DNA Matches: What You Can Do with All Your Genetic 4th Cousins

(Update 2020) When genealogists take an ancestry DNA test, they are looking for more than just their ethnicity results. They are also very interested in receiving information on other people who have tested who closely genetically match them. They want to know who the closest matches are, and if those matches have family tree information that they can share. 

However, with all the people testing these days, (some being genealogists and some not) the volume of matches can become overwhelming very quickly. 

Are you one of those people who have way too many genetic “4th cousins or closer” among your DNA matches? Have you ever wondered “What do I do with all these matches?!” If so, keep reading. We’re going to explore some of your options, and most importantly, how to determine how genetically close your cousins really are. 

what to do with your 4th cousins DNA genetic genealogy

Doing the DNA Math on Your Cousins

Math can provide us with a degree of certainty in genetic genealogy. Each of us has two biological parents. We have four biological grandparents, and eight great-grandparents.
too many 4th cousins DNA matches

However, the farther back we go the less we can rely on math.

For example, on paper you should have sixty-four 3rd great grandparents. However, many of us find that the same person occupies more than one slot on our pedigree chart. While this significantly decreases the workload for traditional genealogy, it adversely impacts your genetic genealogy. Especially when it comes to that long long list of 4th cousins you have in your match list at any of the three major DNA testing companies.

Depending on how intermarried your lines are, you may be seeing individuals on your match list that genetically look like your fourth cousins, but they are genealogically your sixth cousins – EIGHT TIMES!  So how can you tell the difference?

There are two parts to that answer: one you can control, and the other you can’t.

Distinguishing DNA Matches with Genetic Tools

While your fourth cousins and your eight-time-sixth cousins may look similar genetically, there are often small clues in the genetics that can help you tell the difference. This distinction can sometimes be detected by a testing company who, through research and validation, has been able to fine-tune their algorithms to detect these subtle differences.

DNA cousins

Your Genetic 4th Cousins

You can participate in this double checking process by using some of the genetic tools that are available to you at Family Tree DNA, or at Gedmatch.com. But since you may not be an aspiring geneticist, let’s focus on the genealogical work you can do to determine if a match is truly a fourth cousin.

Use Google Earth to Plot Your DNA Matches

A fourth cousin designation just means that you and your match are separated by between six and twelve degrees (people). So that might be five back on your chart to your common ancestor, and five down to your match, which would make you true fourth cousins. It could also be some other permutation of that.

For our example, let’s assume true fourth cousins. That means that the two of you share one of thirty-two 3rd great grandparents (16 couples). In order to find out which set, you have two genealogical identifiers: surname and location.

Therefore, the first thing you should do is make a list of the surnames and locations of those thirty-two 3X great grandparents.

Now, most of us do not know all 16 of those couples, so you are going to have some holes. Feel free to fill in those holes with surnames on subsequent generations that will carry through to this fifth generation.

A great tool to plot your own list of ancestors geographically is the free downloadable Google Earth software

Check to see if you have the latest version of Google Earth downloaded to your desktop or laptop computer. On your desktop, look for a grey and white globe. If you see a blue and white globe, you have the older original free version of Google Earth. However, a few years ago, Google made their Google Earth Pro version free to everyone, and it is now the standard. 

If you do have Google Earth Pro (the grey globe software) then you’re ready to go.

Google Earth on your computer desktop


The grey Google Earth globe on the desktop.

If you don’t have it, then you will need to download it. 

How to Download the Free Google Earth Software:

  1. Go to http://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html
  2. Click the blue download button
  3. Read the Terms and Conditions
  4. If you agree to them, click the Agree and Download button
  5. Follow the installation guide
  6. When complete click Run Google Earth

Now that you have Google Earth, you can begin by creating a folder in the Places panel in Google Earth devoted to your 16 couples. Here’s how:

1. In the Places panel, right-click on MyPlaces and select Add > Folder:

how to create a folder in Google Earth Layers panel for DNA

Right-click on MyPlaces > Add > Folder

2. Name the folder and then click OK:

Creating a folder in Google Earth

Creating a folder in Google Earth

3. Now you will see your new DNA folder for your 16 couples in the Places panel. If you don’t see it, look toward the bottom of the list. You can move the folder to any location within the list by dragging and dropping it. 

