Leeds Method for Organizing DNA Matches

The Leeds Method is a simple and colorful way to organize your DNA matches using color-coded clusters.

We here at Your DNA Guide love great ideas, especially ones that have to do with color. We are excited about Dana Leeds’ colorful method for organizing DNA matches. Below is a step-by-step tutorial for our own “take” on her idea. (See link below to her website.)

The goal of the Leeds method is to help you quickly identify groups of people in your match list who are likely to share a common ancestor with each other. Grouping your matches often makes it easier to identify a common ancestor.

To use the Leeds Method, create a list of your 2nd and 3rd cousin matches. In general, these are those in your match list who share less than 400 cM of DNA but more than 90 cM. Create this list in a spreadsheet program like Excel or Numbers (for you Mac users out there!). The data used in the images here is real (the names have been changed, though).

Our version of the Leeds Method, step by step

  1. Pick a color and fill in the space next to the first match on your list.

2. Using the Shared Matches tool, find the other matches in your match list who share DNA with that first one. Fill in the cell next to their names with the same color as the first one.

3. Find the next person on your match list that wasn’t colored with the first color. Assign that match a different color and fill the cell in the second column with the new color.

4. Using the Shared Matches tool again, fill the cell in the second column by those matches that share DNA with this second match.

5. Look down your match list and find the first person that doesn’t have either of the cells colored by it. Pick a third color and fill in the cell in the third column by that match.

6. Use the Shared Matches tool to find the other DNA matches in your list who share DNA with that match. Color the cells in the third column for those who share DNA with this match.

7. Look for any matches who don’t belong to the three groups you have already colored in. Assign them a new color. (Is this sounding familiar?)

8. Using the shared matches tool again, look for any matches who share DNA with this match and fill in the color in the fourth column.

9. Keep repeating this pattern until all of the matches in your list have at least one color assigned to them.

Keep in mind that some of your DNA matches may share DNA with more than one color group. This is ok: just color multiple cells with the corresponding colors. This is called overlap.

These colorful groups now show you the different genetic networks. On a neat and tidy tree, each of the four colors should correspond to your four great-grandparent couples.

Credit: We’ve adapted the above strategy from Dana Leeds.

Communicate better with your DNA matches

Organizing your DNA matches into genetic networks will help you identify where they belong on your tree. So can directly communicating with your matches. But it can get discouraging when your matches won’t answer you back! That’s why Diahan Southard created a free downloadable guide: “Talk to Your DNA Matches Like a First Date.” Her strategies and tips—even a sample email to send—can help you reach out with more confidence and get better responses!

Get your DNA matches FULLY organized with Your DNA Guide—the Book

The purpose of organizing your matches is to identify them and to use your matches to extend and verify your family tree. Get Your DNA Guide—the Book for step-by-step, customized DIY plans to help, whether you’re exploring your biological roots or reconstructing your family tree.