Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Picking That Low-Hanging Fruit

If time has been hanging heavy on your hands as it has on mine, perhaps you'd be up for the genealogical spring cleaning project I've picked for myself this week: harvesting those too-long-ignored DNA matches.

Isn't it funny that, though we've had these DNA matches handed to us, courtesy of an amazing science, I find myself having one of two reactions. One is the overwhelmed dismay of, "Who are all these people and how are they related to me?" The other is, "Yeah, I already knew that."

Funny how I spend hours upon hours trying to sort out the possible answers to the first question, while never getting around to filing those second answers on the right branches on my family tree. And yet, it's that second kind of answer that would be so easy to put to good use. All it takes is opening up that genealogy database program and double-checking the lines of descent outlined by my matches in their own tree, then adding whatever is missing from my own tree.

That's what I call picking the low-hanging fruit. Without much effort, I glean useful information. After all, isn't that what we paid those test fees to get? Perhaps it isn't so wise to be quite that cavalier about what I "already know."

It's the elusive second- to fourth-cousin matches which have me puzzling for hours—and finally walking away from, without any more clue than when I started—which have that mesmerizing effect on me. Perhaps it's that fruit just out of reach which creates the temptation, but this week, I'll need to put on blinders to that siren call. I need to harvest the information I already have at hand.

There are many ways to glean those details about the clearest matches. Adding names to my own family tree—my research plan already includes completing the line of descent for the siblings of all my ancestors—is the first step, and I do take pains to insure I've included documentation for each relative suggested through DNA matches.

But with each of the DNA testing services I use are provided other tools to sort out matches. Prime among those tools are the labeling, grouping, and note-making devices at Ancestry.com, for instance. I like to make note of how I've traced my steps back to that Most Recent Common Ancestor, and how that DNA match connects both to me and to that MRCA.

Color coding is handy—not to mention, pleasing to the eye—but if I can't remember the significance of lavender in my color-coding scheme, for instance, I've got to make a note of my designations in a place where I can find them again. Furthermore, I like to use a shorthand label in my notes—for instance, 3C1R for third cousin, once removed—and list the date when I first attempted contact with my DNA match. All this goes in my "notes" category, toward the top so that the first words showing are one which are the most important to me.

These are the types of spring cleaning tasks I need to do again this season for my latest arrivals in that DNA low-hanging fruit. It's surprising how many matches of people I "already know" are related are somehow not yet plugged into my tree's branches. These are "easy pickin'" requiring not much effort—as long as I can keep all these connections in my mind. But what if I forget? May as well put every match in his or her place, duly labeled and linked, while this nationwide isolation ward has got us stuck in place. It never hurts to find ways to be productive, even with our own research.


  1. Now there's a god idea, for the evenings when I'm too tired to research proper. I've added many matches already, but I'm sure there are plenty of holes.

    1. Dara, with all the stress right now about the virus, I have a hard time concentrating on long-term projects, so I can vouch for this being a good task for when you are too tired for the long slog. Projects with lots of little steps seem best suited for the mood of the times.

  2. I heard that Ancestry is rolling out a way to link our matches to our own tree but I haven't seen it yet yet

    1. Kat, there are some ways already--unless you are talking about yet another Ancestry development. Let me see if I can post an example, and we can talk about it further.

  3. Replies
    1. How can we help but keep busy?! It's the nervous energy! (I have no idea why I am still drinking coffee; who needs it now?) Glad you are staying safe and healthy, Far Side!

  4. "I'm sure those grapes were sour anyway."

  5. No, this was something new that is in beta testing. I read about it on a blog I just cant remember where


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