Answering Emails from DNA Matches

Diahan Southard

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Corresponding with your DNA matches is easier when you follow these quick tips on how to respond to emails from your genetic cousins.

DNA testers love poring over results, but aren’t quite so fast to correspond with their matches. SO many people have unanswered inquiry emails from genetic cousins! Others have been eying some close-ish matches who have promising trees or common matches, but haven’t actually reached out to see who they are.

How to start a conversation is a topic for another time. For now, I’d like to give you 4 quick tips for answering correspondence from your DNA matches, even if you’re not sure what your connection is! Because we can all be a little better about replying to those who are reaching out to us.

Corresponding with DNA matches

1. Appreciate their interest.

This person has taken the time to reach out to you. They’re essentially “cold-calling you” because you’re genetic cousins. Just testing at all shows they share more than just DNA with you: they’re also curious about their roots. (Don’t you wish some of the relatives you already see at holidays were curious enough to take a DNA test and then want to talk about your shared heritage?)

2. Respond promptly.

Many people go through phases of increased or decreased attention to their genealogy. (Does this sound familiar?) When someone reaches out, they’re paying attention, so take advantage of their enthusiasm. Strike while the iron is hot!  A quick response from you puts your match to work for you.

I have found that this realization alone is motivation for me to send any kind of message in a timely manner. Plus, this puts the ball back in their court, where honestly, it is likely to get more play if you are not in a position to research this connection yourself right now.

3. Identify what they really want.

Initially, many of your inquiries just want access to your pedigree chart. If you haven’t already, attach a copy of your family tree to your DNA test results (here’s how to do that on Ancestry). Make sure it’s your biological tree, since all DNA matches are biologically-based. If you don’t have a family tree file, create some kind of PDF or another document you can send as an email attachment. This is a MUST.

If you don’t know anything about your biological family, have a short prepared statement to that effect that you can send promptly. Perhaps you know your biological mother was born in Kentucky around 1943, but you know nothing about your biological father. Say so.

4. Have a goal of your own.

Many DNA testers just go through their match list and send out generic inquiries. Be proactive about your own goals and priorities (and show them a better example) when responding to matches. Decide what you would most like to learn now. Your ethnicity on your father’s side? Who your mother’s ancestors were? More about your Cannons in Ohio or your Montgomerys in Georgia?

If the match contacting you is a fourth cousin, you might respond in a way that immediately “weeds” out generic or irrelevant interests. Like this:

“Hello cousin! I have a lot of fourth cousin matches, so I’m focusing my efforts only on fourth cousins with ancestry in Georgia or who have the surname Montgomery on their tree. I would be interested to hear about any ancestors you have that fit that description. Meanwhile, you’re welcome to take a look at my pedigree chart. Thanks for reaching out.”

Organization really is the key. If the inquiry is actually of some interest to you, send a quick email back, and then put that inquiry in a folder that will remind you to look at it later when you have a few more minutes.

In short, do not worry about what you do not know. That is the beauty of email! You don’t have to answer any questions they ask you. You don’t have to ask any of your own. At this point, all you are doing is biting on the line they have thrown out. What most of us really want is just to know that there is someone out there willing to correspond. So don’t wait! Just hit “Reply”!

For more tips on contacting your DNA matches, get our free guide! It includes all of our best approaches to reaching out to your DNA connections.

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<a href="" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.


  1. P. Caverly

    Although I have my DNA on 5 sites I only receive a few emails and respond to everyone even if I have no info. I have found only about 5 to 10% respond to my DNA queries. I have noted some have not reviewed their genealogy site for over one year. Each site is unique in how they show DNA results, some better than others. The sites are often making changes and upgrades so you need to look at them once in a while.
    23andme is also insightful with suggested medical info. Although I have attempted to keep up with the surveys it take a lot of time and often folks do not bother. When I update a new survey 23andme indicates I have completed 99% more than most other users.
    In helping others I mention it takes time and matches don’t always show up. Advising DNA users to check possibly every quarter to make sure no new matches show. Also I suggest Gedmatch since DNA testers from various test labs will often post results.
    Recent activity by police using DNA (mainly in the USA) and the negative news items has caused some people to rethink testing DNA. Many drama TV shows have made interesting scripts using DNA although some are not 100% accurate.
    The future of DNA will continue to advance.
    P.Caverly, UE, PLCGC

  2. Diahan Southard

    @P. Caverly
    You are so right! There will be no shortage to advancements! It’s an exciting time to be in genetic genealogy.

  3. Lorraine Hladik

    I try to answer a request within a week and if I have found some information to connect us during the time let them know or offer some information and ask for specific names and dates and locations that might help pinpoint the link. When I reach out I tell them which side I think the link is from and which geographical area/s the link may come from. My response rate is probably 60% or higher. It is so exciting to get a request as usually it is I that reaches out. Also exciting to get a response and I always thank them for responding and letting us both work on finding the link.

    • Diahan

      This is a great policy!

  4. bizzone

    Greetings! Very helpful advice within this article! It’s the little changes that make the most important changes.
    Thanks for sharing!


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