Contacting Your DNA Matches

Starting a conversation with your DNA matches can be like a first date. Follow these 4 “dating tips” to go from awkward to acquainted!

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The meatiest part of DNA test results for genealogists are the DNA matches: genetic cousins. And if your test results are typical, you’re getting new matches ALL the time. So you’ll likely find yourself composing a first contact note to one of our DNA matches in the very near future.

Your initial contact with a new DNA match is like a first date, minus the bad complexion. But perhaps you approach it with some of the same anxiety or awkwardness. Keeping in mind some simple dating principles may just help increase the chance of a response, and therefore boost your genetic genealogical success rate.

Tips for Contacting Your DNA Matches

Dating Principle #1: Just meet for coffee.

Meaning, keep your correspondence short. Remember, the purpose of a first date is just to see if you want to go on more dates, just as the initial contact you make helps you determine if more contact is necessary. Your match does not need to know your whole life story, or how many centimorgans of DNA you share! Just send a simple statement of what you want to know. Like: “Do you have any Wilsons in your pedigree chart?” That’s it.

Dating Principle #2: It’s all about them.

Everyone loves to talk about themselves, so your job is to get them talking! If you see something in their pedigree chart, or even in their username, that has you interested in them, ask them specifically about that. Perhaps, “I see the name Gwenellyn in your pedigree chart, which happens to be the middle name of my ancestor that I am researching. What more can you tell me about your Gwenellyn ancestor?” 

Dating Principle #3: Everyone needs encouragement.

Let’s face it, first dates are fraught with insecurities, and most of our matches are no different. It is no secret that many of our matches do not have a tree posted. As more and more people flock to DNA testing services, there will be more and more of them who have never even heard of a pedigree chart. So they need some encouragement. They need a cheerleader! Try, “I see you don’t have a family tree attached to your account. It is really easy to add one!” (If you’re AncestryDNA testers, send them to my free tutorial on how to attach a tree to your AncestryDNA results.) Remember that today’s newbies are tomorrow’s genealogists, so we need to do our part to encourage their curiosity, without bombarding them with queries of dates and places and tales of census records.

Dating Principle #4: Have an escape plan.

Let’s be honest: not all first dates go well. So you need to provide a polite, but easy way out. In your DNA match correspondence, this means that you need to provide a way for them to immediately respond to you, even if they aren’t interested, or don’t have time to talk right away. I always close my correspondence with something like, “Even if you don’t have time to look this up for me right now, please reply so I know you are out there.”

More and more I hear from genealogists that they have several unanswered inquiries in their DNA mail inbox because they feel like they aren’t qualified to talk DNA with anyone. They are reticent to engage in a conversation in which the terms and outcomes are unfamiliar. So put them at ease, and reassure them that we are all in this together, and big discoveries can begin with simple conversations.

Hopefully these simple dating tips will lead you to the relationship that just might change your life! Or at least the life of your family tree.


Want a little more hand-holding with your DNA results—or specifically, with contacting your matches? Contact us about virtual mentoring sessions. We can help you sort through your matches, identify the most important ones for your genealogical questions, and figure out what to ask them.