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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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Do you need to contact your AncestryDNA matches?

I've written several posts about contacting DNA matches and even specifically about contacting AncestryDNA matches. So why would you need to contact an AncestryDNA match and more specifically, do you need to?

Contacting DNA Matches: Why?

There are two big reasons why people feel they need to email/message a DNA match.

Can you guess what they are (you should be able to)?

  1. They are looking for family tree/pedigree information.
  2. They are asking the person to upload the results to GEDmatch or another site where they can get segment data (there's more info on segment data at the end of this post).

Even if someone has a public tree, you may still be emailing them for information related to their family tree which falls under number one.

Other reasons can include verifying they are the same person as a test you found at another site or asking about other test-related details such as how they match a shared match.

Here's the situation where you won't need to contact a key match.

You should be noting how specific this situation is...

What is "Enough" Information for Genetic Genealogy

First, this would be when the match has a public tree, a good public tree.

That doesn't mean the tree has to be perfectly sourced with the most beautifully formatted source notes you've ever seen.

It's just important that there's enough tree there for you to verify it is correct or further it with your own research. If we waited for perfect citations, none of us would ever get anywhere. It's not even convenient to attach great citations to an Ancestry tree.

For those of you who just stuck your nose in the air over the lack of beautifully formatted citations, this next section is for you.

I have never talked to (or worked with the DNA of) a top-notch professional genealogist that is concerned about providing beautifully formatted citations with the tree attached to their DNA results.

Trees are an inferior way to provide your research.

You heard me.

They are extremely convenient and easy to understand, though.

Providing a tree is a courtesy to your matches (and one most of us want returned). It isn't even possible to correctly cite more complex situations in a tree so usually, I've seen people (including me) choose to provide no citations with their "DNA tree."

Accept that a DNA tree does not have to have citations to be useful (and do a happy dance if the tree isn't private or only contains the name of one or two people without details).

The second item (at AncestryDNA) needed before you decide you don't need to contact a match is their GEDmatch id/kit number. Being able to find their transferred results at FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) or MyHeritageDNA would also work (all three options would allow you to get segment data and FTDNA and GEDmatch will give you an email address so you don't have to use a messaging service if you do need or want to contact a match).

Your results also need to be at the other site for this to be helpful, of course.

I often do find matches who meet both these criteria. More often, I find matches at GEDmatch and can't figure out which Ancestry kit they belong to but emailing someone, instead of using a messaging service, is more likely to work.

However, realize when I say I often find matches meeting these criteria, I do a lot of DNA work, some of it for clients. I work with dozens of tests. You will find this much less likely if you use DNA less and have fewer tests you work with.

So let's recap.

There is a chance you have enough information from an AncestryDNA match that you don't have to contact them. This is not likely but you probably have lots of matches you're considering contacting. 

I recommend you prioritize who to contact. People with the minimum required information should have a lower priority vs. a match of equal interest missing all or part of this minimum information.

The minimum information is:

  1. Enough tree information for you to research the match's tree or be able to verify the information you need is correct.
  2. Segment data. Preferably you get this in the form of the match's GEDmatch kit #/id but I'd give a lower priority to a match who is also at FTDNA or MyHeritageDNA (remember, that means you have info at whichever of those companies, too).

I want to provide a little more information about why you need segment data (which you can't get at AncestryDNA).

Why AncestryDNA is Different

In a nutshell, segment data is how we know we share DNA from a specific ancestor versus knowing we share DNA with someone but not what (or who's) DNA.

Segment data is not provided at AncestryDNA. If you transfer your Ancestry results to GEDmatch, FTDNA, or MyHeritageDNA, you can use the segment data (so the information is included with an AncestryDNA test but is not accessible from the AncestryDNA site).

The big problem is "shared matches" or "In common with" (ICW) lists show three test-takers appear as matches to each other. This is NOT triangulation. It's the same concept but triangulation means three test-takers are matches to each other AND share the same segment of DNA. That means they inherited that DNA from the same shared ancestor.

Without segment data, you only have shared matches and they might actually share DNA from three different ancestors but by chance appear on each other's match lists.

It works like this. You might match person 1 and 2 but the DNA for match 1 came from ancestor A and for match 2 it came from ancestor B---but 1 and 2 share ancestor C. Match 2 will be on match 1's shared match list and vice versa but this is a false lead.

This is extremely common, especially for groups like southerners and people with colonial American roots (and absolutely for endogamous populations like Acadian or Ashkenazi Jewish). These are just a few examples of populations where this happens.

However, this is not uncommon for anyone and that's why segment data is so important.

To get a better understanding, you can read this post specifically about why AncestryDNA is different (i.e. the importance of segment data and the issues of working without it).

The only way to avoid problems due to a lack of segment data is with more information. You will need to contact some key matches at AncestryDNA to get more information.

I have two posts about what to say to DNA matches. This post is generic (not specific to AncestryDNA) and aimed at a newer genealogist. This post is specifically about AncestryDNA messaging.