Once your DNA results have been released, you’ll be keen to start messaging your closest matches – especially if any of their surnames or places look familiar.  If you are new to genetic genealogy, follow the tips below to help you get a better response to your enquiries.

Many people manage multiple DNA kits for different people using the same email address, and often have kits at different companies or websites too (eg. AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, Living DNA, GEDmatch), so your message needs to be clear and include enough relevant information to help the recipient answer your enquiry as effortlessly as possible.

If your email includes very little information for them to go on, or involves a lot of research on their part just to find your match, your response rate may not be very good.

At the other extreme, you don’t want to overwhelm your email contacts by including too much detail (eg. long detailed family histories or chromosome segment information) or asking too many difficult questions right from the outset.

Establish communication channels first, and build the relationship over time.  You will all get more matches in the future, some of which will make the earlier ones easier to understand.

Keep your initial message concise and simple, but include all relevant details.  Introduce yourself and provide the basics, and you can expand upon them in later messages when appropriate.

Details to include

  • Your kit/tester’s name (and kit number if relevant, eg. for GEDmatch) – this sounds obvious, but some people use different names (ie. maiden, nicknames, initials or aliases), so give them the right one to look for in their matches.
  • Username – eg. Ancestry, where usernames can be displayed instead of match name and email address.
  • Your email address if it is different to the one you are sending the message from (so they can easily find your kits in their match reports at GEDmatch or FTDNA, if relevant).
  • Match’s kit name (and kit number if relevant, eg. for GEDmatch) even if the email address matches the name exactly, as many people manage multiple kits and may not know which of their kits you are referring to, even if it is their own.
  • Test type, eg. Autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, mtDNA/FMS if at FTDNA (it is not always obvious in some emails).
  • Match source: Testing company or platform (eg. AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe or GEDmatch).
  • Your ancestry:  Brief list of your ancestral surnames & places; or include a link to your online tree; or advise them that your tree is linked to your DNA at Ancestry, MyHeritage, FTDNA or GEDmatch, or linked to your FamilySearch tree at 23andMe; or attach a brief pedigree chart or include a screen snip of the relevant branches from your family tree software.
  • Match’s ancestry:  If not already available, ask for their ancestral surnames & places, a link to their tree if hosted elsewhere, or ask politely for a basic pedigree.

Optional details

  • Shared Matches/In-Common-With (ICW) matches to their kit; and ask them to check if they have the same shared/ICW matches;  If you are really lucky, they may already know or have confirmed some matches and be able to tell you which of their ancestral lines you match them on.  If there are too many, don’t list them all, but suggest they look through them at their end for any familiar names.
  • Amount of shared DNA – cMs (centiMorgans); optional, depending on relevance and level of understanding (yours and theirs).
  • Any clues as to how you might be related, especially if it is already obvious to you.
  • Obviously the details you include in your email will depend on what information the match has already provided (or not), and what clues, if any, you can glean from their surnames and places, and how much experience you have and what you may already know.  Use your judgment.

Example: AncestryDNA

Contacting matches in your AncestryDNA list must be done through Ancestry’s messaging system.  Some matches have public trees, some have private trees, others may have no tree at all.  Family trees may be linked to the DNA, or unlinked.  If the DNA for both of you is linked to searchable trees, Common Ancestors may be identified if the trees match.

Subject:  DNA Match to [your tester’s name]

Hello [match/admin’s name/username],

My name is [Your name].  AncestryDNA predicts that [match’s name/initials/username] and [your kit name] may be [eg. Xth cousins].  We share [xx] cMs, so we could also be [other equivalent cM relationships].

I have a family tree linked to my DNA.  If you don’t have a subscription and can’t see my tree, let me know so I can send you an invitation to view it.

Do you have a family tree or any pedigree information that you can share?  If not, would you be willing to share the names of your grandparents with me if you know them (presuming they are deceased)?  If you don’t know your ancestry, our shared matches might provide some clues to our connection, and I’d be happy to collaborate.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Kind regards,

[Your Name]

[State, Country]

[Your email address]  (optional)

 

Optional, if relevant

Request access to a private tree:
‘Would you be so kind as to share your tree with me?  I might notice clues indicating where our ancestors may have crossed paths, even if it is not as obvious as shared surnames or birth/death places.  I might recognise a place my ancestors visited, or the surname of a sponsor, witness, neighbour, friend, or some other clue connecting the families.’

