If you aren’t doing these five things, then you are missing out on a ton of information that you can learn from your DNA match list. You might check your match list regularly – maybe even every day, but if you are just scrolling through, looking for a something interesting, hoping that something will catch your eye, well… how can I put this delicately? Let’s just say that you could be using your time more wisely.
I’m assuming that you check your matches at least once per month, since you never know when you’ll get new matches and what kind of interesting information you might find out about your family. You might even be like me and check your matches almost every day. In fact, I checked my matches every day for a year and always check my matches on every site a few times per week.
Begin keeping track of your DNA matches
Have you ever seen a match that you thought was new, but then once you started looking at it more closely, you realized that you have already examined it several times? Do you ever make mental notes of surnames that catch your interest, and then forget them a few minutes or hours later, and have to try to find them again? Maybe you are thinking that there is a better way to approach this whole genetic genealogy thing – and you would be right.
So many DNA matches, so many surnames – how are you supposed to keep track of all of this? I am an old-fashioned person, so I began with a notebook. I now administer more than a dozen DNA kits and have them uploaded to several websites, however, so I had to upgrade to a spreadsheet.
Whichever method works best for you and is manageable is the one that you should use. The last thing that we want to do is to add more work and make things more confusing. Don’t feel bad if a notebook is your preference. In fact, I still keep a notebook at my side when I’m checking matches, since it’s really handy for jotting down details or people who I would like to learn more about.
When you are tracking your DNA matches, you’ll want to make note of a few major details about them:
- real name (if you know it)
- e-mail address (if you know it)
- site or sites where the match is located
- most recent common ancestor (if you know it), and if you don’t know it, the line of your family they are on, if possible (shared matches can help you determine this)
- surnames they have on their tree that are of interest to you
For those of you who like to get even more detailed and maybe even technical, you might want to include the following:
- shared centimorgans
- size of largest shared DNA segment
- chromosome start and end positions
Don’t let my list limit you – especially if you are using a spreadsheet. You can add any columns and categories of information that is helpful and valuable to you while you do your research.
Plan to figure out how every. single. match. is related to you
This is huge. Seriously. Start at the top of your DNA match list, beginning at the closest “unknown” relative. In other words, pick the person closest to the top of your list that whose relationship to you is unknown. Give this match 100% of your genealogical focus. Part of their family tree is also your family tree, remember, so figuring out who they are can provide so many clues as to who your ancestors were.
It can be so tough to figure out how your match is related to you, but don’t worry – I have some ideas for you to try;
- Check to see if they have uploaded a family tree to your DNA testing site
- Try to find out if they have a family tree on another site (do a Google search for their name + genealogy”)
- How much DNA do you share? This is a good way to figure out or rule out potential relationships.
- Don’t forget to look at their profile, since it might list important information like their full name, where they are from, or what areas their surnames come from (“Smiths” from Providence Rhode Island, for example)
- See if you have matches in common with them, since this can help you rule out lines of your family, etc
- Build a family tree for them. So many people have these little tiny trees with only 5 people in them. You can take these names and make a little family tree in your notebook, and research back until you find your common ancestor. For close relatives, this should be quick and easy.
Don’t forget to make note of anything that you learn in your trusted notebook or your spreadsheet (the one that you are now using to keep track of your matches).
Repeat this process one-by-one with all of your matches, or at least all of the ones that match you at an estimated 4th cousin level or closer. Don’t completely discount your distant matches, however, because sometimes they aren’t as distant as they seem. Do whatever you have time for, however.
Try filtering your matches by largest segment
If you are just not finding anything interesting or useful on your list of closer DNA cousins, you might be interested in seeing what you can learn from your more distant relatives. A good way to search through these DNA matches is by filtering your matches to show you the largest segment at the top of the list.
The larger the DNA largest DNA segment, the closer the most recent ancestor, generally speaking. If you filter your matches this way, you will be able to quickly scroll past your first few matches (the ones that you have already closely examined, close relatives, etc) and get to your more “distant’ cousins who share probably one or two relatively large segments with you. DNA segments get broken up over time fairly quickly, so if you find a match that shares a solid 30-40 cM segment with you, for example, you can feel pretty confident that your common ancestor is not 10 generations back like it might be with an 8 cM segment.
If you find any “interesting” segments, make note of your match and see what else you can learn from them/about them.
Try filtering your DNA matches by newest first
If you are pretty good about keeping records of your matches, but you only check them a few times a month, you might be interested to know that sorting them by newest first is a good way to spot matches that you have not yet seen before. I sometimes just like to filter my matches a different way (like newest first) just to sort of toss things up a bit.
It’s like shaking a bag of trail mix (the kind with the chocolate) in the hopes that some of the sweet stuff will be at the top this time.
Start contacting your matches
As you work through your DNA match list, it’s a good idea to strike up conversations with your DNA matches. You can send them little tidbits of information that you have learned about your ancestors, ask if they would like to share information, or just say hello and introduce yourself. You might be surprised at how nice your relatives are, and how helpful you can be to each other. I’ve formed some very good friendships with my DNA relatives (i.e. family) this way.
Once you do make contact with your matches, don’t forget to keep good notes about the family tree-related information that you learn, since it can get really confusing trying to remember which message contained which information. I also like to make a note of the fact that I have tried to contact a match in my notebook or spreadsheet, especially if you have your DNA on multiple sites. I never want to be annoying with my messages, and definitely don’t want to contact someone twice with the same introductory message.
I hope that this post has given you some really good ideas on how to keep track of your matches and learn the most from them. If you have any questions about something that you have read here, or would like to add your experience to the discussion, I would love to hear from you in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by!