Show Close Relatives
The main reason adoptees and genealogists buy a DNA kit from 23andMe is to find relatives, preferably close relatives, to help them recreate or verify their family tree. Genealogists are generally trying to either break through brick walls — ancestors whose parents aren’t known — or verify that the tree they have is correct. Adoptees and Orphans have to start building their tree from scratch. The best and easiest way to do this is through finding close relatives. You can form a general idea of your ancestors, sometimes even discovering 4th and greater grandparent ancestral pairs, with the help of 3rd and 4th cousins, but to really get down to the nitty-gritty, you need close relatives. But did you know that 23andMe automatically hides from you the folks that you most want to see?
23andMe set up their site in a very torturous fashion in many ways. There are so many settings that interact with each other in unexpected ways that even long-time users have difficulty setting up the system properly without unwanted surprises! I’ve often referred to the need to collect a tear from a virgin by the light of the full moon before attempting to modify your settings once you get them working. One of the worst offenders, is the ‘Show Close Relatives’ toggle.
When you first log onto your DNA Relatives (DNA-R) page, you are offered the opportunity to ‘show close relatives’ (see featured photo above.) Close relatives, as defined by 23andMe, are people who are first cousins or closer to you. Unfortunately, they include any flavor of first cousin in their definition. Half first cousins [who share only one of the ancestral pair who make up your Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA)], first cousins once removed [where one person has one more generation to the MRCA than the other person], first cousins twice removed (one person has two generations more between themselves and your MRCA than you do), half first cousins once removed, and even high-sharing second cousins get caught behind this artificial wall. For people from inbred populations such as French Canadians (Or Ashkenazi Jews, Puerto Ricans, or other isolated populations) high sharing 2nd cousins aren’t that unusual.
Effective Database Size
Last year (2013), an article at Slate.com revealed that only 40% of 23andMe’s customer database ever push this ‘show close relatives’ button (see Errata). Clicking the text delivers a large amount of warning rhetoric before you proceed. “Are you sitting down?” “Are your loins girded?” “Do you have your nitro pills nearby?” (/Snark.) Are most people hiding from their close cousins? Probably not. If you looked at your Countries of Ancestry (CoA) file before it hit the 1000 person limit and compared the number of people that show up on it, including the Anonymous folks, to the number of folks on DNA-R, including anonymous folks, prior to hitting the 1000 person cap it would have been about 40% too. This is closer to the real number of folks who are actually participating in the genealogy features at 23andMe (active or inactively) although there are a significant number of customers in the database that just don’t realize they need to push this button. Keeping the DUI (Difficult User Interface) in mind, let’s say that 50% of 23andMe’s members are using DNA-R. When comparing database sizes with competitors, it’s important to remember this and mentally cut 23andMe’s size in half to get a real idea of the value you’re getting from the various companies. It’s impossible to know how many 23andMe customers would be using DNA-R if they got emails from intriguing close relatives!
Having your closest relatives hidden prevents you from reaching out to them via the ‘3 times and done’ invite system. So if they came for ethnicity or medical information (back in the day when you used to get medical info – the FDA put a stop to that for now,) and never wandered into the DNA Relatives function, 23andMe’s torturous system takes away your only chance to interest them in you. An additional barrier to close relatives meeting up is that 23andMe’s DNA-R is in a completely different tab than ethnicity and Neanderthal information.
Confusing to Known Family
Many new users (and not so new users) at 23andMe get confused and upset by this button when they have known family tested. Anguished mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles and siblings fill the posting boards wondering if not being able to see their relatives means they aren’t related after all. Of course this situation DOES happen which makes it very reasonable to worry when your family doesn’t show up on your DNA-R list. Nurses do rarely make mistakes and switch children at birth; rogue clinicians have impregnated women with their own sperm instead of the husband’s sperm; adopting parents don’t always tell their children they were adopted or that there was a surrogate father or mother used; and people have been having affairs of the heart as long as their have been marriages. So when a known family member doesn’t show up on their profile, people understandably panic. Most often, the problem is the ‘Show Close Relatives’ setting.
There is another wrinkle as well. Close relatives now take longer to show up on your DNA-R list than other matches. I believe this is because all close relatives are manually checked by 23andMe (but have no verification of this.) I think this is great, but I would suggest to them NOT filling the DNA-R file at all until it has gone through this safety check. 23andMe got seriously backed up around the time of the FDA halt of medical information. Prior to that, it was less common that there would be a delay between filing the rest of the DNA-R file and the addition of close relatives. Because of the large volume of customer complaints, it seems that they started filing DNA-R while the verification-of-close-relatives queue grew (or perhaps ennui took over and they didn’t do anything about he verification queue becoming greatly backed up.) At any rate, the thing to do is first check everyone’s settings and ensure that ‘Show Close Relatives’ are showing and then wait a heart-wrenching week before looking for skeletons rattling around in your closet. My heart goes out to anyone going through this process.
Setting Up Your Profile to Show Close Relatives
I assume you all have your virginal tear that was appropriately harvested.. Now let’s dive into how to set up your DNA-R to show your close relatives. Mouse over the header that says “Family and Friends.” No, this isn’t a Facebook link-in, it’s where you find your test results for DNA matching to relatives.
Click on “DNA Relatives.” That will get you to the page pictured above with my anonymous not quite close relatives showing. Then, click on the blue button in the upper right hand corner in the section that shows your profile information that says, “Update Your Profile”
Your DNA-R profile page will pop up on the screen. Go down to the bottom of the screen (it is so far down the profile it doesn’t show unless you move the navigation slider bar to show the bottom half of your profile settings.) Put a check mark in the box next to the ‘Show my close relatives’ line. You can do this by just clicking on the box. And then remember to hit the ‘Save Changes’ button!
By this time, your virginal tear will have turned to salt and when you reload your DNA-R list you will be able to see all closer relatives who have also set up their profile to show closer relatives.
Will They Fix It and When?
After years of complaints from genealogy users — and now that genealogy/ancestry is all that it offers, 23andMe has finally said they would do ‘something’ about the show close relatives button. They first said this six weeks ago but cautioned that they have ‘one user-experience related project’ to finish up first. I understand why they won’t give a date, by why they won’t give a timeline annoys me. Some past projects have lasted over a year. That’s how long we waited for the second update to their ethnicity calculator. Also, they haven’t said what the ‘fix’ is. Will people have to push the button to HIDE close relatives allowing the rest of us to see the those relatives that really don’t care? Will they just make the text big and red? Will they force you to make a choice before seeing your relative finder results? I’ll update this blog post IF and WHEN 23andMe makes the change.
Quote from Slate.com article, “23andMe asks for two layers of consent before it shows family relationships. First, users are given the chance to turn off the “relative finder” function, which shows relations as close as second cousins. Less than 1 percent of the sites customers choose to opt out. The rest are given the chance to click through to see their “close relatives,” and about 40 percent proceed.”
DNA Relatives was formerly known as Relative Finder (RF) and many of the FAQs, discussions and help files still refer to it as this.
Countries of Ancestry used to be known as Ancestry Finder (AF) and many FAQs, discussions and help files still refer to it as such.
Credit: Slate.com “Who’s Your Daddy” by Daniel Engber 21 May 2013
Photo Credit: Screen shots taken from https://www.23andme.com/you/relfinder/ and the 23andMe Relative Finder FAQ.