Waiting for your DNA Results –
Do your homework before your Ancestry DNA results arrive
- Be optimistic, but realistic. DNA testing does occasionally give instant answers, but it is more likely to take weeks or months of work to make progress. Every set of results are different – some people have many close matches; others only have distant matches.
- Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting – waiting for results, waiting for more matches, waiting for documents to be delivered, waiting for replies to messages… Do whatever you can while you’re waiting. Even if you don’t have a lot of information to work with, any progress you can make now will help in the long run.
- Review all the information you have available. Are there any other records you can gather, or more people you can talk to, about the background to your birth/adoption?
- Brush up your technology skills. Do you know how to take screenshots? Do you have somewhere to store information from your research – both on your computer and a file/notebook (rather than scraps of paper or a pile of post-its…) for keeping other notes? Do you know where to find messages on Facebook from people who are not your “friends”? Are you great at copying and pasting information?
- Create a private/unsearchable tree on Ancestry to use as a Research Tree when your results arrive – click here for instructions. It doesn’t matter if the only information in it is your name and “Unknown” for both parents. Give your tree a simple name that does not mention adoption/ searching for your birth family etc.
- Link your DNA to yourself in your Research Tree – see Ancestry’s Support Guide here. As your tree evolves, this will help generate hints about potential Common Ancestors and enable the display of surnames you have in common your matches when previewing their trees.
- Your matches’ trees will be the most useful tool in searching for your family. Although you will be able to see some information from your matches’ trees, you cannot automatically view public trees on Ancestry unless you have a subscription (although another user can invite you to their tree). A subscription also enables you to access records to build a Research Tree. Find out about free trials and subscription packages, or see if your local library/family history centre offers free access.
If you know some of your family history already, add it to your Research Tree and build it out and back as far as you possibly can:
- If you’ve never created a tree before it will be good practice – you are likely to spend weeks/months doing nothing else once your results arrive.
- It will help you identify matches on the known side of your family, enabling you to focus on the other matches who are clues to your unknown family.
- Learn how to deal with problems within your family tree – you are likely to have to re-organise your tree many times as you learn more about your family. In particular, find out how to merge people who appear more than once in your tree and how to edit relationships.
Learn as much as you can about working with DNA results.
- Find out about centiMorgans and relationships – do you already understand what it means if someone is your half-3c2r? Join Facebook groups, read books and blogs. Every DNA testing website has a help/support section – find out what it has to offer.
- Build up a list of resources to refer to later – for example, the DNA Detectives’ “Green Chart” (you’ll need to be a member of the group to access the chart) and links to useful websites such as the interactive version of the Shared cM Project: https://dnapainter.com/tools/sharedcmv4
- Ancestry offers apps so you can use their site on your phone but, given the amount of information you’ll be dealing with, you may find working on a computer easier. Some features are only available on the website.
Don’t rush in when your results arrive
Check whether you have any very close matches
- Your matches will also see you as a new match. Sometimes the shock of an unexpected match can make people decide to make their DNA results/tree private, or even delete them entirely.
- Screenshot information about every close match – their username, amount of shared cMs, list of shared matches, their tree (if they have one) and their profile page. Then, you know that even if they decide to remove their information, you have a copy.
Don’t send messages to your matches.
- Do as much research as possible before sending any sort of message; it may be weeks/months before you are at the right stage to make contact. Some matches can be incredibly helpful, but you have no way of knowing how they may react.
- Matches may not reply at all. They may never see the message; may have only tested to see an ethnicity report; may not be interested in family history any longer; may have changed their email so don’t receive notifications; may be in poor health – there are a million and one reasons why someone may not reply, so it is not always a sign that they are deliberately ignoring you!
- If your birth/adoption was a family secret, some matches may be unwilling to help you find your birth-parent(s). One unhelpful match could spoil your relationship with a whole branch of the family – or a well-meaning but over-enthusiastic match might decide to approach potential birth-parent(s) on your behalf.
- If you do message anyone, don’t mention adoption/unknown parent(s) in your initial message. It’s better to be vague and see how they respond – “I wondered if you would be interested in finding out how we are related?”
- Always add your email address to any message sent via Ancestry, and any other contact details you are happy to share. People can reply to messages sent via Ancestry (even if they don’t have a subscription), but many users don’t realise this, so don’t even attempt to reply.
Feeling overwhelmed already?
- That is entirely normal – there is a lot to learn! See here for suggestions on seeking free help from a volunteer/Search Angel.
Uploading your Ancestry DNA data to other sites
This can be a great idea…
- A number of other DNA testing companies/sites allow you to upload a copy of the data from your Ancestry DNA results free of charge (or with a small fee if you wish to use some of the tools they provide). This offers you the chance to match with people who have not tested with Ancestry so could give you more information to work with.
- How frustrating would it be to spend weeks working on your Ancestry results, then upload your DNA to another site only to find that your unknown Father’s DNA result had been sat there all the time?
On the other hand…
- Every DNA testing site is different. Ancestry DNA results often provide enough information to solve your search without needing to refer to other sites – and trying to get to grips with how all of them work at once can be overwhelming.
- Make sure you are happy with the Terms and Conditions of any site you decide to test with/upload to. Some sites allow data to be used for medical/drug research or to assist law enforcement agencies in searches for criminals. It may be possible to opt out of these areas, or you may be happy to be involved – just ensure that you know the options and select the ones you feel appropriate.
- If you decide to upload your DNA to other sites, you don’t need to do anything other than check whether there are close matches as a first step. As you learn about your Ancestry DNA results, you will be able to apply your knowledge and explore the information elsewhere in more depth.
- From time to time the companies make changes to their testing systems that mean they have problems accepting uploads. Keep an eye on the Facebook DNA groups to see if you are likely to experience a problem when you are ready to upload.
Where can I upload my Ancestry data?
You could download your Ancestry DNA and upload it to the following sites:
- Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.
This post by Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek, lists all the sites that accept Ancestry DNA uploads and provides instructions on the steps involved:
- GEDMatch offers many tools, but the site is not as easy on the eye as some of the others.
- 23andMe is the other major testing company, but it does not accept uploads; the only way to be part of their database is to purchase a test.
Start learning about your DNA Results
Get an overview of your Ancestry DNA matches
- Scroll through your Ancestry DNA match list and try to get an idea of the available information – don’t worry about making lots of notes or over-analysing things yet.
- Just let it all sink in and “get to know” your matches and how Ancestry displays the information – develop a general feel for how many matches you have, how closely related to you are/how many cMs you share, how many of your matches have created family trees that will help you.
- Experiment with clicking buttons! Get used to navigating through your match list, viewing individual matches and the information they offer about their ancestors in their trees. Are there any general patterns that you can see, such as locations or surnames that appear in several trees?
- Remember that unless you have a subscription can only see a limited amount of information from your matches’ trees (unless they decide to send you an invitation) and this will make your search far more difficult.
- Ethnicity is not always helpful in finding unknown family, but if you know your parents would have very different ethnicities you may find that you can work out whether some of your matches are maternal or paternal. Bear in mind that Ancestry lets people choose whether to display all their ethnicity information, only the ethnicities they have in common with you, or no information at all, so you may not be seeing your match’s entire ethnicity breakdown.
Do you know any of your matches?
- If you’re searching for one parent, spending time looking at the famiy you already know may feel like a waste of time. However, eliminating known matches means you can concentrate on matches that are relevant to your search.
- Reviewing known matches is a fantastic way to learn how DNA works.
You can view/download a pdf of this document here: