13 October 2020

3 Steps to Solving DNA Matches

When I figure out my exact connection to a DNA match, I add a note to them on Ancestry. These notes are visible as I scroll down my list of matches. I used some color-coding dots, too. A green dot means I figured them out.

I have to scroll down far into the 4th–6th cousin range to find an unsolved DNA match with a tree.

Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.
Mark up your DNA match list with colors and notes for greater efficiency.

There are 3 basic steps to figuring out these matches. This is going to make it sound super-easy. Once in a while, it is.

1. Search their family tree for familiar names.

I'm so familiar with my ancestral hometowns, I can look at a last name and tell you which of my towns it's from. If a DNA match has a tree showing no Italian last names, there's no obvious way for me to connect.

That's the situation with one match with a very small tree. I think his unnamed grandmother is his Italian ancestor, but I don't know who she is. I researched his Irish-American grandfather. But I couldn't find him marrying an Italian-American woman.

Let's assume, though, that you do see a last name or two you recognize.

2. Find a birth or marriage record for their ancestor.

If you can't find anything that connects your DNA match's people to your people, save them for later. Leave yourself a note that you tried and failed to find the connection.

When I couldn't find an Italian connection to the DNA match I mentioned above, I looked at our shared DNA matches. This is a very helpful feature on Ancestry DNA.

A quick look at our shared matches tells me my relationship to this guy with an Irish name is on my mother's side. I took a look at one shared match and realized her original last name is from one of my towns. That ties these matches to my 2nd great grandmother Vittoria. She alone came from a different town than the rest of my family.

3. Use your research and their tree to get a match into your tree.

The shared match whose name I recognize has a tree that includes her grandfather. But he was born later than the available vital records.

Once again, I turned to shared DNA matches. There I found a woman whose full name I recognize. I wrote to her years ago, and she told me the proper spelling of the last name. I'd only seen it once at that point, and it had been hard to read.

It was high time I worked this woman, who'd been helpful to me in the past, into my family tree. Her 7-person family tree includes her 2 sets of grandparents.

If you've read this blog before, you remember me. I'm the nut who downloads all the vital records from my ancestral towns and spends an eternity renaming the files. When the file names include the person's name, all the records are searchable on my computer. I searched for and found this match's paternal grandmother's birth record. In the margin is the date she married my DNA match's paternal grandfather. There's no doubt I have the right person.

I need to trace both grandparents back further, using the vital records I've renamed. I'll keep going until I find some sort of connection to myself.

To quote Bugs Bunny, "Well whaddya know? The stuff woiks." I found the connection quickly. This DNA match is my 3rd cousin 3 times removed (3C3R). Her 2nd great grandfather is my 5th great grandfather.

All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.
All I ask of my DNA matches is a little bit of a family tree I can investigate.

Once you can work a DNA match into your tree, you'll see their exact relationship to you. Be sure to add a note to this person in your match list, stating the relationship. I like to use abbreviations like 5C2R for 5th cousin twice removed, or 3C1R for 3rd cousin once removed. I saw a genealogist on Twitter using that abbreviation and loved it. It's short and unmistakable.

I'll continue picking off as many of the shared DNA matches as I can. If I keep figuring out our shared DNA matches, I may find my connection to the match with the Irish name. The connection may be in one of their trees.

Figuring out a DNA match is like a fishing expedition. Wait, no. I went along with a fisherman once, and it was an endless amount of waiting around. This is more of a hunting and tracking expedition without the weapons.

I track my DNA match's ancestors, following their path until I've got them in my sights. Then they become family. Yeah; that's my kind of hunting expedition. What genealogy fan doesn't enjoy that?

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1 comment:

  1. Great article and example of using your DNA matches and building their trees to eventually attach the branches back into your bigger tree. You have already done the hard genealogy, now just work with your DNA matches for hints.

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