Dear Cousin – We Have a DNA Match, Now What?

Making the first contact with a DNA match has us running the gamut of emotions from excitement at finding the match to the disappointment of there being no tree. From the joy of hearing back to the exasperation of never receiving a reply. From the frustrations of the trying to explain your need to use a chromosome browser to evaluate the match to the delight of making contact with cousins who are ready to work with you.

Running the gamut of emotions…

I have tried different approaches in writing messages to DNA matches on Ancestry.  Keeping them short, giving more or less information, asking right out to upload to GEDmatch, sending my email in the subject line, including links to articles on my blog about shared ancestors, etc. The number of persons who reply is very low. The list of reasons for this is too long to go into.

So I’ve decided to use my blog to write to my cousins. I will continue to write short messages and include a link to this post. The instructions are up to date – I tried them out while writing. If anything changes, I can fix them and won’t have to copy/paste and re-write instructions I have been sending in messages or emails.

Dear Cousin,

We have a DNA match, now what? Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and getting back to me. AncestryDNA does not offer a chromosome browser. I find the best solution to be GEDmatch.

GEDmatch provides DNA and genealogical analysis tools for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists. Most tools are free, but we do provide some premium tools for users who wish to help support us with contributions. You will need to upload DNA and / or genealogical (GEDCOM) data to make use of the tools here. Registration requires your name, email and a password of your choice.

Did you notice in the quote that MOST TOOLS ARE FREE? Yes, there are some premium tools which require payment but the chromosome browsers we are lacking on AncestryDNA are on GEDmatch and FREE.

Would you please consider transferring your raw DNA to GEDmatch? Here are the latest instructions: [If you already have your GEDmatch kit number,  scroll down to Thank you to continue reading.]

Register with GEDmatch

To use GEDmatch you need to register for the site. The link is https://www.gedmatch.com/login1.php

GEDmatch screenshot

Fill out the form per instructions and click on Register.

Download raw DNA file

The next step would be to download your raw DNA from Ancestry. If you haven’t done this before:

On your AncestryDNA page in the upper right hand corner click on Settings. On the right is a Download RAW DNA Data button.

AncestryDNA screenshot

You will be prompted to enter your Ancestry password and check the box showing you understand Ancestry is not responsible for the file they are sending you. Click Confirm.

AncestryDNA screenshot

As soon as you click Confirm a window will open advising you that they are sending an email to proceed with the download. It may take up to 5 minutes for the email to come in.

AncestryDNA screenshot

The email has a Confirm Data Download button. Be sure to make a note of where you save the file on your computer. The request expires after 7 days or after the first use.

Upload raw DNA file

Login to GEDmatch. Click on Generic Upload FAST on the right side under File Uploads. Fill out the form and upload the file without unzipping it.

Screenshot courtesy of GEDmatch

(If you are a Mac user the file may have been unzipped during download. As a Mac user, you are likely aware of this and know the procedure to get it zipped. The zipped file may be in the Trash.)

Meanwhile…

It doesn’t take long to upload the file but the processing on site may take a day or two. This means you will NOT be able to use all features right away. A one-to-one compare will work before processing is finished. To try this one out, compare your kit to one I manage:  A131214. Please email your number to me as I won’t see you’ve been added until it’s completely processed. If our match is lower than my top 2000 matches it will not show on my list but I can still do comparisons with your number.

What else can you do?

While you are waiting for your kit to tokenize (GEDmatch lingo) consider exporting a GEDCOM from your genealogy software and uploading it to GEDmatch. Using genealogy software allows you to export as many or as few individuals in your tree as you need.

Screenshot courtesy of GEDmatch

If you have a tree on Ancestry you can export your family tree data, as a GEDCOM file, to your computer via Trees > Create & Manage Trees > Manage Tree > right side > Export Tree.

When you click on either of the versions to upload a GEDCOM file to GEDmatch you will find some suggestions pertaining to the file. The most important thing to remember is that the GEDCOM will be public and viewable to all persons who have access to the GEDmatch site. For this reason, it is recommended that you privatize living individuals prior to uploading.

You’ve uploaded the raw DNA and your GEDCOM file (optional, but so very valuable to your matches) to GEDmatch. On the homepage, there are some things which will be useful to you.

