Extending a Match’s Ancestry

Don’t you just hate it when you get a Match sharing 30 or 40 or 50cM, only to find they only have 7 people in their Tree? I know many Matches have no Tree, but I’m focused on the positive here. I’m focused on what may be possible with Matches with small Trees. How can I tease out more from the information I’m given?

Think about all those probable 4C Matches – they share a Common Ancestor only 5 generations back. If they list their grandparents in a Tree, we have 2 of the generations already – only 3 more to determine.

This process works with Matches at any of the companies (FTDNA and MyHeritage primarily, but also GEDcoms at GEDmatch). And any Match you can communicate with who can tell you their parents or grandparents. Of course, it also works well with AncestryDNA Matches (but you won’t have segment data in that case). You may need to extend all 4 grandparents out to the 3xGreat grandparents (4C level). However, a quick look at them might reveal a surname or location to start with.  

Steps to Extend a Match’s Ancestry:

1. Select an Ancestor of a Match. It’s best if the Ancestor has birth and death dates and places. The key is enough information to find this Ancestor in the Ancestry database.

2. Find this Ancestor – at the Ancestry toolbar use Search > Public Member Trees, and type in the known info – then click the orange Search:

Note 1: Usually not much info is needed; just be sure the results posted by Ancestry are the Ancestor you want – sometimes Ancestry proposes a wild tangent…

Note 2: if Ancestry offers a standard for the location, accept it. I had just typed “virginia” in the above, and accepted their standard of “Virginia, USA”

3. The resulting list often has many links. Usually the one you want is at the top. Click on “See more like this” and then Click “View all”

4. Usually just click on the Tree hyperlink at the top of the list – that Tree usually has the most records and sources, but feel free to scroll down the list to see what other Trees are available.

5. This brings up a profile page for this Ancestor. You probably already knew the basics for this Ancestor, but this may present a lot more. But this Ancestor is NOT the one you are looking for – you started with this Ancestor because you wanted to extend the Ancestry for your Match. So, focus on the parents of this Match. Actually, just click on Tools > View in Tree (see red arrow below):

6. This brings up the pedigree view of the Ancestor’s ancestors (see below). If your Common Ancestor is listed here – you’re done – you’ve found the CA of your DNA Match. If not, the CA may be on the maternal side below which is not in this Tree – delete this page and try another public tree.

7. You can also click on any Ancestor in this pedigree – to get their profile page – and then click on Search (on top right of the profile page). This takes you back to Steps 2 and 3 above with a new Ancestor. In this manner, you can “chain” together these pedigree searches in your quest to find a Common Ancestor. And you can always start the process anew, with a different Ancestor of your original DNA Match. Remember – the truth is out there.

BOTTOM LINE: This process allows you to extend the Ancestry of a DNA Match, and, hopefully, find your Common Ancestor. This is an important method of finding Common Ancestors with Matches at companies which don’t have many good Trees.

[22AY] Extending a Match’s Ancestry TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20210613

14 thoughts on “Extending a Match’s Ancestry

  1. Pingback: Two Tricks | segment-ology

  2. Pingback: Best Of the Genea-Blogs - Week of 13 to 19 June 2021 - Search My Tribe News

  3. Great info Jim. Always look forward to your articles.
    Since this article brings in the use of trees generated on Ancestry there is something the novice user should be warned about……….. user trees are only as good as the skills of the user. Personally I rarely look at them because I have often found relationship and surname errors (non-related surname) which are then replicated by others who copy the original tree.


    • Rex, I agree with your main point, that we need to independently verify any connection we plan to use. But I would counter by saying “sometimes” found instead of “often” found. I’ve been a researching genealogist since 1974, and have long since built much of my Tree before PCs and the internet. I used to work for the Smithsonian, and would spend by lunch hours at the nearby National Archives. This method provides clues, which need to be verified. And, again, I agree everyone needs to be careful. Jim


  4. I have built trees for my matches at 23andme. I know matches can link a tree from another website but they rarely do. However there can be more information on ancestry than on other dna websites. the user name, birth year and location. list of surnames and locations for their grandparents. Sometimes I have found a tree on ancestry created by the dna match at 23andme. I take the surnames and try to find marriages between each of the surname. if there is a name, birth year and location for the match, I have searched ancestry but also looked are current websites like whitepages, etc. And then have built a tree from there,

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t forget to use a regular search engine like google for obituaries or other tidbits. Obits often list quite a few family members to help with your searches on the genealogy sites.


  6. I actually just recently managed to trace a match on 23andme who hadn’t responded to inquiries, but had provided a birth year, and 3 ancestral surnames. She had X chromosome matches to some cousins, one on my paternal grandmother’s side and two (uncle and niece of each other) on my paternal grandfather’s side, who were descended from sisters, and whose lines of descent fell within the X chromosome inheritance pattern.

