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Navigating the AncestryDNA Paywall Without Breaking the Bank


Don't shoot the messenger! Ancestry.com has recently made significant adjustments to the accessibility of its DNA features. Key tools, including ThruLines and Shared Matches, now fall behind a subscription paywall. Despite these changes, Ancestry continues to offer ethnicity estimates and DNA communities to all users, ensuring basic access remains unaffected by subscription status.


This revision places advanced features such as the ability to view more than three shared matches, delve into matches' trees, and leverage ThruLines, squarely within the realm of paid services. This move has ignited conversations across the genealogy community, prompting a reevaluation of strategies for DNA testing and research in the evolving landscape of genealogical tools.


For a detailed breakdown of these changes and their impact on AncestryDNA users, refer to the articles Ancestry’s ThruLines and Shared Matches Now Require a Subscription and Ancestry Updates Ethnicity, Introduces New Features and Pushes Some Behind Paywall.


Subscription Workarounds


In the wake of Ancestry.com's recent changes, genealogy hobbyists and professionals have unearthed a workaround that maintains access to these valuable resources without requiring a subscription for every user. This method leverages the ability to assign a "manager" to your DNA kit, a feature that Ancestry offers to facilitate shared access and management of DNA results. This workaround is particularly beneficial for families where multiple members have tested, but only one holds an active subscription.


Assigning a manager to your DNA kit allows that individual access to the restricted tools and features on your behalf, based on their subscription level, regardless of your own. Ancestry.com specifically advises, "A membership purchased on one account does not transfer to another account. If you manage someone else's DNA test on your account and your account has a membership, you can access the DNA features of their test that are available with a membership. If you manage someone else's test on your account and you don't have a membership (but they do), you don’t have access to the features available only with a membership."


This is an invaluable strategy for families, ensuring that one subscription can extend benefits across multiple DNA test kits. It's important to note that the manager role is not limited to immediate family members. If a more distant family member or a trusted friend is more actively engaged in family history research, you might consider granting them managerial access to your DNA kit. If you are collaborating or working with a professional genealogist, adding them as a manager can be necessary depending on the breadth of the research project. A test kit owner has the discretion to appoint one individual as manager at any time and retains the right to revoke this access whenever necessary, ensuring control remains with the owner while facilitating collaborative research.


For detailed information and instructions on how to assign a manager to your DNA kit, please refer to Assigning a Manager to Your AncestryDNA® Test.


Ancestry.com offers additional levels of sharing: the viewer and collaborator levels. While these options have not been as widely discussed, it appears that viewers and collaborators, much like managers, can access restricted tools and features if they have a paid subscription. These levels of access provide a more limited range of permissions compared to a manager but still allows for collaboration on family history research.


To better understand the differences between manager, collaborator, and viewer access, and to decide which option best suits your needs, take a look at this comparison chart:



This workaround presents a practical solution for navigating Ancestry.com's subscription model, ensuring that genealogy enthusiasts can continue their research without interruption. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional genealogist, understanding and utilizing these sharing options can significantly enhance your research capabilities and resource access.


Viewing DNA Results Without vs. With a Qualifying Subscription


To illuminate the differences and showcase the value of enhanced access, I've compiled a series of screenshots comparing the view of the same DNA test kit from two distinct perspectives: one without any subscription and the other through the lens of a manager with a qualifying membership. These visuals aim to demystify the experience, highlighting what features and information become available when you upgrade access through a manager's subscription.


Please note: To respect privacy, I've redacted names and any identifying details of perceived living individuals in the images provided.


Immediately on the Results Summary page, you can see the owner of the test kit without a paid subscription is being prompted to unlock "Premium DNA Features."



In contrast, this screenshot from the identical page and DNA test kit, as seen by a manager with an appropriate subscription, reveals an overview that includes the previously missing feature, ThruLines.



Particularly noteworthy is the restriction on shared matches visible in this view without a membership. The owner, lacking a subscription, can access only three shared matches. For context, shared matches are those individuals you and one of your DNA matches both share, providing crucial insights into the potential relationship between you and your match.




