Family Finder lists: Project Matches

If you have joined any of the Projects at FTDNA, hopefully you’re getting matches or will soon.  Maybe an administrator or another project member has contacted to let you know of a previously unknown 3rd cousin who is also in the project.  Maybe you’ve run a Match Report yourself.  Maybe you’ve joined a project but have no idea if you have any matches within the group.  If so, here are a few tips to help you start finding that information and putting that it to work.

As the administrator of the geographical Iowa DNA Project, I usually run a Family Finder Project Match report for all new members about once a week.  When I find a match, the new member and their matches are notified and supplied with some basic information, including the length of longest shared segment and predicted relationship range.  As the Iowa DNA Project is focused on Family Finder results, this is the most basic data members need to decide where to focus their energy and to start sleuthing out connections.

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If your project administrator doesn’t notify you of Family Finder matches, or you would like to check them yourself, you can easily access the information. Go to your Welcome Page, or DASHBOARD, and in the Family Finder section click on ADVANCED MATCHES:

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Next, click the box that restricts the database search to Family Finder Results, choose your project from the drop down menu, and click RUN REPORT:

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You will then receive a report similar to this, and you will not need to search for your matches within your Family Finder Match list.  Simply click on their names or the icons beside their names to see their tree, send an email etc.

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However, if your project admin or someone else has sent you the name of a match, the simplest way to access the information that can lead to a connection is to search in your Family Finder Match list.  To do this, go to your Welcome Page, or DASHBOARD, and click on MATCHES in the Family Finder section.


From your Family Finder Match List click on NAME and a box will appear.  Fill in a name of your match of interest:

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You may wish to enter only the surname, as sometimes folks change their profile by adding a middle name, removing a first name or some other alteration that throws off the search function.

resultsIn this case, two people share the surname I searched, and they are both members of the project.  From the list, I can gather their email address, see their family trees, surnames, and any matches we may have in common.  Matching segments can be compared by returning to the Welcome Page/Dashboard and choosing CHROMOSOME BROWSER.

From the Chromosome Browser, click FILTER MATCHES BY and from the drop down menu choose NAME:

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In this case, my chromosomes are the dark colored bottom layer, and Jackie and Diane are overlaid in orange and blue, signifying where our segments match.  More often, you will share much less with a project match.

To determine a common ancestor, your goal is TRIANGULATION and you have several options. Naturally, you should try to communicate with your match,  examine family trees, surnames and locations for commonalities.


You can use the FTDNA IN COMMON WITH feature located beside your match’s name to look for people that are on both your lists.  Perhaps you will recognize the names of other project members. You can then see if you might share the same segment(s) by comparing yourself against your selected matches in the CHROMOSOME BROWSER.  You can also use a third party application to keep track of who and how you match, such as Genome Mate, which I highly recommend.

Whatever methods you use to examine, track and organize your matches, joining a project and using the available tools could very well help narrow your connection to a region and time period if not a specific ancestor.  The more people who test, the more who join projects, and the more who collaborate- the more likely we are to succeed.  Happy Hunting!

Deciphering DNA’s Astrology: Admixture Tools

If your kit isn’t already uploaded to Gedmatch, by all means add it to their free database.  Not only can you compare yourself to testers from all the Big Three DNA companies, but there are numerous tools to explore, including admixture tools.  Even if you are lucky enough to ‘know’ where your family is from, the first portion of results many testers look at is their ethnicity charts, and Gedmatch’s admixture calculators really let you dive in to your ancestry.

When using any of the Admixture, or Heritage/Ethnicity tools, it is vital to understand that they are only estimates of your ancestry.  It is also important to understand that certain components are expected across populations. For example, in Figure 1, we have a group of Irish testers.  Each kit has been run through Eurogenes K13, and the results are displayed in the table.  The circled column to the far right is the average result for a native Irish tester.  As you see, these Irish testers all display a small amount of Native American ancestry despite not having Native American ancestors.  The small percentages are merely an indication of deep ancestry, or DNA that was in the Native American population prior to traveling to the Americas. So, in my grandmother Gladys’s case, even though she has almost 2% Native American according to the calculator, it can be disregarded as not recent.

