Four Ways to Use a Chromosome Browser with Ancestry DNA

A question keeps popping up on genealogy forums: does Ancestry have a chromosome browser?

Ancestry does not have a chromosome browser. You can transfer your Ancestry DNA to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, or GEDmatch, and use their chromosome browsers instead.

This article is a guide to the different ways you can use a third-party chromosome browser on your Ancestry DNA results. We also discuss the reasons why Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser and the chances that they may do so in the future.

Four Ways to Use a Chromosome Browser with Ancestry DNA

You can download your raw Ancestry DNA and upload it to these DNA sites with chromosome browsers:

I’ve listed the sites in descending order of the size of their DNA databases. You most likely want to use a chromosome browser to analyze and compare your DNA with other testers on the chosen site. Of course, you are likely to have more DNA matches with the larger databases.

Although transferring your DNA is free to these sites, there is usually a cost to use their premium tools. The chromosome browser is a premium tool on MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. There is a free version on GEDmatch.

What’s the Fourth Way?

I mentioned four ways but only listed three DNA sites. The fourth way is to use the visualization tools offered at the DNA Painter website. But if you’ve only tested with Ancestry, you’ll need to transfer your raw Ancestry DNA to one of the three DNA sites mentioned above. Then you can use the Painter tools. There are more details in a later section in this article.

Things to Consider Before Transferring your Ancestry DNA to Other Sites

The size of the DNA database shouldn’t be the only consideration in your search for a Chromosome Browser for your Ancestry DNA. Make sure you are comfortable with these aspects on your target site:

Law Enforcement

The various companies have slightly different attitudes towards giving access to law enforcement agencies to “fish” for DNA matches in criminal cases. Some positively encourage forensic activity. It’s fair to say that Ancestry is one of the more reticent at co-operation. You’ll need to read the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies to gauge where your target site falls within this spectrum.

However, every company has to comply with legal judgments. If this is an issue for you, I wouldn’t go throwing your DNA into every pot you can find!

Privacy

Both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA have a similar messaging system as Ancestry: you don’t get the details of other users’ email addresses. In contrast, GEDmatch is completely different in this aspect. Emails are clearly displayed. You may choose to sign up to GEDmatch with a dedicated email that does not easily identify you “in real life”.

When you upload your DNA to your target site, you may be asked to opt-in to various research programs. Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever you sign up for.

Security

You also need to be comfortable with the level of security provided by the target company. This article provides a rundown on several security breaches in 2020 that targeted DNA sites.

Using the MyHeritage Chromosome Browser with Ancestry DNA

Here is a complete guide to transferring your Ancestry DNA to MyHeritage. If you’re thinking of also copying your tree, be aware that there are some differences in default privacy settings between Ancestry and MyHeritage.

If you prefer to watch a demo, there is a video walkthrough on our YouTube channel.

MyHeritage Chromosome Browser Features

MyHeritage has built some nice features around its chromosome browser. Take a look at the display for one of my shared matches:

Sylvia and I have John as a shared match (names changed). John is quite a distant cousin to me, but look at what MyHeritage is telling me about his relationship with Sylvia. MyHeritage displays their shared centimorgans, and their estimated relationship.

Ancestry does not give us this information. We get a shared match list on Ancestry, but they do not provide the number of centimorgans between our shared matches. Well, that’s not really to do with a chromosome browse, but I thought I’d point it out as an added bonus!

Now take a look at the second red arrow. It’s pointing at an icon that may look at first glance like a calculator. The little pink bars actually denote triangulation of overlapping segments. This icon shows that there is a triangulated segment between myself, Sylvia, and John.  We three have one or more segments of DNA in common. Clicking on the icon takes us to the Chromosome Browser.

Working with Segments

And within the Chromosome Browser, we see the exact details of what we share. In this example, we share a segment on chromosome 8.

Notice that I’ve highlighted the segment size of 6.8 cM? You may be thinking that this is a little smaller than you’d like to work with. MyHeritage defaults to 6 cM as its minimum threshold, but you can raise that if prefer.

How much does access to the MyHeritage Chromosome Browser cost?

It costs about $30 to access the chromosome browser with MyHeritage.

The FamilyTreeDNA Chromosome Browser and Ancestry DNA

Transferring your Ancestry DNA to FamilyTreeDNA is free. Check out our YouTube channel for a video walkthrough.

All chromosome browsers look pretty similar, so there’s not much difference to the pictures I’ve shown from MyHeritage. However, you don’t get triangulated segments that are offered by MyHeritage. With both sites, you choose up to seven matches to include in a comparison of chromosomes.

This picture shows a sample comparison of Chromosome 2 for three shared matches.

The default segment size is 5 cM, which you can raise to a higher level if you prefer.

One advantage that FamilyTreeDNA has over MyHeritage is that it shows you the X chromosome.

How much does access to the FamilyTreeDNA Chromosome Browser cost?

It costs about $20 to access the chromosome browser with FamilyTreeDNA. You pay to unlock this and several other features. The access is immediate once payment is made.

The GEDMatch Chromosome Browser and Ancestry DNA

GEDMatch has a free chromosome browser. This version is a little…industrial…in its look. Here’s my chromosome 3 comparison with a DNA match:

They also offer a 3D browser. I can’t say that I find it wildly useful, but it looks kinda cool!

Like FamilyTreeDNA, GEDMatch offers X Chromosome matching.

GEDMatch is less user-friendly than the other sites, but the hard-core enthusiasts love it for the flexibility.

How much does access to the premium GEDMatch cost?

It costs about $10 to access the GEDMatch premium tools.

