A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test

About two years ago, Ancestry.com sent me an offer to be part of the beta group for the new autosomal DNA test, which searches for matches from my mother and father’s families. So far, I have 3,485 matches and have yet to find a close match with a common surname.

My family came to the USA in 1950-1951 so maybe the lack of strong matches could be explained by the short time my family has lived here. Ancestry.com does not send its DNA test abroad due to custom issues.

I hope the question and answer format will be useful in explaining how AncestryDNA has worked for me and what those with Russian and Ukrainian roots could expect from AncestryDNA.

Do you need an Ancestry.com membership to buy the DNA test?

No. Anyone can order the test. However if you do not have an ancestry.com membership, you will not be able to view family trees of matches.

What type of information is provided on matches?

Customers see the following information on each match: the Ancestry.com username or username administering the DNA test results, user’s location (sometimes), time length of being an Ancestry.com customer, date of last login, predicted relationship and the confidence of accuracy, ethnicity regions and trace regions,  list with up to 10 generations of ancestors’ surnames and their information from a family tree, mapped locations of your ancestors’ birthplaces and the match’s ancestors’ birthplaces, leaves on a map for common ancestors’ birthplaces and a link to a public family tree.

How does AncestryDNA predict chances of being related?

The website gives categories of very low, low and moderate probabilities for being related to distant cousins (5th to 8th cousins) and then high probability of being related by being fourth, third, second and first cousins.

How often do you get matches?

In the past 7 days, I’ve received 60 matches. These matches come daily or several times a week.

How many of your matches have ancestors from Russia or Ukraine?

I have 97 matches with ancestors from Russia. Several of them do not have birth towns or regions for their ancestors. The filter could not find matches with ancestors from Ukraine but there are a few.

How close are your matches?

The vast majority of my matches are 5th to 8th cousins with very low or low probabilities that we are related. Ancestry.com gives me this warning about these matches “‘Distant cousin’ matches (5th cousins or greater) have a lower degree of certainty compared to 3rd and 4th cousins. Even though there is a 50% (or less) chance that you are related, these matches are still good leads.”

I have two 4th to 6th cousin matches who are predicted with 95-96% certainty that we are related. We do not have common surnames in our family trees even though my matches have trees with more than 1,000 people. One match has relatives from the same area as a great-grandmother but we cannot connect our families yet.

I have 49 matches of 5th to 8th cousins who have moderate probabilities of being related to me.  None of them have common surnames or towns/villages and 16 have not posted family trees or have family trees smaller than 50 people.

How friendly are matches in giving information?

I estimate half of my matches have not posted family trees, locked their family trees or have family trees with less than 50 people. Most of the matches to whom I have sent messages through the Ancestry.com site have answered my messages. Some people with locked trees will send me invitations to privately view their trees.

What tools does Ancestry.com offer in searching, sorting, filtering and noting matches?

All your matches can be searched by ancestor surnames and/or locations. Also, you can add stars next to matches in your list and later search for starred matches. Notes can be added to any match’s page. Matches can be sorted by closeness in relationship or date matches arrived. Matches are automatically listed by date- last 7 days, one week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, two months ago, three months ago and more than three months ago.

The site has three filters- new matches, those with hints from family trees and those you have starred.

Does Ancestry.com have forums to help figure out the DNA test and its results?

Ancestry.com members have access to this forum and anyone can view posts on DNA genealogy here. Ancestry.com offers a free membership (but very limited) for posting on its forums.

Insider look at AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andme coming soon!

I am working on insider looks into the autosomal DNA tests (that look for matches from maternal and paternal lines) from AncestryDNA, FamilyTree DNA and 23andme. The posts will be in the question and answer format.

The first post will be on AncestryDNA and then I will post on FamilyTree DNA. My last post will be on 23andme. I have taken the autosomal DNA tests from these three companies.

After I have posted my three insider looks, I will have a post on which company’s test is best for various scenarios.

Please post your questions about these tests in the comment area below.

Dear DNA test, What am I?

Now that I have taken DNA tests from the three largest companies, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA and 23andme, I am trying to decide which company knows my ancestry best.

Based on my family tree, I am mostly Russian and an eighth of German from current day Poland.

I first took a DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA back in 2011. The population finder for FamilyTreeDNA determined I am 100 percent European with roots of Basque, Finnish, French, Orcadian, Romanian, Russian, Sardinian, Spanish and Tuscan.

Then two years later, I took a DNA test from Ancestry.com as part of the beta group for the new DNA test. AncestryDNA claims my roots are 81 percent from Europe East (primarily Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia), 16 percent from Finland/Northwest Russia, 2 percent from Asia East and less than 1 percent from Melanesia.

