(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
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.
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.
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:
2. Name the folder and then click OK:
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.
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.
3. In the toolbar along the top of the screen, click the placemark button to place a pushpin in that location:
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:
- How to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (FREE VIDEO)
- Google Earth for Genealogy Video Training digital download
- If you are a Genealogy Gems Premium member, Tune in to Genealogy Gems Premium podcast, episode 131, for tips on how to run a more thorough genetic evaluation on those 4th cousin matches.
Here’s a video of the authors discussing three common DNA misconceptions:
Authors: Diahan Southard and Lisa Louise Cooke
Pieces of your family history are on video on YouTube, and in this episode I’m showing you how to find them! Here’s what you’re going to learn:
- Why you can almost be sure that there are videos on YouTube pertaining to your family’s history.
- The best strategies for finding videos about your family history.
- 7 things to do when you find a video about some part of your family history.
How to find family history related videos on YouTube
Can you really find family history related videos on YouTube? You bet you can! Thanks to the tremendous growth in online video, your chances are better than ever. Here’s how much online video has grown in recent years:
- YouTube is now the second most popular search engine next to Google.com.
- Cisco reports: 2014 64% of all Internet traffic was video. The prediction for 2021 is 85%.
- More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month to watch and upload video.
- Digitizing video is easier and more affordable than ever.
So, what kind of videos can be found that have to do with your family history? Here are just a few examples:
Old home movies.
Perhaps uploaded by a close or distance family member, or a friend of the family who happened to capture your family in their home movies.
Vintage news reels and TV news broadcasts.
Your family members don’t have to be famous to show up in local news reports.
Companies often create instructional and promotional films.
Filmed at historical locations, churches, and other places where your ancestors may have lived.
These can provide great background information about the times and places where your ancestors lived.
How to start finding family history videos on YouTube
The easiest way to get started is by selecting a person in your family tree. If you’re looking for actual film footage of the person, you’ll want to focus on more recent people in your family. However, there’s a treasure trove of videos available on YouTube so don’t worry if you’re trying to learn more about an ancestor born in 1800. You can still find all kinds of videos that can shed more life on your ancestor’s world and the life they may have led.
Once you’ve selected an ancestor, make a list of things you know about them. Here are some examples of what you could look for:
- Names of associate ancestors
- Places where they lived
- Where they went to school
- Where they worked
- Events they were involved in
- Hobbies / Groups / Clubs
- Friends / Associates
Search your ancestor’s name at YouTube
Start by searching for your ancestor’s name in the search field at YouTube. Example search: Will Ivy Baldwin
Review the results. Keep an eye out for film footage that looks older. Hover your mouse over the results to see if words appear that further explain why you received that video as result. You may see an indication that what you searched for appears in the text of the video description (found just below the video) or the captions. If they appear in the captions, that means that someone in the video said the name you searched for! Automated closed captions are fairly new so you will find that not all videos have captions.
Next add more keywords relevant to their life. Example: Will Ivy Baldwin tightrope
Use quotation marks to get exact matches on the important words. Example: Will Ivy “Baldwin” “tightrope”. (Learn more about search operators such as quotation marks in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)
Try variations and search multiple times. Examples:
- Will Ivy “Baldwin” “tightrope”
- Will “Ivy Baldwin” “tightrope”
- “Will Ivy Baldwin” “tightrope”
- Will Ivy “Baldwin” “Colorado”
You can also search for the phrase Home Movie and a family surname. Example search: “Home movie” “Burkett”
What to do when you find a family history video on YouTube
#1 Add to your “Watch Later” YouTube playlist.
Click the plus sign under the video and check the box for Watch Later.”
#2 Create a new playlist and add the video.
Click the plus sign and then Create New Playlist. Consider creating a playlist for each surname you research.
#3 Share to Social Media, your website, etc.
Click Share under the video.
#4 Comment to collaborate.
Comments can be found below the video description. You’ll need to be signed into YouTube with a free Google account.
#5 Subscribe to get new uploaded videos.
The red SUBSCRIBE button can be found on every video and channel. After clicking it, click the bell icon to receive notifications of new videos from that channel.
#6 Search the YouTube Channel for more related videos.
There’s a good chance if the channel has one relevant video it will have another! Click the name of the channel below the video and then on the channel page click the magnifying glass search icon.
#7 Read the video description to learn more.
The channel “Creator” who uploaded the video probably added some additional information to the video description. Click SHOW MORE to see everything. Look for recommended related videos and playlists. You may also see more details on the content of the video which you can then use to expand your search.
Expanding Your Search to Find More Family History Videos
Now it’s time to dig back into our list and continue the search. Here are some examples of how to find videos.
