2015 redefines value of DNA genealogy tests

My hope for finding great matches through DNA testing was set high for this year after reading so many success stories on Facebook. It’s been exactly 5 years since I swabbed my mouth for the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA.

Since then, I also have tested through Ancestry DNA and 23andme. Right now, I don’t know if my hope just needs to be extended for another year or got crushed by one company.

I naively thought that the majority of 23andme customers who chose to be private would change their minds after the company announced those people will no longer have messaging abilities.

Nope, the majority of my private matches (and the majority of my matches) sit in the land of anonymity. My closest matches, 3rd to 6th matches, are taunting me by refusing to name themselves and their ancestors. When the day comes that I get closer matches, I worry whether they will hide behind “Anonymous Male or Anonymous Female.”

On top of this, 23andme just showed where its heart (or wallet) is invested with the price increase to $199 from $99. AncestryDNA has mainly priced its test at $99 and Family Tree DNA continues to keeps its Family Finder test at $99.

23andme has restarted offering health-related results so it’s focus isn’t genealogy. I understand the importance of learning about health conditions through DNA testing but 23andme has changed so much that it should be the third choice for DNA genealogy.

My disadvantage with these DNA tests has been who I am. Seven of my eight great-grandparents are Russian. One great-grandmother was born in Russia, where it is now Poland, but she had German strong family roots throughout Poland.

Genealogy is getting more popular in the former USSR but the U.S. prices for DNA tests are hard to swallow in Russia and Ukraine. Only Family Tree DNA sends kits there but some Russians and Ukrainians were sneaking in the 23andme test. Forget that until their economies get better.

In the meantime, I am thrilled that Ancestry DNA is now selling its test to United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia, where Russians and Ukrainians escaped for better lives.

The company also added two features – showing the amount of DNA in common with matches and viewing the shared matches with each match.

Another addition to Ancestry DNA has been DNA Circles, a feature that tries to predict a common ancestor between matches based on DNA and family tree data. That feature has been highly criticized but maybe this feature will help some break down their brickwalls.

There hasn’t been much change at Family Tree DNA, except for better ethnicity breakdowns and the ability to search the database of family trees by name or place. Family Tree DNA has the best tools to analyze matches. The only thing that Family Tree DNA could improve is building up its customer base for the Family Finder Test.

So if you’re like me with lots of Eastern European blood running through your veins,  there is no need to run away from DNA testing for genealogy. Everyone’s experience will be different.

I highly recommend first testing through Ancestry DNA, which is having a sale on its test for $89 until Dec. 21, and then transferring your data to Family Tree DNA for $39. I recommend using 23andme as the third choice, especially for adoptees.

After the first test results arrive, upload your data for free to Gedmatch, which matches you with Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andme customers who chose to do the same. This route will be most wise and affordable.

Related posts:
Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

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

A Russian-American’s insider view of the 23andme Autosomal Test (before the recent changes)

Build the best mousetrap to find long-lost family this holiday season

okrusThe number of websites to find long-lost family are everywhere, even for those searching in the former USSR. There are a few great social networking websites for the Russian-speaking world.

But only one I will call the great mousetrap. It has one automatic feature that Facebook doesn’t have for its users.

Everyone who visits personal pages of users on Odnoklassniki pops up as a visitor in the same way as notifications appear on Facebook. Big deal, some will say sarcastically.

Send a potential relative an e-mail message or postal letter with the address of your page on Odnoklassnik and that person views your page, the doors open.

Most members of the social network list their relatives who are their friends for everyone to view. Unlike Facebook, all open accounts will show which friends are actually family to anyone viewing Odnoklassniki. Messages from current friends and strangers also appear in the same mailbox, unlike Facebook.

I used my account a few months ago to connect with family of my grandfather’s sister who wouldn’t answer my postal letters. A younger member of the family viewed my page mentioned in the letter sent to Ukraine and I finally figured out their family tree from their page, which was revealed by her visit to my page.

More than 200 million people from the former USSR are registered with Odnoklassniki and more than 45 million people visit the website every day, according to Wikipedia.

So it was not a surprise to find people carrying my two great-grandparents’ surnames in the village where they were born in the 1880s on Odnoklassniki. The easy search engine to find people by surname and hometown is an incredible resource to find long-lost family among the millions of registered users.

Even if a user can’t find relatives right away, the social network has a great area for groups that include many for genealogy. Some groups are based on surnames and backgrounds of ancestors- Cossacks, nobility, Germans living in Russia, etc.

Another great feature of Odnoklassniki is that status notifications are separated by responses to your status posts, friend’s posts and your group posts. There isn’t a need to dig around the status notifications to find the responses you’ve been awaiting in your genealogy groups, again unlike Facebook.

If you are convinced or tempted to use Odnoklassnik, here’s the best part. The website is available in English! Here is the link to register using the English version of Odnoklassniki, which is also available in Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Romanian, Tajik ans Uzbek.

Anyone ready to build the best mousetrap on Odnoklassniki, click here for my guide. I’ve been a member for 4 years so this is the best advice from my experience on finally finding those relatives mentioned in dusty letters or talks by older relatives.

Here’s the finest cheese for the best mousetrap to find long-lost family

First impressions are everything, even on social networks. Citizens of the former USSR have been raised to be suspicious of foreigners so building the right profile on Odnoklassniki is important.

Here’s what it takes to attract people to your profile on Odnoklassniki, with hopes that long-lost family will find you through your profile.

  1. Your first status post should be about the family you are seeking. Make the post simple and mention that older photos of your relatives are posted in your photo album.
  2. Try to post your status updates in English and Russian, using Google Translate or any online translating program.
  3. Don’t post photos of homes and cars that make it appear as if you’re rich in the view of former USSR citizens. You don’t want to attract the wrong attention and people who will falsely claim to be family.
  4. Post only in Russian when interacting in the groups.
  5. Show pride in your ancestry from the former USSR. Post pictures of your activities with Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian community groups.
  6. Don’t discuss current or past politics of the former USSR in any of your posts. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is very touch among the Russian-speaking world. Just leave it alone.
  7. Make sure to keep track of responses to your group posts. Even if the responses aren’t helpful, acknowledge them and be thankful.
  8. Join some groups unrelated to genealogy to bring attention to yourself. Maybe someone in fishing or traveling groups will click on your profile link and realize you two have a family connection.
  9. When posting in genealogy groups about the family you are seeking or researching, make sure to include any older photos and documents you have in the posts. It brings more interest so your posts aren’t scrolled past as much.
  10. Most importantly, don’t announce you are a foreigner in your status updates or group posts. Hello from America! or Hello from Australia! may be taken the wrong way. People from the former USSR have been taught to hate foreigners for generations. It’s hard to tell which members are excited about interacting with foreigners and those who are leery.

Please post comments about the successes and struggles of using Odnoklassniki. Any additional suggestions on using Odnoklassniki are welcome!