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Figure 1

Another important factor to keep in mind is that different tools give different results, based on the populations that are sampled and the populations that the tools are intended for. For example, my grandmother Leona gets results that best fit what we know of her background with the MDLP tools, as she has North Eastern European ancestry. Eurogenes  is the go-to for my Western European and British Isles grandmother Gladys.  Were I predominately of African origin, I would use the Ethiohelix tool, and if I were Euro-African mixed I would gravitate towards the puntDNAL tool. Harrapaworld is for South Asians.

Currently, I have tested with both Ancestry and FTDNA, but my preference for admixture tools remains with Gedmatch because of the flexibility and additional ‘Oracle’ tools.  Depending on the option you choose, Oracles make a ‘best guess’ at the origin of your parents/grandparents. The closer the distance to the population, the more affinity, or more alike your DNA is.

ancestry ethnicityMy Ancestry results are slightly more exotic than FTDNA. My FTDNA results are limited to Western and Central Europe, Scandinavian, and Eastern European.  Given the differences in the estimates, it is easy to dismiss the entire matter as cocktail party conversation.

However, I have tested some of my extended family, and one of my son’s also has extended family beginning to test.  Since we have testers from multiple generations, we can wring a little more information out of the calculators, and have a better idea of what to ignore and what to note.  Plotting the results from various admixture tools we can look for patterns, consistency, and anomalies  across the generations and within known relationship groups.


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In the above figure, you can see two separate family groups.  The larger box to the left is my extended family and the smaller box to the right, and above it includes my son Jeremy’s tested relations.

Gedmatch has added a new admixture tool to its roster, Gedrosia DNA. Currently, there is a post tracking results at Anthrogenica.

“This calculator is most accurate for individuals with predominantly S Asian or W Asian Ancestry. It is least accurate for individuals with predominantly African or Native American ancestry. Since I have not used African populations to source allele frequencies, Africans will appear predominantly SW Asian”

No one in my test group is predominantly S Asian or W Asian, but like any other Europeans we have deep W Asian ancestry as well as a mtDNA haplogroup born in Pakistan.  Equally tantalizingly, my grandmother Gladys consistently throws up about double the amount of South Asian as is normally found in an Irish person. I was curious to see what Gedrosia would make of our DNA as a group.

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Figure 3 Gedrosia K11 Results

As you can see from Figure 2, Gladys is my paternal grandmother, Steve is my father, and Jeremy and Gavan (half brothers) are my sons.  Leona is my maternal grandmother, Jackie is her daughter and my full aunt.  Diane is my (untested) maternal grandfather’s daughter, and Jackie’s half sister.  Our results are falling into line with other Europeans reporting their findings at Anthrogenica, with a few exceptions:

  • My son Gavan returned an out-of -left-field 1.9% Indo-Chinese result.  His Irish born father is currently untested
  • My Irish grandmother and half-Irish father have much less SW Asian than the rest of the group.
  • My grandmother Leona has more East Asian than the rest of the group. The East Asian population sample are the Ulchi, an indigenous group from the far east of Russia. Leona had known Eastern European ancestry.

Gedrosia K11 This calculator’s 11 components peak as follows:

1- WHG (W European Hunter Gatherer) – Loushbour & NE Europeans
2- S Indian – Various S Indian tribal populations, such as Hakkipikki and Nihali
3- Gedrosian – The Baloch, Brahui, and Makrani of Pakistan
4- SW_Asian – Saudis, Yemenis, and Bedouin
5- Siberian – Nganasans
6- EEF ( Early European Farmers) – LBK, Sardinians, and Stuttgart
7- E Asian – Ulchis
8- Caucasus – Georgian, Abkhasians, Adygei, and Balkar
9- Kalash – Kalash of Pakistan
10- Indo-Chinese – Kusunda peoples
11- SE Asian – Ami & Dai.

