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Fewer Close Cousins appearing in 2020

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  • Fewer Close Cousins appearing in 2020

    In late 2016 and early 2017 I submitted my sample along with those for my four full siblings, for whom I administer their accounts. This year I have seen an interesting change in the Family Finder results for our five sets of DNA.

    When researching our matches I concentrate on the closest of cousins, those who are estimated to be 2nd to 4th cousins or closer, listed here as “Close Cousins”.

    Here are the current counts for various time periods, using data downloaded from Family Finder on the afternoon of October 1, 2020. (These counts are a simple sum of all matches, not considering whether a match appears for more than one sibling, as cousins typically match one sibling more than another, and may or may not match all five of us) The first range covers our initial set of matches plus any that came in through the end of March 2017, as we did not all test at the same time.

    2016-Mar 2017: 9716 total matches, 568 “close” cousins (5.85%)
    Apr-Dec 2017: 3683 total matches, 238 “close” cousins (6.46%)
    2018: 4207 total matches, 267 “close” cousins (6.35%)
    2019: 3793 total matches, 211 “close” cousins (5.56%)
    Jan-Sep 2020: 2304 total matches, 73 “close” cousins (3.17%)

    I am curious why the percentage of close cousin matches has dropped off so much in 2020. Analysis quarter by quarter shows that this change began at the start of this year.

    Is there some change to the way ftDNA is estimating closeness of matches? And if so, why was this change not made retroactively to matches determined in prior years? Is this just a quirk of who happened to have been tested this year?

    Does anyone else see similar changes in their results?

  • #2
    I have 1955 matches with 44 close cousins, that is 2.25%. The most recent is from 04/22/2020 and the previous from 12/03/2019.

    One close cousin match in 2020 out of 226 matches. I had 5 close cousin matches in 2019 out of 332 matches.

    I have no idea how any of my 44 close cousins are related to me other than sharing Polish or Irish ancestry. Zero Danish close cousins.

    All of my identifiable close cousin matches have tested at Ancestry or MyHeritage.

    Quite oddly I have found my match results at 23andMe to be as useless as my match results at FTDNA.


    • #3
      The only matches I have found to be close to being useless, regardless of the testing company, are those who don't provide any information and will not reply to messages.


      • #4
        I have 101 2nd-4th cousins in my FF list, the majority of whom are USA based. Until my half-niece and g/half-niece upload the Ancestry results to FTDNA, I have no way of knowing which may be maternal. At the moment it's a bit like looking at a gallery of strangers, with over 5000 matches in total.


        • #5
          Bob Hesse: I took the bait and went down this rabbit hole today. It was worth it just for the exercise, and also because I discovered that I had neglected to download the .cvs files this year for most of the 13 kits I manage. I'd gotten out of the habit of doing this, formerly doing it several times a year, for each (in addition to downloading a chromosome browser file for all matches). Now I at least have one of each for all kits, for 2020. Almost as much fun as checking trees to make sure no deceased ancestors are marked as "private!"

          Getting to the point: My statistics are as follows, for six siblings (Number of 2nd-4th Cousin Matches, compared to Number of Total Matches, by year):
          Year Average
          # 2nd-4th / total
          % # 2nd-4th C. Matches:
          Highest / Lowest
          Total Matches:
          Highest / Lowest
          2013 (out of 3) 1.6 / 118 1.36% 3 / 1 128 / 109
          2014 (out of 5) 1.6 / 189 0.84% 3 / 1 200 / 168
          2015 2.8 / 282 1.00% 4 / 1 300 / 252
          2016 6.0 / 428 1.40% 7 / 4 467 / 374
          2017 11.3 / 841 1.34% 16 / 6 947 / 738
          2018 13.5 / 1130 1.19% 19 / 7 1277 / 974
          2019 15 / 1224 1.23% 20 / 8 1566 / 1027
          2020 23 / 1688 1.36% 29 / 15 1916 / 1453
          Obviously these siblings do not get as many matches total, and correspondingly not as many 2nd-4th matches, as others who have posted here! And of those 2nd-4th matches (other than a couple of known relatives), so far I have not determined the relationships for the majority of the unknown matches. Several seem to be just out of reach of what I have found through genealogy research. And some, frustratingly, are 2nd-4th cousin matches from iGenea, for which emails sent to them do not get responses - a known problem (these are the matches with two initials, no information or trees, and iGenea email addresses).
          Last edited by KATM; 3 October 2020, 05:12 PM.


          • #6
            Bob Hesse: I meant to add that there doesn't seem to be an obvious reason for why the percentage of close matches has dropped for you and your siblings this year. I wish I had more to go on with my records of matches for the kits I manage, to more closely compare with yours. But what I have shows an increase in matches.

            Perhaps the DNA testing market is getting saturated, at least for the U.S. market, and perhaps you're seeing that in your results - but it doesn't explain no dip in my group. Roberta Estes post, "DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons," is a good overview for the subject. Maybe the ancestral mix for my group gets more matches from other countries, and your groups' ancestral mix gets more matches from countries where testing is declining. I doubt that, but threw it out there as I don't have much else to offer.


            • #7
              Jimbirk: It sounds like you are seeing a similar drop-off, although with a smaller set of matches. My ancestors all immigrated to the US from Europe by 1855, so I have a wealth of US-based cousins who have tested at ftDNA. The fact that I have a Great Great grandfather who fathered 22 children (20 of them reached adulthood) and other very prolific ancestors has helped boost my overall number of close cousins.

              KATM: I’m very familiar with that rabbit hole. It gets me all the time! Your close-cousin match rates seem to be a lot more stable for 2020 compared to prior years.

              You may be correct concerning the general increase in non-US tests. I have to wonder if these by default must be more distant because our common ancestors pre-date the migration dates of my direct line.

              Thank you to everyone for your input.


              • #8
                My first thought was that having fewer close cousins could be based on the fact that families have grown smaller. At Ancestry I have at the 1st to 2nd cousin level only matches that come from my mother's side. My father had no siblings that had children. When I look at 2nd to 3rd cousins, I begin to show cousins from my father's side with more coming from his mother's side. My dad's dad was one of 3 children who lived to adulthood but didn't have many kids themselves. My father's mother was one of 6 children who were a bit more prolific. So going farther up the tree gives me far more matches than my close relatives did. One of my 2nd great grandfathers had 13 children and they average about 10 children a piece. So I have far more distant cousins to take the DNA test than I have close cousins to test.


                • #9
                  Keigh, thanks for pointing that out. My mother had only *1 sibling; and my father had 9 siblings. Now, I understand why there is a significantly greater number of my matches from my father's side. Then, upstream the ~10 children per couple prevails. * Actually, my mother also had 2 half siblings, but I have never found a match involving them; and I have tested at 4 companies. I do not have as many matches as you at that big company, but am right behind you.
                  Last edited by Biblioteque; 21 March 2021, 06:23 AM.