Contacting Cousins: How to hit a Homer

All right, team, so you’ve checked your new matches and out of the blue you think you have a good one.  Maybe this new cousin will be the one brick that will finally bring the rest of the wall down.  Before you blast off an excited email to your new-found cousin, there are a few points to consider and a few bases you must cover.

First Base

What is a ‘good match’?  Everyone is going to have a different definition of which matches are worth spending their time on. When I open my own match list I make sure it shows the Full View:

Featured imageFull view gives more information, such as the match’s longest shared block and haplogroups.  Total shared centimorgans do have their use (a large number of centimorgans in small blocks indicates multiple lines of shared descent), but a large single block is going to get my attention. It indicates our shared ancestry is recent, and hopefully, findable.

Unless it is an unusual situation, my tree is complete enough to know all of my first and second cousins.  When FTDNA gives me a 2-4th cousin match, I always investigate it as there is a chance that we will be able to figure out how we are related.  As a general rule of thumb, by all means scan all your matches for common surnames and locations, but throw your initial efforts into your closest matches.

Second Base

Identify yourself. You will find that many of your matches tested but don’t deal with their accounts themselves.  They may have tested to help out an interested family member, and often that family member will be your point of contact.  If that is the case, they may be juggling dozens of accounts and they will need both your name and the name of your match.  Sending an email saying, “Hi!  This dna stuff is pretty cool!  How do I know which one of my ancestors is yours?” isn’t going to get you many, if any answers.

If it looks like your match is from another country and English is not their first language, make an effort to communicate anyway.  Maybe you know someone who speaks the language in question who can help you.  If worst comes to worst, write your email in English and then run it through Google Translate and provide both versions.  At least your match will know you tried.

Third Base

Do you have an inkling how you might be connected? Briefly outline that theory to your new cousin and be sure to mention surnames and locations that you think could be important.  Don’t overwhelm them with pages of information, but be sure to hit the high points and offer them more information if they are interested.  For instance, you can point out you already have a tree uploaded at FTDNA or that you are happy to invite them to your tree at Ancestry.  If they don’t yet have a tree at FTDNA, that is also a good time for you to ask if they have a tree they can share with you.

Home run

Now that you’ve run the bases it is time to bring your grand slam home and compose your  message.

  • Make use of your email’s subject heading: “Leona Kern matches three cousins” is not only going to get my attention, but is going to make it easier to find your message when I have more information and want to update you later.
  • Tell them who you are, who you match and what your predicted relationship is
  • Ask them if any of your information is familiar to them
  • Offer them more information if they are interested and request that they share their tree and any ideas they may have with you

An example of a recently sent (and replied to) email with the subject line FTDNA 2-4th Cousin Match G Duffy:

Dear Mr X Y,

I see you match my grandmother G Duffy whose account I manage.  We are researching the names Mackin/McCloskey/Duffy/Burns/Forrestal and Kane.  Our areas are Mayo (Castlebar/Westport area) and the North.  The Duffy and Burns families are from Newtown-Hamilton in Armagh.  I currently am living in Co. Dublin.

Gladys has a tree uploaded at FTDNA and I also have a tree at Ancestry if you would like me to send an invitation.  Do you happen to have a family tree I might view? If any of these names or places are familiar I would love to hear your thoughts.

Look forward to hearing from you.  Hopefully, we will be able to figure out how our trees intersect.

Best,
Lori Alexander for G Duffy

After the Crowd has Roared

Sometimes they’ll reply, and sometimes they won’t.  At least 3 of my matches are deceased, which I discovered via their obituaries.  One account has been taken over by a daughter, and I received a reply from her seven months after my query.  Write the best introductory email you can and be patient.  After all, genealogy, genetic or otherwise is not for the rash.

Even if you don’t see how you relate to your match yet, collaboration is genealogy’s lifeblood.  You may not have all the information you need to connect the dots today, but if you develop a good working relationship with your cousins- after all- they are your cousins!-in time you may find the answers together.  And when they contact you, make sure you reply!  That 8cm 5th to distant cousin match may turn out to be just the one to hit that homer and win the game.

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One thought on “Contacting Cousins: How to hit a Homer

  1. Pingback: My FTDNA Family Finder Results are Back. Now What? | IowaDNAProject

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