Organize DNA Matches in Your DNA “Drawer”

Organize DNA matches with this innovative approach. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your DNA results, you are not alone. Learning to organize your DNA matches in an effective way will not only keep your head from spinning, but will help you hone in on possible matches that will break down brick walls. Here’s the scoop from Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard.

organize your DNA matches

I can tell whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11,) the forks are haphazardly in a jumble, the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are nowhere to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8,) everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.

Organize Your Imaginary DNA Drawer

Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction to effective organize DNA matches. It entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. To organize DNA matches, you really need to make a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals and help determine your next steps.

Step 1: Download your raw data. The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. See these instructions on my website if you need help.

Step 2: Identify and organize DNA matches. Now, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, is that you may have ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants. These descendants may have caught the DNA testing vision and this can be like your overflowing spoon stack! All these matches may be obscuring some valuable matches. Identifying and putting those known matches in their proper context can help you identify the valuable matches that may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple.

In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet, I outline a process for identifying and drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections. Then, it is easier to verify your genetic connection is aligned with your genealogy paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.

This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down brick walls in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. The key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other.

Step 3: See the relationship between genetics, surnames, and locations. Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke–that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your genetic genealogy? Remember, the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connect you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they show up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. By plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.

So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks! Your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of measuring spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.

More on Working with DNA Matches

How to Get Started with Using DNA for Family History

Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This PostOrganize DNA matches quickguide

New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love It!

Recalibrating DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Genealogy testing companies have been hard at work recalibrating your ethnicity calculations based on new and better data. Here’s the latest from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard. 

Family History DNA Pie Charts and Percentages

Remember that the pretty pie charts and percentages are based on fancy math and reference populations. The initial reference populations released by our testing companies were a great start, but many categories lacked sufficiently high numbers of people to represent all of the facets of a population. In the 10+ years since their release, many updates have been made. But the fancy math that is used to produce our percentages can only be as fancy as the numbers you give it. The numbers have been hard at work at Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in the past couple of months with the result being a major overhaul in the way our ethnicity results are reported.

23andMe chart ethnicity updates

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23andMe

We recently reported about the update at 23andMe and their increase from 31 reference populations to 150. However, for me, the totally 100% European me, there wasn’t much excitement. As you can see in the 23andMe chart, I had a couple of numbers move up or down slightly, but not anything to write home about. However, I am certain those with South American, or Eastern European ancestry have a much different story. 23andMe added many new reference populations to better represent these underrepresented areas of the world, a move which has likely made a big difference for the ever diversifying pool of individuals who have taken a DNA test.

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA also released their latest Ethnicity update in September, boasting an additional 13,000 reference samples to their database. They not only upgraded their numbers, but also shifted some of their categories around based on this new data. They seem to not be quite sure what to do with Ireland, as in early 2017 it was its own category, later moving in with Wales and Scotland, and now appears in this latest update as simply Ireland and Scotland. My previous numbers from AncestryDNA seemed to at least loosely reflect my heritage (meaning that I do actually have people in my genealogy chart from a few of these places).

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But the new DNA numbers? Big Changes.

I have one set of great grandparents from Germany, but it looks like nearly all my German was sucked into England, but miraculously, they seemed to have precisely found my Swedish 2X great grandmother, with the 7% that I should have from that area.

With the new update, though I am sad to see my German go, AncestryDNA is now more fully in line with the results I have received from 23andMe, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage, all of which put my England/British Isles count up around 90%. If I compare my results from various companies and combine any subcategories into one England/British Isles category, indicate Scandinavian, and then lump everything else together, the results from the four companies are actually quite similar (I don’t have my own results at Family Tree DNA, only my parents).

My Family History DNA Results

Company DNA Ethnicity Comparison 2018

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Here’s how my results currently stack up at each of these websites. (Image 3)

Which DNA Testing Company to Choose

So which company is the best at all of this? Well, I usually say that if you test everywhere, your “true” answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But really, you can determine which company is best for you by examining their reference populations, and determining which company is most likely able to meet your goals.

In the end, it is always good to remember two things:

  1. Your DNA does not fully represent your family history, so your ethnicity results can’t possibly tell you everything about your heritage.
  2. This technology is purposefully titled as an estimate. So be sure you treat it that way.

Learn More about Genetic Genealogy

Recommended reading at Genealogy Gems: Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Get Diahan’s quick reference guides including Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist at the Genealogy Gems store.

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