Contacting Your DNA Matches

Diahan Southard

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

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 on your family tree?” 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 tree, or even in their username, that has you interested in them, ask them specifically about that. Perhaps, “I see the name Gwenellyn in your ancestry, which happens to be the middle name of the ancestor 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 family tree posted. As more and more people flock to DNA testing services, there will be more and more of them. 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!” (You can send them a link to my free tutorials on adding a family tree.) 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.

Take these tips with you!

This article has proven so popular, we’ve created a new, downloadable version of it you can take with you. Save it on your computer or print it out so you can have it handy as you work with your matches. We can’t wait to hear about the matches you connect with!

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" 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.

9 Comments

  1. Ruth Conner (Connor)

    Wow! Maybe sone of the matches are weary or don’t wa t to
    Know who or where they came from.

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      So true, Ruth! And such a good thing to keep in mind.

      Reply
    • Mtm

      Then why did they do the DNA test in the first place?

      Reply
      • Diahan

        That’s just it, there are SO many different reasons people take a DNA test. We simply can’t assume that everyone thinks like we do and wants the same things we want.

        Reply
  2. Christine J Murray

    I have found it helpful to make sure when I am contacting a match that I come from a place of strength. Often it means I can tell them something. It can be how we are related, or just that I don’t know how we are related, but these shared matches, I can tell you how they are related to me and through which common ancestor. If it’s a close enough relation and I remember one of their parents or grandparents, I mention that. But if I find myself anxious about whether they will respond or how, I wait until I am in a better head space. In a sense, I have a point against me because I am a DNA nerd. Most people aren’t — they just don’t get this excited about DNA. While I should embrace my nerdiness, I don’t want to appear to be needy and desperate (which is another way how this is like dating).

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Thanks for these thoughts! Excellent.

      Reply
  3. David Casassa

    Some folks don’t fully decide on their own to be tested. Rather, a friend or relative gives them a test kit on impulse, maybe as a birthday gift. Others may only be interested in establishing (so they think) their ethnic bona fides. Their reasons for being tested may include no interest whatsoever in their genealogy, let alone yours. Frustrating, but too often true.

    Reply
  4. Shaun

    I have struggled with how to respond to connections interested in how I fit into their family. As an adoptee from a closed adoption, I honestly don’t know. I chose not to reach out to any of my close matches, as I really don’t know the circumstances that led to my adoption. Recently, though, my state has enacted a law allowing adoptees to request an original birth certificate. I keep going back and forth between wanting to learn more and not wanting to learn more. Would it be disruptive to my biological family to discover after all these years that they have another relative they know nothing about? Would it send my adoptive family into another moment of crisis like the one they had when my brother, who was also adopted, met his biological family? What if the reason for my adoption was because of a traumatic experience? What if my biological parents have passed away? Would my potential siblings (or half-siblings) be open to learning about me?

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Shaun, I am SO GLAD you are asking these questions. It is so important to think things through before you charge ahead.

      First, if a match is reaching out to you, you need to trust that they are actually interested in understanding how you are related, and if you also want to know, I think those are the best matches to move forward with.

      If you think your biological parents may be alive, then I think the best thing you can do is find out for yourself who they are, and contact them to see how they would like you to move forward with these family members who have contacted you.

      But the true answer is: you just have no idea how others are going to react. I have seen all kinds of situations. I have seen these kinds of revelations bring families together, as well as tear families apart. It is not your job to manage them. Not really. They are going to do whatever they are going to do. All you can do is decide for yourself if it is important for you to know who your people are. If you want to know, I believe it is your right to know. But honestly, you could probably figure it out without talking to anyone (though it would be easier to enlist their help).

      As you go about your search, you just have to be kind, and patient, and understanding of those you encounter. You can be gentle and tactful and careful. It sounds like you are already that way, so I think you are setting yourself up for the best possible experience. So as soon as you are sure that you really want to know (even if it is difficult), then just start going. I think things will work themselves out for you.

      Reply

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