The second tested family group includes myself and my son Jeremy, as well as Jeremy’s dad’s half brother Anthony/AJ and AJ’s mother Nancy.  Most of the figures in this group tell us what we already have guessed:  our results are standard for Europeans.

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Since Jeremy’s dad James is deceased, as is James and Anthony’s dad Jim, we are unable to test them. We haven’t yet gathered enough DNA to recreate their genomes via Gedmatch’s Lazarus tool. Still, there are a couple of oddities to take note of:

  • I have no Indo-Chinese and Nancy has very little, yet both AJ and Jeremy have small amounts which they would have derived paternally
  • AJ has nearly double the amount of Nancy’s SW Asian, which he would have inherited paternally

What can be done with these results to further your genealogy?  Very little, really, as they are more a matter of interest for the curious.  Admixture calculators are being continuously created and will continue to be improved as population samples are added and calculators are refined.

Meanwhile, as long as you remember a few key points enjoy experimenting with the calculators and see if they match what you know about your family:

  • Results are estimates and vary
  • Use the right tool for your background
  • Look for patterns and consistency in results. Make a note of anomalies and note if they also appear in your the results of relatives

Projects: Use Your Tools

With the rollout of FTDNA’s MyGroups and global search tool, tackling your match list just might get a little easier.  You can learn about the advantages of projects and how to join here.  If you’d rather not manually search through the project index, you can experiment with the ‘Search Tool’.  The tool can be found on your Welcome Page:

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Once you have entered a surname or location of interest, you’ll be provided with a list of projects that have indexed your surname, as well as a list of relevant family trees.  This is another reason to make sure you’ve entered your surnames, uploaded a family tree, and reminded your project administrators to add your surnames to the index.  This will help others using the search tool find you.  With luck, the search tool can transform Family Finder mystery matches to a familiar surname or location that can lead to discovering connections.  You can learn more about adding gedcoms and surnames here.

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Tree accessibility is dependent on individual privacy settings.  You can adjust your settings from the ‘Privacy Settings’ dropdown.  I want my tree to be available to non-matches as well as matches, so have chosen the ‘Public’ setting.  When working with common last names and speculative ancestors, it can be just as important to be aware of who you don’t match as who you do match.

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Help Your Matches Help Yourself

If you want your profile information to be visible to project members, from the ‘Who Can See Me in Project Member Lists’ section choose the ‘Project Members’ setting.

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Compare Notes

With MyGroups, project members have the opportunity to compare notes and make contact on the Activity Feed. When members post information, visible profiles identify, among other things any surnames in common.To access your fellow project members profile info, from the Activity Feed click on the number of members in a project:

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Group Effort

At the Iowa DNA Project, match notifications are sent out on a weekly basis.  At last count, 143 of our members have inter-project matches.  Some connections are already known, some are narrowed down to specific branches, and many are still being worked on.  The more we collaborate, and the more of the tools we take advantage of, the more likely we are to achieve success.

Get Involved: The Purpose of Projects

Projects are one of the many tools FTDNA customers can take advantage of to advance their genealogical research.  Joining is free and you can join as many as you like.  Projects can be accessed from the top of your Welcome Page:

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There are a variety of categories to choose from:

  • single Surname Projects: studies devoted to particular family names and how different lines may be connected
  • YDNA and mtDNA Geographical Projects: studies of your direct maternal or direct paternal line from a particular area, such as Scotland or Poland
  • Dual YDNA and mtDNA Geographical Projects: studies of maternal and paternal lines coming from a particular area.  Family Finder Projects are usually in this category, like the Iowa DNA Project
  • mtDNA Lineage Projects: studies concerning a direct maternal line, such as the descendents of Old Mother Hubbard
  • YDNA Haplogroup Projects:  studies for those who have tested their YDNA and would like to find out more about it and which further tests and upgrades might be advised
  • mtDNA Haplogroup Projects: studies for those who have tested their mtDNA and would like to find out more about it and which further tests and upgrades might be advised

