Linda Clyde | Jun 8, 2018

Advancing Your Genealogy Research with DNA: Part 2

When it comes to using DNA to make genealogy breakthroughs it helps to gather as many tips and tricks as possible and to familiarize yourself with today’s resources. Anna Swayne from Ancestry gave an informative presentation at RootsTech 2018 on how to advance your genealogy research using DNA. One of her major points was the importance of gathering DNA results from as many family members as possible. When you understand the principles of genetic inheritance, it’s clear how this can help you make discoveries that otherwise might not be possible.

Proof of Kinship

Swayne, the youngest of five, shared that when she was small her older siblings liked to tease her by telling her she’d been dropped off on the porch. She knew it was a joke but now that she, her parents, and most of her siblings have taken an Ancestry DNA test, she enjoys teasing back with the proof that they’re all immediate family members. The DNA matches among her family prove that her parents are who they say they are, and her siblings are identified as immediate family members.

Swayne closely monitors her DNA matches on Ancestry and recently received a notification that she had a new match that was a close family member. Being the only one in her family who tries to recruit family members to take DNA tests, she was excited to discover someone close to her was doing it without being prompted. It turned out to be her nephew who later confessed that he hadn’t told her because he wanted to make sure she wasn’t tampering with the results. They ended up sharing a moment of mutual appreciation for the accuracy of the DNA matching. Swayne went on to share that close DNA matches, identified as “first cousins” can be nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and so forth.

First Cousins?

A common question from patrons of Ancestry’s DNA services happens to be about cousins. When you’re reviewing your DNA matches and an individual appears to be a cousin, most people immediately assume it must be a first-cousin. Using her own Ancestry DNA results as an example Swayne shared two of her first cousin matches, one happened to be a half-aunt, her father’s half sister, the other, Swayne’s great-aunt. It’s also important to be aware that a second cousin could really be a third cousin. It all depends on how closely your DNA matches up to the other person.

Connecting DNA Results to Your Family Tree

In order to get hints about relatives with matching DNA, you’ll need to attach your DNA results to your family tree. Remember that you can only link one test to one tree. If for some reason you have two trees, Swayne recommends merging the two trees and then linking that tree to yourself.

Ancestry’s “Hints”

One of the most exciting features on is Ancestry Hints, which is indicated by a leaf symbol. Clicking on a leaf will provide you with information about the person it’s attached to. Hints provide basic information from commonly viewed records which can include census records; birth, marriage, and death records; and public member trees. According to Swayne, the hints feature does a lot of the work for you and filters all of your DNA matches with what Ancestry believes are common ancestors found in both your tree and your relatives’ trees.

A Blue Dot Means “New”

When you’re reviewing your DNA matches on the Ancestry website and you run across a blue dot, that’s letting you know there’s a new piece of information you haven’t seen yet. You can also filter your DNA matches by clicking the “New” button each time you log on. This will allow you to view only your new matches.

The Star Feature

Swayne explains that using the star feature to tag ancestors and information can be very helpful. Some people star all of their ancestors on either their maternal or paternal side so they can see at-a-glance which side of their family they’re looking at. Others have used the star feature to highlight all of their shared ancestor hints. You can decide how to use the star feature in a way that works best for you. 

“Search Matches”

On your personal Ancestry DNA page you’ll see a blue bar on the right side of your screen with a small magnifying glass that says “Search Matches.” Clicking on this handy tool allows you to search by surnames, birth locations, or both. This search feature draws from the pool of individuals with DNA that matches yours. It also draws from those with common surnames or locations on your match list. Using this feature will help you dig deeper and really get proactive with your research.

Send Messages

Once you find cousins on Ancestry, consider sending them a message with the messaging feature. First, click on your cousin’s name, when their page opens you’ll see a green bar that says “send message.” Clicking on this bar opens a message box with fields for a subject line and a message. Although the message field allows you to use up to 5,000 characters, Swayne suggests keeping messages to cousins short and simple. It can be nice to offer some details about yourself and some of your family information. Offering information is often more likely to elicit a response from cousins.

These are just a few of the tools, tips, and tricks you can use on to advance your genealogy research. By combining information from your family tree with your family’s Ancestry DNA results you’ll be well on your way to breaking through stubborn brick walls.

Linda Clyde

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