1000's of DNA Matches: Now What?

Several years ago I took my first DNA test through Ancestry.com. The test was a mitochondrial test which means that it took both my maternal and paternal DNA and provided me with the results. Once I received the results, I quickly found that trying to figure out which side of my family they matched to was quite difficult, so I purchased tests for my parents.

When my parent's DNA test results were provided (again, mitochondrial tests), the resulting matches made a little more sense as I could now frequently associate the matches with either my father or my mother. As my maternal cousins began to take tests, the process of determining which side of my family the DNA matches were associated with much easier, and it sometimes made finding our common ancestor easier - but not always!

I then took a Y-chromosome DNA test which strictly tracks my paternal DNA. I also purchased the same test for my father. When the Y-chromosome test results arrived, it made matching my paternal DNA matches significantly easier than before, but finding a common ancestor was still difficult.

Now that I have had my DNA results posted on Ancestry.com for several years, I literally have thousands of DNA "matches". The same thing has happened with my parent's DNA matches (I manage these) and both of their tests also now have thousands of DNA matches.

All this sounds exciting, and at times it is, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. The great majority of people taking DNA tests through Ancestry.com and then making those results public often do not respond to another DNA match when contacted, which I will never understand - if you don't want to interact with matches, make your results private. If you don't make your DNA test results private, at least have the courtesy to respond to other DNA match enquiries, even if all you can say is "Sorry, I don't know a lot about my family history" or "Sorry, but I am not interested in finding distant relatives.

My own experience with reaching out to DNA matches is highly mixed. Some people that I have contacted have responded, and in certain instances I have maintained contact with those people through email, while others I have met in person. Several of these people have helped me solve some family mysteries, and I have done the same in return; I've even managed to help a few people discover their family members (some were adopted, others never knew their history beyond one parent or one grandparent). These contacts have made the search to contact DNA matches worthwhile, and it's the driving force behind my continual search through DNA matches.

On a regular basis I check my updated DNA matches on my Ancestry account. Usually I only have very distant matches to people who do not have as an extensive family tree as I do (over 22,000 people at this point), so finding a common ancestor is a long-shot. However, if both testers are determined, it can be done! One of my greatest challenges and triumphs was tracking down a common relative to a distant DNA match who had reached out to me. It took us 2 years to find our common relative, but we did it. Even after 400 years of family history, Gwen and I were able to find our common Great-Grandmother, making us 12th cousins, once removed.

Not everyone is as determined as Gwen and I are when it comes to uncovering our family histories, but when I find someone like this, it makes the hours of research worthwhile. Finding distant relatives can really validate the research work that you do with your family tree, and to be blunt, it feels pretty damned good to know that your research is valid.

Sometimes finding a DNA match AND knowing your common shared ancestor doesn't bring the response that you may want. I have had several such experiences with DNA matches that have left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Sometimes this is due to their own lineage or preconceptions about their family (some were members of the British Peerage, others didn't want to admit that a family member had had a child out of wedlock, and still more apparently didn't care to have a distant relative of a different race) and I guess I can understand their reaction to a certain degree, but I still don't excuse poor manners for those who react poorly to such news. Again, if you do not want to know the truth about your heritage, or fear that a previously unknown distant relative will come into your life, then keep your results private. It really is that simple, and if you choose to make your DNA test results public, then be prepared for other DNA matches to contact you.

Genealogy isn't about building a fantasy family tree, it is about truth and fact, and not all truths or facts will be ones that you might like - just be prepared to be surprised every now and then.

I'd love to hear from other people who have taken DNA tests and what their experiences have been, negative or positive (hopefully more positive than negative!). Have you taken a DNA test? If you have, what surprises have YOU found in your genetic history?


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