Finding living relatives is part of searching for birth relatives and identifying DNA matches. This example shows you how Googling your DNA matches may help you build your family tree—even for your unresponsive matches.
What can you do when a DNA match doesn’t respond to you, but their identity may be key to learning more about your family history? You can look for different contact information and try again to reach them. OR you can see if you can learn enough about them via public information sources that you could reconstruct their family tree without needing to speak with them at all.
Both of these avenues start with Google searches. You may discover a LinkedIn or Facebook profile through which you might initiate contact. Or you may find an obituary or another family document that identifies the relatives of your DNA match so you can begin building their family tree.
Finding Living Relatives Online
Here’s an example (we’ve changed the names). Mandy is trying to identify her birth mother. Mandy is of advanced age and does not expect to find her birth mother living. She just wants to learn something about her and her family background.
Mandy has a super close DNA match on her birth mother’s side on AncestryDNA. Let’s call him Niko:
Their amount of shared DNA indicates that they are either grandparent/child, half-sibling, or aunt-uncle/niece-nephew (Mandy sees those relationship possibilities when she clicks on the amount of shared DNA).
For Mandy, this is exciting! With a relationship this close, Niko could likely name her birth mother. Niko may be able to tell Mandy meaningful details about her, share a photo, or even give her insight into circumstances that could have led to Mandy’s adoption.
However, Niko hasn’t responded to Mandy’s emails through AncestryDNA. Mandy tried to follow Diahan Southard’s tips on contacting your DNA matches, but still no luck. When she clicks on Niko’s name to see his Ancestry profile, she can tell it’s been more than a year since he logged into the site. He’s probably not even read her messages.
Google Your DNA Match
Niko’s Ancestry profile name appears to be a real name. Mandy decides to run a Google search on him. She enters his first and last name in quotes, knowing her search results will include only that exact combination of letters and words. (Results wouldn’t capture any mentions of him using any unknown middle name or initial, or if he appeared with a full name like Niklaus. Eventually, she may need to repeat her search without the quotes.)
A search result appears: a wedding announcement from an online newspaper. Mandy clicks on it and sees a photo of the happy couple—and there is Niko. She recognizes him from his Ancestry profile photo.
The announcement names Niko’s bride, of course. But better yet for Mandy’s purposes, it also identifies his parents! Mandy turns to genealogy website Ancestry.com and begins building a family tree for Niko and his parents. She finds his parents’ marriage record and other vital records and obituaries to fill in their family tree.
In the process, she finds a birth record for Niko. He is 25 years younger than she—a full generation. Now she knows which of the genetic relationship possibilities most likely applies: she’s likely Niko’s aunt.
If Mandy is Niko’s aunt, then one of his parents is her sibling. But which one? Genealogical records reveal that Niko’s father was born in the same hometown as Mandy, but Niko’s mother was born thousands of miles from there. It’s looking like Niko’s father, who is four years older than Mandy, may be her brother.
Mandy can continue trying to reach Niko, of course. But she can also choose to just keep researching the names, places and dates she’s already discovered. They’re clearly telling her a story. She can look for tree connections between Niko’s father’s family and the other DNA matches she shares with Niko. She could build on her theory about the identity of her birth mother by placing Niko and other matches into a What Are the Odds tree to see how statistically likely her theory is.
In other words, even if Niko never responds, Mandy can still learn a lot about her birth mother’s family—and perhaps even confidently identify her.
It’s Your Turn for DNA Discoveries
Mandy was able to put her genetic genealogy detective skills to use, and found some exciting new leads about her birth roots. You can learn a lot from your DNA matches, both googling them, and by messaging them directly. We know it can be hard to even know where to start when messaging your DNA matches, which is why we’ve put together a free guide on how to contact your DNA matches, available to you with just a click of a button!