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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to common questions about WATO plus

  • Before you start you'll need:

    • The name and birth year of someone with an unknown parent
    • The name of the person whose DNA matches you’re using (and their relationship to the person with the unknown parent (e.g. child, grandchild)
    • A family tree that connects DNA matches
  • The first step would be to go to the detail page for your top matches and then look at shared matches. You can then organize your matches into clusters (also known as genetic networks). Both Ancestry and MyHeritage have a system with coloured dots that can simplify this process, but you might prefer just using the Leeds Method with Excel or paper and pencils.

    If you are able to, you can then try to figure out which cluster or clusters are relevant to the unknown parent. Your task is then to use whatever information these DNA matches have provided and try to work out their genealogical connection to each other. Once you've done this, you'll be ready to use WATO plus.

  • Yes, in order to use the tool you need a free or paid DNA Painter account so that your tree can be saved securely.

  • No, you will need a subscription for full access to WATO plus. Anyone can create a WATO plus tree but a subscription is required to create additional trees. Functionality within WATO plus trees will also in future be limited slightly for non-subscribers, with a subscription required to import a text file or access age-based probabilities.

    Subscriptions are currently frozen at their 2018 price of $55 for a year, with subscribers able to create up to 50 WATO plus trees alongside other subscription benefits in the ancestral trees and chromosome mapping applications.

    The requirement to subscribe for full access to WATO plus will help fund ongoing development and refinement as well as all previous work to date.

    Free Member Subscriber
    WATO plus Limited to 1 tree

    Access to text file import and age-based probabilities during initial trial period only

    Up to 50 trees

    Full access to text file import and age-based probabilities

    Chromosome Mapping Limited to 1 map Up to 50 maps
    Bulk import functionality No access Unlimited access
    Ancestral Trees Limited to 1 tree Up to 50 trees
    Ancestral Trees Gedcom import functionality Import up to 4th-great-grandparent level Import all generations *
    Other standalone tools Access to all Access to all
    * trees with lots of pedigree collapse may need to be limited to 8GG level in order to load successfully
  • The main differences are as follows:

    • The tool asks for more specific information up front and is therefore able to make more useful suggestions.
      • For example, while in the old tool you just stated the birth year of the DNA tester, in the new version, you give the birth year of the person who has the unknown parent (this could be for example the parent, grandparent or other ancestor of the tester)
      • If for example you state you're looking for the unknown father of your mother Kathy, whenever you create a hypothesis, WATO plus will create a node for Kathy and a node for you.
      • The tool will also know only to suggest males as candidates to be the unknown father
    • The Hypothesis is now the person you think was the unknown parent
      • In previous versions, you added a hypothesis to each place where you thought the DNA tester might fit into the tree. This worked fine in unknown parentage cases, but got confusing for other scenarios such as unknown grandparents
    • Scores are now given as percentages
      • In previous versions, the score was a number. More info below under scores.
    • You can now take account of the age of the parent
  • While this new version has undergone extensive testing, there may still be bugs. I've therefore kept a BETA label on WATO plus. I hope to develop and refine it more in response to feedback from the genealogy community.

  • Having figured out how two or more DNA matches connect to each other, you can get this information into WATO plus as follows:

    • Import a GEDCOM file
      • Just as in the older versions, you can browse for a GEDCOM file (which can be exported from most family tree websites and software).
      • You can find this when you click actions and settings
      • You would then choose the couple whose descendants you want to import
    • Import a text file from WATO plus or a previous version of WATO
      • You can download any tree in text format and then import it via Import text file in the actions and settings menu
    • You can also create the tree manually by simply hovering over the starting node Most recent common ancestor or couple and clicking add child and then repeating the process as necessary.
    • If you choose to build your tree this way, please be sure to hover and click Edit details and add a birth year for as many people as possible. This will help WATO plus make better suggestions
  • This works exactly as in previous WATO versions: simply hover over the person who is a DNA match and click Enter match cM

    If you've imported a text file, the matches will already be marked.

  • There are two ways to tell WATO plus that you want to explore the hypothesis that a person was the unknown parent:

    • Manually: hover over the person and click use as hypothesis
    • Automatic: click the generate hypotheses button
  • WATO originally used probabilities simulated by AncestryDNA and originally described in their 2016 White Paper.

    In 2020, updated probabilities were compiled from probabilities presented at ancestry.com/dna, as documented by Leah Larkin. These 2020 probabilities are currently the default, with the option to switch to the 2016 White Paper probabilities.

    Additional probability options will be added in future.

