To see what DNA testing might show about our family history, in June last year my husband Greg and I submitted samples of our DNA to for autosomal DNA analysis. Greg also took a Y-DNA test through the Family Tree DNA company.

What did I hope to learn?

I had no particular questions about my side of the tree that I thought DNA tests might answer, though I did hope that I might find some of my relatives on my mother’s side who, I had been told, had emigrated from Germany to the USA.

My mother was born in Berlin. After WWII when there wasn’t enough to eat, food parcels addressed to her family began to arrive from the United States, sent—she was told—by her American cousins.  When I talked to her about my DNA testing she was a little sceptical but she thought it would be interesting to trace her American relations.

On Greg’s side of the tree there were some dead ends that I hoped DNA analysis might provide a way around. In May 2016 I blogged about these in a post [Poor little chap], with a hypothesis about the parents of Greg’s great grandfather Henry Sullivan (1862-1943).

When our test results came back I quickly found some meaningful matches on Greg’s tree. Some of his cousins had tested too, and we were able to make links between our pre-DNA trees and the DNA information.

I started a spreadsheet to record these matches and, to confirm the links I had found, I sent messages through AncestryDNA’s system to people who appeared to have matching results.

My spreadsheet has these fields:

  • Who took the test – me, my husband, a cousin
  • Match name and/ or Nickname (for Ancestry, GEDmatch, My Heritage, 23andMe alternate names)
  • Company or companies testing
  • point of contact – sometimes the kit is managed by someone other than the person who provided the sample
  • Email address for match or contact
  • Received – when I receive a message or email to help me remember and track messages
  • Notes – always a handy field
  • Line, if known, or grouping of tests- family line, sometimes I know the line from shared matches or other clues, otherwise I can group tests which share matches
  • MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) – I enter the 2 surnames of the couple I also use Ahnentafel numbers at the beginning of the field which are handy for sorting generations
  • Cousin (cousinship) – eg: 3C or 4C-1R
  • estimated relationship
  • shared surnames
  • linked tests (shared matches)
  • Tree – copy in the URL of any tree or site for the match’s tree
  • GEDmatch ID number of match
  • Chromosome summary
  • GedMatch Autosomal Comparison – copy and paste from the Gedmatch comparison (this can get a bit lengthy and detailed so I don’t always include it)

A screenshot of the first 11 rows of my spreadsheet where I track matches. I sort the spreadsheet on most recent common ancestor and since the Ahnenetafel number is used to begin the field, the spreadsheet is sorted with more recent ancestors first. (click on image to enlarge)

I also used the ‘Notes’ field on AncestryDNA when I had contacted the match and added a star to matches so that I could see at a glance who I had contacted, when I contacted them, and the likely match.

A screenshot of an AncestryDNA match where our trees correspond and the most common recent ancestors are identified. There is a yellow star on the top left hand side of the screen which can be used to identify matches of interest. The notes field in the middle of the screen can be used to summarise contact, GedMatch numbers and likely shared ancestry.
A screenshot of a DNA match where our trees on ancestry do not intersect. In fact I have identified the most common recent ancestors through correspondence with another cousin and shared DNA. Although I messaged using the green “Send Message” button in the top right hand corner, the cousin did not reply. I also unsuccessfully used the brown “Contact” button on the top right of the screen for the Ancestry Profile – see screenshot below.

Initially my DNA matches meant nothing to me. There seemed to be little connection between my DNA matches and my document-based tree.

However, over the last year I have received replies from people we share DNA with, and have been able to compare our family trees and determine where they intersect. For many of these matches, I have been able to draw some conclusions as to our likely most recent common ancestors, particularly when several of us share the same DNA and have intersecting document-based trees. So far we have more than 30 matches where we can identify the most recent ancestors we share.

DNA has added to the evidence I have used to build and document my family tree. To date I have not found any DNA-based evidence which suggests my document-based tree is inaccurate. Unfortunately I have yet to find any cousins sharing DNA on my mother’s side of the family.

Our family tree showing points on the tree where we have common ancestors with  cousins who  share DNA. (You can click to enlarge, but the tree has been reduced in size and individual forebears are not legible)

Related posts
The Legal Genealogist observes in her post of July 2 2017 That YDNA lament “you can’t be matched to somebody who hasn’t tested” and that there are good reasons for the lack of German DNA matches to date.