You’re ready. You’ve swabbed your cheek and sent the best sample possible to the lab. You’ve covered all the basics and prepared your account. You are aware that ethnicity results may be startling and know how to contact your new cousins. Finally, the day has arrived. Your sample has been batched, processed, passed quality control and the results are in. Congratulations!
You could be faced with thousands of matches or, if you are from an ethnic group with very few testers in the database, a literal handful. Most people will have a couple of hundred matches or better and the pages of matches can be overwhelming without a systematic approach. If you want to make the most of your new matches, it is essential to understand how to use some basic FTDNA tools and some basic genetic genealogy concepts.
Your match list can be accessed from your Welcome Page:
Once you are notified that your results are ready, you will see everyone you currently match in the entire FTDNA database.
When you open your match list, expand your list to Show Full View.
If you have only taken the Family Finder test, for the time being you can ignore the extra information about haplogroups. Unless you already understand X inheritance, it is best to also disregard that information for the moment*.
However, it is Very Good to get into the habit of paying attention to the longest block you share with your matches. That information can only be seen from the expanded Show Full View setting and is at least as important to your research, if not more so, than your total Shared Centimorgans (cM).
When you are examining your match list, you will want to start working with matches that you are most closely related to. FTDNA provides you with several tools to help you sort your matches and determine your relatedness.
Relationship Range will sort your matches by the degree of cousin-ship FTDNA predicts exists between you and your matches. Shared cM will sort your matches based on the total centimorgans shared between you and your matches. If you are curious, you may also click the Relationship Range or Shared Cm tools to reverse sort your matches and see those that are most distant. I have found the relationship predictor to be optimistic. My 2-4th cousins tend to be 4th cousins.
There is also a ‘drop down’ list which will also give you access to several sorting tools:
You can access the Relationship Range, total Shared cM and Longest Block from this drop down list. Generally speaking, the longer the block, the more likely your relationship is recent (ex: 260 total shared cm and 150 cm longest block). If you share a high number of total cM but your largest block number is small (ex: 150 total shared cm and 8 cm longest block), your relationship is probably more distant and through multiple shared ancestral lines.
From the drop down list you can also select the Match Date tool. Each time a new ‘batch’ completes processing at FTDNA, if they match you they will be added to your list. Make sure you continue checking your match list at least a couple of times a week to see your new additions.
Now that you are familiar with the basic sorting tools, it is time for the fun part. On the right hand side of your match page, you will see a column marked Ancestral Surnames.
Since you have already entered your own ancestral surnames (Right? HINT HINT!) you will know what this means. If your match has also entered their surnames, the names will be listed in this column. If you are very lucky, they will also have listed ancestral locations. Even if the name isn’t familiar, the place may be, so check their entire list! The bolded surnames at the beginning of each entry are names that are either in both of your surname lists, or are similar to a name in your surname list. You can hover your mouse over the small ‘I’ for a complete list of any match’s surnames.
Fortunately, you do not need to go through all your matches page by page to see if you have names in common. Simply click on Ancestral Surnames at the top of your match page and enter the name of interest into the box. Any matches with names that are identical or similar will then be produced for further scrutiny.
By now you have given your match list a good once over:
- You know which matches share the most DNA with you and are your best leads
- You know your predicted cousin-ship and have a general idea how many generations back you will need to look in your tree for a common ancestor
- You know which, if any surnames/locations you have in common with your matches
If your matches have family trees uploaded you can access them by clicking on the tree icons beside their names.
Once their tree has loaded you can search for both surnames and locations in the search box on the lower right hand side of the tree. Alternately, or if they don’t have a tree uploaded, you can contact them directly. Simply click on the envelope beside their name.
Although it is exciting and good fun, genetic genealogy is also tough at first and has a sharp learning curve. By no means should you be discouraged. It is normal to feel confused until you get your feet under you. Start with the basics, take your time mastering them, and if your run into problems, ASK! The genetic genealogy community is nothing if not lively and helpful. FTDNA has a forum for its users as well as a searchable Learning Center. ISOGG has a wealth of information, and of course there are many blogs and Facebook groups on the subject. Enjoy your new results!
*More information about X Inheritance can be found here.