User Lookup : This lets you check by kit number, GEDCOM number, or email address to get more information on a person using GEDmatch.

GEDCOM + DNA Matches : This will generate a list of all persons who match you (or whoever’s kit # you search) and who have a GEDCOM file attached to their kit. This is practical as you won’t have to use the User Lookup to check each kit to see if they have a GEDCOM file. Closest DNA matches are at the top of the list.

One-to-many matches : as soon as your kit is processed you will be able to check all matches to your kit. It will generate a list limited to the first 2000 matches with the closest matches at the top. When you do this the table will have some boxes in the first column (kit #) highlighted in different shades of green. The darkest are new matches. As time goes by the color gets lighter and finally turns white. In the column GED/WikiTree you will find links to a match’s GEDCOM file or WikiTree. The Select column allows you to choose 3 or more kits for further comparison. Click on the Submit button at the top in the text area for additional display and processing options.

People who match one or both of 2 kits : When you check your kit and another kit with this tool it will give a list of all matches shared by both at the top, followed by a list of all kits who match the first and not the second, followed by a list of all kits who match the second and not the first. I check all the boxes (of the people who share), submit, and then use 2-D Chromosome Browser to view the matching segments on the chromosomes. This helps to narrow down the matches both kits have to others on the same chromosome segment. As chromosomes are two-sided further analysis is needed to determine if the matches are paternal or maternal.

This is not a complete list of what you can do on GEDmatch but the most useful in the beginning. DNA is a complicated subject when you are new to it. Take it slowly and one day, after you have read something for the 3rd, 5th, 10th time it will sink in and seem EASY.

Thank you!

Thank you, cousin, for taking the time to read this. If you already have your AncestryDNA on GEDmatch please send me your kit number. Usernames on Ancestry do not always match up with the name or alias used on GEDmatch.

If you decide to upload your raw DNA to GEDmatch, I will do a one-to-one compare between our two kits as soon as I know your kit number. Then I’ll add the chromosome information to Genome Mate Pro (GMP), the program I use to keep track of all matches and to map chromosomes. I can then assign the segment(s) we share to the Most Recent Common Ancestor(s) (MRCA) and Voilà!

 

Cropped view of the Segment Map generated by Genome Mate Pro

I will have our shared segment(s) in living color on my chromosome map and can use them to assist with other matches on the same segment. In turn, if we don’t know who our MRCA is, the other matches on the same segment will aid in the analysis.

There are also other possibilities: FTDNA and MyHeritage will accept uploads of raw DNA from AncestryDNA and they both have chromosome browsers. It would be very much appreciated if you choose to upload your raw DNA to any of these sites. But if you don’t feel comfortable doing this I will understand and we can continue working together, using the tools available on AncestryDNA (Shared Matches, Circles, Map and Locations, Pedigree and Surnames).

If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with me and I will do my best to help. While we are on the subject, the following articles may be worthwhile to you for managing your DNA results on AncestryDNA:
6 AncestryDNA Notes for Easier Comparison and
How I Use and Manage AncestryDNA Notes.

© 2018, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

33 thoughts on “Dear Cousin – We Have a DNA Match, Now What?”