Once you have chosen projects that are of interest and apply to your research, you can access each project page from the left hand side of your Welcome Page:

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Each project page should have information about its goals and purpose, as well as how to contact the administrator (s).  Some projects will have already upgraded to MyGroups which provides members with even more tools, such as the Activity Feed where surnames/locations/photos/articles of interest/queries/etc can be shared.  For projects such as mtDNA and YDNA Haplogroups, administrators and fellow members will be your lifeline to cutting edge information concerning your haplogroups of interest.  Take advantage of this valuable resource!

Of course, not all projects are made equally.  Some are gigantic, such as projects for countries like Norway or YDNA haplogroups such as R and its subclades.  Those projects get many, many, many new members each week and the administrators have mountains of emails and questions to wade through.  It may take longer than you  would like or multiple attempts to get an answer to your question.

If your question is simply, DO I MATCH ANYONE ELSE IN THE PROJECT? there is a quick way you can check without waiting for the administrator to run a report.  From your Welcome Page scroll down to the Family Finder Section and choose ‘Advanced Matches’:

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An Advanced Menu will appear.  From the drop down menu, click on the project of your choice.  Depending on the nature of the project, check whichever boxes apply.  For the Iowa DNA Project, choose Family Finder and then run the tool.

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Your list of matches and predicted relationship or No Result will then appear.

Why Join?

Whether you have ancestry from many areas or are only interested in those who share a surname or haplogroup, collaboration will be the key to your success.  Projects can be a fantastic aid- if those on your match list have also joined, your projects will help you find the other Swedes, people from the Andes or those with a certain surname.  Instead of endless pages of unfamiliar names that may or may not have trees and surnames listed, project matches will give you solid leads and help narrow the possibilities for your shared ancestry.

Must-Have Tools for FTDNA Users: Genome Mate

When tracing your family tree, whether through traditional genealogy or by making use of DNA testing, ongoing success will rely on a few simple factors: patience, luck, and good organizational skills.  You may not be able to control your luck, and you may struggle with patience, but you absolutely can take charge of your records and results.  Whether your FTDNA Family Finder results yield 10 matches or 10,000, one free third party tool you want to take advantage of to help keep track of and understand the significance of your results is Genome Mate.

Genome Mate is a desktop tool used to organize in one place the data collected while researching DNA comparisons. Besides data storage it has many features to aid in identifying common ancestors.


  • Multiple Profiles for multiple kits
  • Import of 23andMe, FTDNA and GedMatch data
  • Chromosome Mapping of Common Ancestor
  • In Common With (ICW) Groups
  • Import of Gedcom data for each Profile
  • Surname Matching and Searching
  • Display of Overlapping Segments
  • X-List of X Chromosome Donors

Getting Those Matches Organized: Download and Install Genome Mate

To download and install Genome Mate, visit the tool’s main webpage here.  For the tool to run properly, you must have Silverlight installed on your computer, which may be freely downloaded here.  Once Genome Mate and Silverlight are installed on your computer, it is time to set up your ‘Profile’.  You may set up as many profiles as you like, so each kit you administer is represented and the results are available in one place for easy and instant comparisons.

Getting Those Matches Organized: Your Profile

Once you have Genome Mate installed, setting up your profile is straightforward.  Open the program and from the top toolbar select ‘Profiles’.  In the pop up box enter the profile’s name and click ‘Add’. At this point, you have the option to enter your Gedmatch number, which you should do if you are registered, and to add a gedcom, or generic family tree to your new profile.

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Get those Results Organized!

Voila!  You have now installed a fantastic tool and set up your profile.  All that is left to do is import your data from FTDNA. From your ‘Matches’ page, scroll to the bottom and download the CSV version of your data.

