Have you found a lot of DNA matches?
I’ve done Ancestry and 23&Me DNA tests and both companies have found 10s of thousands of DNA matches for me. But who are they? And what do they tell me about my family history?
I got lucky and matched a few close family members, 2 aunts and 3 first cousins showed up with usernames that were easy to figure out if you knew them already. But what about the other 49,995 matches?
If you don’t have the DNA matches you were hoping for, here are some tips:
#1 – BUILD A TREE!!!
Yes, I’m shouting there. I took 23&Me first and was so thrilled to see a couple first cousins there I just wanted to find more family, but how? 23&Me does not have good tools for sorting out your matches. Instead, they give you a place to list the surnames in your family tree, or link to another online tree you may have built.
The problem is, maybe one out of 100 people do even that much.
So I took the Ancestry test too, hoping that they would have 99 out of 100 building trees. They do have more, but not as many as I expected, not even close.
Maybe half have tree of some kind. But many of those trees are small (1-3 people) and even those are not LINKED.
#2 – Link your tree…
Unlinked trees can be helpful if they are big enough. You start to get a lot of matches at about the 4th cousin level. A tree that can link you to a 4th cousin has to go back 5 generations – that’s 16 3rd great-gandparents.
If you know that much already, and your cousin knows that much, then you have a decent chance to figure out which branch of your family tree you match on.
That’s a lot to ask though, 5 generations is not that easy to find. But DNA results can help bridge the gap between small trees and big trees. The key is to link your test results to your tree. Once you do that, Ancestry’s AI takes over and starts comparing your tree to all the other trees from your matches and it can quickly (in 24-48 hours) point you in the right direction to making those connections.
As cool as DNA testing is, it is not a substitute for building your family tree, at least not yet… As databases get bigger and AI gets more sophisticated the day may come when a test can identify your ancestors for you. But for now, we still need to do most of the work by hand.