23andMe: Two Ways You're Screwing Everyone Up

I don't mean the actual "you." We all know that you are a great 23andMe customer, one who is sympathetic to the woe caused by 23andMe's Byzantine system, and thus you take care to work around their problematic interface.

I refer, of course, to the "Attention-Getting Title You." Alas, there's an awful lot of Them in You. (And 23andMe is one of Them, but unfortunately, we must depend on You to fix the problem.)

Two Things You Can Do To Make 23andMe Better for Everyone

The first thing you can do is dead easy.

If you took the 23andMe test for health information, and/or maybe to find out your maternal/paternal haplogroups, but certainly not because you care about any genetic cousin matches, then get the bloomin' bejesusin' hell off of Relative Finder.


Why? Because Relative Finder has a limit. I'm a little luckier than most who have hit said limit: I downloaded my matches on the first day I got my results. Some of those matches were gone by the second week, when 23andMe scraped off the most distant matches to make room for more incoming. So, I have my earliest matches, but who knows which matches I've never seen?

The limit is "around 1000" matches. As soon as you pass this number, your more distant matches start disappearing unless you've already invited them to share genomes. That's why people suggest that you invite your lowest matches first, since they will be the first to go. I have 1058 matches, but I no longer receive any matches between 7-8cM because of the limit. Having found some great information via low matches, I really don't want to lose any.

Obviously this is a design flaw, and it's not any customer's fault. But, if you're my match and you stay opted into Relative Finder while having zero interest in sharing genomes with your newly discovered genetic cousins, then you are keeping me from seeing DNA matches who are interested. Please don't do that.

How to remove yourself from Relative Finder:

It's so easy, and if you ever do find yourself interested in serious genealogy, you can opt right back in.



  1. Click "Account."
  2. Click "Settings."
  3. Click "Privacy / Consent."
  4. Check the "I do not want to participate in Relative Finder."

There. You just made thousands of people very happy. Thank you. Really, I mean that. I'm sorry if I sounded harsh, above. I just wanted to get your attention. *conciliatory hug*

If you are interested in genealogy, then the other thing to do is stop being an idiot and start sharing genomes with all of your matches.

(Oh crud. Looks like I'm not broadcasting from the tower of Love and Light just yet.)

I've heard all kinds of reasons for why (so-called) genealogists on 23andMe won't share genomes, and every single one of them translates to this: "I don't really know what I'm doing."

If you're brand new to these things, that's to be expected. Take your time, get smart about the basics of genetic genealogy, then start saying yes (and "wheee!") to those sharing invitations. Don't forget to fill out your profile!

If you don't consider yourself new to using DNA for genealogy, and if you're ignoring or declining invitations from matches in your Relative Finder (or in their RF, if you've hit the limit), then you don't know what the heck you're doing. Worse, apparently you think you do.

Let's go over some of the dumbass excuses coming out of the typing fingers of those who should know better, shall we?

"We don't have the same (maternal or paternal) haplogroup."

Okay, so you don't match one of the 1,024 possible lines where 23andMe's autosomal test might detect a match between us. Shall we move on to consider the other 1,023?

"You're a female(/male), and the test only covers my father(/mother)'s line."

See above. 23andMe does three tests on your spit: yDNA (direct paternal line), mtDNA (direct maternal line), and autosomal (all lines). The matches you see in Relative Finder are a result of the autosomal test. These people can descend from any of your ancestors. They may be of either gender.

"We don't share the same ethnicity."

Since you aren't going to know that unless we share genomes, this excuse is what happens when people see a profile picture and think to themselves, "Well, that person is Race A and I'm race B, so we must not be related."

Anyone who thinks like that is either ignorant of the ability of different races to get boinky-boinky together, or they're a racist jerkface.

"I don't like to have a lot of names cluttering up the chromosome browser."

This is a real excuse, I swear, and I hope to heaven that this particular match was a Lone Idiot.

If you expect to make any headway with this pursuit, you're going to need to share a bunch of genomes, and not just for five days (as my Lone Idiot graciously agreed to do) - not when new test results are rolling in daily.

Therefore, thank goodness that 23andMe provides a little search box in its chromosome browser ("Family Inheritance: Advanced"), eh? That way you can stomach having more than eight names in the list without getting twitchy.

"I don't want people knowing my personal information."