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Next, go to your ‘Chromosome Browser’ and repeat the process from the top of the page.

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With both files downloaded to your computer, open Genome Mate and choose ‘Import Data’ from the top tool bar.  In the pop up box select ‘FTDNA’.  Next, click ‘Load Family Finder File’ and choose the Family Finder Matches csv file you downloaded. Once you have done that, click ‘Load Chromosome Browser File’  and choose  the Chromosome Browser CSV file you downloaded.  You will need to repeat this process periodically as new matches come in at FTDNA.

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Choose Your Battles and Put those Matches to Work!

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Now that your data is entered, you can begin to use it to your benefit.  In your profile, under the ‘Relative’ heading, you will see your list of matches.  The bar beside the names indicates where their DNA overlaps with each chromosome you inherited from either your mother or father.  You can examine all your matches and overlapping segments, chromosome by chromosome, by scrolling through the Chromosome drop down list.   Generally speaking, the larger the segment the easier it is to identify a common ancestor.  However, if matches have reasonably complete family trees, the group is large enough, and your cousins are willing to work together, success is achievable even with smaller segments.

The image below is from my son Jeremy’s profile.  The example will familiarize you with some basic Genome Mate terms and  utilities:

  • ICW or In Common With: an individual or group that matches a segment of your DNA.  You may or may not know the common ancestor of the group
  • Chr or Chromosomes
  • Start End: the precise starting and stopping points where the match’s DNA overlaps your DNA
  • cMs or Centimorgans: a unit by which DNA segments are measured
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Figure 1

With the goal of determining the common ancestor shared between the profile and matches, the above image provides a surprising amount of information.  Since I have been tested, and also have a profile Jeremy’s results can be compared against mine. Anyone who also matches me can be added to the ICW group ‘M’ for maternal match, and instantly Jeremy’s search through his family tree for a common ancestor is halved.  Maternal matches can be determined quickly and easily by clicking on the relative’s name and bringing up the extended information:

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Figure 2

Figure 2 shows ‘Profile Overlaps’ shared between Jeremy and his match.  Also on that overlap list are Lori (mother), Gavan (brother) and Kern (maternal great grandmother).  With that additional information, the ICW group can be refined further and the information is then available at a glance.   As his maternal great grandmother is on the overlap list, we know she, the match and Jeremy share a common ancestor and the search through his family tree is narrowed further.  Once you have a theory as to how you are related, the ICW labels can be customized to anything you like to help you organize your results.

Genome Mate conveniently imports the email addresses and surnames of your matches.  It will also look for surnames in common.  However, the ‘Surnames in Common’ utility is literal:  if you have a similar surname or a variant, it will not pick it up.  Make sure to scroll through the surname list manually if the match looks promising.

Had Jeremy been the only member of the family to test, we would have to tackle his matches in another way.

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Figure 3

In Figure 3 a group of 6 matches share segments ranging between 8-13 cm.  While those are small segments, and indicate distant ancestry, the group proved worth investigating as all members had contact info, surnames listed and fairly well fleshed out family trees uploaded to FTDNA.  One after another, each tree showed a common couple as direct ancestors: Jacob Fouts and Anna Maria Kuntz.  When a person shares a segment and common ancestors with at least 2 matches the segment is considered triangulated, and the relationship is considered to be genetically proven.

Take Notes!

Once a common ancestor is suspected or identified, in Genome Mate each match can be clicked on and all pertinent details can be entered into the notes section. It is also a good place to keep track of communications between yourself and your matches.  If you have added a gedcom to your profile, you can click on the match’s name and choose the identified ancestors from the drop down menu.  As more and more ancestors are identified, various segments of each chromosome will become associated with those ancestors.   The more identified segments, the more colorful your chart will become.

