Make a Resolution to Contact Your Matches

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

Genetic Genealogists will get the most out of our atDNA tests when we contact our Matches!

We have a lot of issues and hurdles with atDNA:

– Many of our Matches have no Trees, very small Trees, and/or incorrect Trees.

– Many of our Matches are unresponsive – for a wide variety of reasons.

– Many of our Matches will have Common Ancestors with us beyond our genealogy horizon.

– Some of our Matches will have multiple Common Ancestors with us, and it’s difficult to sort out which one, if any, is the genetic Common Ancestor.

– Some of our Matches with shared segments smaller than 15cM will be false – they are not a true genetic relative. It’s often hard to tell which such shared segments are true and which are false.

BUT – many of our Matches are what I call intermediate cousins in the 4th to 6th cousin range. By that I mean cousins with a good chance of having a Common Ancestor (CA) in our Tree, or right on the fringes, and within reach of available records/research. These are cousins who can help us assign a side in a Triangulated Group (TG); or determine a more distant CA to a TG (move the “knothole”). These are cousins who can get us closer to resolving brick walls. They are out there….

At the beginning of 2018 there are probably about 10,000,000 people who have taken an autosomal DNA Test at 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, My Heritage, LivingDNA, etc. It appears our Match lists are STILL about doubling every year – twice the Matches; twice the 3rd cousins; twice the number of segments in each Triangulate Group; twice the chance for a close Match; twice the number of intermediate cousins; twice the chance for a breakthrough Match – every year.

We have a lot of things which are out of our control (see above). But there is one thing which is very much within the control of every genetic genealogist – contacting Matches. It appears our natural tendency is to look at their Trees, look at their ICW list or Shared Matches, analyze Matrix info, and even Triangulate their shared segments – anything and everything we can do, except contact them. As an example – I have had my brother’s DNA at FTDNA and 23andMe for 5 years, and I’ve received less than two dozen emails or messages from his Matches. And I have two sons, a maternal uncle and several close cousins who have tested with the same pitiful result – virtually no contact. On the other hand, I have sent out several thousands of emails and messages to Matches. And I’ve worked out CAs with over 600 Matches (NB: I don’t claim all are genetic CAs – that is to be determined – but they are all important clues). Yes, many of these CAs I found by looking at my Matches’ Trees, but many were found by my Matches after I contacted them. Some I found by extending a Match’s Tree, but I always try to get an agreement from the Match. Some of my Matches, once I contacted them, turned out to be have a treasure trove of information about my more distant (lesser researched) Ancestors. Many Matches have additional information, not in their Trees. Communicating with Matches has great potential.

And while I’m on this topic, when a Match contacts you, be sure to respond! …in the most positive, helpful, way you can (or have time for). Your Matches are your cousins – treat them like you would any relative at a family reunion… Try not to be dismissive, or to treat them like a salesperson – they are kin, hoping to work on some of your genealogy, too.

Each person has their own objectives in genetic genealogy. And we all usually have a limited time for this hobby. So my advice here is to start with closest Matches and work down. Or work with Matches on a particular line, or within a TG of interest to you. The point is to develop a plan to contact some of your Matches. Although most may not respond, work with the ones who do.

One process that may help is standardized text. If you find yourself writing essentially the same email or message several times, save a copy to a Word (or text) document. Then you can copy and paste it to the next Match. Over time, I try to improve my standard texts – use BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) to get their attention quickly; be as brief as you can; offer to help; promise feedback; provide your email and or link to your tree.

Make a resolution to contact your Matches! You’ll be glad you did.


[22Q] Segment-ology: Make a Resolution to Contact Your Matches TIDBITS by Jim Bartlett 20180107

18 thoughts on “Make a Resolution to Contact Your Matches

  1. Jim, thanks for the push to contact as many matches as possible. I have started to reach out to more known relatives, with a little success, which is encouraging. I do need to pluck up my courage, though, and do mass emailings to contact DNA matches, as you suggest. Thanks again for the encouragement, and your tips to make it practical!


    • mizmdk, Thanks for your feedback. I hope by “mass emailings” you mean a lot of separate (perhaps standardized) emails, and not one email to all your Matches. I do not recommend emailing to a group, unless they have a LOT in common – such as when they all descend from the same Ancestor, or they are all in the same Triangulated Group, and should have the same Common Ancestor. I try not to send out a group email to any group who are not related to each other. In general, when you send any email, it really helps to identify who your Match is, because many of our Matches are managed by others. Good luck… Jim


  2. I love hearing from cousins and always try to answer right away. I’ve found 2 cousins who live here in Chicago and hope to meet them soon. I was contacted by another cousin who lives in Atlanta; we are of different races. We met this past thanksgiving and sat and talked as if we had known each other for years! I have a Tn cousin who I met in Atlanta over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016. Now none of us know our CA but we’re emailing and texting and calling trying to put the puzzle pieces together! Finding the CA can can be a frustrating and exhausting process but also so much fun when you do it within a group. Thanks for your article!!


