July 27, 2017

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!

The Power of DNA Matching

As genealogists, we spend our time trying to ferret out the real story in our family’s oral history, or at least from the records they left behind. Record research is critical, but now we have an amazing new tool…DNA matching.

DNA matching results

Genealogists constantly check family stories against the information on records, searching for what sounds plausible and what doesn’t. Even when we have total agreement in our records, more information often comes along…like DNA testing. In fact, DNA matching may shed light on even more apparent discrepancies.

Family Lore vs. DNA Findings

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a reporter, Cameron McWhirter, who shared finding that kind of discrepancy between his family lore and his DNA. He even goes so far as to say, “I am descended, at least partially, from liars.” He makes the point, “many immigrants reinvented themselves when they arrived here (the United States).” This could be a nice way of saying they had a chance to invent a new legacy, not just re-invent it. His assessments were certainly interesting and worth reviewing. It helps us see how DNA testing can affect the way we look at our family stories and traditional research results.

McWhirter may be like some folks today who have never set foot inside a courthouse or scanned through microfilm, but instead relies heavily on internet research. Some of these modern genealogists never gave their family history a second thought until, like McWhirter, the death of parents started to inspire them to dig deeper. Due to the large volume of information online, the budding genealogist is “quickly pulled into the obsessive world of modern genealogical research.”

DNA matching ethnicity

Example of an ethnicity report from Ancestry.com.

McWhirter’s personal story was that while his dad was proudly and solidly a self-proclaimed Scot, the records and DNA matching revealed his heritage was actually from Ireland and eastern Europe. McWhirter says that his “father hated Notre Dame, but judging by my results he could have been one-quarter to one-half Irish. He spoke dismissively of people from Eastern Europe, but part of his genetic code likely came from that region.”

McWhirter’s evaluation of his genetic report includes only his ethnicity results, which as you can hear, were meaningful to him in the way that flew in the face of his father’s prejudices and assertions of his own identity.

However, the ethnicity results fall short of the point of testing for most genealogists.

He has the opportunity to more powerfully transform his sense of family identity by taking a look at his match list. Here, he may see an actual living cousin who was also descended from his German great-grandmother, who maybe never mentioned that she was also Jewish.

The Real Goal: DNA Connections to Living Family

Connecting with other cousins who also have paper trails to our ancestors serves to provide further confidence that we have put all the pieces together and honored the right ancestor with a spot on our pedigree chart. We multiply our own research efforts by finding more people like us—literally—who are descended from the same people. As long as they are as diligent in their research as we are, we can make these connections that could finally bust through those genealogy brick walls and more.

At a recent conference, I met a fifth-cousin. Even with a connection that distant, it was exciting and it encouraged us to want to look again at our connecting ancestors. To me, that is the bigger picture and the real goal—when the paper trail comes together with the DNA results and turns into real live cousins.

The Next Step: Using Your DNA Results to Find Living Family

Advanced DNA Bundle by Diahan SouthardMaybe you are like Cameron McWhirter: you’ve taken a DNA test, been intrigued or disappointed by the ethnicity results, but haven’t fully explored your matches on your list. You may be seriously missing some opportunities! If that is you, I have written my new DNA quick guide just for you. It’s called “Next Steps: Working with Your Autosomal DNA Matches.” This guide will teach you how to leverage the power of known relatives who have been tested. You will get an intro to chromosome browsers and their role in the search process and access to a free bonus template for evaluating genealogical relationship of a match to the predicted genetic relationship. This guide also gives you a methodology for converting unknown relatives on your match list into known relatives.

So check it out, either by itself or as part of my Advanced DNA bundle, which comes along with my new Gedmatch guide and a guide expressly for organizing your DNA matches.