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Genome Mate is a powerful tool, which is frequently updated to keep up with the dramatic advances taking place in genetic genealogy.  The creator of Genome Mate, Becky Walker, has provided a detailed tutorial for FTDNA users here and the Stone Family Tree has provided an easy to follow ‘getting started’ overview here.  There is also a Genome Mate Group on Facebook, where you can get additional tips and insights into how to make best use of the program.  If you are struggling to make sense of your FTDNA match list, you will find this tool indispensable.

Must-Have Tools for FTDNA Users: Gedmatch

Between the recent windfall of free and reduced-price transfers from Ancestry, and the end of the year holiday sale, the FTDNA database is now estimated to contain about 565,000 customers.  The December 2014 sale is reputed to have sold in the neighborhood of 10,000 kits, and the first few months of 2015 should see many of us enjoying a bumper crop of new matches.

The Iowa DNA Project has already begun to see members who purchased kits at the beginning of the December sale start to receive their Family Finder results.   Most of our members have already begun to lay the groundwork to make the most of their new results.  With the basics already been covered, results in and raw data available, it is time to consider using essential and powerful free third party tools.

Get Your Name Out There

As you become more familiar with the world of genetic genealogy, you will begin hearing the term ‘Gedmatch‘.   Gedmatch is a website run by volunteers who allow users to freely upload, analyze and compare raw data.  The obvious advantage of this service is that it is available to all customers of the ‘Big 3’: FTDNA, Ancestry and 23 and Me.  So, if you have tested with FTDNA, you can still scoop up additional matches with cousins who have tested with other companies and have also uploaded their data to Gedmatch.

To take advantage of this opportunity, download your raw data, go to the Welcome Page at FTDNA and scroll down to the Family Finder Section.

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Once you are on the ‘Raw Data’ page, you must download TWO FILES:

  • Build 36 Raw Autosomal Raw Data
  • Build 36 X Chromosome Raw Data

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Both Build 36 files must be downloaded from FTDNA and then uploaded to Gedmatch one at a time for the raw data to be processed.  After you have registered at Gedmatch, log in and upload your data from your Gedmatch Home page.  Click the link and upload your Autosomal DNA, or Family Finder file FIRST.  Then click the second link and upload your X file.

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It usually takes about two days for raw data to be processed, or ‘tokenized’ by Gedmatch.  During times of heavy usage it may take longer.  Once your raw data is tokenized you may run it against the entire Gedmatch database by using the One To Many matches utility.  The results will include up to 1500 potentially new matches. In the meantime, you can experiment with various tools, including a wide variety of specialized admixture, or ancestry tools.

Gedmatch is extremely popular with the genetic genealogy community and there is a wealth of information to help you navigate its complexities.  Detailed tutorials and information can be found here under the Gedmatch section.  A series of tutorials to help you learn more about various Gedmatch tools is available here. Gedmatch’s services are free but donations are strongly encouraged and will not only help support the growing infrastructure and hardworking volunteers but also give you access to an advanced set of genetic genealogy tools.

My FTDNA Family Finder Results are Back. Now What?

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:

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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*.

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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).

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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.

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There is also a ‘drop down’ list which will also give you access to several sorting tools:

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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.

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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.

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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 CenterISOGG 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.

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.

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.

I bought a FTDNA test. Now what?

Congratulations, you’ve taken the first step in bringing your family’s story to the next level!  Whether you bought a Family Finder, mtDNA or YDNA test, there are a few things you will want to do to get off on the right foot.

Once you have made your purchase, you’ll receive an email with a kit number and password.  The kit number will be your ‘username’ each time you log into your account.  You can of course change your password to anything you like.  To do so, go to your main, or Welcome page and find the ‘Change Password’ entry on the left hand side.

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Next, go to the ‘Manage Personal Information’ entry. It is directly above ‘Change’ Password’.

From the Manage Personal Information page, there are a number of choices you can make to increase your chances of being contacted by matches, and responded to when you make contact.  First, add a profile picture.  It will make your account stand out among the faceless sea of 4th cousins.  Also, it’ll make it harder for ’em to ignore you!  You may also want to write about your research goals in the ‘About Me’ box, or mention immediate family that has also tested.