    • Cheryl,
      Thanks for your input. A word I often use in this context is: synergy – the group effort provides more than the sum of individual discussions. One person’s comment, sparks an idea in another person. Often the correct path is down a path that no one had thought of before… Jim Bartlett


  3. As I read the comments above written by Mr. Bartletts, I can tell you first hand that what he says is accurate. His son, through his wife, is a 4.2 cousin to me (#10 on my list of GEDmatch cousins). I emailed him and he responded back to me immediately (about 2 years ago). I was new to all this and he provided information to help me in my research. He continues to send me emails, especially regarding triangulation. He continues to be a big help to me as I grow my genealogy skills. Thanks Jim! John Guilbert

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have found it useful to work 2 ways. 1 as suggested above do the triangulation, look for links, make contact.
    After 6 mths of few responses I have been trying to broaden my lines on my tree on Ancestry and looking more closely at those family trees where we share names and locations. I then make contact to ask if they have had their DNA tested and offer my Gedmatch number. I have found a few matches this way which are often small amounts of DNA but our paper trails match and sometimes other cousins have small matches to them also. I then look at who the 2 of us match and start over again on the same line. Really broadening my tree this way as many if us put our time and energy into our direct lines.


    • Julie, Thanks for your feedback. Genetic genealogy has a steep learning curve, but it pays off in many ways. It’s really helpful when several Matches on the same segment get involved. AncestryDNA gives us Hints out to the 7G grandparent level (8th cousins), so they must have faith that the atDNA works out that far. I believe it works several more generations out, but just one Match with a CA is not enough. We need several Matches in each TG to agree on the same line, before we can be confident we have the genetic link. Your method of starting with the genealogy and then working on the DNA is one way to get this buy-in from multiple Matches. Jim Bartlett


  5. I am frustrated by the number of Ancestry DNA “matches” that have no family trees. But my grand-daughter gave me the reason she wants to be tested:”I just want to know what my ethnicity is”.


    • Dee,
      Yes, this is the case for many. I saw a statement today from an individual who manages over 100 atDNA kits – and he acknowledges he is only interested in one part of their Ancestry and has no time for most Matches. There are many reasons why people test.


  6. Jim – You are right on track with your recommendation and comments.
    I think a LOT of people who tested expected to get names of their ancestors to fill in a tree. I have one relative who tested autosomal dna three times using 3 names because they were researching 3 different lines.
    I answer any contact with what I know and an offer to help. And while I am sure I have sent far fewer inquiries than you, I have a similar response rate. I have previously thought, as a prior response has noted, that this is the result of a good advertising campaign which reaches many who feel some inner need to satisfy a need to try (read “casual” as noted before). But there can be gold here for those who are dedicated to finding some ancestor – at least the test results are out there to be found.
    I enjoy your writings and appreciate your encouragement.
    Vance Wiley


    • Vance, Thanks for your kind comments. To add to what I’ve already said – I’m delighted so many people are testing. If nothing else, all those segments help map out the ancestral segments on our chromosomes. In other words, through forming TGs we can pretty accurately identify many of the crossover points that are fixed in our DNA – places where we shift from one ancestral line to another. And some day, we’ll have mapped segments back to Ancestors and then be able to tell our Matches the ancestral line – just from the shared segment. Jim Bartlett


  7. Jim:

    Thanks for the inspirational message!

    After I discovered your blog and Blaine Bettinger’s books this past July, I gave myself six months to learn the ropes of segment-logy. I’ve just completed my first New Year’s resolution – testing my three siblings and re-testing my 88-year old mother. My mother and I both tested at FTDNA in 2011, but I had her test at Ancestry to cast the widest possible net. I am now ready to enter the next phase – “aggressive outreach” to make the most of the anticipated flood of new matches. Thanks for the timely pep talk.


    • Ted, You are welcome. You are also on the right track – everyone who is serious about using the genetic genealogy tools, should get their living ancestors and close older relatives tested, and should get at least someone tested at all 4 major companies: 23andMe, FTDNA, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage – each one of these has many folks who have tested only at the one company. You never know where cousins key to your research may test. And don’t forget to upload to GEDmatch, where you are directly compared with others from any of the companies (who have also uploaded there. We have lots of flexibility, and good tools, at GEDmatch. Jim Bartlett


  8. I agree that there are many more “casual” testers, but hidden among them are many true genealogists who are just now getting on the band wagon. Generally we can’t tell which is which until we contact them. I also agree that short is better (thinking of how to “reel in” a casual tester.)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I also recommend personalizing the subject line – with the common family name or geography. Ex – “DNA match on 23andMe / Orkney Islands?”. I don’t get many inbound messages, but it amazes me how many people put “Hello” or “Match” in the subject line. I read them anyway, if they don’t go to my spam filter.

    Over time I’ve also learned to keep my initial message short, particularly with close matches. If I want them to upload to GEDmatch, I usually save that for the second message.

    Without question though, the response rates have gone down. I assume the TV commercials are working and more casual testers are coming in. I’m glad to have them, but many of these people aren’t as interested in finding ancestors as the early adopters.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is an excellent observation. As we all know, this whole thing can be so astonishingly frustrating. But your positive spirit is inspiring. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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