Create a folder in Google Earth for DNA 32 couples

Create a folder in Google Earth for DNA 16 couples

Once you have your DNA folder created fro your 16 couples, you can then easily plot your surnames and locations. 

How to Plot Your Surnames and Locations in Google Earth:

1. Click your new DNA folder to select it. This will ensure that the placemark you are about to create will be stored in that folder. 

2. In the search box (upper left corner of the Google Earth software) type in the first location and click Search. Google Earth will fly to that location on the map.

Type the locaton in the Search box and click Search.

Type the locaton in the Search box and click Search.

3. In the toolbar along the top of the screen, click the placemark button to place a pushpin in that location:

Click the Placemark button in the Google Earth toolbar

Click the Placemark button in the Google Earth toolbar.

4. In the Placemark dialogue box, enter a title for hte pushpin placemark. Click the OK button to close the box and set your placemark.

5. Repeat the process for all the locations. 

Then evaluate the fifth generation of your fourth cousin matches for genealogical information that lines up with any of the items on your list.

You can also plot the surnames and locations of your matches in Google Earth. This is where Google Earth really comes in handy. The free software makes it very easy to see when your ancestral home may be bordering the locations of your matches. Those with whom you find a similarity become your best matches, and your best chance of determining your connection. Those without an obvious connection cycle to the bottom of your pile for a genetic evaluation. You can perform these same kinds of searches for your second and third cousins as well.

As you begin to become more familiar with the fifth generations of your matches, you may also start to see patterns of surnames or locations emerge among your matches. These then become the surnames and locations that might be able to fill the missing spaces in your pedigree chart.

More Genetic Genealogy and Google Earth Gems

If you are new to using Google Earth, I have several suggested resources for you by Lisa Louise Cooke:

Premium podcast 131

Learn more in Premium episode 131.

Here’s a video of the authors discussing three common DNA misconceptions:

 

 

Authors: Diahan Southard and Lisa Louise Cooke

Gathering Genealogical Evidence to Prove a Theory – Irish Genealogy

Episode 19 Video and Show Notes

Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. (scroll down to watch the video)

Genealogy Consultation Provides a Strong Hypothesis

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

After my consultation I needed to update my research plan and get to work collecting more genealogical evidence.

Let’s quickly recap what happened when I started working on my brick wall last week in episode 18:

  • Margaret Lynch’s death certificate said her parents were James Scully and Bridget Madigan.
  • Her obituary said she was born in Limerick Ireland.
  • There was one couple by those names in Limerick, having children and the right time. There is a gap in the records where Margaret should be.
  • Her husband Michael Lynch dies in Stillwater MN. St. Michael’s Catholic church. Found their marriage record in Stillwater. It was a large booming town, and a good place to focus. The Lynch family had a farm across the river in Farmington, Wisconsin.

My research question: Was this couple we found, James Scully and Bridget Madigan, who married in Kilcolman, Limerick, Ireland in 1830, the parents of Margaret Scully?

What Kate Eakman of Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me do in my 45-minute consultation:

  • Become acquainted with a variety of excellent Irish research websites
  • Located the indexed marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the original marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the indexed baptismal records for all of the children who had James and Bridget listed as their parents.

A Genealogy Research Plan for Collecting Evidence

After the consultation I developed a new research question: Are the children that we found records for in Ireland the siblings of my Margaret Lynch?

My research plan included:

  1. Verify if there were any other couples by the names James Scully and Bridget Madigan married in Ireland, particularly in the time from of circa 1830. (Location of source: RootsIreland.ie)
  2. Search in the U.S., starting in the area where Margaret lived, for each child. I’m looking for records that name these same parents, and show the child at an age that correlates with the baptismal date.

