DNA match lists are not for the faint-hearted
researcher. They are overwhelming. If your research question is
important enough to you, whether you are adopted or missing a branch of your
family pedigree chart, the end results of the analysis of those match lists are worth the many hours of work. Sometimes it comes quickly, suddenly you
see a very close match that leads to the missing ancestor, but more often it
takes a great deal of time and effort.
The list below makes the path look simple and easy, but the first step to
working with autosomal DNA (AtDNA) matches is learning the language and how to
use available tools. Watch webinars, take classes, attend lectures at
genealogy conferences, read books by experts, and follow blogs. This is a
new field, but there are already some genealogists who have become experts at
the methods and teaching the rest of us: Blaine Bettinger, Diahan Southard, and many others.
Read through the website of ISOGG.
Although absolutely not a genetic genealogy expert, through the kind guidance of mentors I have learned to start by creating a robust and well-sourced family tree for known branches including collateral lines if possible to help pinpoint how unknown matches relate to me.
Strategies differ for individuals depending on the research question. Develop a
testing plan if possible. Many testers start with AncestryDNA which has the largest database of testers. It is possible to transfer the results to other sites that expand the match pool and increase the chances of finding close relatives.
test, then download RAW results
file, then upload to FTDna and My
Upload to GEDmatch if
comfortable, always read who sees results and privatize if you have concerns.
Test family members. Especially helpful are 2nd cousins and half-siblings to know which DNA comes from various branches as you compare results. Get written consent that clearly states unexpected results may come to light and instructions on handling those concerns if
necessary. Since testing can be expensive, I find many genealogists pay for their relatives' testing and then manage the match lists and analysis. Always include those generous relatives in the analysis of results if they are interested.
Look at match lists. Begin the process of clustering or grouping matches and use-
tool for matches at any of the companies
Affairs cluster tool, or My Heritage cluster
Find the cluster that
cannot be linked to known relationships (members of the cluster match each
other, but do not match any of my known cousins).
Research each member of
that cluster by looking at their posted tree or building one for them using-
clues in their
a public records
search company such as BeenVerified.com
“US Public records
Index” on Ancestry.com if you have access
Newspapers.com for articles or obituaries
Find overlap in the
created trees to find a common ancestral couple or the most recent common
Build a robust and well-sourced family tree for the MRCA couple with every generation as complete as
possible including spouse information.
Analyze the members of
each branch to see if they were in the right location/time
Use census, directories,
and other sources to track all the members of each line
Rule out any candidates
for an ancestor who were too young, had died before the time frame of study or
were in a remote location.
Study that MRCA tree and
get to know locations, surnames, and dates.
Place any matches from
that unknown cluster into the created MRCA tree.
Use What Are The Odds and Shared
cM Project tools to form a hypothesis of how I fit into that MRCA
tree. I share matches
with members of that cluster and therefore DNA with them, how am I related? Usually, the higher number of shared cMs, the closer the
relationship so concentrate on the branches of the MRCA tree that I have
matched with the highest number of shared cMs.
Check the ethnicity of the matches to rule
in/out possible candidates.
Step back and look at other clusters of
unknown matches and try to see if any of them overlap with a spouse from your
MRCA tree. Looking at the ancestry of the spouses will narrow the list or
find the candidate you seek
Tools used in DNA analysis for genetic genealogy change over time and the best practices for using DNA results to break down brick walls in a family tree are evolving within the genealogy community, so it is best to continue learning what methods are recommended by the genetic genealogy experts. The power of knowing we carry evidence of our past in every cell within us is awe-inspiring.
Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., website: https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/13-2/
Diahan Southard website: https://www.yourdnaguide.com/about
International Society of Genetic Genealogy website: https://isogg.org/.
(https://support.ancestry.com/s/ancestrydna : accessed 13 July 2022).
“Downloading DNA Data,” Ancestry (https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/Downloading-DNA-Data
: accessed 13 July 2022).
website uploads: https://www.familytreedna.com/autosomal-transfer
MyHeritage website uploads: https://www.myheritage.com/dna/upload