That's why you can choose to share with OR without health reports. Anything else you're still worried about can be solved with a tinfoil hat.

"A lot of these matches are false positives."

I honestly don't know how many matches are likely to be false positives. I do know that so many matches are actual positives that we now have a genetic genealogy craze on our hands. Your or my inability to see our connection doesn't make mean we don't share DNA. (See below.)

"We don't share any of the same surnames."

Yeah, it's maddening, but guess what? We're still cousins. (Probably. Usually. See above.) And if you're dismissing a family connection because it's not already obvious, then what the hell are you doing in genealogy?

This is the number one reason I have heard from people - sometimes incredibly nice people - for refusing to share genomes. They don't see the connection, so there must not be one, or else the connection is so deep it must be unknown for the rest of time. "OH WELL."

If you say this, you suck at genealogy. I know you suck because you've apparently never found a piece of information that nobody in your family knew before. You apparently have no experience in suddenly find one tiny fact that makes ten disconnected facts slide into place.

That's okay, though! It's all fixable! Especially now that we have this new magic that no "my work is done" genealogist saw coming: the autosomal DNA test.

I know we all want wonderful new info to just drop into our laps. That's unlikely to happen, but it's funny what connections might just be that easy if you simply make a minimum effort: fill out your profile and share genomes with all interested matches.

Never underestimate the keenness of other genealogists to work every angle then generously share their findings. You may not see the connection, but if there's any hope for you as a genealogist, then you have theories, right? Theoretical surnames that aren't in your official list of names? Potential locations? A sense of how collateral lines fit into the big picture? So do your matches.

And your matches, maybe they've tested at other places? Maybe they know things about your matching chromosome segment that you don't? Maybe they've phased their data elsewhere?

Never assume that what you know and what you see is the end of the story. More information is coming. 

Let me tell a story about a guy who is getting an email from me tonight. (Pseudonyms abound.)

I tested with 23andMe. I had a close match to Betty. I asked Betty to share genomes. She agreed. Betty, however, didn't list any surnames in her profile, and her interest seemed to be in health. I decided to communicate with others who showed more of an interest and not risk pestering her. (Only so many hours in the day, etc.)

Months passed.

My test results transferred to FTDNA. I matched Doug and John on the same segment of chromosome 3. I could see that Doug and John matched each other, although FTDNA doesn't show whether that it is in the same place, so this could be a fluke. However, both Doug and John had Peedersnooken listed as a surname of interest. John, in fact, had a tree. I could see that we both descended from Horatio K. Peedersnooken.

John also tested with 23andMe. John, Betty, and I all matched each other on that same segment. John had already contacted Betty with his suspicions, and Betty had eventually identified herself as also being a Horatio K. Peedersnooken descendant.

So, we have four people (me, Betty, Doug, John) who are all Peedersnooken descendants, three of whom descend from Horatio K. Peedersnooken for certain (Doug has yet to answer his email), and who all share some part of a certain segment on chromosome 3. Our genealogies are based on sound research (the Peedersnookens are a well-documented line, so it was easy to cross-check each other. Therefore, we could now say with confidence that this segment has something to do with Peedersnookens, and most probably Horatio K. Peedersnooken or his wife... let's call her Katydid Bratwurst.

It's great to be able to map out another bit of one's chromosomes. (I can't wait for my parents' tests to be done so I can at least know which side every match is on.) And the more we can all map out, the more we can help each other...


Did you notice the kicker? John and Betty and I actually have another person at 23andMe who matches us all on that same segment. His name is Colin.

To look at Colin's profile, he has no connection to any of us. If Colin were to look at my (detailed) family tree, he'd see no connection to himself. And yet he shared genomes with me anyway.

Tonight Colin got an email from me saying, hey, a bunch of us match each other and you on this segment, and we all descend from Horatio and Katydid.

And Colin, I hope, is a very happy man, to have had a couple of probable ancestors fall into his lap like that.

Thank you, Colin, for sharing genomes even though we had no matching surnames. Maybe Colin will never find the generations between his known ancestors and the Peedersnookens, but at least now he has another place to look.

If for no other reason, share genomes because you're lazy. Because obsessed fiends like me will share our finds if we think you care even a little bit. Because we've only just boarded this ride. Because, if you care about genealogy, you have no excuse not to.

(Thank you. *hopeful hug*)

28 February 2013 |






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