I identified several sources I believed would help me accomplish my goals.

Marriage Records – I conducted a search for James in Bridget in all counties in Ireland. I discovered that the couple Kate found during my consultation is the only couple in the RootsIreland database with those names married in Ireland. This gives me more confidence that I have the correct couple. 

U.S. Records – Armed with the names and ages of the children of James and Bridget, it was time to return to America. I needed to search U.S. records to see if any of the children came to America (perhaps living near Margaret) and if these parents were named. 

Records to look for:

  1. U.S. Federal Census (Ancestry, FamilySearch), and State Census (Minnesota Historical Society, Ancestry, FamilySearch)
  2. Death records (Minnesota Historical Society, FamilySearch.)
  3. Newspapers, particularly obituaries possibly naming parents or Limerick. (Minnesota Historical Society, Newspapers.com)

Before I began my search I created an excel spreadsheet to capture the information. I included columns for what their ages should be in each census. 

Excel spreadsheet for genealogy research

Using a spreadsheet to track my findings.

Now I was ready to start the genealogical hunt!

U.S. Census

Search each sibling one at a time in the census.

  • Focus on Washington Co., Minnesota (marriage and death location for Margaret & Michael Lynch)
  • Move on to Polk County Wisconsin, and greater Wisconsin.
  • Search both U.S. Federal Census & State Census
  • Top locations identified for this search: Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, Minnesota Historical Society

Results:

  • Found individuals matching the sons in Stillwater and Baytown (Washington County)
  • Found Bridget Scully (Mother) living with various sons in various census records.
  • Immigration years listed for some of Margaret’s siblings.
1870 us federal census genealogy

Found in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census: James, Thomas, Daniel and Bridget. 

I created folders for each sibling marked MAYBE and collected the records on my hard drive.
Learn more about hard drive organization in Elevenses with Lisa episode 8.

Searched FamilySearch and the Minnesota Historical Society for a death record for each son.

  • Found Thomas and James.
  • James Scully and Bridget Madigan listed as parents
  • Ages matched
  • Next step: order the death certificates

Newspapers

Next I searched the Minnesota Historical Society website for newspapers.

Results:

  • 170+ articles
  • Two obituaries for Bridget Scully! (8 children, immigration year, husband died in Ireland implied)
  • Found James Scully working with his brother and his obituary

Research Tip: Look at a map and identify nearby towns and larger cities. Expand your search to these areas.

I found a James Scully in the 1860 census with Bridget and his brothers, and working with Thomas in many newspaper articles.

Bridget’s obituary said she came to America with 8 children. 7 had baptismal records in Ireland. James and Margaret were not found in the baptismal records but were confirmed in U.S. records to have the same parents. That would be a total of 9 children. It’s possible one of the daughters that have not yet been found in U.S. records may have died in Ireland prior to their leaving for America.

I then combed back through my Lynch binder – I might spot something that I marked as unsure, or that might jump out at me now that didn’t 20 years ago.

  • Found History of the St. Croix Valley I had photocopied a section. Names Daniel Scully (who I have since found in the census, newspapers and death records) and says his parents are James Scully and Bridget Madigan!
  • Looked the book up in Google Books. It’s fully digitized. Now I can extensively read and search it.

Tech Tip: Clip and combine newspaper clippings with SnagIt software

Clipping and saving newspapers poses a unique challenge for genealogists:

  • Clipping a small portion of a very large digital newspaper page can result in a low resolution file. 
  • If you clip an article you don’t always capture which newspaper and issue it came from
  • Articles often continue in different locations on the page or pages, making it impossible to capture the entire article  in one image. 

