Happy National DNA Day!
I've been fascinated with DNA since the first tests were available to the general public. Back in 2006 I had my mtDNA (Haplogroup H for me) tested by Family Tree DNA. It was my first foray into using DNA for genealogical purposes.
In the years that followed, I had my ex-husband tested with both his mtDNA (Haplogroup A, to our surprise) and Y-DNA (in hopes of finding his surname's origins). Then I added the Family Finder test to widen my results to autosomal DNA in 2013, excited to try it. Finally, I added the Family Finder to my ex-husband's testing just last week.
Of course, I am excited for the results. But there is one thing I have yet to really delve into with my own Family Finder matches.
How do I make connections with my DNA matches?
There are a few ways.
1. Filter your matches
- Match Date - probably not very useful in making connections, but nice to know
- Relationship Range - an estimate about how you are related, i.e. "2nd - 4th cousin"
- Shared centiMorgans - the sum of autosomal DNA, measured in centiMorgans (cM), that you and yoru genetic match share
- Longest Block - the longest segment of autosomal DNA, in centiMorgans (cM), shared by you and your genetic match
- X-Match - displayed only if you and your genetic relative match on the X chromosome
With Family Tree DNA, you can filter the Family Finder/autosomal matches in a variety of ways, including by:
In your matches view, you can also see whether or not you've linked someone to your tree yet and the surnames listed on their profile.
So what does all of this mean? I'm going to simplify the heck out of it.
Relationship Range can be a good way to narrow down how you are connected to a particular match, but don't take it at face value. The one person I have been able to connect with and link to my family tree was listed as a "2nd cousin - 4th cousin." Together we proved we are 3rd cousins, 3 times removed. So keep in mind it's not a precise guess and best used as a loose guideline in figuring out the connection.
Shared centiMorgans and the longest block let you know just how much DNA you share with a person. Because the way DNA is handed down (randomly!) this, again, won't necessarily help you determine a shared ancestor, but it can give you an idea of how closely related you are.
My strongest match in this regard shows that we share 77 cMs and the longest block is 40. She is also an X-Match with me (more on that in a moment). Unfortunately, she has not shared surnames or a family tree, so I need to reach out to her and see if I can make contact to determine a relationship.
X-Match is about whether or not you share an X chromosome handed down by a female ancestor, but this doesn't mean you share an easy-to-figure-out maternal relationship. This post explains how to use the X-Match, but I find so many DNA posts are full of hard-to-understand lingo, that my eyes glaze over. Suffice it to say, understanding how an X-Match figures into your family tree will, like the shared centiMorgans, require some digging your part.
2. Chart your matches
Looking directly on the website can be a little frustrating, so try the option to download your matches into an Excel spreadsheet. It might make it easier to work from the spreadsheet side-by-side with your email or family tree, and to come up with your own system for notating who you've contacted, matches you've made an ancestral connection with, etc. I always like to note the date I emailed a person and any responses.
3. Enhance your charting when you make a connection
There are several templates out there such as this one that allow you to enter DNA information, so you can have a way to see those genetic connections visually.
4. Check every match out, person by person, and start emailing
This is best if you're delving into Y-DNA matches or autosomal/Family Finder matches. I don't recommend it for mtDNA matches. As we all know, mtDNA is "deeper" and any matches probably go back more generations than you can count.
Don't be discouraged if people don't email you back. It's like reaching out to the point-of-contact on many online family trees. Most won't write back. But some will, so it is worth trying, documenting your attempts to make contact and charting those you are able to identify on your family tree.
5. Make sure YOU are easy to find
If you have taken a DNA test, attach your family tree to it. You don't necessarily have to import an entire GEDCOM, but taking the time to enter at least 5 or more generations and basic information on ancestors makes it easier for matches to locate you.
Add several generations of surnames to your profile. Yes, this takes time, but usually the whole point of DNA testing is to see if there is some fantastic mystery relative who shares your genes and might hold some kind of special key to family secrets. So it's worth the time to maximize your profile for discoverability.
Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan