DNA Check List - 21 top tips!

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11 April 2022
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If you're wondering how to make use of your DNA test results, read on. DNA detective Michelle Leonard shares some practical tips for working with your DNA results

We have drawn up a 21 day check list with ideas of tasks to tackle, to enable you to get more from your DNA test results. The check list is full of things to try, to help you find out how you and your matches are related to one another, and perhaps even solve some family history mysteries too.

For each 'What?', we have also explained 'Why?' the task is helpful for you.

See how many of these steps and tasks you’ve undertaken! Enjoy!

1. WHAT? Try out the Shared cM Project Tool.

WHY? To help you determine possible relationships that you may share with a DNA match based on the number of cM or percentage of DNA you share with one another.

2. WHAT? Check your DNA Story on Ancestry for ‘Genetic Communities’.

WHY? To see whether specific locations can shed light on your tree.

3. WHAT? Have a play with the filtering and sorting options at your testing site.

WHY? To help you work through your match list (e.g. to search for matches with a specific surname/location in their tree, or matches with whom you share a minimum number of cM).

4. WHAT? Ask yourself: ‘How robust is my tree?’.

WHY? With DNA research, the more collateral lines of your family tree you have researched, the greater the chance you will have of identifying family connections with people on your DNA match list. (So trace and add the lines of your ancestors’ siblings to your tree).

5. WHAT? Link your online tree to your DNA test results.

WHY? This will help you and your matches determine how you may be related. ‘No tree’ may also deter some people from contacting you, feeling that you are not able to help them work out how you are both related. You will also gain benefits such as ‘Common Ancestor Hints’, ‘Thrulines’, Highlighted Shared Surnames and more.

6. WHAT? Use the testing company tools (e.g. use ‘Common Ancestor Hints’ and ‘Thrulines’ on Ancestry and use ‘Theory of Family Relativity’ hints on MyHeritage).

WHY? To help you spot easy identifiables on your DNA match list.

7. WHAT? Investigate your shared match list.

WHY? You will very likely be able to spot commonalities and clusters. If you can find confirmed matches on a shared match list, that will help you narrow down where you need to look on your tree for the connection. 

8. WHAT? Make a start on colour-coding and clustering your matches.

WHY? This will help you to organise your DNA match list, grouping matches so that you can determine the connections you share.

9. WHAT? Explore the search facilities on each of your testing sites.

WHY? If you spot obscure locations or surnames, they may unlock a piece of your DNA puzzle and clarify how you and a match are related.

10. WHAT? Take stock on what you’ve accomplished so far, and try using a combination of the tasks above.

WHY? Because it’s when you employ the range of tools available and knowledge gained that you will start to see real research breakthroughs.

11. WHAT? Take your group organisation further.

WHY? This will help you identify matches who belong in MRCA groups one generation further back than the group you’ve currently placed them in.

12. WHAT? Create a master research tree?

WHY? In your master research tree you can build quick and dirty trees and test out your hypotheses as to how your DNA match fits on your family tree. (Tip: make sure that your master research tree is private and unsearchable as it contains unverified information).

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13. WHAT? Try out the Q&D tree-building method.

WHY? Building ‘quick and dirty’ trees allows you to create a draft paper trail for your DNA match, and this can help you ascertain how you and they may be related.

14. WHAT? Send out some feeler messages.

WHY? Because it’s fun to make contact with relations! They may also know further information about a branch of your family tree, and may even have photos and family stories they may be able to share with you.

15. WHAT? Ask someone to share match lists with you.

WHY? Seeing a DNA match’s shared match list can give you greater insights as they will have matches you don’t have on the lines you share.

16. WHAT? Check whether you have potential outliers?

WHY? Remember that for all relations (bar parent and child) the amount of DNA shared can vary. If you share a higher or lower percentage of DNA than usual with a match, this may lead you to draw the wrong conclusion as to how you are related to one another.

17. WHAT? Ask a sibling to test.

WHY? You only share approximately half of your DNA with a full sibling. This means that they will have a further 50% of DNA from your parents that you did not inherit so if you don’t have both parents to test, you can gain more of their DNA by testing a sibling.

18. WHAT? Create your own target testing wish lists.

WHY? Draw up a list of those members of your family who you would find most useful to test (e.g. relatives on a particular branch of your tree, or relatives who are the generation or generations above you).

19. WHAT? Work on your own small tree matches.

WHY? Even with just a few clues and a tiny tree, you may be able to build their family tree and so work out how you and your DNA match are related.

20. WHAT? Seek out your highest ‘no tree’ matches and target them for research!

WHY? Because you are a super-sleuth! And even with no tree you may well be able to trace your DNA match’s ancestors and work out where they fit on your family tree.

21. WHAT? Create a DNA master research repository.

WHY? To keep your DNA research and notes organised. With DNA research you will be combining your traditional family history research processes (gathering names, dates, places, relationships and more) with further information about your DNA matches (number of cM shared, number of segments shared, which company they tested with, and their contact details too, should you contact them). Creating a master repository will help you keep organised and get the most from your DNA family history research.

Are you keen to expand your DNA learning further? Try these 3 things:

1. BUY A DNA KIT

If you've not yet taken a DNA test, an autosomal test is a very good place to start. Autosomal DNA test kits are available from, for instance:

 Ancestry (£59 spring offer, valid til 15 April 2022) 

MyHeritage £39 plus shipping (Easter sale price)

and FamilyTreeDNA US$79.

2. BUY THE DNA WORKBOOK

Click here. £20 (£12 subscribers to Family Tree). 

3. JOIN US ON THE DNA BOOTCAMP NEXT STEPS

If you're familiar with many of the 21 ideas and tasks on the check list above, you may wish to sign up for the DNA Bootcamp Next Steps 8 week online course, tutored by Michelle Leonard, starting 5th May 2022. Click here. £75 (£50 subscribers to Family Tree).