I use SnagIt software to clip my newspaper finds. I can then save them to Evernote or archive them on my hard drive. SnagIt can save your clippings in wide range of file types and can even clip video. You can get your copy of SnagIt here. It’s a one time fee and download – no subscription! (Thank you for using my link – it financially supports this free without any added expense to you.)

How to combine multiple clippings with Snagit:

  1. Clip the paper title and date
  2. Clip the article
  3. Clip any additional applicable sections of the article
  4. In the SnagIt menu under Image click Combine Images
  5. Drag and drop the clippings into the desired order
  6. Click the Combine button
  7. Save the combined image: In the menu File > Save As (you can select from a wide variety of file types)
SnagIt https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Use SnagIt to combine newspaper clippings – https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Research Tip: Using Street Addresses in Google Earth

When you find a street address, whether in a newspaper, city directory, census or other genealogical record, use it to find the location in the free Google Earth software program. You can then save an HD quality image of the location.

How to find a location in Google Earth (on a computer):

  1. Type the address into the search field in the upper left corner
  2. Click the Search button
  3. The map will automatically “fly to” the location and a pin will mark the general spot.
  4. Hover your mouse pointer in the upper right corner of the to reveal the navigation tools. Click the plus sign to zoom in closer.

How to view the location with Street View:

  1. Zoom in relatively close so that the street and buildings are distinctly visible.
  2. Just above the zoom tool you will find the Street View icon (the yellow “peg man”). Click on the icon and drag it over the street in front of the building / location. Don’t release your mouse. It may take a second or two for the blue line to appear indicating that Street View is available in that location. If no blue line appears street view is not available.
  3. When the blue line is visible, drop the Street View icon directly onto the blue line in front of the location you want to view. by releasing your mouse. If you miss the line and the picture looks distorted, click the Exit button in the upper right corner and try again.
  4. Once on Street View, you can use your keyboard arrow keys to navigate. You can also click on further down the street to move forward that direction.

How to save an image of a street view location:

  1. Position yourself in the best view of the desired location using your mouse and keyboard arrow keys as described above.
  2. In the toolbar at the top of the screen, click the Image icon (it looks like a portrait-oriented page, near the printer icon)
  3. A Title and Description box will appear at the top of the screen beneath the toolbar. Click it and type in a title and description for your image if desired.
  4. You can adjust the size (resolution) of the image you will be saving by clicking the Resolution button above the title box.
  5. When you’re ready to save the image to your hard drive, click the Save Image

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 12.

how to use google earth for genealogy

Order the video training series at the Genealogy Gems Store featuring 14 exclusive step-by-step video tutorials. The perfect companion to the book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

After a week of post-consultation research:

Question: Who were the parents of Margaret Scully born in Limerick Ireland on approximately July 9, 1840?
Answer: James Scully and Bridget Madigan, married in Limerick, Ireland June 13, 1830. (Though I feel confident about this, I still have additional records I want to find in order to further solidify this conclusion.)

Question: In what Parish was Margaret Lynch born?
Answer: Most likely Kilcolman based on the baptismal locations of her siblings.

My Next Research Steps:

  • Browse search through the baptismal parish records at NLI 1839-1842 for Margaret, and 1834-1836 for James Scully.
  • Look for marriages of Margaret’s female siblings, and family burials.
    (Contact St. Michael’s church, Stillwater, MN.)
  • Go through newspapers.com – there are several Minneapolis and St. Paul papers running articles from Stillwater.
  • Resume my search of passenger list records with the newly revised date of c. 1851.
  • Search for the death record of Bridget’s husband James at RootsIreland and NLI.

How to Book a Genealogy Consultation

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

Learn More:

For more step-by-step instructions for using Google Earth read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available at the Genealogy Gems Store.

Recommended Genealogy Gems Premium Member Videos with downloadable handouts:

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership here.

 

Genealogy News: Free Webinar

Watch the free video recording of my session on the MyHeritage Collection Catalog here.

 

Resources:

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 19 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members:

Become a Premium Member here

 

 

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