The perks of testing with AncestryDNA are that I am told how my results compare to a typical person from Europe East, Finland/Northwest Russia, Asia East and Melanesia. I am just as much an Eastern European as a native person.

I am so way off base of a typical Finish/Northwestern Russian, who carries 99 percent of regional genetics while I only have 16 percent of those regional genetics.

The roots from Asia East and Melanesia are way off my family tree and must be from times before records existed.

So, the latest ancestry composition came from 23andme with so much disappointment. Its test determined that my roots are 70.5 percent eastern European (from Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Hungary), 0.7 percent Finnish, 1.9 percent nonspecific Northern European, 24.5 percent nonspecific European, 0.5 percent southeast Asian and 1 percent nonspecific east Asian and Native American.

It is so disappointing to have 26.4 percent of nonspecific European results from 23andme. FamilyTreeDNA’s results are completely useless. So I give the award for the best ancestry composition to AncestryDNA.

Giving DNA genealogy testing a few more chances

I am waiting to hit the jackpot with DNA genealogy testing. I am envious of the stories of great successes I’ve read on forums. My chances of the same success seem pretty low because both of my parents came to the USA in the early 1950s from the USSR.

My mother took a Family Finder test from FamilyTreeDNA in September and her results came back in late October. So far, her matches haven’t given me any breakthroughs. My mother has collected 50 matches and 16 of those are common matches with me.

Meanwhile, I only have 62 matches in three years from the same test. Soon after I did the Family Finder test, I also did the MtDNA test, which searches for matches by going through my mother, her mother, her mother, etc. I have five matches that should be related to me in the past five generations. So far, I’ve had no luck with these matches for my German roots from current day Poland.

I’m giving this DNA testing two more tries. My mother’s brother has agreed to take a Family Finder test from FamilyTreeDNA. I am curious whether a male relative will bring me some luck.

Soon after his first matches come though, I will buy the Y-DNA 12 marker test to see whether matches can be found for my paternal grandfather’s family. Y-DNA tests search for matches by going through father, his father, his father, etc. Only males can take this test. Men and women can take the MtDNA test.

It also would be interesting to find out from the Y-DNA test where my grandfather’s family from Kursk, Russia, came from thousands of years ago, giving me that line’s haplogroup.

Also, I have taken another DNA test. This time through 23andme. I’ve heard complaints that too many 23andme customers are more concerned about medical genetic data.

The FDA pulled the plug on 23andme for releasing customers’ chances of having various health conditions and responding to certain drugs so 23andme is using a large marketing campaign to attract more customers interested in genealogy.

23andme customers also complain on the company’s forum that matches won’t share their genetic data. I’ll see in a few days if I will have the same problem.

The three main companies for DNA genealogy testing are FamilyTree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andme. I hope to have a better idea on which company is the best when I see my first set of 23andme matches. 23andme is claiming “the largest DNA ancestry service in the world” so I’ll see whether it can provide me with the best matches.

Finally getting somewhere in a strange time

I finally have figured out which archive that could have my grandfather’s WWII military records- Central Military Archives of Ukraine in Kiev.

Talk about the wrong time to send a letter to archives in Kiev. I am hoping that by the time my letter arrives that the city will have some normalcy so I can finally get an answer on my grandfather’s military service.

I had assumed that since my grandfather served in the Red Army during World War II that all the records are still in Moscow. But since he was serving from Kiev, his hometown, it seems that Ukraine possesses his records.

A little more than a year ago, I learned the regiment where he served. I sent a letter to Russian Central Military Archives (ЦАМО Российской Федерации, ул. Кирова, д. 74, 142100, Московская обл., г. Подольск, Russia) back in January 2013.

The archives wrote a letter in April 2013, stating it did not have any records for that regiment. For some reason, the Russian Consulate General in New York City mailed this letter to me a few weeks ago.

So I am going to cross my fingers that my letter arrives at Ukrainian Central Military Archives (Галузевий державний архів Міністерства оборони України, вул. Бориспільська, 16, 02093, м. Київ) and the archives will find something on my grandfather. I don’t know about the chances that my grandfather’s records still exist.

He, his wife and baby daughter escaped Kiev in winter 1943 to southern Germany, thanks to my grandmother’s half-German ancestry. People in the Soviet Union were able to escape with the help of Germany if they could prove German ancestry.

