(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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Go to http://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html
- Click the blue download button
- Read the Terms and Conditions
- If you agree to them, click the Agree and Download button
- Follow the installation guide
- 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:
Right-click on MyPlaces > Add > Folder
2. Name the folder and then click OK:
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 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.
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.
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:
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
The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes
2008 – 2009 Season Three
Scroll to the bottom of each Podcast Show Notes Page and click the episode mp3 file to download the episode for listening. It will take a minute or two for the episode to download, and it will open in your computer’s audio program (for example: Quicktime or Windows Media Player.)
Episode 41 Listen & Show Notes
Family History Expo Wrap-Up, California Voter’s Database at Ancestry and Day of the Week Tool, Mailbox, Lulu, Valentine For You: Stories of Love
Episode 42 Listen & Show Notes
Family Tree Magazine, Genline, and another great Venice Song
Episode 43 Listen & Show Notes
Genealogy at Borders, Roots Television Interview, the new U.S. Census Bureau History Website, and Crossword Puzzle
Episode 44 Listen & Show Notes
Canadian Border Crossings, Godfrey Memorial Library, U.S. Census Bureau, and Digital Preservation Cheat Sheet
Episode 45 Listen & Show Notes
Prison stories & research, Google customization, & Free British Records
Episode 46 Listen & Show Notes
A listener’s Leatherhead, Handwriting Analysis, and Genealogy Gems Premium.
Episode 47 Listen & Show Notes
A Walk Through Childhood Memories, Family Tree and Me Displays, Girding Your Loins with James Mowatt of the Historyzine Podcast, Birthday Alarm Website, Ancestor Handwriting Analysis Winner and a new analysis of a single signature by Paula Sassi, Announcement of the NEW Family Tree Magazine hosted by Lisa Louise Cooke.
Episode 48 Listen & Show Notes
Lisa’s exclusive interview with Kathy Lennon of The Lennon Sisters. Kathy discusses her passion for family history and the Lennon family tree. Also, Paula Sassi analyzes the handwriting of our contest winner’s ancestor. Plus a new look for the Genealogy Gems Podcast Newsletter.
Episode 49 Listen & Show Notes
A great idea for genealogy societies, new Family Tree Magazine Podcast episode and Lisa’s genealogy podcasting article and videos for the magazine, Train Robbery History, Part 2 of Lisa’s interview with Kathy Lennon of the famous Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show, Premium Discount, Handwriting Analysis opportunity and the Best Pals Contest.
Episode 50 Listen & Show Notes
The Louise Carousel, Amos Alonzo Stagg, A Little Genealogy Daydreaming with genealogy podcasters, Interview with Tim Russell of A Prairie Home Companion, America’s first radio stations, Handwriting analysis of a victim of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, State Fair History, Best Pals Dolls Winner Announcement, and Upcoming Conferences.
Episode 51 Listen & Show Notes
Interview with Jim Beidler, Chairman of the FGS 2008 Conference, The History of the Ice Cream Cone, Discount on Premium Membership, Mac Minutes with Ben Sayer, The MacGenealogist, Favorite Genealogy Sayings, Census Abbreviations.
Episode 52 Listen & Show Notes
Gems From Across the Pond: Interviews with genealogy author and lecturer Rick Crume, and British Records Specialist Dr. Christopher T. Watts, and British History Podcasts.
Episode 53 Listen & Show Notes
Virginia Halloween History, Mailbox, Navy History, Interview with Yvette Arts of World Vital Records & Search Tips, Chips the U.S. War Dog, The MacGenealogist reviews iFamily for Leopard, and Name That Tune!
Episode 54 Listen and Show Notes
New podcast launch: Family History: Genealogy Made Easy, History that puts a little cash in your pocket, Interview with the Forensic Genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, Some Ideas on Creating family traditions and Heirlooms, The MacGenealogist, Another Linguistic History Trivia Bit, and Name That Tune Round 2!
Episode 55 Listen and Show Notes
Genealogy News, New Google Gadgets, Discover the census records you probably aren’t using, but should with Curt Witcher of the Allen County Library, Taxing Bachelorhood, and Name That Tune Round 3!
Episode 56 Listen and Show Notes
The 2009 Genealogy Gems Christmas Podcast
Episode 57 Listen and Show Notes
Frisbee & Fuller Brush History, Southern California Genealogical Jamboree, Interview with Sally Jacobs the Practical Archivist on Photo Preservation
Episode 58 Listen and Show Notes
Review of Behind the Scenes with Ancestry, Exciting New Records Online, Income Tax History, Creating a Family History Valentine, Lisa answers Listener Questions
Episode 59 Listen and Show Notes
Review of new online records, The First U.S. Presidential Photograph, Interview with Holly Hansen of Family History Expos, GenClass with Lisa Alzo, Number Please?
Episode 60 Listen and Show Notes
We celebrate the 2nd birthday of the podcast with our special guest Darby Hinton who starred in the 1960s TV show Daniel Boone. Lisa also makes recommendations to a listener on her Bristol Brick Wall.
We are celebrating our 1000th Genealogy Gems blog post with a list of our Top 10 Posts. Share this post on Facebook and you could win an inspiring family history writing video!
I can hardly believe it. This month, the Genealogy Gems website will reach a milestone 1000 blog posts! Thank YOU for your emails, phone calls and comments at conferences. I often share your success stories and use your feedback to bring you more great content.
