DNA2Tree app for iOS: review

Time for another guest post! David Neal has introduced a new iOS app that has particular value for those trying to decode birth parent searches. I am not an Apple person, so I have asked my teammate at the Central Indiana DNA Interest Group, Steve Frank, to offer a review of this new product. Take it away, Steve!


Decoding Birth Parent Searches with DNA2Tree App for iOS — by Steve Frank

I have been helping adoptees find their birth parents with DNA kits for about four years and have successfully reunited over 150 people with their birth families so far. When I first started helping my adoptee DNA matches, the process of identifying a candidate birth parent was usually a long, intensive search. Few adoptees had a close family match who could quickly tell us about their niece who gave up a child twenty-odd years ago. Instead, I spent hours meticulously extending the imperfect and incomplete trees of distant 3rd and 4th cousins until common ancestors were identified, then working down from there through possibly hundreds of living descendants to find the one who descended from all the right families in order to be the adoptee’s birth parent.

Things have changed a lot in DNA testing in the past few years. In February, researchers at MIT estimated that over 26 million people have taken commercial DNA tests. On Ancestry.com alone there are 20 million test kits. With that many people having tested, mostly from the United States, it becomes statistically very likely that anyone with ancestors from the United States will have close relatives in their DNA matches. A look back at the adoptees I’ve helped bears out this hypothesis. Of the 150+ kits I have access to on Ancestry.com, 87% have a first cousin or closer DNA match. With matches that close there is no need to be an expert genealogist in order to determine how you are related.

1- DNA2treelogo


Still, many people have difficulty with interpreting results and processing the vast amounts of data AncestryDNA provides.  Fortunately, there’s now an app for that.  For the past few weeks I’ve been testing an iOS app called DNA2Tree, out now on the iOS App Store (sorry, no Android or PC version).  This app is a great new addition to every genealogist’s DNA toolkit, but is especially good for persons searching for their birth family.

DNA2Tree has three useful tools in one. First, the app can automatically scan the trees of your DNA matches for common ancestors.  Second, the app can organize your DNA matches into clusters and provide this information to you in a visual graph or data table.  Third, DNA2Tree can, of course, make a tree. It can show how your matches descend from a common ancestor and how you might fit in that tree. And best of all it can export that tree directly to your Ancestry account.

Finding common ancestors

DNA2Tree runs a fuzzy search on your matches and attempts to identify common ancestors.  In my testing it did a good job at this task with few misidentifications.  After the list of common ancestors is completed, you can see how many matches share a given ancestor, then click on the ancestor to display details and view a tree of how the matches connect to the common ancestor.  This is an excellent tool for those who find it hard to understand terms such as “first cousin once removed” and want a simple visualization of the relationship.

2 - Common Ancestors

The Common Ancestors screen of DNA2Tree


DNA Match Clusters

Those of you who have used the DNA Clusters at MyHeritage, DNAGedcom or the Leeds method will be familiar with this concept. Your matches are organized in a visual graph of related groups with a distinct color for each group. Similarly colored individuals share DNA.  Below each block of matches is a list of surnames found in each block. Note these are not surnames necessarily common for all individuals in the group, but help point you in the right direction to find the common ancestor.  The main benefit of DNA Match Clusters comes when it is used in conjunction with the common ancestor tool.  DNA Match Clusters help with identifying ancestors for matches without full trees.  If several distant matches in a particular cluster share a common ancestor, it is logical that a closer match without an extensive tree might actually share that match as well.  DNA clusters can be merged by dragging them together, allowing users to quickly sort the clusters they are interested in researching.

3 - DNA Clusters 1

Generating a Birth Family Tree

The most unique feature of DNA2Tree is its ability to generate composite trees based on the common ancestors in your match trees and then output them to your Ancestry account. These trees are not perfect, but I’ve been very impressed with them so far. For example, this tree combines four 2nd and 3rd cousin matches into one tree and helpfully labels each DNA line and each match so you can clearly see how they relate to each other:

4 Tree 1

previewing a tree in DNA2Tree

Confusingly, it does list me (sfrank78) as the brother of the most recent common ancestor.  However, the rest of the tree is accurate and editing myself into the correct position would not take nearly as much time as creating the rest of the tree.  Hopefully a future version will allow users to set their age and then place the subject under the common ancestor with the proper number of generations in between.

5 - sample birth tree

Issues with DNA2Tree

I have two main issues with this app that I’d like to see resolved before I recommend it for wide use.  First is its interface, which is far from the intuitive, simple style used by most smartphone and tablet apps.  In fact, this is the only time where I’ve ever had to refer to a user manual when using an app on my phone.  The developer is actively working to refine the app and I expect it to become more user friendly in the future, but at the moment it can be a bit of information overload.  This is unfortunate because I believe the best use for this app is to simplify the birth search process for those who already feel Ancestry’s website provides an information overload.

The tree building feature is very impressive but is prone to strange results. This is to be expected considering how hard it is for Ancestry’s algorithms to identify common people in the trees on its website.  In my testing, about half the trees I attempted to create had some sort of problem. This was usually due to an error in the underlying trees it was based on. There is also the strange placement of the home person in the tree as a sibling to the MRCA instead of a descendant.  However, even with errors, the app reduces the process of creating a tree, combining multiple DNA matches into one simple click.

The price may also be a barrier for some. The app is free to download, with an in-app subscription to use the features.  The subscription is a little pricey, at $19.99 per month, or a discounted $14.99 or $9.99 if you sign up for longer term subscriptions.  I question the subscription model in general as a revenue choice for this app.  I think a lot of its potential users will want to purchase the app to help solve one particular problem, such as identifying a birth parent.  Once that is done, most users will have no further need for the app.  So I suspect a lot of users will opt for the 1-month subscription, try the app on their problem, and not resubscribe after that.  There is also the issue of a lack of a trial period, which makes it difficult for people to assess whether the tool will help their case or not.  But if the developer instituted a trial period, many, if not most users might get all the use they need out of the app in that period and never pay.  Finding the right sales strategy for an app is not easy. Ultimately I do not think this app is at a price point that makes it appealing to the majority of genealogists, and I wonder how appealing the subscription model will be to those searching for birth parents.

DNA2Tree is available on the iOS App Store.

Steve Frank (c) 2019


3 thoughts on “DNA2Tree app for iOS: review

  1. Paul Baltzer

    Great analysis of the DNA2Tree app and I agree with your thoughts. I really like the app and the quick, simple IPhone presentation. I wish it was available for a desktop version, since it does provide so much information. I hope the pricing model does not scare people from purchasing and trying it.

    Liked by 1 person


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