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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

This month there is an exciting new tool offered by Ancestry to help identify the relationship you share with your DNA matches.If you have been puzzled or confused by the array of potential relationships your DNA matches may have to you, this tool is quite helpful.

DNA analysis is quite complex. The closer your relationship to your DNA match, the greater the number of centiMorgans and both quantity and length of shared segments and the fewer possible relationships. However, the more distant the relative, the more possibilities are presented to identify your relationship to that person. For instance, my grandson was shown by Ancestry to possibly be my nephew. And once the more distant relatives appear, the longer the list of potential relationships are provided.

Be warned, in order to use this tool to its greatest advantage, your DNA test results should be linked to the most accurate and comprehensive family tree you have available and your DNA matches will have similarly linked their test results to a public tree.

Let's give this tool a try. Sign in to your Ancestry account. Click on the drop-down menu and select DNA, then select DNA matches. A screen should appear displaying the closest relative who has submitted a DNA test. In my case, it was my daughter.

Under the name, appears a question: do you know them? And beneath that will be two dialog boxes. The first replies Yes and the second suggests Learn more.

Let's assume you do recognize the first person with the closest relationship to you. Click on Yes.

In my case, the closest match was my daughter. I was offered a choice to indicate that DNA match was on Mother's side, Father's Side, or Both sides. I selected Both sides. I was then asked to identify the relationship we shared. The choices were few, and I selected daughter.

My next closest DNA match turned out to be my sister. I recognized her so chose yes. And when presented with how we were related, I selected Both sides, and for relationship chose sister. Now every time my DNA matches come up these two people will be clearly identified.

It gets much more complicated when you get to the DNA matches that are shown as second to third cousin. The choices one could make for DNA matches designated as second to third cousin, number no less than 25!

The list begins with second cousin or first cousin twice removed, or half first cousin once removed, or half grand uncle, or half grandnephew. I think you get the idea. The possible relationships run on to 25.

My first DNA match so far unidentified as to relationship, turns out to be suggested as a second or third cousin. Since I am not certain whether this cousin is related to my mother or my father and I have the same surname for both sides, I opted to Learn More.

I am given hope that I can quickly identify this DNA match because Ancestry has helpfully indicated their computer has shown this cousin and I have a common ancestor. This means someone in my tree matches to someone in the tree linked to my cousin's DNA test. Hooray!

The Learn More choice provides me with a screen with assorted pieces of information. I'm looking for the common ancestor of course, so I scroll down to the section that shows me that name. In this case there are two names, a married couple (my 2nd Great-Grandparents).

Under the name of my second great-grandfather, appears a hyperlink that says View relationship. When I click on that hyperlink, a new screen loads. If you have previously checked out Ancestry's Thru Lines, you will recognize this screen. For those of you who have not perused this tool, let me walk you through it.

The first screen that appears lists at the top the name of my second great-grandfather. Below that are the names of the people directly related that create the line of descent from that grandfather to me. Also appearing on that screen is an Arrow. I click on that Arrow. This displays the line of descent from my second great-grandfather to the DNA match. It also shows how that person is related to me. In this case he is my third cousin. Ancestry provides the relationship so long as none in the line of descent are LIVING AND NOT ALREADY IN YOUR TREE. The rule for Ancestry and most other online trees is to hide all information for living persons and mark that profile private. if however, you have added that person to your tree, you and only you will be able to see their name and vital information. This is true for all living persons added by you to your tree, unless you have invited someone and granted them full access as a contributor and not just as a guest.

This one was easy since my cousin and I had linked trees, accessible to the public, that showed our parents' names, and their ancestors back to our common ancestor.

You might be content to merely identify this DNA match and move on. Not so your author. It is my choice to now add these relatives in the appropriate place in my tree. I will also digress to enhance the profiles for these relatives by utilizing the Search tool or any hints that are applicable provided by Ancestry.

This particular set of grandparents offers a gold mine of information. It was my choice to go back to the first screen and check Thru Lines for more relatives. In this case I recognize a number of names I've previously seen in my DNA match list. Depending upon my frame of mind and amount of time available, I decide whether or not to add these relatives and their lines of descent to my tree.

This obsession with fleshing out my tree yields its own benefits. And also takes time to do properly. It becomes immediately apparent as I run through the various DNA matches linked to these ancestors, that I have previously added some of the relatives whose names now appear.

However, for some of the names now appearing, I am offered the opportunity by Ancestry to Evaluate each person before adding them to my tree. Clicking the hyperlink to Evaluate, displays the information Ancestry has used to suggest the line of descent. The next screen appearing for me reveals some two dozen or more trees that indicate the validity of the ancestral line. I can take the time to look at each tree, evaluate the data, or look for a well-documented tree among the list and check that out. I will, of course, always do my own research to verify the accuracy and appropriateness of adding one of these people to my tree.

More than likely, I will take my usual route and go to the profile for the person in the list I know has already been added to my tree. I will then work with the information provided for the most probable line of descent, temporarily adding the name and then documenting to my satisfaction before deciding to make this person a permanent member of my tree.

In this case, I choose to add the name of the daughter who was not previously made a part of this line. In order to quickly access the parent, Ancestry has made it easy. I merely click on the square immediately above the name requiring evaluation. This links me to the profile for that parent. When I add the name of the daughter suggested by Thru Lines, after a very brief moment Ancestry offers 15 hints. I can now review those documents to confirm facts and Vital Information for this person. I would suggest first looking for birth validation or Census records that show the new name with those names already in the tree. This should provide me with a date and place of birth to guide further research.

This process will be followed by me for each person down the line of descent, ending with the DNA match. This should now permit you to identify the relationship you have with that DNA match. Don't forget to go back to your DNA match list and clarify the relationship on that list.

Thus far we have dealt with DNA matches that have linked a public tree to their DNA test. I would suggest working the DNA matches for those who have a tree attached and show a common ancestor, or pick names that are familiar to you but just have not been added to your tree yet. Remember the old saying, "Gather the low-hanging fruit first."

For most of us who have submitted DNA for testing, the match list runs into the thousands. As you work the list of matches in the manner described above, it should become easier to identify other cousins whose DNA matches yours. However, there will still be a huge pool of matches whose relationship to you remains obscure. Do not despair, for there are other ways to work the list.

After you have gathered the low-hanging fruit as described above, and exhausted all the matches possible, you may wish to start at the top again. This time we will utilize another excellent built in tool offered by Ancestry - the Shared Matches option that shows up after you have clicked on Learn More. This will give us an opportunity to compare the matches that are completely alien to our knowledge to those matches already known to us by virtue of being in our tree or having just been identified through the process outlined above. This is where a family researcher's detective skills are put to work.

In previous columns your author has outlined the ways to utilize social media, online search engines, and comparison to public trees in Ancestry and other genealogical sites to augment your research. It also pays to create a network of researchers whose interests parallel your own. Message them through Ancestry. Find them on Facebook and become friends. Review their trees for information that might link to your own. A world of opportunity exists when you choose to "Meet your ancestors" through Armchair Genealogy.

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