Search on a Surname

A Segment-ology TIDBIT

Here is a process to help me and my Matches. I have a number of my Triangulated Groups (TGs) for which I believe I know the Ancestor back to the 4C to 8C level (3x to 7xGreat grandparent couple). I blogged about CUMMINGS here, and wrote about HIGGINBOTHAM in Chapter 1 of the “Advanced Genetic Genealogy” book (here) – in both cases over 50 Matches in a TG share that ancestry.

So I invite Matches in a TG or a Cluster to try this little expertiment:

1. Open your full list of DNA Matches.

2. On right side of top row, click on Search:

3. This brings up a new row of three search boxes:

4. Type in the surname I give you (e.g. CUMMINGS) in the Surname box; and the Birth location I give you (e.g. Virginia; or Loudoun County Virginia – accept any standardized option offered by Ancestry)

5. Click on the green Search button (under the red arrow above)

6. Hopefully, you’ll get a list of Matches – everyone of them will: share a DNA segment with you, have a Tree, and have an ancestor with the surname and born in the location you specified. This is a huge time saver when looking for Common Ancestors.

This list could have mostly Matches from the same family – in which case your Match probably shares that same line with you. As a further test of this result, most of the Matches should have many of the other Matches in their Shared Match List (they form a Cluster) – it’s easy to check this. I’d call this a BINGO. This list could also be a small random group which doesn’t appear to be from the same family, nor do the Matches Cluster much – in which case it was probably not helpful. But the whole process is not very labor intensive. And in my experience, particularly when the searches are based on strong evidence, the group usually turns out good (and help you and your Match).


1. Very easy to do – a few clicks, type in surname and/or location => get a list of DNA Matches.

2. Efficient – virtually all of the Matches are very likely to yield positive results.

3. Targeted – you establish a fairly narrow target search, and all the Matches meet your criteria. Try it on all the Matches in one TG or Cluster or Shared Match (ICW) list.

4. Maiden names – once you have established an MRCA couple, try the wife’s maiden surname to see if the DNA segment (TG or Cluster) continues back on her side) – BINGO.

5. Which spouse? (usually wife) – try both surnames – hopefully one is a BINGO, the other is not.

6. Given names – if a child of an MRCA couple has an unusual given name, try it – a BINGO means the DNA probably came from that surname. [A non-BINGO doesn’t rule that surname]

7. Bolster evidence – this process may well add to your evidence of a Common Ancestor for a TG. In that sense it is an expansion of a previous post, so there is some overlap.

8.  Brickwall buster – this process looks beyond your end-of-the-line/brickwall. If you have a clue from genealogy records (deed, witness, neighbor, etc.) or even a family story, use this process to check it out. Either a BINGO or not a BINDO is another piece of evidence – explore the surname in more depth, or move on to other research.

Bottom line: Ancestry’s Search is a powerful tool. You are invited to post in the comments about your experience – pro or con – about using this tool.

[22AX] Search on a Surname TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210609

15 thoughts on “Search on a Surname

  1. When I have a minute, I will post some great leads I have found from using this simple function. I am currently putting some chips in a brickwall.

    I find the coloured dots to be useful in conjunction with this. As I am building up a group to examine, I mark them with a specific coloured dot so that I can call them up all at once.


    • As I find Common Ancestors with Matches (on my own and/or ThruLines), the first thing I put in that Match’s Notes, is the MRCA (I use Ahnentafel numbers folllowed by the surnames, but surnames alone are also helpful). With 372 Triangulated Groups and 350 Clusters, I would quickly run out of dot colors (although dotting the grandparents or great grandparents would be helpful). My system gives me about 1-2 TGs/Clusters for each of my 256 5xGreat grandparents. I really believe, with the resources we have, the atDNA will work out to that level. Jim

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do not have that many shared match group because I have all UK Ancestry and was born over there myself. However, I could use another set of coloured dots – maybe reuse the same colours in squares and triangles to mark various associated groups. I have told Ancestry how much I like the dots and would love an extension of them.

        I like the idea of giving these instructions to some matches as it would really allow them to see and learn at the same time without trying to explain it all verbally.

        I do like exploring with the surname and location features. This was how i came to expand a shared match group and realize a shared match group with the largest match being only 30 cM were all descendants of the early Cannaday settlers of Virginia and West Virginia and were triangulated (as per another site) with my 3rd cousins in Scotland. Member of this group are very distant cousins, but it is great to be able to work out the general historical connection to a group of cousins.

        I have found so many discoveries this way or turned up new leads to follow.

        One other trick that I like is to just input the name of a place where I have no known ancestry or close relatives. We pretty much have cousins everywhere, so something often turns up. But sometimes is is easier to find a possible connection in a tree when the person’s entire ancestry is not from the UK and my history shares 20 surnames the same. I often use the similar approach with a shared match group. I look for a person whose major ethnicities at about the continental level are not the same as mine. This can also be a workaround for tree completeness to some degree, too.

        Just the other night I put “Japan” as the location in the tree of the match and turned up a few. I realized three of them were related to one another and how they were related. This gave me a lead on building a tree for them.

        With creativity, the tools can tell us a great deal.


