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

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 231

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 231
with Lisa Louise Cooke
July 2019

Listen now, click player below:

Download the episode (mp3)

In this episode:

  • The latest tech news from Google Earth, FamilySearch and MyHeritage
  • Alice’s Story – genealogy research with blogger Julianne Mangin
  • Cemeteries – both for ancestors and their pets

Please take our quick PODCAST SURVEY which will take less than 1 minute.  Thank you!

NEWS:

Google Earth News

Jennifer in California sent me a fascinating item recently , and she says “Thought you might get a kick out today’s blurb from Google, where they pat themselves on the back for what can be done with Google Earth. No argument from me; it’s amazing!”

So, what can be done with Google Earth besides all the family history projects that I teach here on the podcast and in the Premium videos? Well, Peter Welch and Weekend Wanderers in the UK are using Google Earth to find treasure!

Read all about it here
Visit the Weekend Wanderers website

FamilySearch Adds Audio

FamilySearch.org, the free and massive genealogy website from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  has added a new way for you to add more memories to your tree.

In addition to photos you can now add audio both at the website and the FamilySearch FamilyTree and Memories apps which you can download from your mobile device’s app store.

So now as you’re selecting and uploading family photos to familysearch, you can also gather and record the stories that go with those photos. It’s sort of like being able to write on the back on the photograph, but in an even more personal way.

Your voice, and the voices of your relatives can now be part of your family’s history.

Read the article about adding audio

From the FamilySearch website: “Photos and audio attached to deceased ancestors can be viewed by other users on the FamilySearch Family Tree. To protect privacy, photos and audio attached to living people can be seen only by the person who added the memory unless that person shares the memory or album with another user.”

MyHeritage App update

Among the newly introduced features are Family Timelines, the ability to view family trees that you’re matched with, the ability to choose which information you extract from Smart Matches™, an improved research page, and more. Read all about it here

 

MAILBOX:

We received lots of great feedback on the article 3 Shocking Discoveries I’ve Made While Searching Cemeteries by Joy Neighbors

From Craig: “After finding my Paternal grandfather and great-grandfather, I looked for my Paternal GG Grandfather in the same area. No luck. I went to the R.B. Hayes library in Tiffin, Ohio and started looking at every page in the burial listing for the township I thought he would be in. And there he was – last name misspelled! (The “A” was changed to a “K”.) I was able to drive over to the cemetery and located his stone – still readable after his burial in 1885. I plan to go back to the area this summer to look for his wife, who was buried elsewhere (they were separated.) I wish I could get someone to update the lists with the correct spelling, to match the gravestone and census papers, but that seems impossible to do.”

From Ann:
“My brother Ray says we have visited more dead relatives than live ones. Trying now to visit the relatives above ground!”

From LeRoy:
Spent many hours walking, crawling, pushing through brush brambles and briers just to find and take pictures of tombstones. I regret only one such adventure. If I may. My sweetheart and I went to a small cemetery in New Jersey to gather family names and pictures for Billion Graves and our personal records. While I was taking pictures, my wife was clipping brush and bushes from the stone that identified her families plot.

We had a great day. I filled two clips of pictures and my sweetheart did a magnificent job on that stone. It was only a few hours later, when she started itching that I really “looked” at the pictures and realized that the brush that she cleared from that stone was poison ivy. Wouldn’t have been so bad, but when she found that I’m not affected by poison oak, ivy or sumac. She was not happy.

From Shirley:
I have recently started doing ancestry research and have been astounded at what I have found. No creepy tree stories. However, it is nice to know that some ancestors took special care to by buy family plots even though they knew eventually the girls might marry and want to be buried with their husband. I found it interesting that both my grandfather and my grandmother are both buried with their individual parents.

From Patsy:
Shirley’s  story jogged my memory. My mother died in 1934 when I was 4 years old. She is buried in her father’s plot rather than my paternal grandfather’s plot. I have wondered for years why the burial was arranged that way and imagine all sorts of situations. Were the families feuding? Was one family more financially able to foot the bill. Did my paternal grandfather not like my father? Hmmmm………

From Sharon:
I checked out this book from the local library about a month ago. Decided I needed my own copy. All genealogist should read it. It is very informative & entertaining.