  1. Cathy, We’ve done as you’ve described with my brother-in-law’s DNA results, except we did it through Familytree DNA. Cheryl just got her AncestryDNA results, so I’m going to get her raw data and push it to GEDmatch. I’ve done the AncestryDNA test as well and I am waiting for my results. WIll probably do the same with mine. It’s a great way to get the most of out of the results. Great post!
    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Brian.
      I also have the AncestryDNA uploaded to FTDNA and MyHeritage. This is really helpful as I can also compare with people who are on those sites and not GEDmatch. But still I find GEDmatch easier to use. Also if we don’t show up as a match, for example, I can use your number and mine to check for shared matches which is helpful. The main thing is to be able to get the chromosome data for comparison.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great idea, and wonderful instructions. May I use a link to this page when I try and contact matches also?!? I have pretty much given up on DNA as a research tool since (1) I have thousands of matches (2) I’ve not yet found one for whom we can identify a shared ancestor (3) most people don’t respond (4) those who do can’t get far enough back in their trees for us to find a match for the same reasons I can’t—lack of Jewish surnames before 1800 and absence of records, and (5) most people find GEDmatch too confusing. Maybe your post can at least help with #5.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amy. Feel free to share it. I’ll keep it up to date since I want to share it with my cousins.
      Those are all good points. I also have thousands of matches but have been able to identity most of the highest. I have very few on the maternal side which probably is what is making it easier to identify the ones I have. Does that make sense?
      There are so many reasons people do not respond. So many I using their phone apps and don’t even see the message notifications or get email. I find GEDmatch a lot easier to use now that I have spent more time on the site and am downloading the chromosome data to import into GMP.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also find GEDmatch much more user friendly that either 23andme or AncestryDNA and comparable to FamilyTreeDNA (I have my results at all four places). Sadly, it hasn’t helped me one iota with my research.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I have the results in four places as well. MyHeritage instead of 23andme. I have difficulties with FTDNA but at least they have the chromosome browser. I had a look at yours and I see now what you mean. Top 2000 and none under 53 cMs. I have about 20 over 53!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, you can see why I am overwhelmed. I don’t even bother looking unless we share well over 100 cM, preferably close to 200, and have a largest segment of at least 20 cM. And that doesn’t even narrow it down to a manageable list.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Cathy,

    I have uploaded my Raw Data to GEDmatch. How can I get you my number so you can compare our DNA?

    Eileen Caren Rupp Harhut

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great article Cathy! DNA results/contacts can be frustrating but just another “tool” to add to genealogy. I just tried the latest DNA thing I’ve heard about. I’m a member of a Cork County DNA Facebook group. These DNA Facebook groups are only for people that have taken the DNA test or a family member’s test. Several Facebook DNA groups including Cork are using a spreadsheet type tool to let you take your Gedmatches and compare them to the kit#’s entered in the DNA Facebook group’s spreadsheet. You do this on your own computer. They give directions in the Facebook group. Then you get a handful of matches for just people who know they have Prussian, or Irish, or Cork County, or maybe Luxembourg ancestry. Then you contact thru private Facebook group post of your results/matches or “tag” them on same Facebook group, and wait for reply. I’m using mine in Cork County Ireland DNA group to help find kin of my one Irish ancestor. So far 2 good hits with people who are interested to contact you back and have trees. Both have given me permission to look at their private Ancestry trees and were able to tell me “you match my cousin Robert’s kit” He is in this line of my tree. Then I’ve had a good look at Robert’s line and can see his people go back to Cork City, in County Cork about the same time as my ancestor. Still looking for the Common Ancestor but this is the closest my family has been to proof in 2 generations of genealogy searching. I’ve only just tried this new tool last week. Hoping with more basic research and more members joining the Facebook private group for DNA I will be able to re-run the results spreadsheet comparison again in a month or so and look for more matches. I love things about Gedmatch and Ancestry both but maybe this will add another layer to get closer to people who are interested in contacting us back and finding a common ancestor.

    Like

  5. P.S. to be clear, you don’t download your raw DNA to the Facebook group. They give you a spreadsheet type tool to copy onto your own computer, you copy your Gedmatch results onto to spreadsheet on your computer and run results on your computer. Then up to you to post and kit#’s or screen shot of results/matches with kit# and name to DNA Facebook group. You never give your raw DNA to this Facebook group. It just helps you narrow down the 2000 close matches to the ones that might be Irish or Prussian or whatever matches.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard about this but did not know how it worked other than comparing GEDmatch kit numbers with others in a geographical group. I don’t understand the spreadsheet concept but assume it is a tool similar to Genome Mate Pro in which you import the the chromosome data of the matching kits.
      I don’t understand how you find a group. I have 15% Irish/Scotland/Wales ethnicity per AncestryDNA but have not placed an ancestor in Ireland. Do you try joining all Irish county groups when you only know you have Irish ancestry? Dempsey originated in Offaly county? Do they have a group and should I try it out? Thanks, Kathy.

