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South King County Genealogy Society Blog

All Those DNA Matches in Ancestry – What to do with them?

Posted: 15 Jun 2020 10:00 AM PDT

Back when SKCGS Special Interest Groups could still meet in person, I attended the DNA/Genetic Genealogy Group meeting in early February. The subject was using Ancestry tools such as Thru-Lines tool to “group” your DNA ancestors, and was led by our Publicity Chair Valorie Zimmerman. This tutorial only works if you have tested your DNA through Ancestry, and have a tree where you are linked to yourself on that tree. It’s best to have a subscription, so you can follow up on suspected common ancestors. The class was very hands-on and we were immediately getting signed in to Ancestry and clicking on our list of “DNA Matches” at the top of the page under the DNA tab. Other people you share DNA with and have tested with Ancestry will appear on your list.

First on the list will be close relations, and you will most likely recognize the names and know them. From there you will get a longer list of DNA third and fourth, and fifth and sixth cousins. Note that this list seems to grow each time you log in and look at it as more people test with Ancestry! I needed a simple approach to avoid getting overwhelmed.

In the class we checked out Thru-Lines under the DNA tab, just below DNA matches.  If you click on that link, you should get a screen that sorts your ancestors into groups like this below.   It is grouping ancestors into parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and on up the line.

Use the DotsI decided not to get side-tracked into Thru-Lines at the moment and concentrated on reviewing the short list of second cousins, and the slightly longer list of second/third cousins under DNA Matches.  Ancestry lets you classify the names into groups, so I started by designating my father’s side (blue dot) and mother’s side (pink dot).  You do this by going to Groups at the top of the page, which gives you a drop down list.  Select Create Custom Group, and you can label a group.  I gave pink the last name of my mother, and blue the last name of my father.

Do the Easy Matches FirstFirst I did the easy list under the label Second Cousins.   To keep it simple, first I looked at each name for easy clues.   I know William and know he is on my father’s side, so by clicking the Add/edit groups label on the right, I could check the box for blue.  You can see in this list of third cousins below, I was able to group most of these names and add the blue/pink dot.  But I did find a First/Second cousin whose name I don’t recognize!   He doesn’t have a tree, so that’s mystery to be solved another time. 

Then on the 4th Cousin list (which could be anywhere from 4th  to 6th Cousins).   Now it’s getting hard.  In fact, my list under 4th Cousins has grown to over 500 names.  I spent an hour or two going down the list looking for people I recognized.  There were only a few names with a Common Ancestor leaf or clue such as “Managed by” so I followed those clues when I had them.   When you click on a name, the blue dot on the left will be removed.  This is just an indication that you looked at the name once. 
Use Common Ancestor Hints
This was getting too tedious so a shortcut is to click on the Common Ancestors tab at the top of the page (with the green leaf) and that will generate a shorter list for you to work on.  Click on a name and that will take you to a portion of the person’s tree, and should list the names of your common ancestors on the left in boxes.  You will also see the tree on the right with a chart with Common Ancestors in green boxes again.  If you click below a name on the left, it will bring up a lineage chart to show the relationship.

Use the Searches Another approach with your list of Common Ancestors is to use Search over toward the right.  If you are focusing on one family name, this will shorten the list for you.  Hit Search, then put in a last name in the Surname in Matches’ Trees field.   In this screen, I put in “Baker” and it brought up the list of people with a Baker in their tree. Again I clicked on the Common Ancestor, and then put that information in the notes field. 

Use ThruLinesAt this point I went back to Thru-Lines to see how it could be used.  I went as far back as I could in my Baker line, to my 5th great grandparents. 

If you hover over their square it will tell you how many DNA matches you have from that person.  Then click on their name and it will take you to a chart of the lineage.  You can view this in either a Relationship view or a List view.   This is the List view below.  Do investigate both views.

The drop down arrow above will give you more information on the match.  There is plenty to investigate! Try out a couple of these approaches to see what works best for you.  I hope you make a few good discoveries.
Send a Message
Even after going through DNA Matches and Thru-Lines, you will have many names for which there is no tree and no Common Ancestor.  Back to that second cousin I didn't recognize, with no tree.  If you click on their name, you can send them a message, which is what I did next.  But still I don't have an answer which is often the case if the person just wanted to know their heritage and isn't so interested in genealogy.  There is always more work to do.

Cheri Sayer