Volunteers and “Search Angels”

Using DNA can feel overwhelming

You may feel that there is a massive amount to learn before you can use the results of your DNA test effectively.  Facebook groups such as DNA Detectives, Search Squad (and others) offer free support; either by people giving advice on specific aspects of your search or enabling you to find a volunteer (sometimes known as a “Search Angel”) to help you on a one-to-one basis. 

Most of these groups require you to create a post about the background to your search so people with relevant skills can respond.  You could include details about:

  • Where/When you were born/adopted
  • Who you are searching for (but do not include personal information about anyone who is alive)
  • Any information you have already obtained – eg, adoption papers, non-identifying information about your birth family
  • Whether you have had help with your search before
  • Which DNA companies you have tested with/uploaded to
  • How many matches you have – eg, on Ancestry how many are in the 4th cousin/closer category?
  • Whether you have been able to identify any matches as belonging to your known family
  • How close, in cMs, your top DNA matches are (that are relevant to your search)

Be ready to respond to questions from the group and reply to messages from people offering help.  You may find that messages from group members go to Message Requests as these people are not your “friends”, so make sure you know where to find any filtered messages – see here.

If you have more offers of help than you need, add a comment/send messages to let everyone know.  Having more than one person work on a search can lead to duplication of work, so may not be the best approach. If you ask more than one person to help, make sure that they are aware that someone else is also working on the search. It is incredibly frustrating for someone who has spent hours researching your case to be told that you were given the same information by someone else already!

Keep your post updated – hearing success stories gives other people who are searching hope and encouragement!

How do I know who to work with?  Are they any good?  Can I trust them?

There is no official accreditation that enables someone to offer their time to help others.  The best way to find out more about anyone who offers to help is to look for their posts within the groups you are in – do they appear knowledgeable/helpful?  Can you see people thanking them for their help?  Feel free to ask anyone who offers to help you about their experience to date with DNA searches. 

Bear in mind that it is not possible to solve every search through the initial DNA results.  If there is not enough information available at present you may find that, after some initial work, your search slows down but will pick up again as new matches appear.

There is no need to give your login details to someone who offers to help you

Ancestry has a system which allows you to invite others to your DNA results and tree.  Typically, in order to help you, another person needs:

  • To be a Collaborator on your Ancestry DNA results (this level of access enables them to view your match list and add notes/stars/colour coding to your matches)
  • To be an Editor on your tree.  You should create your tree within your own Ancestry account (even if most of the tree building/research is done by someone you have invited to help). If it is created within someone else’s account there is no easy way for it to be transferred to you later.

You are always in control of your DNA and tree

  • You have the option to “uninvite” anyone who has  been given access to your DNA/tree.

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