Finding More Family: 5 ways to expand your family tree
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In the past, genetic genealogy was a complex endeavor. Genealogical information was most typically found in the form of stories passed down in the oral tradition. With only this to go on, most family trees were poorly constructed, highly ambiguous pieces of conjecture that easily hit brick walls. But now, with the internet and ancestry DNA testing services, it is easier than ever to get started as an amateur genetic genealogist.
Using these 5 simple steps, users can easily and accurately build a family tree that would have previously required hiring a private investigator. Follow the steps below to uncover all of the secrets in your family history!
1. Get an Ancestry DNA Test
The first and easiest step to take on your genetic genealogy journey is getting a DNA test for ancestry. For the purposes of building and validating a family tree, we suggest AncestryDNA or MyHeritage. Both of these companies offer industry-leading ancestry reports based on your autosomal DNA test. Each company offers both an ethnicity breakdown, as well as an analysis of potential mass migration events that your family may have been a part of. These reports will be a great start and source of information for analyzing your family tree.
Plus, both companies give users the ability to create a family tree using software that can take your DNA test results into account. This will give you a basic outline for your family tree, and you can actually build it out quite easily using information from other family members on the sites.
2. Look for more connections with GEDmatch
Once you have gotten your dna results back, you can create a free account with GEDmatch. GEDmatch.com is a free site that allows people to upload their raw DNA data to search for more matches, using professional-level analysis tools. The site takes raw data from a number of sources like 23andMe, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage DNA results. This means you will be able to find living relatives that used a different DNA testing company in the GEDmatch match list.
GEDmatch has a number of tools that allow you to review different DNA matches, compare your DNA to other people, and estimate relationships between different matches. Adoptees may find this particularly useful because it can match DNA samples of distant relatives across multiple genetic testing companies. You can learn more about how to use GEDmatch in our blog post on the subject.
3. Review your family tree connections with DNAgedcom
Once you have collected and reviewed all of your direct DNA matches using the above steps, you may want to look at your family tree as a whole. If you have built a family tree on Ancestry or MyHeritage, you will be able to download the information as a GEDCOM file. A GEDCOM file, short for Genealogical Data Communication file, stores all of the information found in your family tree including who is related to who, what generation they lived in, and names and dates of all the people involved.
DNAgedcom.com is a site that allows users to analyze similarities between two or more GEDCOM family tree files. Follow the instructions in our blog on DNAgedcom to see how other family trees intersect with yours. This information is extremely helpful in discovering distant branches of your genealogical tree, and how those branches weave into other family histories. After all, human history is much more of a web than a tree. This information can lead you to a much more comprehensive understanding of your family history.
4. Visualize and check your family tree with DNA Painter
One major problem that amateur genealogists often encounter is that it is hard to keep track of all the different branches and families that have contributed to your ancestry. Using DNA Painter, you will be able to visualize and better understand these relationships. The site is free to use, and it can help show you where different genes in your autosomal DNA came from. There are also features which allow you to map your family tree back to your 4th-Great-Grandparents, and even further if you spring for a subscription.
DNA Painter also has the ability to tell you the probability that a DNA match shares a particular relationship with you. For example, based on the DNA you share the site can estimate whether you are immediate relatives, first cousins, second cousins, third cousins, or if you are more distantly related. You can also see any common ancestors you share with your matches, such as a great-grandfather. You can check out the basics of the site in our breakdown of everything you need to know about DNA Painter.
5. Access historical records to validate your tree
With the above 4 steps, you should have a pretty good understanding of your family history and your family tree should be pretty well-developed. Now, it’s time to validate your entries with non-DNA evidence from historical records. One of the reasons that we recommend Ancestry.com and MyHeritage for genetic testing is that these companies have the world’s largest historical records databases. Ancestry’s database focuses more on North American records, whereas MyHeritage has more records based out of Europe. Depending on where your family was historically located, you may want to choose one company over the other.
Either way, with a subscription to either company you get access to millions of military records, birth and death records, passenger lists, newspaper articles, and other records that may pertain directly to your family history. These records can give you a direct historical proof of your family history. While records like these used to be a starting point for genealogists, it is now much easier to use them as validation of the DNA connection you have already found.
Don’t forget the other info you can learn from raw DNA data!
While the steps above will allow you to find the maximum amount of information about your ancestry, there is much more information your raw DNA data can provide. The sites below offer nutrition advice, genetic predisposition analyses, fitness tips based on your DNA, and many other services based on your genetic information and the SNPs measured by your testing company. The ancestry sites will also allow you to search their DNA databases to find even more connections based on segments of DNA. Many of these sites are free, and allow you to maximize the value of your raw DNA data!
To find out more DNA upload sites, check out our article "The Best DNA Upload Sites"