Making the most of DNA matches

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20 April 2018
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Many of us are attracted to take a DNA test to discover our ethnicity, however this is only the start of the story.

Many of us are attracted to take a DNA test to discover our ethnicity, however this is only the start of the story. Rachel Bellerby talks about how a DNA test took her on a virtual journey across the Atlantic, and opened up a whole new section of her family tree.

Although I’ve been researching my family tree for more years than I care to remember, it’s only this year that I’ve dipped my toe into the waters of DNA testing. Of course, like everyone else I’d seen the adverts which promise to reveal your ethnicity, and I’m lucky enough to read first-hand DNA stories and research through my work with Family Tree magazine.

After promising myself to take a test, my hints finally paid off and I was presented with a DNA kit on Christmas morning. After getting down to the post office as soon as I could after the festivities were over, the sample was on its way and my six-week wait for the results began.

DNA results

After weeks of speculating and lots of guessing from the family as to what results I’d get, I was finally invited to log into the provider’s website and get my results. The music began, the screen focused in on a globe and I’d finally find I was descended from, ooooh, Africa maybe… Italy… Eastern Europe?? The globe became smaller and smaller, and finally the results popped up:

56% Irish

44% English

Right.

I have to confess to being a bit disappointed that my origins were confined to two countries, despite how proud I am of both my English and Irish roots. Little did I realise that the best was yet to come…

DNA matches

Once my results were through, they were automatically added to my DNA test provider’s database, which gave me a list of DNA matches, or DNA cousins. These are basically people with whom you share fragments of DNA. The list might seem long and confusing but it’s worth persevering. I had more than 5,000 matches and these were listed with closest matches first, although you can rearrange by other filters, including X-match, shared ancestral surnames, chromosomes, etc.

The DNA matches which your test provider gives you can be supplemented greatly by uploading your raw data to other test providers and platforms, and this is what I did (read about the places which accept data).

Family Finder from Family Tree DNA was particularly useful and this is how I got my breakthrough. Just 24 hours after uploading my results I was contacted by a lady in Massachusetts, USA, with whom it turned out I share a 3 x great-grandfather. My 2 x great-uncle had emigrated from Yorkshire to the US in the 1880s and I had absolutely no idea of this US connection. The two of us have had a great time exchanging family tree dates, photographs of our respective ancestors, and details of where our various ancestors are buried. This connection also put me in touch with another of my 3 x great-grandfather’s descendants who lives in Staffordshire, again a region where I was unaware I had family links.

This had been a great family history adventure for me and has reinvigorated by family tree and provided me with a new impetus to discover more ancestors. And now that my results are ‘out there’, I have the pleasure of knowing that as more and more people take a DNA test for family history, there might be another day in the not too distant future that I hear from another DNA cousin.