AncestryDNA Tips & Tricks

If you've tested at, and you have a subscription to Ancestry, there are a lot of features that you should be using, whether you are looking for biological parents or grandparents or trying to break through a brick wall.

This will be the first in a series of posts that will talk about some of my favorite features and how to best use them to find the answers you are searching for. While this is a trick for those with a little experience in using Ancestry and its tools, some posts in the series will be for genetic-genealogy newbies, too.

Today I will show you how to determine if a new match falls on your maternal or paternal sides. Generally, unless you are an adoptee or have an unidentified birth parent, first and second cousin matches are the easiest to figure out.

For example, my first cousin Larry tested and falls right into the range of shared centimorgans for that relationship.

Larry is my mother's nephew, therefore I know that he is related to me on my maternal side. When I click on our "Shared Matches" button, this is substantiated by the 2nd Cousin matches, who I know are on my mother's paternal side.

So, what happens when you have a more distant match pop up? Basically, take the same steps. Having logged into my DNA matches, I want to find a new match, which is indicated with a blue dot before the name.

The fastest way to do this is to click on the "unviewed" filter button on the top left of your page of matches. Doing this, I found this newly tested cousin:

His unlinked tree has only two names on it, with the information for a possible ancestor of his, Harold S., as having been born in 1914 and died in Fort Wayne, Ind., in the 1970s. That gives me a clue that leads me to believe this match, too, is on my mother's side. My grandfather's family lived near Fort Wayne when he was born in 1888.

Because we match at 43 cMs on three segments, he is most likely a more distant cousin. However, that shared amount is enough for me to think that we will have shared matches. (Matches that share less than 15 cMs may be too distant, therefore may not yield results under the "shared matches" filter.)

So, as I did with Larry, I went ahead and clicked on that filter, hoping to find others who match both me and Richard S.

Sure enough, he matces my other distant cousins who are in my Rummel line. Looking at LarryLC's tree, I know that the connection with Richard S. is definately on my maternal grandfather's Maternal line, where my Rummels are.

Because we both have hefty trees at Ancestry that are linked to our DNA test kits, shows us as likely descending from a common ancestor, my 3rd-great-grandfather Johan George Rummel. I descend from his daughter, Sophia, who was my great-grandmother's mother; he descends from Sophia's sister, Susanna.

The trick to really getting the most out of your DNA test results on is to build your own family tree and, in that tree, link your test to you or your parent. And don't stop at just your pedigree lines – build out as many lines as you can from an ancestor's siblings, aunts and uncles forward in time to bring you as close to the present as possible. This will be a big help toward determining how you are related to those unknown DNA matches, especially those with trees.

Until next time, feel free to contact me through the "live chat" feature, by email or through my Facebook page. If you've got questions, just ask! I may feature your question in a future blog post.

Happy hunting!