DNA Painter and Ancestry DNA

The DNA Painter website is not a DNA testing service, and you don’t upload your Ancestry DNA raw results there. In fact, DNA Painter doesn’t take raw DNA data – it takes your segment data. And Ancestry doesn’t provide the segment data it needs.

So what do you do? Well, you transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data to any one of MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA or GEDmatch. And then you can follow the instructions on the DNA Painter site on how to proceed.

How much does using DNA Painter cost?

The service is free to use. There are some premium features available at about $30 for a 6-month subscription.

Why Doesn’t Ancestry Have A Chromosome Browser?

Ancestry maintains an active blog where they announce new features. With every announcement, people will raise the question of a chromosome browser in the comments. Ancestry does respond to comments on their blog, but I can’t find any response to pleas for chromosome matching.

And do a blog search? Here’s what you get:

In contrast, a Google site search (site:ancestry.com “chromosome browser”) gives you plenty of results – but these are from comments underneath the blog posts.

It’s difficult to find an official statement from Ancestry as to their reticence to having a chromosome browser. But their staff do respond to questions at conferences, such as Roots Tech. There seem to be two reasons offered: concerns about privacy, and concerns about complexity for their members.

Privacy Concerns

The reasoning here (rightly or wrongly) is that chromosome matching has the potential to expose medical details of your DNA matches. The premise is that you have a medical condition that you can tie to particular segments of your chromosome. If a chromosome browser lets you identify a matching segment on another person, then you might predict that they are prone to the condition. You might also predict that their descendants are also at risk.

Notice my heavy use of “may” and “might”? If all that’s needed is a chromosome browser to predict medical conditions across a population – then the western world would be a different place right now. Genetic and health science just isn’t that simple.

What’s more credible to me is that a room of corporate lawyers hears this as the slightest of possibilities. And bye-bye, Ancestry chromosome browser, you’re not going on the road-map anytime soon.

Too Complicated for Most Customers

I personally haven’t seen Ancestry take this position publicly. However, other genealogy enthusiasts report that Ancestry has said that they don’t want to confuse the more casual users. Teasing this out a little further, there is speculation that Ancestry worries about the demand on their support staff to field questions about interpreting the browser results.

During my research for this article, I came across a forum comment that cited an Ancestry blog post in 2015 that made this argument. I went looking for the “official” post, but I couldn’t find it. That doesn’t mean it was never there!

One counter-argument is that Ancestry could offer the tool for a premium payment. After all, that’s what its competitors do.

Aside from that, surely the visualization features of the browser tend toward a more intuitive grasp of inheritance.

Speculation on Why Ancestry Doesn’t Have a Chromosome Browser

Now we’ve got the semi-official reasons out of the way, let’s take a look at the speculation out there. The most credible I’ve heard is that the cost of technical development isn’t worth it.

This argument is about return on investment. Ancestry won’t invest significant development costs in a feature that won’t attract new customers. The serious hobbyists clamoring for a chromosome browser already have their DNA with Ancestry and every other credible DNA site. When you watch Ancestry adverts, they’re not selling complexity. Quite the opposite. So, adding a technical feature like a chromosome browser won’t move the dial in terms of customer acquisition.

The flip side is that it’s hard to believe that a chromosome browser would cost more in terms of development resources than something like ThruLines. And it’s not as if the up-front design requires big brains – every browser out there looks fairly similar.

Will There Ever Be an Ancestry Chromosome Browser?

It doesn’t look like Ancestry has any plans to provide chromosome comparison within the next year.

However, there may be some signs of movement. Take a look at a new feature that popped up on our DNA match display in August 2020, with very little fanfare from Ancestry.

Introducing… the Longest Common Segment

Ancestry is now showing the length of the longest common segment between us and our match. This initially caused considerable confusion in the social media groups, because sometimes the length is longer than the amount of shared DNA. You may see “30 cM” as the longest segment of shared DNA of 23 cM.

The info pop-up says “the length…can help determine your relationship.” Umm, great. But how? Don’t bother looking for a tutorial or user-friendly explanation on the Ancestry blog. Instead, go check out some of the genetic genealogy blogs for more info on how to interpret and use this information.

 Remember that we suggested one of the reasons Ancestry wouldn’t provide a chromosome browser is that people wouldn’t understand how to use it? Well, sure – people won’t understand it with a fairly cursory explanation. In contrast, the ethnicity update of 2020 gets a full blog page on why your Scottish percentage may have increased in your ethnicity breakdown.

Anyway, this is Ancestry dipping a toe in the deep ocean of genetic information. A sign of greater things to come? One can only hope.

Add Your Voice to Requests for an Ancestry Chromosome Browser

If you would like to add your voice to the requests for an Ancestry chromosome browser, then there are a few actions you could take.

The Ancestry Suggestion Box

This is the link to the Ancestry Suggestion Box, where you select a topic and enter your feedback.

“DNA” seems the most appropriate category. They’ve lumped ethnicity and DNA matches together, but your intent is hopefully clear from your thesis/rant/helpful suggestion.

Blog Comments

To be fair to Ancestry, they do leave the comments open on their blog for a while after an announcement of new features.

Keep asking: when will we get an Ancestry Chromosome Browser?

Just don’t expect an answer!

Pop-Up Surveys

You may occasionally get a pop-up survey when you’re using a new Ancestry feature. Do provide your opinion on whatever they’re asking about. But you can always slip in a P.S. – “please provide an Ancestry chromosome browser”.

Sign a Petition

This online petition for an Ancestry Chromosome Browser has been around for a while, I think it dates back to 2013. The petition creator is Shannon Christmas, a highly respected genealogist.

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