So I was rather surprised that I had only one genetic community, and that community was Early settlers of Alabama and the Florida panhandle, but I already knew that, that's the reason I have had groups on myfamily and FB called Panhandle Pioneers for the last 16 years, so in my case the genetic community didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.
But why don't I share the Early settlers of Georgia or South Carolina with my Aunt? And why don't I share the Settlers of New England with my great Aunt? I think because almost exclusively, all my matches on ancestry fourth cousin or closer are to my father's panhandle family, where I only have a few matches closer than 4th cousin on my maternal side.
I may be getting some of the names wrong on the communitites, but my grandfather's first cousin has two communities, both related to Tennessee and Arkansas, which is consistent with his paternal and part of his maternal tree. My great Aunt has two Midland in England communities and two for the New England area, all are consistent with her tree. My Dad's sister is exclusively in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, which is consistent with her tree.
My daughter has a third group, supposedly representing her closer matches that are paternal, but to be honest, part of my mom's tree also comes from the same areas. And though she shares DNA with many of my matches, the lack of closer (or larger) matches with my mother is something she and I share. Though on Gedmatch, 23andme, and FTDNA, we actually have more of the matches with my Mom's side in common.
So the idea behind Genetic Communities is really an excellent idea, but I hope it advances. Because I think the smaller matches (say 15-30 cM) may be more indicative of our past. That's not to say that they don't look at those, but based on all the tests I tested and have access to the results all have genetic communities consistent with the places of those close matches, I kind of have my doubts.
If there is a flaw is that they use the trees on ancestry as part of the way to determine the community. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of excellent researchers on Ancestry, and all of them will tell you there is a lot of rubbish in the trees. A lot of trees with the wrong information, parents of children who are too young to have had the child, or had been dead for years. Connections to a person in one state with another elsewhere that is not connected. So if there is a weakness to the science behind the community concept it would be the reliability of the information they are basing it on.
My verdict, it is an interesting feature that will be most useful to those who have not done a lot of research and for whom locations may be beneficial. Without the ability to compare DNA and triangulate, like the DNA circles and hints, it is a tool to help guide to the identification of matches but it is not a way to verify with certainty that the matches are accurate to the family connection.
I love the idea of the communities, I just think, it really may take some time for it to be useful to all users.