Do you need to figure out how you are related to a DNA match? In this post, you’ll find a checklist with the best ways to find the information that you need to figure out how you might be related.
It can be confusing when you have a genetic relative on your DNA match list, but you can’t work out your connection. Maybe they have no familiar surnames in their family tree, or no family tree on their profile at all?
Fortunately, even when it seems like you have tried everything there is still more to try. I’ve put together this list to help people who have been in my situation (i.e. frustrated about how a match is related).
We’ll start with the easiest and the most obvious, and we’ll move down. My sincere hope is that you find something here that helps you move a little closer to getting that information you need to determine how your family member is related to you.
You might notice that the first few suggestions focus on finding a family tree. There are many, many ways to find family tree information about a DNA match, and I believe this is the first place to start.
This is because if we can find a tree, it makes everything else so much easier.
Don’t forget to refer back to this list as you learn more about your DNA match, since some of the ideas will work even better once you know a little bit more about them.
Okay, now that we got that important, yet awkward housekeeping detail out of the way, let’s start with our checklist.
Check for a family tree on their profile
Do they have a family tree posted on the site where they show up as a DNA match? For example, if your match is on 23andMe, the first place to check for a link to a tree is on their match profile page.
I love to start researching a DNA match starting with family trees. It’s low hanging fruit, and it’s mighty tasty if you do end up finding a tree, even if it is just a puny tree with just a few names.
A family tree containing only just a few people is plenty of information for me to use to learn even more about the ancestry of my DNA match. You’ll find out more about why even a small tree is helpful further down in this post.
I’m assuming that most of you have already checked the site to look for a family tree and you didn’t find one, which is why you are here. If that’s you, don’t give up.
There are more ways to find a tree than you may have tried, so keep reading.
Search for a family tree on another site
Does your match have a family tree posted on another DNA testing site? Many of us who have done DNA testing have tested on multiple sites, or have uploaded our DNA files to other places.
Some people will create a tree on the first place where they tested, or on their favorite site.
If my DNA match doesn’t have a family tree on the site that I tested with, I want to make sure that I check all of the other sites that I use to find DNA matches. For example, I did my DNA test with Ancestry DNA, but I have uploaded my DNA to several other places to get more matches and learn more about my ancestry.
I might find a DNA match on Gedmatch that doesn’t have any tree attached, but I might be able to find them on Ancestry DNA or My Heritage and they might have a tree on those sites.
Search for an Ancestry.com family tree for your match
Check Ancestry to see if they have a family tree posted, even if it is not connected to their DNA results. Ancestry is the most popular website people use to build a family tree, so it stands to reason that even if your DNA match doesn’t have a family tree on their profile, they may have begun a small family tree on Ancestry.
It is also possible to have a family tree on Ancestry and not have it connected to DNA results when the member does a DNA test. On your Ancestry DNA results, you might see that your DNA match has an “un-linked” family tree.
This means that they have a family tree on their account, but they have not linked it to their DNA results.
Sometimes, people think that their Ancestry DNA match doesn’t have a family tree posted because they don’t have it connected to their DNA results. For those of you who tested with Ancestry DNA: Make sure that you click on your DNA match from your match list.
There is an option to view an un-linked family tree, and you should definitely check it out. There is no guarantee that the family tree belongs to the person who took the test (they might be building it for a friend, for example), it’s worth a look.
Even if you didn’t do an Ancestry DNA test, you still might be able to find public member trees on Ancestry built by people who did DNA tests elsewhere. You have to create an Ancestry account, but then you can do a member search using names and other information, and you might get lucky and find a tree for your relative.
Search Google for a family tree for your match
Does your match have a family tree posted somewhere else on the internet? You might be able to find a family tree built by your DNA match or one of their close relatives by doing a simple Google search.
Even if you can’t find a family tree for your DNA match posted on any of the DNA testing sites, don’t despair! There is still a solid chance that you can find a family tree that your relative has posted on some other site.
The easy way to find a family tree like this is to do a Google search using your DNA match’s name and the keyword “genealogy” or “family tree”.
For example, if you wanted to research President George W. Bush’s ancestry, you would search for this: George W. Bush genealogy
Give it a shot, you never know what you’ll find! I have found DNA matches with actual blogs about their family history search, complete with photographs and pedigree charts.
Other times, I will find that they have posted a family tree on a lesser-known family tree site, just waiting for me to go view it.
Examine your shared matches
Who are the DNA matches that you share in common with your relative? This is a great research strategy, especially when you are not 100% sure which side of the family your match is on.
Shared matches, or matches in common, can tell you a great deal about how you might be related to a DNA match. They can tell you which side of the family that your match is on, which can save you a lot of time and guesswork.
In some circumstances, a shared DNA match can tell you without much doubt which side of the family (paternal or maternal) your DNA match is on. This works best if you have close relatives who have also done DNA testing, especially siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
(As an aside, if you have tested with Ancestry DNA, your DNA match may already be assigned to Parent 1 or 2, so be sure to check for that information)
Since you share all of your ancestors on one side of your family with these individuals (excepting half-siblings), if you have a first or second cousin DNA match that does or doesn’t match any of these close family members, it can be a major clue as to how you are, or aren’t related to them.
This “trick” doesn’t work as well with more distant cousins, or when you are considering matches shared in common with relatives with whom you are not very closely related. Take second cousins, for example.