Search for Ancestral Locations
Search for locations associate with your family history such as cities, counties, regions, states, countries. Even if your ancestors is not in the video, it could be very enlightening to see film footage from a place they talked about or wrote about. Watching a video about the place can help bring your family history to life.
Search for Events
Review old newspapers, journals, family interviews and more to come up with a list of events your family was involved with. It doesn’t have to be a big event. It could be as simple as a school talent show. It’s possible that someone else who attended took home movies.
Here are a few examples of events searched:
Search for Occupations
Try search for the names of business where your ancestors worked. Add in locations such as town names. Try adding the word history to help YouTube find older film footage.
In this episode of Elevenses with Lisa I shared the example of searching for Olyphant PA fire history and finding Andrew O’Hotnicky and his son in an old newsreel film about the fire stations amazing dog.
Post Your Own Family History Videos Online
Another great way to find old videos and home movies on YouTube is to upload your own. That may sound funny at first, but the truth is that if you’re looking for family history other people are too. When you upload a video, whether it’s an old home movie or a short video you made to tell the story of one of your ancestors, it’s great “cousin bait.” When someone else searches for the same family, your video will appear. This opens the door to them posting a comment and potentially sharing information.
If you don’t have old home movies to post, don’t worry. It’s easier and more affordable than ever to make your own videos. I’ve created several instructional videos to help you create exactly the kind of video you want Both are available exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium Members (Learn more here about becoming a Premium Member):
- Video Magic – a 3-part video series that walk you through crafting your story and getting it on video.
- Elevenses with Lisa episode 16 How to Make a Family History Video with Adobe Spark walks you step-by-step through how to use a free app to make professionally looking videos.
Recording your own videos is faster, easier and less expensive than ever! You can have your own free YouTube channel with your free Google Account.
- Get the book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 3rd ed., by Lisa Louise Cooke. Available exclusively at www.shopgenealogygems.com.
- Download the ad-free show notes (Premium Member log in required. Not a Premium Member? Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member.)
- Watch past free episodes of Elevenses with Lisa.
- Get your official Elevenses with Lisa mug
- Subscribe for free to our Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll never miss another episode.
- Subscribe to my free email newsletter to get notifications of new videos and articles.
Questions and Comments
Please leave your questions and comments below.
The FGS Webinar Series on Society Management has just been announced and it’s starting soon. This new free webinar series is focused on the leadership and management of non-profit societies. If you belong to a genealogical society you’ll want to let your leadership know about this opportunity from the The Federation of Genealogical Societies. Read on for more from FGS.
FGS Webinar Series Details
Press Release: July 12, 2017 – Austin, TX.
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) announces the launch of their Society Management webinar series, scheduled to begin July 20, 2017. This series of free events will bring a much-needed aspect to the array of learning opportunities currently provided in the genealogical community, focusing solely on the leadership and management of non-profit societies.
The series will begin July 20, 2017 at 7:00pm central with a presentation by Fred Moss discussing The Open Death Records Initiative. The August session will feature David Rencher, CG, presenting on the best practices – and challenges – surrounding The Nominating Committee.
Each month thereafter will feature a new and interesting topic, ranging from recruitment and volunteer management to technology, publications, and working with your local tourism board. Registration will be necessary, and regular updates will be shared via the FGS Voice blog, FGS Voice Newsletter, and social media. Webinars will occur every 3rd Thursday of the month.
Registration for the July program can be found here.
Speakers interested in presenting topics should contact Jen Baldwin, Education Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Support for Genealogical Societies
Genealogy Gems for Societies is an annual premium subscription service just for genealogical societies and groups* (such as libraries). This is a cost-effective way for your group to provide quality family history video presentations by internationally-renowned speaker Lisa Louise Cooke at your regular meetings.
With a society subscription, your group may show video recordings of Lisa’s most popular classes! This applies to group presentations for a single location, one video per event–but with more than a dozen 50-60 minute videos, several more 25-30 minute videos and a growing number of quick video tips (4-15 minutes), you’ll have plenty of video classes to show all year long! Click here to see a full list of videos available to societies. (Videos are not for individual use by society members.)
In addition, society subscribers receive:
- Permission to republish articles from our extensive article archive in your society newsletter (your editor will LOVE this feature!)
- 10% discount for your society on live seminars by Lisa Louise Cooke
- 10% discount code for your society members to use in the Genealogy Gems Store (details will be sent to your society membership email address after purchase)
- BONUS: exclusive digital PDF ebook of a collection of Lisa’s most popular articles from Family Tree Magazine! Share this in the members-only section of your group’s website (or if you don’t have a members-only section, your Programming Director may keep it and enjoy).
All of this costs only $199.00 a year—about the cost of one typical webinar! Click here for more details and ordering information.
Please support your local genealogical society or group by sharing this post with them by email or social media. Thank you! You’re a Gem.