If you have DNA tested with any major company, you are probably interested in maximising your results and develop a better understanding your family connections and deeper genetic ancestry. Here are a few simple steps which are entirely free of cost.
One of the main reasons you may not have been so involved in research of late (except where ‘life’ in general gets in the way) is that you were not making much progress. You can help yourself in finding DNA connections and like-minded researchers by following these recommendations for promoting your online profile.
- DNA Data Sharing
Sharing your DNA data as widely as possible is important if you want to match and finding relatives. If you are on Ancestry, 23andMe or elsewhere, download your zipped DNA file and copy it for free to secure databases on MyHeritage, GEDmatch, LivingDNA and FamilyTreeDNA who accept other test data. Some websites require a small fee to access all their services.
GEDmatch is key to sharing since it is the only database that takes uploads from every testing company and allows you to directly compare matches using your own parameters.
- Identify Yourself
If you are open to collaboration, serious about research and you have no private reason, drop your membership pseudonym/alias and change it to your real name. It helps make faster connections. Of course, there can be good reasons for private research or for genetic genealogists working for clients who work in a more confidential manner, but these are in a minority. Being “sandrasmum” or “catlover101” does not help people who can use the match and information you provide ahead of them contacting you. If you have a common name considering including your middle name, if you have one, or add your year of birth. “Jim Albert Smith 1946” distinguishes you from other members who share the same name.
- Update and Complete Your Personal Profile
Check your membership profiles are up to date with some key basic information such as your place of origin, age range, and willingness to collaborate. Even knowing which country is helpful since it points towards records that may be helpful in establishing a relationship.
Add your GEDmatch number to your Ancestry & MyHeritage profiles. Consider including your email address. Use the ‘links’ icon in your profile (Ancestry) to highlight other sites where you may have relevant information (perhaps a Wiki tree or personal webpage with genealogical histories).
- Provide a Basic Family Tree
It is surprising how many DNA matches have no supporting family tree. Try to push out your tree to 4 or 5 generations (all your 2x greats) or at least to the most recently deceased generation, supported by data sources such as BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death) and census records. Ensure all have some basic data such as birth and death years (even if approximate) as well as the general place of the birth/death, where known. A county or country will do. Don’t leave them blank as ‘names only’ get lost in context, especially when dealing with Irish names, as one example. Avoid the temptation of copying others unless you are sure their research is correct.
The father of a child may not always be known, and a common reason people DNA test, but it is helpful if you don’t leave that unknown person blank but put in “NPE” (Not the Parent Expected) or “unknown”. This helps differentiate between a tree that is work in progress from one that is highlighting an area where DNA matching may help. Another research may provide you with an important lead, as I have helped others on many occasions.
- Paternal or Maternal?
If on Ancestry and DNA tested, make sure you have assigned Parent 1 & Parent 2 to the correct parent. This is becoming increasingly important for investigations into smaller segments and those researching West Cork ancestry as it is becoming much clearer which connections are purely maternal, purely paternal, or a mixture of both due to the frequent intermarriage of local families.
- Family Tree Settings
On Ancestry, check you have properly activated ThruLines and assigned your DNA test to yourself. Also, make sure you are set as the ‘home person’ for your tree. Any other set-up for your family can confuse both researchers and the automatic algorithms that suggests connections.
If your DNA data is on MyHeritage, download a new autocluster file for your matches. You’ll be surprised how much it changes. Add a 3-monthly reminder to your electronic calendar and don’t forget to add comments for all the top matches to help you identify match clusters and shared ancestry the next time you download the file, as these are included. These might be notes on a shared segment, common geography, or perhaps noting some family surnames in common, but can pull together research leads.
- Platform Messaging
Check your messages and respond to them on all the platforms you use. It is unlikely you have so many and it is not too onerous a task. It is an unfortunate fact that most platforms have a very low rate of response to research enquiries. Based on over 10,000 messages sent over more than decade, I can attest that the response rate is less than 0.5% even from researchers who are indicated as being ‘active’.
Remember, if you are no longer paying for a genealogy records subscription and you have DNA tested, you should still be able log-in and check your matches and messages.
Say you will respond to messages in your profile so that researchers can prioritise contacting you over the majority who never respond.
- DNA Settings
If you have tested with MyHeritage, check all your DNA settings to allow your match details to be displayed on their chromosome browser.
- Coffee Break Learning
Take time out and learn a little more about DNA and matching by exploring the Wiki on isogg.org and videos on GEDmatch.
It doesn’t take a lot to make research considerably easier for everyone!
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This blog post is a version of the article published in February 2023’s West Cork People Newspaper.
Mark Grace, genetic genealogist and family historian at Ballynoe House.
Researching collaboratively since 1979.