April 25, 2017

Why You Should Contact Your DNA Matches: “Now I’m Climbing a Whole Different Tree!”

Trying to contact your DNA matches can be frustrating when they don’t respond, but it’s still worth reaching out to them. This researcher’s example shows a good reason why.

contact DNA matches

Contact Your DNA Matches

Recently, I heard from Genealogy Gems Premium website member Ruth*, whose DNA success story reminds me of the value of reaching out to DNA matches, even if the general response rate is low or slow. She says:

“I’ve been researching my family tree for over 20 years and sometimes it can get boring…because most of the lines are pretty much out as far as I can go and I’m now just working on brick walls! I love listening to your podcast because it motivates me to keep going!

Like many of your listeners, I have taken the autosomal DNA test. It has been an awesome tool helping me confirm family lines and sometimes finding new ones. However, I’m sure most of your readers know that for some reason a lot of those DNA matches and even tree owners in general, do not respond to emails or messages. It can be very frustrating, especially if it is one of those lines that you really could use some help on. The lack of response to inquiries sometimes makes me wonder if I should even try to make contact. Well, I want to tell your listeners, that yes it is worth it.

Recently, I was browsing trees and I came to a tree that listed my 3rd great-grandfather Daniel Cannon; however, this tree listed Daniel’s wife as Mary Ann Watkins and I had her as Mary Ann Cook! Well, I decided to contact the owner of that tree and explained I had Daniel’s wife as a Cook. The two of us started emailing back and forth and I found out this gentleman, whose last name is Watkins, had taken a DNA test and was in Ancestry.com’s database.

Sure enough, when I searched my mom’s matches I found him. Mr. Watkins shared the information he had [which was] an excerpt that listed the heirs of G. B. Watkins and Elizabeth Smith. On that list was Mary Ann Constable. From the census records, I knew that Mary Ann Cannon had married Thomas Constable after her husband had died. The marriage license for Mary Ann Cannon and Thomas Constable is no longer at the courthouse, but I was able to get a copy of the excerpt of the book it was recorded in. So now I’m climbing a whole different tree!

So, go ahead and reach out to those matches or those people who have trees with different information from you. You never know when you’ll find information and end up with a new line to research!”

Time to Maximize Your DNA Matches

Our resident genetic genealogist, Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard, has written a series of 3 DNA quick guides to help you maximize your DNA testing experience:

This “value pack” can help you sort your matches more wisely, reach out to them in a positive way, and track your correspondence. Click here to read more about these guides and order your own. (Also available as digital downloads.)

Time to Test Your DNA Today

These companies all provide autosomal DNA testing, the most popular kind of DNA testing, and the kind Ruth used. Autosomal testing matches you to genetic relatives on both sides of your family tree to a depth of about 4-6 generations. Learn a little about each by clicking on the names below.

Ancestry DNA

MyHeritage DNA

23andMe

FamilyTreeDNA

*Ruth’s letter was erroneously attributed to Liz when it was shared and discussed in Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 200. Sorry for the mix-up!

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!

Celebrating 1000 Genealogy Blog Posts: #8 in the Top 10 Countdown

n Genealogy Coundown #8It’s no surprise to find another DNA post in the #8 spot on our Top 10 genealogy blog post countdown. The topic: understanding your AncestryDNA matches.

In this post, Genealogy Gems resident DNA expert Diahan Southard takes on a confused question sent in by a listener, who didn’t understand why certain people were showing up in her AncestryDNA results.

This post explains SO beautifully a couple of key concepts:

  • the difference between your AncestryDNA genetic matches and the DNA Circles/New Ancestry Discoveries that pull from both your genetic results and your family tree; AND
  • three reasons someone may show up in your AncestryDNA matches as a New Ancestry Discovery–and which one of those scenarios actually helps your research.

confused by AncestryDNA matchesSince running my own autosomal test through AncestryDNA a few months ago, I find myself coming back repeatedly to Diahan’s series of posts to help me better understand and use those results. I know I’m not alone, since three of Diahan’s DNA posts made our Top 10 this year! (We covered #10 yesterday.)

Click here to read the above post, and click here to find a list of all DNA-related posts on our genealogy blog.

AncestryDNA product image new_1f_screens2If you’ve done your homework and decided that an AncestryDNA test is what should be next for your family history research, thank you for purchasing one by clicking here. Your purchase supports the free Genealogy Gem blog and podcast. (Thank you! YOU are a gem!)

 

 

DNA Matches: What To Do With All Your Genetic 4th Cousins

DNA matches 4th cousins

Do you have way too many genetic “4th cousins or closer” among your DNA matches? What do you even DO with all those matches?

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 64 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 most of you are not aspiring geneticists, 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, or it could 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 32 3rd great grandparent 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 32 surnames and locations of those couples (or, if you want to be an over achiever, make a list of all 64, which would include the maiden names of the ladies). Now, most of us do not know all 32 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.

Use Google Earth for Genealogy blast from pastA great tool to plot your own list of ancestors is to use Google Earth. (Click here to watch a FREE video on how to use Google Earth for genealogy.) You can devote an entire folder to your 32 couples and easily plot your surnames and 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 even plot the surnames and locations of your matches, too. And this is where Google Earth really comes in handy. Google Earth 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, which we will cover next month. 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

google earth for genealogy and family historyHow to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (FREE VIDEO)

Google Earth for Genealogy Video Training digital download. Also available (for a limited time) in its original 2-DVD format.

Premium podcast 131Are you a Genealogy Gems Premium member? Tune in to the newest Genealogy Gems Premium podcast, episode 131, for tips on how to run a more thorough genetic evaluation on those 4th cousin matches.