It was bad enough that my grandfather was a POW of the German Army. Many Soviet soldiers were killed for being a POW so it was best for my grandfather to run for his life. His escape from a POW camp is another mystery.

I’ve heard that records of Soviets who were POWs or escaped the USSR were destroyed. My grandfather’s records also could have been destroyed by the terrible bombings of Kiev.

Unlike so many Americans, I don’t have letters from my grandfather to my grandmother while he served in the war nor photos of him in uniform. Some people are lucky enough to have relatives’ WWII uniforms and medals.

I don’t have a scrap of paper stating my grandfather served in the war that engulfed his hometown. My mother only has stories from her mother. I am hoping soon I can tell my mom about her father’s service in the Soviet Army.

Related post:

Getting closer to finding grandpa’s WWII military record

Hoping to learn about my grandpa’s mark in Russian history

I have been lucky that my mother kept letters from my grandfather to my father and made time to translate the dozen handwritten letters.

It’s been a struggle to research some of the details my grandfather writes about in his letters. My grandpa Pavel did not give enough details on some of his experiences for me to find documents in archives.

Luckily, my grandfather sent a clipping of an article written about him in his local newspaper. He participated in the 1958 Всесоюзной сельскохозяйственной выставки (All-Union Agricultural Exhibition) in Moscow as an exhibitor of his prized grapes.

It took awhile to understand the importance of the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition because not many websites have information on the event. When I read the page on Wikipedia about the event, it was so exciting to learn my peasant-born grandfather participated in such an important national event.

I tried for two years to figure out how I could get documents from archives on my grandfather’s participation. I finally found that the Russian State Archive of the Economy in Moscow has records on the event by using keywords All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, Moscow and participants in Russian on Google.

The search results on Google sent me to the location of records at Russian State Archive of the Economy- Фонд 7857 (Fund 7857). I thought I would quickly get a response from that archive when I provided the fund number, my grandfather’s personal details, a scan of the newspaper article on him and my address.

But that was not enough to spark a response from the Russian State Archive of the Economy six months after I sent the archive an e-mail message. So I e-mailed my cousin in Moscow to contact the archive.

I got a response within two weeks of my cousin calling the archive, which wanted me to send within an e-mail message “payment is guaranteed,” a scanned signature and my mailing address. I had no idea how large of a bill I would be promising to pay so I asked for a bill estimate.

The archive estimated that the research and document copies will cost about $42-$69 in U.S. dollars. This sounds a lot but this expense will be well worth it if documents are found on my grandfather.

My cousin will submit my request because the archive only takes payment directly to its bank account. My bank requires foreign bank transfers to be at least $100. I cannot use Western Union because it only can send money to a Western Union store in Russia.

So now, I will wait patiently for the archive’s research results. I will be so thrilled if documents of my grandfather will be found.

This experience has taught me to ask for estimates and information on payment methods when sending research requests. Then I will send scans of my signature and a statement that “payment is guaranteed” after I get a response.

Hopefully, this method will increase the chances that archives will respond to my requests. It takes awhile to figure out how former USSR archives operate.

Case closed unhappily

I was hoping that the marriage record of paternal great-grandparents from Kharkiv, Ukraine, would open some doors to continue research on their families.

I paid the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York City $75 for an extraction of my great-grandparents’ marriage record. I had hoped that I would get information that I do not already have on my great-grandmother’s high school diploma.

Nope. My wish was not granted. I got the same information my grand uncle Nick wrote on his mother’s high school diploma.

When I wrote to the civil registry office in Kharkiv for information from my great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1890, I asked the office whether the record has any additional information. I provided all the information I had from the high school diploma.

So when I received the response without any new information from the Consulate General, I was so angry for several days. Why couldn’t the civil registry office just send me a response that it could not release any other information to me? Instead I paid $75 for information I already had from my grand uncle.

The real truth is that I paid another $100 last year for information from this marriage record. I found a respected researcher to visit the civil registry office and he managed to get information however he did (aka unofficial). That researcher got the names of four witnesses of my great-grandparents’ marriage, in addition to the information I already have.

I didn’t want to believe that the birthplaces and parents’ names of my great-grandparents were not on the marriage record so I contacted the registry office, hoping that the researcher wasn’t able to get all the information available.

So, now I am waiting for the day someone from my great-grandmother’s family will e-mail me to say we are related as did with her husband’s family. My great-grandmother’s family is a mystery with tales of wealth and nobility.

I will have to count my other successes and accept that not every mystery will be solved until that time comes.

Related posts:

The drama continues to get one marriage record

A learning lesson in a Ukrainian registry office

A door opens wide after three tries