How To Make Sense Of Your DNA Matches

It’s been a few weeks since I finished my Beginning DNA studies at IGHR (Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research). Now it’s time to put all of that education to good use. You can learn more about the course I took here.

Like many of you, I took an Ancestry DNA test. It was fun to see where in the world my DNA says I am from. You probably did the same. But did you stop there? Or did you look at your DNA matches to see who you are related to? For me, it was time to delve into that match list.

Your closest matches will be at the top. I’ve tested my mom, sister, and niece, so they are listed first. You may recognize people right away by either their name or surname and know how they are related to you. If you do, click Yes for the question, Do you recognize them? You’ll want to do two things next:

  • Click Edit Relationship and change the default relationship Ancestry gave you, to what you know to be true. For example, Ancestry says 2nd – 3rd cousin, but you know this person is your 2nd cousin once removed – make that change.
  • In the notes field write down how that person is related to you. For example, your connection may be John Smith > Carol Smith > Richard Doe > match. You can even put an emoji at the beginning to easily tell what side of the family this person comes from… 💛 John Smith > Carol Smith > Richard Doe > match. I use By doing this now, you won’t have to wonder in the future how this person is related to you.

If you don’t recognize them, skip and go to the next match you do know. Get the easy wins first. Change the relationship to the correct one and make notes.

Next, go to those matches that have trees. When you click on either their name or the tree link, you’ll be taken to a page that shows their tree. Any common ancestors will be highlighted in green. Hopefully, you’ll see the connection right away. Change your relationship to the correct one and make notes.

When you look at each match, always check to make sure the amount of shared DNA corresponds to your relationship. There is a wonderful tool called The Shared cM Project. You enter the amount of DNA you share with your match and see all the possible relationships in both a list and a chart. I use it with every match.

Now, comes the real fun…those matches that have initials or some weird concoction of letters and numbers for their real names, have no trees, or have a tree but everyone is listed as private. There is no easy answer for these matches, but I would suggest:

  • Did Ancestry tell you what side of the family they are on? This is a clue.
  • Use The Shared cM Project to see all the ways you could be related.
  • Click on the Shared Matches tab. This shows the people that both you and your match are related to. Do you recognize people on this list? You should be able to at least tell what side you need to look at.
  • Click the Message tab and send a message to your match. Let them know you have taken a DNA test and you see that you may be related on your father’s/mother’s side. You don’t have to give them your life’s story, but a few names may be helpful. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from them as many people don’t want to be bothered.

For those matches that are not easy to recognize at first, take any clue you see and figure out their genealogy. You may have to build their tree to see how you connect. Using The Shared cM Project in conjunction with building trees will help you determine how far back you have to go to see that ancestral connection.

I hope this brief introduction to your DNA match list has been helpful. You may connect with new cousins and find stories or pictures that were lost to you until now. It does take a bit of time and work, but it’s worth it.

If you need some guidance climbing your family tree, please contact me. I’d love to help you with your journey to the past.

Genealogy tip: To find even more matches, you can upload your raw Ancestry DNA results into MyHeritage or Family Tree DNA for a small unlock fee. Uploading your results into GEDmatch is free. Make sure you read and agree with each company’s terms of use.

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