Below is a list of our most-read posts so far. Did you miss any? Keep reading to learn how to win a a great family history writing prize by sharing this post on Facebook!
Our Top 10 Blog Posts
1. Ancestry Up for Sale? By far the most-read post in 2015! We weren’t just talking about the sale rumor, but sharing advice on saving your Ancestry trees, sources and DNA, which everyone should do.
2. Best Genealogy Software: Which You Should Choose and Why. This is my spiel on why you should keep your master family tree on software at home–not on your favorite genealogy website. It includes my top picks for family tree software, including free options.
3. Four Fabulous Ways to Use the Library of Congress for Genealogy. A lot of you are interested in the Library of Congress’ online resources for digitized photos, newspapers and how-tos for archiving your family history. Read all about it!
4. Free Google Earth for Genealogy Class. The conference lectures I give on Google Earth for genealogy are so popular that I created a free video that everyone can watch from home. Click on the post, and you can watch the video, too.
5. AncestryDNA Review and Breaking News: Updates Launched. Our own DNA correspondent Diahan Southard penned this popular post on AncestryDNA’s ground-breaking integration of our genetics data and our genealogy trees.
6. Seven Free Google Searches Every Genealogist Should Use. Are you getting the most out of free Google search technologies? Scan this list and see what’s missing from your search strategies!
7. NEW! Try This Now! U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index. For U.S. researchers, this was the blockbuster database of summer 2015. Millions of parents’ names, birthplaces and more now beef up this go-to Social Security database–its’ far better than its sparse predecessor, the SSDI.
8. Confused by Your AncestryDNA Matches? Read This Post. Another hit from DNA expert Diahan Southard! A great explanation of how to use your New Ancestor Discoveries on AncestryDNA.
9. How are We Related? Use a Cousin Calculator. It’s a simple, easy online tool, shared in response to a listener’s question.
10. New AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool: Love it! Diahan reports on a fabulous online tool that pulls out shared genetic matches between two people at AncestryDNA.
Will you please share this post on your Facebook timeline to help me spread the word about the “gems” you can find on the Genealogy Gems blog?
Here’s a little extra incentive: Use the hashtag #genealogygems and SHARE THIS POST ON YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE BY FRIDAY (November 20, 2015), and you’ll be entered in a contest to win the Pain Free Family History Writing Project video course download. It’s presented by Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton and donated by our friends at Family Tree University. Of course you’re welcome to add any comments on your “shared” post, like which Genealogy Gems blog post has most inspired you or helped your research. That feedback helps us bring you more posts you’ll love.
Ready, set, SHARE! And thank YOU for helping me celebrate our 1000th blog post here at Genealogy Gems.
Have you met PERSI? You should! PERSI is the Periodical Source Index. Use PERSI for genealogy and you may discover your ancestors in thousands of articles you never knew existed.
You may have heard me talk in the past about PERSI. In case you haven’t…PERSI is not a person—it’s the acronym for the Periodical Source Index. PERSI is THE master index for periodicals with over 2.7 million entries. Thousands of magazines, newsletters, journals, and other periodicals from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Ireland, and Australia are indexed here.
PERSI is maintained by the Allen County Public Library’s Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have the equivalent of 6 full-time staff who are dedicated to subject-indexing every issue of every known genealogy or historical periodical and even the tiniest society newsletter.
Curt Witcher, who runs the Genealogy Center at Allen County and who has been a guest on the podcast in the past, estimates that if you don’t consult periodicals in your research, you could be missing up to 30% of your research leads! That’s a lot of leads! PERSI has long been a staple resource for advanced and professional genealogists to help them break through brick walls. With its help, you can much more quickly locate articles like biographical sketches of ancestors (or people they knew), transcribed indexes to naturalization or probate records, church records, school records, and the like. There might be just-what-you-need histories of places or the organizations your ancestors belonged to.
These key articles are often buried so deep in back issues of little local genealogy newsletters that you may never come across them on your own. Sometimes, they’re what we call “orphaned” content: articles we’d find in totally unexpected places.
HOW TO SEARCH PERSI ONLINE
PERSI used to be searchable on Ancestry, but it isn’t there anymore. The current version of PERSI is exclusively on Findmypast and they’re doing something really cool with it: they are gradually adding digitized articles to the index! They are doing this by signing contracts with each individual society or journal publisher, so it’s not a fast process. The vast majority of entries on PERSI do not have digitized articles linked to them yet. It’s a bonus when you do find them.
To search PERSI at Findmypast you do not actually need a subscription. They allow anyone to search and see the list of results. To see details about specific search results (including any digitized images), you will need a subscription OR you will need to purchase their pay-per-view credits. Findmypast does offer a 14-day free trial. You can also use Findmypast at Family History Centers and at many libraries that have institutional subscriptions.
Once you have located an article, it’s inexpensive to order a copy directly from the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. Simply download the order form PDF from their website, fill it out, and mail it in. Last we checked, you can request up to six articles for only $7.50, which you pre-pay and then they bill you separately for copies at 20 cents per page.
Sometime soon, why not take 15 minutes—or your next lunch break at work–and search PERSI for your top surnames and locations? Again, the database is PERSI, it is at Findmypast, and the chance to discover is all yours.
MORE GEMS ON PERSI
PERSI Digitized Collections Gaining Ground
New FindMyPast Hints Help Find Records
The Genealogy Gems Podcast Premium Episode 135: Comparsion of Google Scholar & PERSI (Premium Member Subscription Needed)