Sunday, May 15, 2022

D N A Matching :
It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint


I'm sometimes surprised to see how long it has been since I first talked family members into trying this new genealogy tool of testing relatives' DNA. It has been almost nine years since my brother first volunteered to take both an autosomal and Y-DNA test, a decision fueled mostly by the fact that he was his patriline's only remaining male descendant. He was quickly followed by my husband and his siblings.

Not long afterwards, I was flooded with DNA matches, along with this bewildering sense of being lost on a path leading nowhere. Genetic genealogy no longer seemed a promising sprint to the pedigree finish line. I kept wondering, "Who are all these people?!"   

When we're stuck with DNA matches which don't quite seem to fit into the right family slots, it's always encouraging to find a helpful new tool. For instance, I'm excited to see the recent announcement at DNA Painter about the addition of Cody Ely's "Library of Matches." Especially for such cases as unknown parentage, this tool promises to fill in some blanks and extend the useful reach of such now-familiar resources as Blaine Bettinger's Shared centiMorgan Project.

On the other hand, without even so much as a boost from a chromosome browser at Ancestry DNA, I've been able to line up quite a few matches on the kits I administer there. Why? I've spent the last several years diligently plugging away at all those collateral lines for each generation in my family trees. Instead of the sprint I envisioned when I first learned about that useful—and amazing—DNA tool, I've come to terms with the thought that genetic genealogy may be more of a marathon than a sprint: slow and steady in adding name after name, for we've still got a long way to go.

Yes, that sounds like grunt work. If you've been wondering why there are 27,897 people in my in-laws' tree or 28,439 in my own parents' tree, that's the main reason. Over the past two weeks, that meant adding 304 documented individuals to my in-laws' tree and another 143 to my own family's tree. Since I made the decision to start such a routine research project, it's been the same story, week after week. But that grunt work is finally paying off. It's now much more of a breeze running through ThruLines®  at Ancestry, for instance, with almost every generation in place.

Of course, there is always more work to be done. Looking on the positive side, though, developing the habit of adding a bit of work over the long haul eventually comes with a handsome payoff. I never thought, when I started out, staring at all those hundreds of fourth cousins (or beyond!), that I'd ever see the day when all the puzzle pieces fell into place—or that I'd have a tree of such a size. Perhaps it's a tortoise or hare story: slow and steady can make a difference, even when it seems so discouraging at the start.


  1. I have been doing the same thing - trying to add descendants of my 4th great-grandparents, and expected to find parents or grandparents of DNA matches along the way. I'm not done, of course. It hasn't worked out well for me - the expected new ThruLines are few and far between - only 2-3 a month, and most of the new ones are lines that I don't have in my tree.

    1. I've figured that from your blog, Randy. You are quite consistent with that! In my case, I've only recently started working with ThruLines, so there's plenty of material yet to review. I think at some point the upward curve of the added descendants crosses an optimal point on the trajectory of the ThruLines additions and things seem to fall into place more satisfactorily. Of course, it helps results when working with long lines of faithful Catholics with multiple children per generation!


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