Saturday, May 9, 2020

Connecting the DNA Dots

I remember, when I sent in my first DNA test, how disappointed I was after waiting the obligatory six weeks to receive my results. The resultant list of matches didn't show any exciting possibilities. In fact, there were absolutely zero matches that ranked any closer than "second to fourth cousin"—which, in reality, meant fourth cousins. How many people have persevered on their family trees enough to fill in all their third great-grandparents? I'd stare at that list of names and wonder, "Who are all these people?" I hadn't the slightest clue. And I thought my tree was pretty thorough.

Fast forward nearly seven years, four more DNA companies, and thousands of matches, and things are looking up. Not because closer relatives have tested, but because the testing companies have added more useful tools.

MyHeritage, in my opinion, led the pack with implementations launched in time for the 2019 RootsTech conference, which have busted through some brick walls for me. Though AncestryDNA has stubbornly resisted customer pressure to include a chromosome browser (like Family Tree DNA had from the start), they have included other tools to help put together the centiMorgan pieces. And 23andMe has even added computer generated tree suggestions with enough wavy lines to make me feel like I'm chasing disparate strands in a spaghetti bowl.

Right now, however, I've been working on connecting each of my Ancestry DNA matches to their correct position on my family tree. Since all those matches need to attach to one singular tree, those of you who know my habit of keeping the branches of my family in separate trees may realize what that has meant: it was time to relent and combine my father's tree with my mother's tree.

Oh, groan. The work to put them together.

Slowly, I've been affixing those little "connected" icons to each of the AncestryDNA matches I've linked to my family, as I expand what used to be my maternal tree to include branches of my paternal side. If only we could all be prescient and know what the next development might be that heads our way, so we could avoid all that repetitive work.

It's been quite rewarding to see matches from my paternal side finally find a home in those grafted-in branches of what used to be my mother's tree. Because my father's mother couldn't keep her Polish ancestry as well-concealed as did her husband, I've been able to make visual connections to that part of the pedigree chart with Ancestry's latest icon.

The next hurdle is to make the leap and connect that secretive paternal grandfather of mine to all those Wisconsin-based DNA cousins who match me. I have my theories, but am still hesitant to take the plunge and state my assertion. What if I'm wrong?

I guess that's why scientists came up with that wonderful invention called the hypothesis. And hypotheses can be tested. Where the online databases here in the United States lack the documentation to help me state my case, and where the Polish online records contain frustrating gaps just where I'm certain my paternal ancestors might have been, time is surely on my side while more and more records keep getting digitized. And where the gaps still exist, the DNA connections all narrow the field and point to some obvious answers.

I may be connecting those DNA dots via hypothesizing, but an educated guess on that basis still leads me closer to the truth than I've ever been before.

Above: Like check marks on a to-do list, we can add this AncestryDNA icon to each of our listed DNA matches when we connect them to an individual's profile in our family tree. Since this utility launched in April, I've been able to mark thirty confirmed connections, with more on my dad's side yet to complete.


  1. I love love love this tool!

    1. Agreed, Kat. After years of not being able to connect DNA matches to my tree, this has cleared up a number of connections--and helped to visualize where they belong in the bigger scheme of things.


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