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

This is an updated version of a post I published in March 2018. The original post had been updated several times during the past two years. To avoid confusion I have added new images, as well as some steps, to reflect changes on the GEDmatch and Ancestry websites since the article was first written. 

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 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’ve 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.

So I’ve decided to use my blog to write to my cousins. I’ll 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 applications for comparing your DNA test results with other people. There are also applications for estimating your ancestry. Some applications are free. More advanced applications require membership in the GEDmatch Tier1 program at $10 per month.

Some premium tools require payment but the chromosome browsers we are lacking on AncestryDNA are free on GEDmatch. Registration requires your name, email, and a password of your choice.

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 2020

Fill out the form per instructions and click on Register.

Download the 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. Scroll to the bottom of the page, under Test Management > Actions > Click to open Download RAW DNA Data section.

AncestryDNA screenshot 2020

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 2020

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 several minutes for the email to come in.

AncestryDNA screenshot of the email 2020

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 Uploads (23andme, FTDNA, AncestryDNA, most others) on the right side under Upload your DNA files. Fill out the form and upload the file without unzipping it.

GEDmatch screenshot 2020

(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 Autosomal DNA Comparison will work before processing is finished. To try this one out, compare your kit to one I manage:  (see the kit number in my message to you). 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 3000 matches it will not show up on my list but I can still do comparisons with your kit number.

What else can you do?

While you are waiting for your kit to complete all processing and have good status (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.

GEDmatch screenshot 2020

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 about the file. The most important thing to know 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 before 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. THE closest DNA matches are at the top of the list.

One-To-Many DNA Comparison Result: 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 3000 matches with the closest matches at the top. In the first column kit numbers highlighted in different shades of green indicate new matches with dark green being the newest. As time goes by the color gets lighter and finally turns white.

People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits: When you check your kit and another kit with this tool it will generate three lists: a list of all matches shared by both at the top, a list of all kits who match the first and not the second, and a list of all kits who match the second and not the first.

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

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 Autosomal DNA Comparison 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 in 2018. New segments have been added since then. An updated segment map will be shared in a future post.

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, knowing the MRCA of 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 both have chromosome browsers. It would be 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. We can continue working together, using the tools available on AncestryDNA (Shared Matches, ThruLines, Common Ancestors, and Trees).

If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with me and I will do my best to help.

© 2020, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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.

17 thoughts on “Dear Cousin – We Have a DNA Match, Now What? (Updated)”

  1. I’ve pretty much given up on using DNA as a genealogy tool. Few people respond, few have trees, and few are interested in finding anything more than their ethnicity (which in my mind is mostly a game of numbers, but people think it is pure science, as if there is something like an Irish gene or a Jewish gene).

    Also, many people now are very suspect of any of these DNA sites, especially GEDmatch since it has gotten lots of PR as a law enforcement tool. I closed my GEDmatch accounts for a long time and then several months ago reopened them with privacy restrictions. But I haven’t even bothered to check for matches. I get notifications from Ancestry, FTDNA, 23andme, and MyHeritage, and I’ve truly yet to find any matches that helped. Many were people I already knew from my other research, and most were endogamy matches that led me nowhere.

    But I certainly hope you’ve had and will have better luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know that with your Jewish ancestry it is very difficult to work with the matches as most are endogamous.
      I’ve mostly found that my matches prove the paper trails. But I am still hoping to open the doors to a couple of my brick walls.
      Thank you, Amy. I’ll take all the luck you send my way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cathy,
    I agree that not many cousins reply to messages in Ancestry, but I’ve had a few that have helped. Right now, I am working with a possible cousin in Ancestry for my Simmonds line from Gloucestershire, England. Even if there may not be a plethora of cousins responding, the ones that have responded have enriched the research and in some cases, bolstered the paper trail as you said. I definitely believe DNA can help make breakthroughs, even it’s just 1 or 2. Thanks for the great post!
    Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve tried writing to groups of matches who descend from particular lines in hopes that someone would work with me. Very few replied and I never got to the point of asking them to upload to a site with a chromosome browser. The result was this post back in 2018. I have since learned to work with what I have. I still send messages in hopes of connecting with someone who regularly checks their messages. Thank you, Brian.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cathy,
        That’s pretty much all we can do…we have to leave it up to our cousin matches, but we do know that the odds grow weaker if we don’t reach out. Keep on keepin’ on! Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I try to educate myself with tons of DNA webinars. Work the clues I have both paper and DNA. Try to link them. It is so great when it connects.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve also educated myself on DNA with webinars and reading material. I can usually tell which branch a person comes from and will work out a quick & dirty tree to make the connection when they don’t have a large tree. The tools available on each testing site are helpful and it feels great when I’m able to connect and link them to my ancestors. It’s the unknowns in my own tree that are more difficult. Thank you, D. Reeves.

      Like

    1. Ralph, your comment did come through the first time but I have been so busy that I am only now getting around to checking and approving them.
      I’ve had your Gedmatch number for several years. The segment we share is painted on my chromosome map along with another cousins who descends from your John W. CLONCH and two cousins who descend from Dennis CLAUNCH and Nancy BEASLEY through their daughter Sarah. It shows nicely that this is a match through our William CLONCH to his parents Dennis and Nancy.
      I’ll message you mine.

      Like

  4. Wow, Cathy, this is an amazing post with such valuable information. Thank you so much for writing it and sharing it. I agree that it’s very hard to get people to respond and even when they do they are very stubborn to work with most times. I really don’t know what the problem is. Why did they pay money and take the time to do the DNA test if they aren’t interested? I have also had extremely close mystery matches show an interest initially. And then clam write up. So annoying. Happy new year! XO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Luanne. I always hope but even now when I send messages to matches at Ancestry, the usually go unanswered. On the bright side, one unusual match did. reply and I was able to introduce her to her aunt, my second cousin. My 2C was so thankful that she included me in her 5 blessings in the year 2020.

      Liked by 1 person

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