Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Working With DNA Matches

DNA is a fantastic tool that has really exploded in popularity lately. For those just delving into DNA testing, you might wonder what to do next when you receive your results. Here's what I do and a couple of caveats.

The first is to remember that DNA results may open a can of worms! I think Judy Russell has written some marvelous posts on this (but doesn't she always write marvelous posts?), and they are well worth reading.

I am still working on my 245 centimorgan mystery match and, alas, not getting anywhere. I hope one of these days, she will resume responding to me but, for now, I'm letting sleeping dogs lie. DNA can turn up unexpected relationships that not everyone is ready to deal with at the time. As eager as we are to solve mysteries, some folks may need time to process what they learn.

The other caveat is your mileage may vary. DNA won't give you all the answers, but it's a fantastic tool to add to existing traditional research methods. It cannot take the place of those methods as Blaine Bettinger emphasizes time and again.

So, without further ado, here are some tips on working through your matches.

1.  Start a spreadsheet.

It can be Excel or a similar program or a Google Sheet - whatever you prefer and are comfortable using. But start a spreadsheet to maintain your matches' information.

Also, set a limit on how many centimorgans you're going to stop at on the spreadsheet. I stop at 30 centimorgans. This isn't to say that matches at 29 or less aren't worth pursuing, but rather that your will spend days, maybe even weeks, transcribing your matches into the spreadsheet! For matches with smaller centimorgans that I'm actively working with, I keep separate notes relevant to the specific ancestor(s) being discussed or researched.

Family Tree DNA allows you to download all matches into a spreadsheet, so that makes an excellent starting point. After that, you can add tabs for other services you've used or uploaded to.

Here is what mine looks like (with personal information redacted, of course):

The tabs for MyHeritage and GEDMatch are fairly similar, as far as details, so I didn't share every single tab. You certainly get the idea as far as how I organize information and then use color coding.

2. Begin with who you know.

If 2nd cousin Mary and Uncle Fred tested, and they are matches on whatever testing company you've used, make note of the relationship. Your known relatives are going to make triangulation so much easier.

3.  Work through Shared Ancestor Hints.

If you used Ancestry to test, consider the Shared Ancestor Hints (the green leaf that shakes at you) the low-hanging fruit. The same goes for MyHeritage DNA, which shows a shared ancestor on the Review page of a match, if you both have a family tree available with the common ancestor in it.

I like to mark my known relatives, the one easiest to pinpoint, and the Shared Ancestor Hints with the yellow star on Ancestry. If the tree is private, I send a nice message explaining that we have a shared ancestor, but I can't see it because their tree is private (which I certainly respect). I ask if they would mind letting me know the ancestor(s) and the calculated relationship, as I am focused on a very specific ancestor and anyone who might be connected to that particular person.

Like any online communication, it's about 50-50. Some people answer, some don't. Those who respond are generally nice. I've only had one response I would consider snarky.

4. Document proven lines with a visual chart.

This is really useful in helping illustrate questionable lineages. I simply create a 6-generation fan chart in Legacy and then add a red asterisk to each person proven by DNA matches. What I mean by proven is that I've found at least 3 or more people who descend from the same ancestor, who share DNA with me.

I'm a visual person, so this allows me to see where the "gaps" are as far as DNA. Of course, this doesn't mean I'm not descended from the people not yet proven by DNA. It may mean other descendants haven't tested yet. Or it may mean I need to rethink what I know about my family. ;)

Here's my chart as it currently stands with living people redacted:

As you can see, every ancestor is marked proven, except for a handful of immigrant ancestors and my Benson ancestor.

5. Reach out.

After all that typing, reviewing Shared Ancestor Hints, and organizing your spreadsheet, I bet you're tired, right? Sorry, no sleep for you! Now it's time to reach out to the closest matches - the ones in that 90+ centimorgan range - and find out how you're related.

Trust me when I say you're going to find it far easier to determine how you're related to these folks than to the ones who share fewer centimorgans than you. Working through close matches and getting to know your 2nd and 3rd cousins will do a few things.

Besides expanding your knowledge of your close DNA matches a.k.a newfound cousins, it will give you people with whom you can triangulate when working on more distant matches. Having several known connections on both your maternal and paternal sides will make the job of reaching whatever goal you set when choosing to test your DNA just a little bit easier.

Plus, who knows? You might find that these cousins are as passionate about genealogy as you are, live nearby, or share some awesome traits with you!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

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