DNA & A Question of Paternity: Part 3 – Identifying Autosomal Matches

Continued from previous posts, Part 1 and Part 2.

After putting together Bob’s maternal and paternal family trees (as suggested by paper records), I took a closer look at his autosomal DNA matches to see how they compared. 

At each of the sites where Bob had DNA matches available (FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch), there were at least a few matches sharing 150cM or more DNA (perhaps related at the level of second cousin or second cousin, once removed).1For each match, I examined:

  • Which matches shared DNA with other matches?
  • Who were the matches’ ancestors?

The match lists differed site to site, but there was some overlap, so I was able to find a group of relatives who appear to cluster together (sharing DNA with each other), and two others who don’t match the rest. 

Next step: search for and/or build trees for each match.

Some of the matches had public trees linked to their test results. If they didn’t have enough detail or go back far enough, I built the trees myself, starting with the information the match provided. Some matches had no public tree linked – but that didn’t mean that there was no online family tree. As Blaine Bettinger (“Are You Doing Everything to Identify Your Matches?”) and others have shown, there are many tricks for learning the identity of matches who aren’t overly forthcoming about their trees. These are helpful tips for those of us trying to solve genealogical mysteries, but as Blaine pointed out, it’s also important that “test-takers who want privacy understand the ways in which people can use information to identify them.”2

Some tricks I have used to locate unlinked online trees:

  • Search for the name or username of the match in the Ancestry member directory. If the match occurs at a site other than Ancestry (and therefore may not be linked to an Ancestry tree or profile), the tester or test manager still may have an Ancestry account. I’ve seen matches whose email address is something like jenniemae43@somemail.com who appears to have a public tree at Ancestry under the user name jenniemae43. I’ve also seen email addresses that appear to be variations on a user name (possibly for someone who manages a lot of kits), such as jenniemae43_bill@somemail.com – where the user name might again be jenniemae43.
Look at the email addresses of matches; they may be the same as a user name of an account at Ancestry or another site with an online tree.
  • Combine the match name and test manager’s name in a search.If the test taker is not the same person who manages the test, and test manager appears to have a different surname, you can use all of this information to possibly locate an online tree. Especially if one or both of the surnames are uncommon, I’ve located trees by searching with Google or another search engine for “surname1 surname2 ancestry.” An online tree with both names in it may turn up.
  • Neither of these tricks guarantee that you’ll find a tree for your actual match, but they still could help you locate a tree with a critical clue.

Then there are the matches with no apparent online trees. Sometimes, if the name of the tester is uncommon enough, the match can be identified using a search engine. And perhaps searching for the name in indexed newspaper articles (such as in Newspapers.com) can yield an obituary for a family member, which can give helpful family details to place that match in a family tree. 

Some tricks for identifying matches:

  • Search for both the tester’s name and the test manager’s name.If the test manager is not the test taker, often the test manager and test taker may be spouses, parent and child, or similarly connected. By searching for both names together with a search engine, it may be easier to locate the tester.
If the tester’s name and test manager’s name (or email address) don’t appear to refer to the same person, combining the tester and manager in searches can help identify the match.
  • Search for the linked email address.Sometimes the email address may be listed elsewhere online, which can help give clues to the tester’s (or at least the test manager’s) identity.
  • A search for the email address on a search engine may or may not turn up useful results, but if the tester’s name is found on a people finder website, sometimes the email address is also shown (fully or partially). This could help confirm that you’re looking at the right person.

I did not find or build trees for all of Bob’s top matches, but I did find enough to determine that the two ungrouped matches appear to share maternal ancestors with him, supporting the assumption that his mother was his biological mother.

The other matches appear to share no maternal ancestors and no ancestors from the tree of his legal father. Furthermore, many of the ancestors of these new matches are from the Southern United States, as opposed to the Northern ancestry found in the trees of his mother and of his legal father. This supports the idea that his legal father’s family was not the same as his biological father’s family. So, the trees of these new matches may provide clues to Bob’s new family tree, and to the identity of his biological father.

All Posts in the Series:

1. Relationship estimates from “The Shared cM Project 3.0 tool v4,” DNA Painter(https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4: accessed 20 March 2019), for a total of 150 cM.

2. Blaine Bettinger, “Are You Doing Everything to Identify Your Matches?” (https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2017/03/11/are-you-doing-everything-to-identify-your-matches/: 11 March 2017).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: