The Fastest, Easiest Way to Organize Your DNA Matches

Organizing your DNA matches helps you make sense of them. From someone who organizes DNA results for a living, here’s the fastest, easiest way to organize them.

 
label DNA matches organize genetic genealogy.png
 
organize DNA matches label Berenstein Bears.jpg

When I was a kid I collected Berenstein Bear books. I spent hours categorizing and alphabetizing the books and spinning through book store racks hoping to see one I didn’t yet own. My favorite is The Berenstein Bears and the Messy Room. The final page in the book, showing Brother and Sister Bear’s closet full of neatly labeled and stacked boxes, was literally a dream for me. I love organization. So naturally, I want a way to organize my vast new collection of DNA cousins.

Quick tip for organizing your DNA matches

The very best and very easiest thing you can do that will lead to fewer repeated searches and thus a more productive session with your genetic genealogy test results, is to simply use the notes field provided by each testing company. The notes field at Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage are accessible right from the main match page, while at AncestryDNA and 23andMe you have to first click on your match to edit your notes, as shown below in this screen shot from within a match page at AncestryDNA:

 
Organize DNA matches label AncestryDNA add note.png
 

At Ancestry, once you’ve created a note within a match, you can view it from the main match page. (That “Add to group” option, which does show up on Ancestry’s main match page, too, is another way to quickly label and group together multiple matches, such as all those who belong to the Homer family):

 
AncestryDNA matches organize label add to group.png
 

What should you write in these notes? Your known or suspected connecting ancestor. At the very least, say which side of the family they are on, if known. Record the date you contacted them, and if they responded. (23andMe makes this easy by showing you all of your correspondence with that person right there on the page. At Ancestry you can click on the link in the upper right corner of the match page to see your previous messages.)

Chatting with your DNA matches

There is no question that corresponding with your matches is a huge part of this genetic genealogy process. While many may not respond for a variety of reasons, many do, and you need to keep track of that correspondence. One idea is to move your correspondence as soon as possible away from the constraints of the testing company’s email service. Create a separate email address just for your DNA correspondence and direct all of your matches to talk to you there. Use the folders and tags within your email program to help you quickly find a desired correspondence.

I would also encourage you to copy the key points of correspondence into a Word document. I know oftentimes I get an email with a lot of information, but there are only a few points I want to focus on. Instead of needing to read through a long email each time I am looking for information about a particular ancestor, I can just turn to my Word document and find just the information I need, often saving time and frustration.

Whatever your system, just stick to it and you will feel less overwhelmed at the prospect of keeping track of your thousands of cousins.

 

My quick reference guide, “Organizing Your DNA Matches,” is now in its 2nd edition. Order a laminated copy or a digital download to help you TRULY conquer the task of keeping track of your matches!