The Biggest Genealogy News Stories of 2017

By Diane Haddad

biggest genealogy news 2017

I can sum up this post in one short word. Not even a word, really, but three letters:

D. N. A.

The biggest genealogy stories of 2017 (so far, I guess I should say) are almost all about genetic genealogy. There’ll be another topic or two, but DNA is definitely the attention-getter in genealogy these days. Without further ado:


1. Genetic Communities (now Migrations)

Early this year, AncestryDNA introduced Genetic Communities. These communities are based on a research study that grouped test-takers with identical SNPs (certain DNA mutations). Then researchers added birth information from their attached family trees, to show the movements of each group over time. Reactions ranged from “wow, cool!” to “big deal, I already knew that.” Here’s my look at my mom’s Munster Irish Genetic Community, from back in March.

Now, Ancestry DNA is calling these groups “Migrations.” The presentation is now a visual “story” that blends the community info with your ethnicity estimates. (Note that ethnicity estimates depend not just on your own DNA, but also on the DNA of your particular testing company’s comparison groups.)


2. MyHeritage offers DNA testing

This actually happened late last year. But after a getting-off-the-ground period, MyHeritage DNA has improved its testing this year to provide more-detailed ethnicity estimates and let you view shared matches.

By the way: Want to give DNA tests for Christmas? We’ve seen some great sales at MyHeritage DNA and other testing companies. DNABargains has a good rundown of holiday sales on DNA tests.


3. Living DNA launches in the US market.

UK-based Living DNA  started with a laser focus on English origins, claiming it could narrow down the places in England where your British roots originated.

In April, it launched a project to focus similarly on Germany, asking for test-takers with four German grandparents who were born within 50 miles of each other.  This would allow the company to establish comparison groups for different areas of Germany.

Just recently, Living DNA announced it will allow test-takers to opt into receiving DNA matches, and launched a One Family One World project to build a “genetic map of the world.”


4. Ancestry DNA makes privacy-related changes

Two Ancestry DNA changes this year have drawn plenty of controversy:

  • One person, one account: This summer, the company did away with test administrators. Instead, your relative must set up his own DNA account (for free) and link it to his test kit. Then, he can share the test results with you, and you can view them the same way you view your own.This should give each test-taker more-informed control over his own DNA (and helps protect Ancestry DNA when test administrators don’t communicate to their relatives how the DNA is being used). But it does present some difficulty for genealogists. Here at Family Tree Magazine, we received a question from a reader wondering how to test a 97-year-old relative who lives across the country.
  • Opting out of matches: In what many adoption researchers see as a blow, Ancestry DNA customers can now opt out of getting matches and appearing in others’ match lists. On the plus side, maybe the ones left on your match list will be more interested in responding to messages from potential cousins. But this reduces potential matches for adopted people searching for birth families. Even if you’re not a close match an adopted person might contact, you could help as a shared match.


5. Family Tree DNA releases myOrigins update

Family Tree DNA released its long-awaited myOrigins update. myOrigins, part of your Family Finder (autosomal DNA) test results, displays your ethnic makeup in terms of Genetic Populations and Population Clusters. In April, the company used new genetic research to refine the populations and add new ones.

Family Tree DNA also recalculated matches for its Big Y test (an upgrade if you’ve tested at least 37 Y markers), which scans the entire Y chromosome.


6. MyHeritage acquires Legacy Family Tree.

In August, MyHeritage acquired Millennia Corp., the producer of Legacy Family Tree genealogy software and webinars. It’s an essential step for Legacy’s software, which will eventually sync with MyHeritage trees. For now, it’s now the only major program with no syncing. online tree


7. Software programs change syncing

Family Tree Maker software stopped syncing with Ancestry at the end of March. Software MacKiev released the long-awaited update, which once again introduces syncing with Ancestry trees, in July.

In June, RootsMagic released version 7.5 with TreeShare, which would sync with Ancestry family trees and provide Ancestry record hints within the software.


levar burton

7. LeVar Burton makes a sensation at RootsTech.

RootsTech continues to be a gigantic genealogy conference with broad appeal to not-just-hardcore genealogists. Keynote speaker LeVar Burton was Kunte Kinte in the original “Roots” television series, host of “Reading Rainbow,” and Geordi on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” He stole the show with his touching, powerful talk. You can watch it here.