  • Click Options and Settings and you'll see the option under Probabilities.

    As soon as you click an option here, it will take effect immediately. Your browser will then default to this set of probabilities in future

  • The data currently used is from various editions of the US National Vital Statistics Report from 1936-2014.

    Additional likelihood data from other countries will be added in future.

  • Below your research question at the top left, you'l see two checkboxes:

    • Apply [parent]'s age to the probabilities
    • Also apply [other biological parent]'s age to the probabilities

    These options will be enabled once you have specified the parent that you are looking for.

    The age-based adjustments will be made as soon as you check the box, and you can see the details in the Scores table at the bottom. You can reach this by clicking Scores in the fixed menu on the right of the screen.

  • WATO plus will take everyone in the tree and test out the hypothesis that they were the missing parent.

    • Depending on your settings, the tool will also create new nodes for people who don't exist in the tree in places where the DNA suggests they could be a feasible candidate.
    • The tool can also optionally create additional sibling and ancestor nodes to the root node in the tree.

    You can read a blog post explaining this in more detail.

    When suggesting hypotheses, if you have Stop WATO from adding unknown people to the tree unchecked, WATO plus will attempt to add a node in every location where it would create a distinct score.

    • So if for example Larry has a tested descendant but no full sibling in the tree, it would create one for him
    • But if Larry already has a full sibling with no tested descendants, WATO plus will just use that full sibling as a hypothesis and it won't create a new person since they would have the same score.
  • If you are confident you have all the possible candidates in the tree, you could uncheck Stop WATO from adding unknown people to the tree.

    If you're confident that the DNA tester is related to both of the common ancestral couple, you can keep Allow WATO to add siblings of the root person turned off.

    You can read a blog post explaining this in more detail.

  • If you have no suggestions, this suggests that either:

    • The tree is not correct, e.g. someone is in the wrong generation.
    • There is an error in the cM amounts entered for one or more matches
    • There is pedigree collapse or endogamy in the tree. Both of these can inflate the amounts of DNA shared.

    Within WATO plus, you can use the Flex option within Actions and Settings.

    • This will automatically reduce the entered cM amounts by between 5 and 50% and use these figures as the basis for probabilities.
    • If you adjust this setting and then click Suggest hypotheses you may get some suggestions
    • You can then move the Flex setting back to zero and take a look at which matches are invalidating these hypotheses
  • This depends on whether or not you are considering all possible hypotheses. A score of 98% means that of the hypotheses currently in the tree, this has a 98% probability. But if you only have two hypotheses, there may be other positions you are not considering. If you haven't already, please consider clicking Suggest Hypotheses.

    If you're confident that all possible hypotheses are in the tree, then a hypothesis that is 20 times higher than the next most likely would be considered strong, and one that is 150 times more likely would be considered very strong.

  • Probability scores in previous versions of WATO worked fine once you got your head around them. The scores indicate how your hypotheses compare to one another:

    • First, any hypothesis that is impossible given the data gets a score of zero
    • Then the possible hypotheses are ranked, starting with a score of 1
    • When more than one hypothesis is possible, they are ranked with higher scores being direct comparisons to the score = 1 hypothesis
      • For example, if you have three hypotheses with scores 100, 5, and 1, the highest is 100 times more likely than the lowest and 20 times more likely than the second-place hypothesis.

    The main challenge in interpreting these scores is that they can't be compared across trees, or even across iterations of the same tree. Since WATO plus allows you to apply age probabilities, it became even more important to clarify the effect of applying these probabilities.

    To facilitate this, WATO plus uses relative probabilities. These are exactly the same numbers, but instead of the full number, WATO plus adds up all the scores and then each individual score is calculated by dividing it by this total of all scores. This means all percentages add up to 100% and seeing the impact of applying age-related probabilities or adding a new match is much more straightforward.

    The full scores are available alongside the relative probability percentages in the scores table.

  • No. It's quite possible to achieve a 90%+ score based on a family where entire lines remain untested. In these situations, adding data could make a huge difference to the calculation, and you'll see a message in the status area advising you to test people on these lines.

    In general, you'll need to have a variety of different evidence to figure out an unknown parent, including the obvious factor of whether the person you're hypothesizing about could have been in the right place at the right time. The most important way WATO plus can help you is to clarify the data and suggest specific areas of the tree where you might be able to test additional people. For example:

    • Your WATO plus tree might suggest two brothers as possible unknown fathers
    • Applying age-based probabilities might suggest one is more likely than the other
    • You might then try to test another descendant of this person first in order to get additional data points

Last updated: 2024-02-20