What can you do with more distant DNA matches, with whom you share fewer centimorgans and with whom a common ancestor isn’t apparent? Diahan Southard says to consider these three things.
Recently I received a great question from Ellen:
”I have several matches where the shared DNA exceeds 30 sometimes 50 cMs. I have ‘baked more than a few cakes’ in trying to identify the common ancestor without success. What are some possible explanations? Are there any strategies I could employ? I have tested any available family members on these lines of descent.”
If you are having a similar struggle, here are three possible explanations.
1. You don’t share a recent common ancestor.
Even though your total amount of shared DNA is in the range to be a third or fourth cousin, you may not actually share a recent common ancestor. You could just share a lot of common DNA because you are both Irish or Italian. One clue in this situation would be to look at the longest shared piece of DNA. In general, if you share most of that small amount in one piece you are more likely to share a recent common ancestor than if you share that amount in multiple small pieces.
2. You’ve got the wrong generation of connection.
Your generation of connection is the generation in your match’s tree that holds your common ancestor. So, with your first cousin, the generation of connection is their grandparents; with a second cousin their great grandparents, and so on.
This works out just fine and dandy as long as you and your match are on the same generation. But when your match is much older or much younger than you, you often have some kind of removed relationship. Meaning, your generation of connection isn’t equal for both of you.
The short of it is, if the company has told you a match is your third cousin, and you are looking at all of their 2X great grandparents (really, they know ALL of them?) and you don’t see anything familiar because you know ALL of your 2X greats (again, you really do know ALL of them?) it might be because your match is removed from you. If your match is a generation younger, your generation of connection with them is NOT their 2X greats, but their 3X greats! Yikes! So you would need to look at their 16 3X great grandparent couples to find a common ancestor.
3. Theres a disconnect in genetics and genealogy.
If you have verified that this is not a distant match (because you have a nice big piece of shared DNA) and that you have correctly identified the generation of connection (they aren’t removed), then it is possible that the genealogy you see on your match’s tree does not match their genetics. Or, the genealogy you see on your tree does not match your genetics.
If you can see several DNA matches who connect at a common ancestor in their trees, but you do not yet have that ancestor on your tree, well, it might be that your DNA is trying to tell you something about your family. And especially if those names on the trees of your matches are in the same location as your family. You might consider that your DNA is revealing a new (or different) ancestor to put on your tree.
Susan just shared a story on our blog about using her DNA matches to identify a previously unknown ancestor. We love stories like these! They show you how everyday people are using DNA to shed light on their family history mysteries.
Working with DNA Matches
Reaching out to your DNA matches, no matter how distant, can sometimes feel like asking someone on a date, you might feel a little bit nervous, maybe a little exited, and you’re not sure how they’ll respond. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled all of our best tips for contacting DNA matches into one free guide!