    What I did was search on the match’s name on Ancestry, which gave me a marriage announcement of someone with her name on Newspapers.com. The announcement gave me names of parents. I searched on the father’s name next, which gave me his mother’s name, which matched one of the ancestral surnames, which told me I was on the right track.

    From there I was able to trace the paternal grandmother of my match back to someone already in my tree: a sister of my distaff common ancestor with this match’s X chromosome matches on my paternal grandfather’s side, and granddaughter of those matches’ common ancestors with the match on my paternal grandmother’s side.

    I also recently traced a group of DNA matches on Ancestry whose trees all had ancestors sharing a surname with the husband of one set of most distant ancestors in one of the trees back to that ancestral couple, using more or less your method. The wife of this ancestral couple shared the surname of my maternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather. Some of these trees were only 7 people. I wasn’t able to link this group to my tree (records are scarce in early 19th century Ireland) but chances are good that the ancestral wife of this group was a close relative, possibly an aunt, of my 3G grandfather.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Richard, What a research thread! It’s stories like this that convince me, more than ever, the limiting factor in genetic genealogy is Trees (or lack thereof) of our Matches. The 3C to 8C Matches are there, we just haven’t connected, yet. Jim

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In Ancestry only, I use the following to extend a line. I work in the tree of my Match. I click on the Profile of the dead end ancestor, then on that page, I click the Search in the upper right corner which takes me to All Results, and hopefully a tree of the person I are searching. On the left Search Filter if you do not get a tree, you will note that you may have to make adjustments (like take out the husband’s name if it is in there et al), then move the slider to Exact Last Name and more than likely you will get a tree. Even if not, there are plenty of good records on that page. You may have to keep working this process, but you will get the hang of it. This is the feature I use most. I would not bother with a subscription at Ancestry otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Caith,
      Thanks for the additional info. Yes! I use those tricks too (adjusting the search info on the left side, and reviewing all of the record *hints* Ancestry has found for that Match which are listed in addition to the Public member trees). And I particularly like your “practice makes perfect” sentiment. Thanks again for posting, Jim


  8. Thanks Jim – yes I’ve been doing as you suggest because I find about 1/3 of the small trees on FTDNA actually have much larger trees on Ancestry. The FTDNA tool is just not convenient for building out trees and so people are understandably lazy. Your tip is very important – just don’t assume a match’s tree is all they’ve got!

    Other frustrations:
    1. The relationship predictor for anything past 2C is almost always optimistic. 3rd Cs are regularly 4th or 5th etc.. I think the GG community under estimates sticky segments…
    2. Despite most of my ancestors being genetically confirmed back to 2nd grt grandparents… and for most of them I know 2 or 3 more generations back, I regularly get 3C to 5C matches where there is no MRCA despite both trees being fill out to sufficient generations. That means either the relationship is older, there’s NPEs or people’s research just isn’t good.

    The net result from all of this is that despite having a well researched tree, triangulating segment groups to an MRCA beyond 5 generations remains mostly elusive. Most of my 3C to 6C matches remain a mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Douglas, How do you match up the FTDNA and Ancestry kits – I’ve had reasonable luck with GEDmatch and Ancestry, but maybe haven’t tried hard enough at FTDNA.?
      I like and agree with your #1 (I’ve got lots of AncestryDNA 4C or better who are really 5C-8C). One of my early blogposts about segments and sticky segments was based on easy math and logic that showed that, per biology, we *must* have sticky segments! We should expect them!!
      For #2, try my previous post. If you have a strong feeling that a Cluster or TG goes back on a particular line (or even if you’d like to see if it does), ask some of the Matches in the group to search on that surname and birth location. All of their Matches which come up in a list are their DNA Matches, with Trees big enough to include your criteria (name/location). Usually (but not always), almost all of those Matches will be from the same Tree (with a unique name/location, they almost have to be). If I got that result (and I have on several occasions), that’s a strong clue that they descend from that line, AND that they are probably your cousin from that line (as you expected/hoped). This has nothing to do with the correctness of the Match’s Tree – it has everything to do with the shared DNA from one Ancestor drawing those folks together (whether they had a Tree or not)! On the other hand, if your Matches report few Matches which appear to be unrelated, then chalk it (and make a note of the failure), and move on – little has been wasted. I’m having good success with this, AND it helps each Match.

      As for your mystery Matches – try the above search method on yourself, using your own Ancsestors/birth locations – it captures a lot of Matches I hadn’t found before, including ones in Private Trees.

      Liked by 1 person

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