Floating Trees: How Can They Help Your Genealogy Research?

Melanie Mohler

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Floating trees can be a useful strategy for your genetic genealogy research. Learn how Chris used floating trees in her own research and made some great discoveries.

Floating Trees? What is a floating tree?

A floating tree is a family tree that you build for your DNA matches. A floating tree exists within the same file as your own family tree, but it is not directly linked to anyone on your family tree (hence why they’re “floating”). These trees take a bit of traditional genealogy research and time to build out. But creating floating trees for your DNA matches can help you figure out how they are related to you.

Chris’ story

When Chris began her genealogy research on the family of her husband Ken, all she knew was that her husband’s father Gilbert was adopted when he was 5 or 6 years old and he was of Spanish or Mexican descent. In 2018, Ken took an AncestryDNA test, and his results were not what they expected. Ken matched with someone that would have been a first cousin or a first cousin once removed on his father’s adopted line, but with only 24cM. 

Unsure how to move forward, Chris consulted with Your DNA Guide. Diahan’s methods (taught in Your DNA Guide–the Book) helped her sort her husband’s matches into genetic networks representing different branches of his tree. Ken’s sister and two half-sisters also later took DNA tests, which helped Chris distinguish between Ken’s maternal and paternal lines. Chris was eventually able to identify a strong candidate for the birth mother’s identity.

Ken also then took a YDNA test, which focuses only on his paternal-line ancestry. A match at the 67 marker with a 3-step genetic distance match had the surname Gage. Alone, this isn’t strong evidence that the birth father’s surname was Gage. But paired with a significant number of Gage autosomal matches, the chance the unknown birth father was a Gage was more likely.

Meanwhile, Chris and Ken obtained Gilbert’s birth certificate and had it unsealed. The mother listed was consistent with what Chris’ research had already shown. But the father’s surname, Gavaldon, didn’t match any of Ken’s YDNA matches.

Chris spent a lot of time building out floating trees for Ken’s matches, including a Gage family tree, to figure out how her husband could be related to the Gage YDNA matches. She identified a common ancestor, Jacob Alexander Gage. He was living less than a quarter mile from the birth mother in the 1940 census in Colorado. He was much older, though, so Chris initially ignored him.

A floating tree that Chris built out for one of Ken’s DNA matches.

Next steps: Live Coaching Success

Chris had compiled all of this information by the time she joined one of our Dive into DNA! live group coaching events in December 2022. With Diahan Southard’s expert help during the live event, they focused on one particular match that looked promising. As a next step, Diahan encouraged Chris to reach out to this match to see if she would be willing to share more about how she is related to her other matches.

Chris was later able to determine that the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) was Jacob Alexander Gage and Catherine Jane Swartz, finding matches on both sides of the couple (Chris did this using the “Ask the Wife” strategy that you can learn more about in Your DNA Guide–the Book).

A few months after the Dive event, Chris logged into FamilySearch.org and saw that a user had recently uploaded several newspaper clippings containing a name that she vaguely recognized. After some digging, she found the person in a floating tree she had created. The articles from 1911 and 1914 were about twins who had been adopted after the parents separated, then the twins reunited, and eventually they reunited with their birth mother.

The father of the twins happened to be Ken’s suspected grandfather, Jacob Alexander Gage.

The DNA match from the floating tree is Ken’s half-first cousin once removed, the grandson of one of these twins. Chris is now 99% sure that the twins were born when Jacob was 21, a half-sister was born when he was 41, and her husband’s father was born when Jacob was 60.  More recently, the great-granddaughter of the half-sister tested. Her results show genetic relationships consistent with being Ken and his sister’s half first-cousin once removed (she matches Ken at 109cM and his sister at 165cM). There is still more to the story and years of DNA, YDNA, and traditional genealogy research, but this is a great discovery!

Just like Chris, YOU CAN DO THE DNA. And just like in Chris’ situation, WE CAN HELP. Start learning DNA strategies and concepts in Your DNA Guide–the Book. And then join us for our next live case studies to see how these strategies apply in real-life situations. Maybe (like Chris) your case study will even be chosen for review! See the schedule for our next Dive into DNA! event.

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1 Comment

  1. Dee Ann Barton

    My first attempt at a floating tree was successful — inasmuch as I actually got it done. However, I obviously left out a step or two and the result was a complete disaster and took a long time to clear up. UGH!

    I will try again AFTER I go back over the instructions a few times and identify where I went wrong.


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