      Like

      1. Hi Cathy Thanks for your very clear article.
        Offaly does not have its on DNA page on Facebook though some share their gedmatch no. on the County Offaly Genealogy Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/groups/CountyOffalyGenealogy/
        There is a very active Irish DNA Facebook page where you can share your gedmatch no. and they have a tool you can use to see who you match with in the 4777 members on that page http://www.facebook.com/groups/TheIrishDNARegistry/ It is a quick way to check for Irish matches.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, Jill, for this information. Has TheIrishDNARegistry only recently become a closed group? I was checking out the groups on March 8 when it was first commented on here and it was public. I did not want to post in an open group. I will check out the group. I appreciate your reading and commenting.

        Like

  6. Thanks for this Cathy! I don’t understand much about DNA and therefore I’m not very interested in it (or the other way around), but I realized with your explanation that I’m looking at other people’s GEDCOM files, but had not uploaded my own. So, hopefully someone who does understand this all more than me will contact me now. In time, I’ll learn more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Laura. Thanks for thinking about getting your GEDCOM uploaded. I’m still learning. Like the compare two GEDCOM files on GEDmatch. I did not know you could confirm an ancestor match. Probably because I used it when I couldn’t see a shared ancestor.

      Like

  7. Hi, Cathy,
    You have a wonderfully clear way of explaining things. I administer the DNA results for 10 people (including myself), so mostly I’m kept busy once or twice a week replying to people who are inquiring about a match. All of them are excited to find a match, but most have just begun their research, and none know anything about DNA (and unfortunately, neither do I!). Some have no tree at all, but in the cases of 2nd cousins found, e-mail exchange has provided a lot of information – of course, I have to gently prod for more information and try not to overwhelm them with questions.
    I haven’t taken the time to delve into DNA jargon – I have so many projects I’m working on, I’m just trying to keep organized! However, after reading your “Dear Cousin” article, I will try to take the time to download raw DNA and upload to GEDmatch. Do people start contacting you once you do that? I’ve been hesitant to get involved with all the DNA information – I’m worried it will sidetrack me from other research.
    It just appears to me that more research is always needed before a match can identify the common ancestor.
    Thanks for you hard work and taking the time to explain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I can count on one hand the people who have contacted me. As you say it is time consuming and the you have to know the jargon to be able to reply intelligently to queries.
      You’re welcome, Paula. Thank you for your input and taking the time to read the post and comment.
      Have you heard? The 1812 Pension files are on N now. I haven’t checked to be sure but it is getting close to P for Peters!!

      Like

  8. Great idea, Cathy. Here’s hoping this yields better response rates.

    In my experience, it’s been helpful to share blog posts relevant to the DNA match. But transferring data to another site is a big lift for a lot of folks who are only generally interested, and primarily lured to test by ethnicity results.

    My DNA focus of late has been on Y-DNA, but I’m curious to hear more about your experiences with Genome Mate. Is this similar to DNA Painter, which was featured at Roots Tech? It seems like a great idea for stitching together – in a visual way – how we’re linked with our cousins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Michael. I hope so too.

      Several people who read the post have sent me their kit numbers. Unfortunately so far they were not matches. I sent one message on Ancestry since writing this (included the link) and got a quick response. The person is not comfortable with putting the DNA anywhere else but is willing to work with me.

      As for GMP I have been experimenting with it since last July. Importing chromosome data from FTDNA, GEDmatch, and now MyHeritage. As many people have their DNA on all sites there is a lot of manual merging to be done in the beginning when setting up. There is a lot more to it than the ability to map the chromosomes. Too much for a comment. And I don’t consider myself expert enough to try to explain it in a post.

      Like

    1. Thank you, Diane. I spent more time on the graphics than on the text as most was copy/paste from message templates I’ve saved. Although I put it together pretty quickly, a lot of thought went into it (over the past few months).

      Like

  9. I just got around reading this post in detail. Cathy, this is a really innovative approach. The process should be easy, even for beginners, to follow. I haven’t had much success getting responses from Ancestry matches. Do you mind if I use this as a template to contact my Ancestry matches?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Certainly! Go ahead and share the link. I’ll be keeping an eye on the process of downloading from AncestryDNA and uploading to GEDmatch just in case the post needs to be updated.
      Good luck on the response from AncestryDNA matches.
      Thank you, Eileen.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I just received my DNA results yesterday and came here searching for advice on what to do next so thank you for this very useful post.
    I woke up to the DNA email plus to matches looking to make contact do a good start.

    Liked by 1 person

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