Full second cousins share two great-grandparents, but we have eight great-grandparents. This means that your second cousin only shares 1/4 of their ancestors, give or take, with you, and that there is a possibility that shared matches might be related to both you and your second cousin through ancestors that are NOT related to those great-grandparents.
Even if the information isn’t guaranteed, shared matches often give us something to work with, which is especially helpful if we literally know nothing about our DNA match. If you have a general idea as to which line of your family your match is on, and you have located a tiny family tree, you might be able to know which direction in their lines to search for your connection.
How much DNA do you share?
How much DNA do you share with your DNA match? This information can help you estimate your relationship and learn how far back in your family trees you will need to look to find a connection.
In the case of a relatively close DNA match, it can also help you understand that you are looking for a recent ancestor and not someone far back in both of your trees.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to locate a small family tree (but don’t worry if you haven’t – I still have more ideas for you – read below), and you know which DNA matches you share in common, so you have a vague idea of which line of your family they are on.
Now, you need to make sure that you know how much DNA that you share with your match, and what your estimated relationship might be. Read my post “Beginner’s Guide to Shared Centimorgans” to learn more about shared DNA, centimorgans, and using this information to determine your relationship with a DNA match.
Google their username
No tree anywhere? Try Googling their username, since people often use the same username across websites.
We humans are creatures of habit, which is good for those of us who are trying to find family tree information for our DNA matches. You might have good luck just doing a Google search for your DNA match’s username.
Maybe they’ve posted a family tree somewhere online only using their username, which might be the same one that they use with their DNA test. Alternatively, maybe they have posted in a genealogy forum somewhere asking questions about an ancestor.
This can often lead to a link to a family tree.
For those of us who are using Gedmatch, and have matches on that site that we want to research, we might be able to find genealogy related information about our DNA matches by Googling the e-mail address associated with their account.
If they have a tiny tree with only parents and grandparents listed, find the obituaries for those recent ancestors. It is generally very easy to find obituaries online, even for free.
Many people only have tiny family trees posted on their profiles. This doesn’t faze me, however, because I know that there is a good chance that I will be able to find an obituary for their grandparents and/or grandparents.
If I am able to find one, it often lists an incredible wealth of information about the person who passed away. I might be able to find the names of the great-grandparents of my DNA match this way, and if I can, there is a lot of information I can learn from those names.
This same tip will help you if you were able to learn information about your match’s grandparents through your contact with them, or through a Google search of your DNA match.
Build a “quick and dirty” tree for your DNA match
Once I have a general idea of how far back my connection might be to my match, and I know the names of their great-grandparents, I might build a “quick and dirty” family tree for them. A quick and dirty tree is just a bare-bones tree that isn’t necessarily well-researched or complete.
You can do this on Ancestry or another site, or you can just do it on a piece of paper for your reference only. I’ll often research a few generations back from the great-grandparents, or at least as far as I think I might have to go to find our connection.
I know that this might seem like a lot of work, but it might reveal something interesting about your own ancestry. Plus, it’s good practice, and once you do it a few times, you’ll find that it really doesn’t take much time.
Contact your DNA match
Have you contacted your DNA match?
Sometimes, reaching out to your DNA match is a great way to figure out how you are connected. I prefer to do research before I contact my DNA matches, though, which is why I included this towards the end of the checklist.
The reason for this is because I always prefer to include some basic details about how I think we might be connected (i.e. I think you might be related to my Great-grandfather Thomas Browning) instead of “Hi, I saw you on my match list, do you want to figure out how we are related?”.
Your match might not know much about their family, but they might be able to provide you with some important detail, like a surname of a parent or grandparent, that can give you a clue as to you where your connection might be.
Alternatively, your DNA match might have a complete family tree in a PDF form that they are willing to e-mail to you – this has actually happened to me!
Basically, you never know what your communication with your DNA match will bring until you reach out and make that initial communication.
Try painting your DNA matches
If you are very interested in your family tree and using DNA matches to learn about your ancestors, then you might love DNA Painter. It takes a while to create a profile with enough DNA matches painted to help further your research, but it’s well-worth the effort.
Once you have a portion of your known DNA matches painted, then you can then “paint” in the unknown DNA match and see if it matches segments shared with known matches. It’s an intermediate technique, but it is fun and can help you learn how you are related to your match.
An important note about the privacy of your DNA matches
I am a huge advocate for personal privacy, but I also know how frustrating it is when you can’t figure out where your DNA match belongs on your family tree. I’ll give you some creative ideas for finding information about your DNA match in this post, but I hope that you will use discretion in deciding how to use the information that you might learn in this particular endeavor, and in the other projects that you might undertake in your DNA/genealogy journey.
I don’t condone stalking, online bullying, or any other behavior that violates the privacy and security of individuals. Information that we learn through family tree research should generally be kept private, for our use only, especially when it pertains to individuals.
This is one reason that I make sure to not post private information about living individuals on public family trees.
A rule of thumb? Don’t do it if it feels wrong, or if you would feel embarrassed if your grandmother knew what you are up to.
I hope that you have found this checklist helpful! If you have any other suggestions that people can use to learn how their matches are related, please post them in the comments below so that way other people can learn from your success.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, I would love to hear from you in the discussion.
Thanks for stopping by!