      • tetleyt;
        Thanks for your input and tricks – we can all learn from each other.
        You mention that you don’t have many groups because you have UK Ancestry. In general we two kinds of groups – genealogy groups (like in Clustering) and DNA groups (like in Triangulated Groups). Yes, the Clustering depends on your Matches and Shared Matches and may be fewer with UK Ancestry. But, I think, our human DNA behaves pretty much the same way as it recombines generations after generation as it is passed down from Ancestor to us. So… I think, if you did segment Triangulation, you’d wind up with over 300 Triangulated Groups. Maybe – with fewer Matches – you’d have a few more gaps than I have – but those are still segments from Ancestors that both you and a Match haven’t found yet. Please let me know if you’ve tried segment Triangulation (on all your Matches) and found a different result. Jim

        Liked by 1 person

      • In regards to your question about triangulated groups, off the top of my head, I would have said I still have under 300 of them. But I opened all my DNA Painter chromosome maps and started counting, I have roughly 100 groups from FTDNA sorted into maternal and paternal sides. The profile looks a bit like Swiss cheese – lots of holes. I am less certain how many groups there are on 23andMe since my mother has not tested there, and there are many matches I cannot sort to one side or the other. I suppose I could sort each group of matches in terms of who matches who and sort out every triangulation group. There might be slightly more there with considerable overlap with the same locations on FTDNA. I have only painted some from MH as I need to verify each segment from my list against my mother’s profile, but I pick up a few more there. So, now I am less certain as to how many TGs I have overall. Maybe I have less than 300 but more that I might have guessed. Maybe 200? I will have to work on a combined profile and see what I can work out. It would be interesting.

        I have some TGs that are very large. I have one with maybe a couple of hundred people from the sites combined, but some of the matches are up to 42 cM there. In fact, you encouraged me to work with it on your Pile-up blog entry. It has been an extremely informative group to work with.

        I have some TGs that are small. On the maternal side of one chromosome I have one single match across all sites. That person has tested or uploaded everywhere including GEDmatch. So I know we do not even have a shared match or ICW match anywhere let alone a triangulated match. There is only a smaller portion of the ethnicity of the match that could be from the UK. It has intrigued me to have a 35 cM match that is so isolated from all other matches.. The isolation of this lone match in contrast to some huge TG groups is a clue in and of itself. I have worked on that one on and off over a couple of years and have developed a theory. I suspect ancestral cousin from a branch where there were a few seamen, went to Costa Rica, where half the ancestry of this match comes from.

        The bottom line is that even with fewer and smaller sized matches from the UK, there is plenty of good data to work with and so much to be discovered. I am continually amazed by the stories revealed through working with DNA test results.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just to be clear – your recombination/crossover points (the start and end points of TGs) are fixed in your body – in *your* DNA. Segment Triangulation and DNA Painter (and Clustering with Matches with chromosome browsers) reveal these crossover points. Your chromosome map of DNA segments should be the same at each company – at each company it’s a picture of your DNA. The coverage may be different, but the crossover points are fixed. My spreadsheet includes over 20,000 Shared Segments from 6 companies – are fit into my 372 TGs.

        Jim Bartlett Sent from my iPhone DNA blog:


        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, I see. I meant that there were gaps on the chromosomes with with no matches at each company. But that there were matches covering some of those spaces on other sites. so I need to cobble them together to truly see where those segment crossover points are. But f I have no matches on a long stretch, I do not know if I have a crossover point there or not. I am only counting sections I have filled in. So, I see what you mean here. Now if I look at it from this perspective, then yes, I might actually have closer to 300 triangulation groups if I knew what was in the blanks. I suppose at the very least I could count one for every blank space But I am certainly thinking of a bit by bit project to fill this in more completely on one map with segments and crossover points based on a greater amount of combined data. My main map only includes segments with confirmed ancestry. Then I have separate ones from each company (then a whole lot of other ones where I am just having fun investigating ideas).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like to think of a segment chromosome map as a jigsaw puzzle without a picture. The pieces only go together one way to fill up the whole puzzle. As we link Ancestors to the puzzle pieces, the full “picture” comes into view. A blank space could be one or several segments in the end. Actually we tend to find segments/Ancestors within a genealogy timeframe; but going way back, most of the segments would be subdivided even further and be linked with deeper Ancestors. To put this in perspective, think about the large segment you got from your father which is called Chr 01. It is subdivided into a few segments when we look at our grandparents. Jim

        Jim Bartlett Sent from my iPhone DNA blog:



  2. The shared surname is so important.
    I have been trying to disprove an erroneous Thrulines connection (where the owner of the tree insists on using my 5x opa as hers…grrr). I showed her the findings from GEDmatch indicating that her brother (and she) and I share a small amount of X…the pathway of X is very narrow, especially in a male.
    I finally found a match to another DNA match on her brother’s list that attached to the line I felt we belonged on (I have no idea who that match is…but, that gal and I share two branches that merge into one where I had figured the match to be). Cool! Needless-to-say, the erroneous tree owner doesn’t plan on changing her tree to reflect the truth.
    You’re correct, the search feature (when functioning) works great!


  3. Everyone must be doing this because the birth location feature is not working these days!    Hopefully A will wake up and fix it.  Thanks for all you do! Phyllis in Arizona


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