Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Putting Family Finder to Work for You

If you are considering, or have already taken, the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA (or the Ancestry test at or the test offered by 23andMe), your objective is to find cousins who match you genetically and therefore share a common ancestor with you. I hope the following step-by-step instructions are helpful.

To make good use of your Family Finder results at Family Tree DNA:

1. Log into your MyFTDNA page.

2. Upload your GEDCOM if you have not already done so. If you cannot do that, at least enter the surnames from your tree. Remember, your matches will be to cousins who probably have different surnames, so your GEDCOM should be as “bushy” as possible.

3. Point your mouse to Family Finder in the top (menu) bar.

4. Click on Matches.  You will see several pages of matches. All are related to you. Work from the top of the list down because the closest matches are near the top and will be the easiest to connect to your own tree. (I ignore all matches that do not have surnames in the right-hand column or a tree uploaded unless they are extremely close genetically (first or second cousins) or I recognize the name.) Notice that the surnames in bold match surnames in your own uploaded tree, but remember that everyone has brick walls, especially with female lines, so you may match someone on an unknown name.  You may download your matches to a CSV or Excel file if you wish to work offline and maintain your own file.

5. When you find a surname of interest, you may look at the tree the person has uploaded and/or write to them. (When you open a tree, it will show only four generations. Click on the arrow in the box that contains the number 4 and choose All instead to view the whole tree. I find using Ctrl F is the easiest way to find the surname I’m looking for.)

6. Look at the icons on the left under each person’s name. You can click on the envelope to write to that person, click on the document to type a note about this match, view the person’s tree (if it is green), or use the “In Common With” tool (more about this later).

7. Notice the bar above your list of matches that gives several options. Use the defaults for now. However, to see if you have any matches with a particular surname, click on the box that says Ancestral Surnames. Enter the surname of interest, click Apply, and wait a moment for a new list to be generated. It will be much smaller, probably with only one or a few matches. (Again, there may be many more in the FTDNA database, but if those people have not uploaded a tree or provided surnames, the computer can’t find them.) Make note of the names of the people who have that surname in their tree.

8. Point your mouse to Family Finder in the menu bar at the top of the page and click on Chromosome Browser.

9. Look for the people whose names you have just found (in step 7) and check the box to the right of their names. The corresponding names will appear in the box above, and each will have a different color.  The chart on the right side of the page is a chromosome map. Notice how the colors of your matches show up in that chart. Each spot of color shows how much DNA you share with that person and where it is located on your chromosomes. You are looking for overlapping segments. They do not have to be the same size, but they do have to be in the same place and overlap in order to be a match that you share with them. However, Caution! This is not enough evidence to confirm that all who overlap share the DNA of a particular ancestor. In order to do that, you must triangulate, meaning show that those who match you in overlapping segments also match each other on the same segments. You can do this by writing to all of them to ask if they do match each other (they must also use the chromosome browser), or use a third-party tool:

a. Enter your FTDNA kit number and this tool will return a list of all your matches on each chromosome. It will show the overlaps and do the triangulation for you.
b. You and your matches must upload your raw DNA results (and GEDCOMs, hopefully). This serves several purposes: It provides an even larger database because many people who tested with other companies (Ancestry or 23andMe) also use this tool so you can find new matches;  it offers several tools, including triangulation, searching GEDCOMs, analyzing the X chromosome which has a unique inheritance pattern, and more.

To use GedMatch, go to their website and register. Notice on the right that you must upload two files from FTDNA. Leave that webpage open if you like. Go to your MyFTDNA page.  Point to Family Finder in the top menu bar.  Click on Download Raw Data. Click on the two files on the right (Build 36 Autosomal Raw Data and Build 36 X Chromosome Raw Data). Notice where the two files are saved in your computer.  Go back to GedMatch, click on FTDNA Family Finder and follow the instructions to upload the first file. Once that is complete, click on FTDNA X-DNA to upload the second file.