At the top of the Manage Personal Information page, you will see 5 tabs.

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Until you get your bearings, it is good idea to leave all the settings at their default position. Still, you have a bit of work to do.

Account Settings: Genealogy

From the genealogy tab, you can choose your privacy settings.  This is also where you will enter the names and locations of your most distant ancestors.  Be sure to add their year of birth/death and locations.  From here, you can also list your family surnames.  This will help you connect with matches.  If they see a surname or location that is familiar to them, they are more likely to contact you and you are more likely to determine how your trees connect.  Everyone, without exception should fill in this basic information.

Account Settings: Match and Email Settings

There is one setting you should not touch:  Family Finder Matches & Email Notifications.  If you change any of the defaults, it will not only turn off email notifications at that level. It will turn off matching at that level.  You will no longer see those matches and they will no longer see you.

Welcome Page: Family Tree

FTDNA has recently changed the family tree interface, and truth be told it is not great.  They have already made improvements and let us hope they continue in that vein. Meanwhile, it is still a good idea to upload your tree.  Although it is cumbersome to navigate, the new version does have one very important feature, and that is the search box in the upper right corner.  If you see a match with a surname or location you recognize, you can click on their tree and enter either of those terms into the search box. They can do the same with your tree.  Et viola, a connection is made!

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To upload a family tree you must have a file that ends in ‘ged’. All major family tree programs will export a file in this format. Once your file is prepared, go to your Welcome Page and click ‘Family Tree’.

Select ‘Upload a Gedcom’ and choose your file.  Alternately, you may build your tree from scratch directly at FTDNA.


Now that you have covered the basics to help matches find you, there is one more thing that you can do to help you find them and more importantly figure out how you relate.  FTDNA has a large number of projects, from groups for specific surnames , to groups which study mtDNA or YDNA haplogroups to groups that study families from a particular region, such as the Iowa DNA Project.   For YDNA testers, it is vitally important to join your project if you are hoping to learn more about your haplogroup or your terminal snps.  Your project leader will be able to provide more information on your place in the phylotree and to offer advice on additional testing if you are interested.  To browse the available projects, go to the top of your Welcome page and choose the entry My Projects.  Joining is free and you can join as many as you think could be helpful.

MtDNA Tests

There is one setting that is important for people that have tested FMS or their Full Mitochondrial Sequence.  Those testers have gone beyond the basic level and have values known as, ‘Coding Region Mutations’.  Go to your Manage Personal Information Page, then your Account Settings Tab and choose Results Display Settings.  You will be directed to ‘Click Here’.  Choose ‘Who can view my mtDNA Coding Region mutations?’ and make sure ‘Project Administrators’ is selected.  After you have learned your mtDNA haplogroup, it will be very important that your group’s administrator can see your coding region mutations in order to know where you fit within your haplogroup.  Once that is determined, you will be able to learn more about your deep maternal ancestry and make the most of your test results.

Where is my Test?

If you have ordered a kit and it hasn’t reached you within two weeks, call FTDNA and have them send you a new one at no charge.  I order my kits from Ireland and they usually arrive from Texas within a week.  FTDNA can be reached here and at 713-868-1438.  For more information on how to get the best sample collection see here.

The Wait for Results

Featured imageThere is a good chance it will take about month from the time you order your kit before it is ‘batched’ or received by the lab and testing begins.  If all goes to plan, from that point, it will be another 3-4 weeks for your Family Finder test to be processed, and generally at least 8 weeks for mtDNA and yDNA testing to complete.  In the meantime, take the opportunity to work on your family tree, especially extending your collateral lines as that is where you will intersect with the majority of your matches.  Also, take advantage of the Forums and Learning Center at FTDNA and download their free ebook, which is available from your welcome page.