Sunday, July 25, 2021

Letting DNA Direct the Connections


For the most part, my family history pursuits have been directed by documentation—a paper chase back through the generations, confirming familial connections via the evidence of birth records, marriage records, death certificates and wills.

Then came DNA and the ability to deduce relationships through the keys of genetic genealogy. That pedigree chart began expanding sideways, gaining collateral lines in each generation—all the better to confirm relationships with that burgeoning DNA match count at the five DNA companies where my husband and I tested.

It's no surprise, given the nearly seven years since we took our first DNA tests, that those trees have grown exponentially. Since today marks one of my biweekly counts, I can say that my husband's family tree has, in the past two weeks, gained 605 individuals, and now stands at 22,619 individuals. That mainly is owing to the fact that this month, I've been focusing on a research goal regarding my father-in-law's family.

As a corollary to that documentation process, every week I look through the new DNA matches in each of our accounts. On the Ancestry DNA account, in particular, I try to link new matches to the right tree, and flag that DNA match's profile page in my tree. In addition, now that Ancestry has added a section to allow subscribers to indicate whether a match is on the paternal or maternal side of the tree—and indicate how close the confirmed relationship is—I try to keep as many of those new matches correctly designated as possible.

This means finding the right place in all those collateral lines to add the DNA match. I might, for instance, have the grandparent of that DNA match already included in my tree, but not the specific matching individual, which means some updating is in order on the tree.

Once that is taken care of, the next step is to select the "shared matches" tab at the top of each match's screen. With that step, I can easily locate any other distant cousins who belong on the same branch, and link their DNA match to their profile page in my tree.

Step by step, letting the DNA matches guide my work of filling in the branches in the tree, I get a more complete picture of the family's many lines. The more individuals I'm able to connect in this spaghetti bowl of thousands of DNA matches, the easier it becomes to see how others relate, as well. Each separate task—researching the paper trail, and connecting the genetic genealogy results—blends with the others to accelerate the process. Not to mention, there is a certain sense of gratification to see how many matches now bear the insignia of a linked relationship in my tree.


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