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Succeeding with autosomal DNA (atDNA)

Replies: 35

Succeeding with autosomal DNA (atDNA)

Posted: 1372094243000
Classification: Query
Edited: 1445888241000
Autosomal DNA testing is a very powerful tool. It can also be very complex. But it can be pretty simple:

Share with Matches – Determine Common Ancestors!

What could be easier than that? It’s what genealogists have been doing for years. So let’s at least start with a simple process, and work up from there.

Here are the steps I've developed over the past 3 years to insure success with autosomal DNA (atDNA) [see some links to other topics at the end of this message]:

1. Learn about atDNA
- Learn about your company (FTDNA, 23andMe, AncestryDNA) – noodle their site & FAQ
- Most Matches are probably your Cousins
- The cousinship could be from any of your ancestors – it’s random
- Closer cousins (up to 3rd) should match
- Not all real cousins will match you
- Most Matches will be 6th-10th cousins
- Some cousins will cooperate, some won’t, some have lots of ancestors and data, some don't.

2. Create a Robust Tree – throw in the kitchen sink
- Make a special Tree just for atDNA matching – this is your “cousin bait” - you are fishing for Common Ancestors
- Extend it out as far as you can, as much to 12 or 13 generations as you can
- “Borrow” from Ancestry, DAR, Family Search, etc., etc.; but be reasonable - don't copy junk.
- Your Match is only looking for one Ancestor: his/her own!
- Include alternatives, if either one might be correct
- Once you and a Match have found a Common Ancestor, you can discuss how valid it is - maybe your Match has records.
- Create a GEDCOM

3. Post your Tree - make it available to Matches.
Upload your GEDCOM to:
- Your company (FTDNA, 23andMe, Ancestry)
- WorldConnect (

4. Compile a Surname List (FTDNA does this from your GEDcom)
- Make an alphabetical list of all your surnames
(alphabetical is easier for your Matches)
- Many people add year(s) and/or places in parentheses after each surname
- Post these surnames at your company (FTDNA or 23andMe)

5. Expand Surnames to make a Patriarch List; and add this to initial emails…
- Put a comma after the surname and add the Patriarch’s given name and some info
- Bold the surname and keep the Patriarch info to one line
- Use Matriarchs if no Patriarch is known
- Most genealogists can't resist scanning down this list

7. Draft a Standard Email/Message
- Email to FTDNA matches; send a tailored Message Invitation to 23andMe RF matches
- Include your name, email, hyperlink to your Tree, and an overview of your ancestry
- Do not elaborate on one particular part of your Tree, save it for later.
- Include a request to see their Tree and/or exchange emails (and to share DNA at 23andMe)

8. Contact every Match
- You can’t tell from their name who will be a key cousin or have info you need
- One email/message per Match is best (may send group email to bcc's, but it’s less personal)
- Most companies list Matches in order of closeness – just go down that list.
- Check for new matches every few weeks.
- Be persistent – follow up – reply to every communication.

9. Track your Communications
- Download a list of your matches (or create one at Ancestry); note send and receive dates

10. Compile your Common Ancestors.
- Note the Common Ancestor in your Match list.
- Sometimes you need to do some research for your Match to determine Common Ancestor
- Look for common place/times, if no surname line is apparent; look at your brick walls.

These last two items (9 and 10) are good items for a master Spreadsheet - more on that later

Everyone will have their own method to manage their atDNA results - this is intended to provide some ideas for those just starting out.

Here are some links to other topics that might be of help:
atDNA in Plain English - my blog:

Probably the one best place for more info is - many topics covered, links to the best blogs, comparison of companies, comprehensive list of abbreviations - lots of help there.

Comments and constructive improvements welcomed.

Jim Bartlett
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