From Marinell:
About 5 years ago I found the farm on which my gr great grandparents were buried. The tall granite marker with the parents’ names had been knocked over, the foot stones stacked and several large rocks were around the monument and it was in the middle of a field that was being planted and harvested. We made contact with the owner and received permission to have it raised.

In the meantime, I found an obituary for a son who was buried on the family farm. I also found an article about a woman who did dowsing, contacted her and she agreed to come perform the dowsing. I was videoing it when my phone went totally dead! I had never had that happen and it was charged. Thirty minutes later it came back on mysteriously!

She found 2 adult women, 2 adult men and three toddlers. After further search I found another obituary for a grown daughter buried there and 3 toddler grandchildren who died in 1882. She said that the large rocks would have marked the graves. Sadly, they had totally desecrated the family cemetery. But I was excited to learn all I did and was startled by the phone totally dying.

The free podcast is sponsored by RootsMagic

RootsMagic

Julianne and her momGEM: Genealogy Research with Julianne Mangin

We first talked to Julianne last year  in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 219. In that episode we explored the tragic story of Julianne’s ancestors, the Metthe family. It was a riveting case study of the twists and turns that genealogy can take us on.GEM: Checking in with Julianne Mangin

Julianne had originally been a bit of a reluctant genealogist. But after a 30 year career in library science, including 14 years as a librarian and website developer for the Library of Congress in Washington DC, she could couldn’t help but try to find the truther in the piecemeal stories that she was told by her mother.

Julianne has continued to research and write at her Julianne Mangin blog, and I thought it would fun to check back in with her and see what she’s been up to.

Her latest blog series is called Alice’s Story. It follows the path of discovery she followed to uncover the story of a previously unknown aunt.

  1. Alice’s Story Part 1
  2. Alice’s Story Part 2the Exeter School
  3. Alice’s Story Part 3Final Resting Place

The research began where most good genealogical research begins: at the end of Alice’s life and her death certificate.

Institutional Records – But with few records and no first-hand interviews available, Julianne turned to researching the institutions themselves to dig deeper into Alice’s experience.
Resource:
Genealogy Gems Premium Video: Institutional Records (membership required)

State Census Records can help fill in the gaps between the federal census enumerations.  Search for “state census” in the card catalog:

Ancestry State Census

MyHeritage State Census

The free podcast is sponsored by MyHeritage

 MyHeritage

Resource:
State Censuses at the FamilySearch Wiki

“Copies of many state censuses are on microfilm at the Family History Library. The Family History Library’s most complete collections of state censuses are for Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. However, censuses exist for the following states also: 

ArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoDelawareDistrict of ColumbiaFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIndianaLouisianaMaineMarylandMichiganMissouriNebraskaNevadaNew MexicoNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOklahomaOregonRhode IslandSouthCarolinaSouthDakotaTennesseeTexasUtah
VirginiaWashington and Wyoming.

State, colonial, and territorial censuses at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under “STATE – CENSUS RECORDS”

Old Postcards are a great resource for images.
Resources:
Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 16 and episode 76 feature strategies for finding family history on ebay. (Genealogy Gems Premium Membership required)

 

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Member
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Institutional Annual Reports – Julianne searched for annual reports to the Legislature for more details on the various institutions where Alice resided.
Resources:
Library of Congress Catalog

WorldCat.org
Google Books

Old Newspapers offered a counterbalance to the annual reports.
Resources:
Genealogybank

Newspapers.com
MyHeritage

“The institutions were like characters in the story.”

Also mentioned in this interview:
The Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission
Julianne’s Pet Cemetery Stories blog
Rags, War Hero

BAckblaze

You worked really hard on your family history – protect it with the Cloud backup service that Lisa uses: Backblaze.com/Lisa

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app. 

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