Sometime last week, far too long after the great neighborhood blackout to go back and make amends, I realized I hadn't posted my traditional biweekly research progress report. If you heard that big "oops"—yes, that was my outside voice—you now know why it didn't show as planned on June 30. After spending six hours at a local cafe so I could glom on to their wifi and get some work done, I had written a brief post and headed home for the night. The whole difficult weekend had blown the thought of a missed post entirely out of mind.
What to do now? Two choices: post the tally now (and blow the entire yearlong sequence out of kilter), or wait another week, getting back on track so I don't have to rework my entire spreadsheet setup. I opted for the latter and, barring any unexpected upheavals in the week to come, will get back in sequence with next Sunday's post.
In the meantime, I've been getting tactical with the DNA albatross hanging around my neck. I've been working my way through a routine which has turned out to brighten the light at the end of the DNA tunnel. If you are like me, looking at all those thousands of DNA matches and wondering "Who are these people?" then you may benefit from this simple tactic to cut a clear path through your matches, as well.
First, a caveat. If you are one of those fortunate people who turn me green with envy, bragging about all your first- and second-cousin matches on your DNA readouts, you will not relate to my research agony. (Did I say I envy you?) This technique may not work for you because, of course, you
Uh uh. Not me. With a dad whose father boasted that he was an orphan—alone, with not a relative in the world—matches on my paternal side are few. So naturally, there aren't that many chances for random distant relatives out there to decide to take a DNA test. Hence, matches who mostly are fourth cousins or beyond—if any on that bereft side of the family.
Every now and then, a third cousin will pop up in my results at the five DNA companies where I've tested. But not often. Still, it helps to work with data which is organized, and that is what I set out to do this week.
Starting with Ancestry.com, where out of nearly fifty thousand DNA matches, I have only 1,657 who are fourth cousin or closer, I started sorting each of those "close" matches into four categories. Each color-coded category stands for matches who connect through a specific grandparent. That way, not only did I separate my maternal matches into my grandfather's Davis line versus my grandmother's McClellan line, but I also tried my best to split apart the few Laskowski matches I have from those of my mystery grandfather on my paternal—maybe Puchalski?—side.
I chose one confirmed close match from my mother's side to get started. It helps to have a little encouragement to get the ball rolling, and I already have a solid paper trail for that maternal side. I had this one McClellan relative who is a second cousin, once removed—someone I already knew about from family reports.
On my DNA Matches page at Ancestry, I clicked on "Add/Edit Groups" and chose the option, "Create custom group." I gave the new group a name and assigned a color to code the future members of the group. Then, because the option doesn't provide any place to actually label what the group is, I clicked on the individual match's page and added a note there so I could see right away what I had named that group.
After setting up that color-coded surname group for my maternal grandmother's line, I clicked through to that specific cousin's DNA entry, the one which shows a sketch of the match's family tree. My purpose now was to click on the choice labeled "Shared Matches."
Clicking on that choice, "Shared Matches," shows me all the matches I have in common with this close McClellan cousin. Since I don't have any pedigree collapse in this line for several generations, I can fairly safely assume that anyone who matches me and this known McClellan cousin will also be related to us through the McClellan line.
Thus, I work my way through all those DNA matches who show up as matches to this cousin, labeling each one just as I did this first one: with a color code, followed by entering a note stating the name of the group.
From that point, I am ready to start looking more closely at all these matches, divided out by each of four grandparents' lines, and see where I need to fill in my own tree. Of course, with 1,657 matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer, I still have a lot of work yet to do. But this way, that pile of 1,657 is now whittled down to four groups of much easier size, making the task a much less daunting challenge.