10. Another technique is to use the Matrix tool at FTDNA. (Use either the icon under the match’s name or access it via the Family Finder tab on the menu bar.) You can choose matches you think may be related to each other (as well as to you, of course), and the system will produce a chart showing whether they are or not.

There is much more you can do with your Family Finder test results, but these are essential steps to use them effectively. You will quickly notice that the Family Finder test is especially useful for family groups and the more cousins (parents, siblings, children) who test from different parts of your pedigree, the more relatives you will find who can lead to more discoveries in your own genealogy.  You will also notice that the DNA test cannot tell you whether a match is in your maternal or paternal line, but finding genetic cousins can narrow the field. Family Tree DNA has many resources to help with understanding its many tests, including online videos that can be very informative. Check their Facebook page for the latest offerings.

If you have questions, please write to me. I will make every effort to try to clarify or address specific issues or questions.  Some people do have difficulty uploading to GedMatch. I will be happy to do that for you if you will trust me with your FTDNA password (you can always change it if you like after I’ve completed the download/upload process).

Happy ancestor hunting!

Doris Wheeler

Friday, April 18, 2014

All you ever wanted to know about DNA testing for genealogy

If you have questions about how to use the various DNA tests, how to interpret results, what you can do with them to solve genealogical problems and break down brick walls... (And is there anyone out there who doesn't?)...

Sign up now for what promises to be the most outstanding conference ever for genealogists:

I'll be there and will look forward to seeing you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA Testing

Do you agree with me that our choice to have DNA tests should not be restricted by the government or by medical professionals? As genealogists, I and many others have benefited greatly from the various tests that are available for family history. Many of us have also benefited from information we have gleaned regarding our health, although that was not our primary purpose for having the tests.

I was pleased to see a survey that gives us a chance to voice our opinions on this important matter. Should we, as consenting adults, have control of what we wish to learn about ourselves, or should we let others decide what is "good for us"? I hope everyone will take this survey so that our voices will be heard.

Friday, January 3, 2014


More good news! The DAR ( has chosen Family Tree DNA as its testing partner and is offering Y-DNA tests at a discount to prospective members. This will no doubt add to the numbere of people who order DNA tests for genealogy and thereby increase the size of the database for finding matches.

Hopefully, it will also encourage everyone to upload their GEDCOMs.

Many people do not seem to understand that if they do a DNA test, it is useless to them and everyone else if they refuse to allow matching. The whole purpose is to find others who match you, that is, who have the same DNA your ancestors had, thus proving your relatedness. Even if those you match are very distant cousins, they and you have a common ancestor.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

More goodies from FTDNA

Now we can analyze the X chromosome too, as part of the Family Finder test. The X reflects our ancestry in a kind of zig-zag pattern. For details, see this blog: Also, be sure to check the ISOGG Wiki article that is referenced in this blog for good additional information.

If you have already done the Family Finder test, you can now view these X chromosome results on your own MyFTDNA page. If you have not yet done so, I urge you to order it, or transfer your autosomal results from Ancestry or 23andMe. It is another new opportunity to sift your matches to align them with your maternal or paternal line.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Understanding DNA for Genealogy

Would you like to know more about DNA testing for genealogy? A new series of free webinars sponsored by Family Tree DNA are being made available. You are welcome to sign up for any of these. I'm sure they will be very well done, since I have seen this person deliver similar lectures. Roberta Estes has, as usual, provided an excellent overview on her blog today:

Friday, December 6, 2013


You probably have heard that the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) is investigating 23andMe for its health-related testing and reporting. As a result, 23andMe has suspended its health-related services, at least until this issue can be cleared up.

If you placed an order with 23andMe before November 22, 2013, there is no change. That order will be procesed and you will continue to have access to your reports as usual. Any orders placed after November 22 will be processed for genealogical information only, and raw data results will be provided but without interpretation for health matters.

NOTICE: I strongly recommend that you download ALL your reports and data, including matches, just in case. We can not know what the future holds, and you may not have an opportunity to do this later.

Please see this blog for more information and instructions for downloading: