How to Understand Family Tree DNA Matches

Did you do a DNA test with or upload to Family Tree DNA? In this post, learn all aspects of how to understand your Family Tree DNA matches, including:

  • What Shared cM means on your DNA match list
  • How to find your DNA match’s family tree on Family Tree DNA
  • Ideas for determining how your Family Tree DNA match is related to you

The Family Tree DNA match list offers a lot of insight into our ancestry, so you are sure to learn something new about your family tree by learning to understand your DNA matches.

In this post, I will refer to Family Tree DNA with either the full name of the service, or the commonly used acronym, “FTDNA”.

What do all of the columns mean on Family Tree DNA matches

Don’t be overwhelmed by all of the information available on your FTDNA Family Finder match list. There is a lot to learn, and it’s not as difficult as it might first appear.

In this part of the post, I will discuss all of the most important columns on the Family Tree DNA match list.

Match date column on Family Tree DNA

The date that you see in the match date column on your Family Tree DNA match list is the date that the DNA match showed up as a DNA match for you on the site.

If you just received your Family Tree DNA results, all of your DNA matches should have the same date, which is the date you received your FTDNA results.

In other words, none of your matches will show a match date prior to you first receiving your results.

DNA matches that appear after your initial results were released will have more recent dates that correspond with the date that your genetic relative received their results.

I love the match date column on FTDNA because you can sort your DNA match list by date in order to only see your newest DNA matches. This feature is especially helpful if you have already gone through most of your matches and are only interested in checking out new ones once they appear.

To sort your matches by newest to oldest, just click on the words “Match Date” at the top of the column. They will then re-sort to show you the newest matches first.

(Hint: I wrote a whole post about tips and tricks for sorting your Family Tree DNA matches, which you can read for more info ==> Tips and Tricks for Sorting Your Family Tree DNA Matches)

Relationship range on Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA, like all DNA testing companies, uses the amount of DNA that you share with a person in order to estimate your relationship. Family Tree DNA reports an estimated relationship range, which you can see in the “relationship range” column on your match list.

Why doesn’t Family Tree DNA tell you the exact relationship between you and your DNA match? It’s because for just about every type of relationship (i.e. first cousin, aunt, sister), there is always a range of shared DNA that is 100% normal to see.

Furthermore, the ranges that correspond with a particular relationship always overlap with the ranges of shared DNA that are seen for other relationships.

As a result, we should use information in the relationship range column as a general guide to how we might be related to a match. As you will learn further on in this post, there are lots of techniques that we can use to determine our true relationship to our matches.

Shared cM column on Family Tree DNA

The Shared cM column on Family Tree DNA stands for “Shared Centimorgans“, and lets you know the total amount of DNA shared between you and your match. Centimorgans are the units of measurement for measuring shared DNA segments between two individuals.

In the Shared Centimorgan column you will see a number that equals the total of all of the shared DNA segments between you and your DNA match. Each DNA segment is measured in centimorgans, and the total of all of the DNA segments together is reported in this column.

You can share as little as one DNA segment with someone, or as many as a few dozen.

The total number of shared centimorgans can help you determine how you might be related to your match.

(Hint: Read more about using centimorgans to determine your connection to a match in this post, “A Beginner’s Guide to Shared Centimorgans

Longest block on Family Tree DNA

The Longest Block on your Family Tree DNA match list shows you the size of the longest DNA segment shared between you and your DNA match. The size of the longest DNA segment is important because longer DNA segments indicate a more recent common ancestor.

The longest segment is included in the Shared cM column total.

What does X-match mean on Family Tree DNA?

Some of our DNA matches will share X-DNA with us, and some won’t. X-DNA is passed down in unique patterns. For example, males inherit X-DNA only from their mother, while females inherit X-DNA from their mother and father.

Understanding X-DNA can help us figure out how a match might be related.

If you want to learn more about X-DNA, check out this post:

How to find your DNA match’s family tree on Family Tree DNA

Some of your DNA matches may have built a family tree on the site. If they have, the little relationship hierarchy icon under their name will be blue.

If you click on the icon, you will be taken to a page where you can view their family tree.

In the image below, you can see the icon where you should click to access a match’s family tree, if it is available:

A blue family tree icon means that a DNA match has a family tree attached to their FTDNA profile.  In this image, the red arrow points to a blue icon below the DNA match's name
The red arrow points to a blue icon, which indicates my DNA match has a family tree attached to their profile

How to figure out how your Family Tree DNA match is related to you

Now that you understand more about about how to use the information on your DNA match list, you are probably ready to start researching your DNA matches to determine how they might be connected to you.

DNA matches are truly the gems of our DNA results and can help us learn more about our family members – both those who are living and those who came before us.

Top five ways to find out how your DNA match is related

  1. Find out if your DNA match has a family tree on their profile
  2. Determine relationship possibilities using shared DNA information
  3. Contact your DNA match
  4. Check your “matches in common”, or shared matches, for clues
  5. Check Ancestry or Google for a family tree matching your DNA match

If you haven’t yet started building a family tree, definitely check out my book which is a guide to family tree building basics.

For a more complete list, as well as detailed explanations about each suggestion, I put together the following post for you:


I hope that this post has helped you understand your Family Tree DNA match list and that you feel confident enough to use the information that you find to learn more about your family tree.

If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or if you just have a question about your FTDNA matches, please join us in the discussion below.

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