I can tell whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher by the state of the silverware drawer. If either of the boys have done it (ages 13 and 11), the forks are haphazardly in a jumble and the spoon stack has overflowed into the knife section, and the measuring spoons are no where to be found. If, on the other hand, it was my daughter (age 8), everything is perfectly in order. Not only are all the forks where they belong, but the small forks and the large forks have been separated into their own piles and the measuring spoons are nestled neatly in size order.
Regardless of the state of your own silverware drawer, it is clear that most of us need some sort of direction when it comes to organizing our DNA test results. Organizing your matches entails more than just lining them up into nice categories like Mom’s side vs. Dad’s side, or known connections vs. unknown connections. Organizing your results involves making a plan for their use. Good organization for your test results can help you reveal or refine your genealogical goals, and help determine your next steps.
The very first step is to download your raw data from your testing company and store it somewhere on your own computer. I have instructions on my website if you need help. (http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring )
Once that is complete, we can get to the match list. One common situation for those of you who have several generations of ancestors in the United States, you may have some ancestors that seem to have produced a lot of descendants who have caught the DNA testing vision. This can be like your overflowing spoon stack, and it may be obscuring some valuable matches. But identifying and putting all of those known matches in their proper context can help you realize these abundant matches may lead to clues about the descendant lines of your known ancestral couple that you were not aware of. In my Organizing Your DNA Matches quick sheet I outline a process for drawing out the genetic and genealogical relationships of these known connections to better understand their relationship to each other and to you. It is then easier to verify that your genetic connection is aligned with your known genealogical paper trail and spot areas that might need more research.
This same idea of plotting the relationships of your matches to each other can also be employed as you are looking to break down a brick wall in your family tree, or even in cases of adoption. They key to identifying unknowns is determining the relationships of your matches to each other, so you can better see where you might fit in.
Another helpful tool is a trick I learned from our very own Lisa Louise Cooke, and that is Google Earth. Have you ever tried to use Google Earth to help you in your Genetic Genealogy? Remember that the common ancestor between you and your match has three things that connects you to them: their genetics, surnames, and locations. We know the genetics is working because they are showing up on your match list. But often times you cannot see a shared surname among your matches. However, by plotting their locations in the free Google Earth, kind of like separating the big forks from the little forks, you might be able to recognize a shared location that would identify which line you should investigate for a shared connection.
So, what are you waiting for? Line up those spoons and separate the big forks from the little forks, your organizing efforts may just reveal a family of Measuring Spoons, all lined up and waiting to be added to your family history.
Originally published September 2016 on genealogygems.com.