Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trying to Find Common Ancestors for Close DNA Matches

I have had my autosomal DNA tested on AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and 23and Me.  Each testing company presents their data in a different way, but all show different levels of matches.

*  AncestryDNA provides a list of matches by closeness (e.g., "2nd to 4th cousin"), but doesn't provide the amount of DNA shared with the matches, nor provides a chromosome browser.  They do provide links to family trees of the matches if they exist.  My experience is that about 80% have public trees, but some of them are pretty sparse.

*  Family Tree DNA provides a list of matches by closeness, provides the amount of shared DNA in terms of cMs (centiMorgans), and provides a chromosome browser.  However, only 10 to 20% of the matches have a tree on FTDNA, and some of those are pretty sparse.

*  23andMe provides a list of matches by closeness, provides the amount of shared DNA in terms of cMs (centiMorgans), and provides a chromosome browser.  However, only 5 to 10% of the matches have a tree on 23andMe, and some of those are pretty sparse.

So what to do?  I can find a number of matches on Family Tree DNA where at least five others share a total of about 50 cMs, and the same segment of about 20 cMs on Chromosome 9, with me.  A match with 50 cMs means that these folks may be 2nd to 5th cousins of mine (meaning we share 3rd to 6th great-grandparents), depending on the number of generations from the common ancestor in each line..

One of the FTDNA testers, C, contacted me recently via email, and she has identified a long list of persons that match with her, including myself and these other four chromosome 9 match persons.  But none of these other target FTDNA testers have a tree on FTDNA.  She has tried to contact these other five testers, with not much interest or success.

At least one option is to do the family tree research for those persons if you can identify parents and grandparents of the person tested.  C started doing this for the four most likely candidates and has passed some information to me.  She managed to find enough information for them online to at least start a family tree online to see what shakes out.

I decided to try to do the same since I may have different resources than C has.  C has not been able to identify ancestors for one of her grandmothers, so if I do research on these folks in the other trees, I may find the common ancestor for all of us, and that may really help C with her research.  There is also the possibility that the common ancestors are in one of the "bare branches" in my tree - especially 3rd great-grandfather Thomas Newton and 4th great-grandmother Hannah Smith.  Finding that would help me in my research.

My 3rd great-grandparents are in the right-hand column of my pedigree chart below.  These are the folks that I would like to find are common with the target FTDNA testers that share the segment on my 9th chromosome:

My research plan is:

1)  Enter the DNA test person and parents, and perhaps grandparents, into an Ancestry Member Tree, and let the Hints search for records and relationships.  Make the tree private and non-searchable in case I make a mistake.  I need to go back 5 or 6 generations to include 4th cousins, and may need to do two more generations just to cover the bases.  This sounds easy, but does not completely fill out the pedigree chart.  Where I get stuck, I will use other resources to try to find more information (for instance, a Massachusetts marriage or death record in the 1841 to 1920 time frame provides the name of parents, but may be inaccurate).

2)  Use some of the names from the Ancestry tree to search FamilySearch Family Tree, and WikiTree to see if someone else has more information than I have found.  

3)  Search on Google, FamilySearch Books and American Ancestors for the "bare branch" ancestors in hopes that someone has written a book or periodical article about them.

I've spent about four hours so far on the first case, and have managed to find names for 16 of the 32 persons in the 5th generation back from the tester.  These folks were born in the 1750 to 1800 time frame.  This particular tree is in New England and Atlantic Canada, so the records are fairly good.  But there are significant "holes" in the tree that will take more than Ancestry leaf Hints to fill.

I know that other researchers have done something similar in an effort to find a common ancestor of a relatively close ancestral match.  Do you have any tips on the best way to do this?  What has worked for you?

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2015, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Or contact me by email at


T said...

I haven't had any luck at all using ancestry matches. I don't know if people don't check, don't really care to contact matches, don't care that matches contact them, don't stay paid up so they can see more information about their matches or what. A lot don't have a tree, have a private tree, have 10 people in their tree which, of course, are all living, so private. What do they expect to get from testing at ancestry? Or did they never intend to use ancestry matching? I won't be paying ancestry to see any more of my match trees. But GEDMatch and FamilyTreeDNA has been great. The contacts I've made there seem to be willing to collaborate and best of all, they answer my contact email! In fact, at this moment I am not contacting anyone else until I can figure out the information I've received so far. The $39 I spent at FTDNA was money well spent, especially compared to what I've gotten from ancestry.

Marian said...

I hear of and from people giving DNA test kits to friends and relatives who aren't exactly engaged in genealogy. Sometimes it's because the giver is interested in genealogy and hopes to learn by it -- even twists arms to get the test performed. Sometimes I think it might be a case of "What do you give a guy who has everything?"

Test-givers should arrange to have the contact email be their own or to be copied automatically on any messages about it.

anitab said...

I have been totally amazed at the lack of trees and ancestors shown by my father's matches at FTDNA! I have been able to identify my father's connections to nine cousins at FTDNA. Three people were 'known' connections (via internet); and the other six had good trees which made a connection pretty easy.

The incredible thing is - we've been able to find my great-grandfather's father! My great-grandfather was adopted by a Baker family; but we confirmed that his name (& ours!) was Brown through my brother's Y-DNA testing. However, Family Finder testing gave us the wonderful gift of finding our gr-gr-grandfather & his father & grandfather - who were known members of Brown Group 10, which we already knew we belonged to! We also connected with descendants of both a sister and an aunt of my gr-gr-grandfather!

Having said that, I will note that in each of the nine 'solved' relationships, and in a number of relationships where research is ongoing - I was the one who did the contacting; and I was able to locate a tree for their family. It absolutely amazes me that people pay for testing, and then don't contact close matches! Even more amazing are the many, many matches who do not respond to email.

I feel very blessed for the connections we have found!!

I've also created trees at Ancestry for matches who give at least a little information, and believe that this will pay off in the end.

Thank you for this post, detailing ways to find common ancestors.

Unknown said...

I've been working on genealogy for several years now, and began to suspect that my grandfather, Oscar Evans, wasn't really an Evans. My male cousin took the y dna test and we are Bentleys. But that's all we know. Our haplo group is really rare. But that only seems to mean we have ten matches instead of pages and pages worth. I would love to narrow down the potential Bentley candidates, but we know nothing.

I think it's worse than being adopted because there are no records for the time period I'm dealing with. (Oscar was born in 1896 in Ohio with no birth certificates.) We used family tree DNA, but didn't get any help from them. The Bentley DNA site helped as much as they could, but they don't know any Ohio Bentley descendents. Short of roaming the streets trying to see if any Bentleys look like any of us in the family, or knocking on doors, I'm stumped. It's really heartbreaking, and frustrating. I just agree with prior comments that not enough family is interested in genealogy and/ or dna.