Recommend adding & linking a tree:
‘In case you are not already aware, if you add a family tree to your Ancestry account and link your DNA to yourself in that tree (even if just a basic tree with names, dates and locations of direct ancestors), Ancestry may generate Common Ancestor hints (based on DNA and matching ancestors in trees) and ThruLines (suggestions as to how your DNA matches might connect to you).  All living people automatically remain private in Ancestry trees, so matches will only see your deceased ancestors further back (hopefully ones that they share!)’

Other DNA tests:
‘PS: I have more [of my own and/or family/relatives] DNA kits at [XXX], [XXX] and [XXX], where you can transfer your AncestryDNA raw data for free, to find more matches and use their comparison tools.   Here are some easy step-by-step instructions to download your DNA data file and upload it to other DNA databases.’

Example: Family Finder (FTDNA)

From:  [email address used in your FTDNA account]

Subject:  Family Finder Enquiry – [Surname]

Hello [Match Name / Kit Manager],

My name is [Your Name], and FTDNA’s Family Finder predicts that [Match Name] is a potential [Xth cousin] match to [me, or Your Kit Name].

My family tree and surname list is on FTDNA [or at the following URL].

Do you have a family tree online that I can view, or can you email me your ancestral surnames & places of interest so I can look for clues to our common ancestors?

I look forward to hearing from you and finding our connection.

Kind regards,

[Your Name]

[State, Country]

 

Optional, if applicable:

  • ‘Our kits match in common with [list the ICW kit names or screen snip here].  Do you have the same matches in common, or do you already know how any of them match with [Match Name]?’
  • ‘I notice that you have [Surname] in your tree and wondered if any came from the [Placename] area?’
  • ‘[Your Kit Name] comes from [Placename] for most of the last [XXX] years, and I wondered if any of [Match Name’s] ancestors also came from that area?’
  • Shared cMs

Example: GEDmatch

From:  [email address used in your GEDmatch account]

Subject:  GEDmatch Enquiry – [Surname / Kit Name]

Hello [Match Name / Kit Manager],

My name is [Your Name], and GEDmatch predicts that [Match Name, Kit # M123456] is a potential match to [me, or Your Kit Name, Kit # A567890] with:

  • MRCA (most recent common ancestor) estimated to be about [X.X] generations back
  • longest segment of [xx] cM
  • total shared segments of [xx] cM
  • X-DNA segments of [xx and xx] cM (only if relevant)

My ancestral surnames include [list of surnames & places], and I have a family tree [at the following URL / on GEDmatch / predigree/snip attached].

Do you have a family tree online that I can view, or can you email me a list of [Match Name’s] ancestral surnames & places?

I look forward to hearing from you and finding our connection.

Kind regards,

[Your Name]

[State, Country]

 

Optional, if applicable:

When using GEDmatch, you may also like to run other reports and mention any relevant results in your enquiry email – such as: ‘People who match both, or 1 of 2 kits’ (ie. shared matches/In-Common-With).  To learn more, refer to Tips for Using GEDmatch.

Note:  When using the GEDmatch One-to-Many DNA Comparison report, always run a One-to-one Autosomal DNA Comparison report on the two kits before sending an enquiry email (you can click the ‘A’ or the hyperlinked amount of shared atDNA on the One-to-many report as a short-cut to the One-to-one Autosomal DNA Comparison report) – just in case the default thresholds differ.

More tips...

  • Keep a copy of each email you send so that when you finally receive a reply at some time in the future, you can review your conversation and know exactly what you said.
  • The testing companies that use their own messaging systems should have a copy of your sent messages in your Sent box.
  • At AncestryDNA, always send messages from the DNA match page (not the profile page), as it links messages to your match page and adds a match link to the bottom of the message page so you can find the relevant matches instantly.
  • Each testing company provides a notes field for each DNA match, so make use of it and add relevant research notes, shared match clues, dates you sent messages, etc – so you don’t have to research the same match over again.

Patience is a virtue...

Remember that your message recipients may be very busy people, might hold down full-time jobs, have families to care for, and also juggle the rest of their lives as well as their genetic genealogy email.  Many, like me, manage a large number of kits, and often get inundated with emails and messages, so it sometimes takes a while to respond to enquiries.  Be patient, and hopefully you’ll get a response sooner or later!  Also be aware that people test their DNA for different reasons, and not all are interested in family history or have the time to correspond, so don’t take it to heart if you don’t get a response.

And always be polite and friendly… and good luck!  🙂

This post was first published on 1 April 2015, and updated and republished on 13 Sep 2019.