Viewed from the standpoint of a manager with an active membership, this image shows the complete list of shared matches between the test taker and their DNA match. Please note: The image serves as a snapshot to illustrate the inclusion of all shared matches. Due to its extensive length and size, the full list has been cropped for practicality and clarity.




The Ethical Landscape of DNA Management


Now, let's consider this from the the role of the manager. Across all platforms I manager roughly 50 DNA kits of behalf of family, friends, and clients - and this was before the recent paywall changes!


Managing DNA kits for others is a privilege that comes with significant ethical considerations. Each kit represents a person's genetic blueprint, a deeply personal and sensitive piece of their identity. As a professional genealogist, I approach this responsibility with the utmost care, ensuring that every action taken is in the best interest of those whose kits I manage.


  1. Consent and Transparency: The foundation of ethically managing DNA kits is obtaining explicit consent from every individual. This consent is not a one-time checkbox but an ongoing conversation about what is being shared, how it's being used, and who has access to the information.

  2. Privacy and Security: Ensuring the confidentiality and protection of genetic information is of utmost importance; it encompasses a comprehensive approach to privacy. It involves securing permissions from the test taker regarding what private, personal, or identifying information may be shared in conversations with their DNA matches. Additionally, it requires controls to govern who is granted access to this data, safeguarding against unauthorized viewing and ensuring that privacy preferences are respected at every turn.

Benefits of Managing DNA Test Kits


Managing multiple DNA test kits offers a unique advantage, especially for those delving into complex family histories or seeking to unravel a particular mystery. By overseeing several kits, genealogists can compare and contrast DNA matches more efficiently, identify common ancestors with greater accuracy, and potentially break through longstanding research barriers.


Several years ago, I came across an adoptee in my match list, estimated to be a 2nd to 3rd cousin in my paternal lineage. I just happen to manage test kits representing descendant(s) of three out of the five children of my paternal great grandparents.


As the manager of these kits, I had access to the genetic information of descendants from a significant portion of my great-grandparents' lineage. I was able to meticulously compare the adoptee's DNA with each descendant's. This process significantly narrowed down the possible familial connections, leveraging the power of exclusion to hone in on potential biological relatives.


By methodically analyzing the shared DNA between the adoptee and each of the descendants' test kits, and considering the family history, I was able to quickly deduce the most likely branch of the family tree from which the adoptee descended. In this instance, the careful management and comparison of multiple DNA test kits expedited the identification of the adoptee's biological mother, transforming a daunting search into a manageable and ultimately successful inquiry.


This real-world example underscores the profound impact of managing multiple DNA test kits in genealogical research. It highlights how such an approach can facilitate connections that might otherwise remain obscured, offering hope and answers to those seeking to uncover their biological heritage. For anyone embarking on a similar journey, this strategy proves invaluable, turning the complex puzzle of DNA matches into a clearer picture of familial connections.


Conclusion: A Path Forward


As we navigate the evolving landscape of genealogical research, the recent changes to Ancestry.com's subscription model present both challenges and opportunities. By understanding and leveraging the available workarounds, such as assigning a manager to DNA test kits, genealogists can continue to access the tools and features essential for deepening family connections and uncovering ancestral stories. This approach not only ensures the efficient use of resources but also fosters collaboration within the genealogy community. As we adapt to these changes, let us remain committed to the ethical management of DNA data, prioritizing consent, privacy, and security in our quest to piece together the puzzles of our past. Together, with creativity and diligence, we can continue to explore the rich tapestry of our heritage without breaking the bank.


Note to Readers:

For those intrigued by the ethical considerations and strategies surrounding the management of multiple DNA test kits in genealogy, I will be presenting a free, virtual program titled "Ethical Insights and Strategies: Managing DNA Test Kits in Genealogy" through the Albuquerque Genealogical Society in June 2024. This session will delve deeper into the topics discussed in this blog post, offering expanded insights and practical advice for navigating the complex landscape of DNA test kit management. For updates on this program and more information on how to participate, please visit abqgen.org. I look forward to exploring these important issues with you further and helping to enrich our collective understanding of ethical genealogy practices.




 

Disclaimer: Each blog post is created and presented for marketing and entertainment purposes only but are based on larger research which adheres to the standards of The Board of Certification of Genealogists® as set forth in Genealogical Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014).

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