Posted by Anna Swayne on July 3, 2014 in AncestryDNA

July 24 is Cousins Day, and to celebrate we’re sharing some real-life cousin stories courtesy of AncestryDNA. These are folks who met cousins they never knew after contacting a match that appeared in their AncestryDNA results. An AncestryDNA match is determined by how much DNA you share with another individual.

Names can change, but DNA doesn’t

For Melyssa, it started with a question: “Who were my father’s people?” Melyssa had been researching for more than 30 years after she learned that her mother had been married before, and that she and her younger brother had joined her current family when she was three years old.

Initially, Melyssa’s mother explained that she had indeed been married before, then divorced. But, she said, her first husband had subsequently died and had no living relatives. After a few months of contemplating this, Melyssa decided that wasn’t enough, and she set out to find out who her birth father had been and his ancestors.

Eventually, hours of researching left Melyssa convinced that her father might be alive. More researching and phone calls left her with leads on two possible fathers: one in Florida and one in Pennsylvania. A visit with the Florida candidate provided a few more pieces to the story and eliminated him as her possible father. That left her lead in Pennsylvania, who didn’t want to pursue a possible connection. She tried several times over the years but got nowhere. Finally, two years ago she turned to DNA testing on her own to see what she could find out.

“My results clearly showed I am Norwegian, a region I never in a million years would have expected. My mother’s side is Irish,” Melyssa explained after viewing her ethnicity results. Then she turned to her cousin matches, focusing on the area where the man she thought might be her father had lived when she had contacted him last. Sure enough, by searching around New Castle, Pennsylvania, she found Claudia, a 4th-cousin DNA match, who used to be a Richards, her suspected father’s surname. She immediately contacted Claudia, explained a little about what she knew, and asked if she knew a David Richards. Claudia said she did and that she and David were cousins and had gone to high school together but didn’t know each other well.


Claudia shared her own research on the Richards family and helped Melyssa get into contact with a possible half-brother.

When they all met in Pennsylvania last summer at Claudia’s mother’s 85 birthday party, Melyssa’s potential sibling took the AncestryDNA test, which confirmed that he was in fact Melyssa’s half-brother.

Her father never did seem interested or wasn’t ready to meet. By time he found out that DNA had confirmed the relationship, he was very old and sick. He died just a few weeks ago.

“While I never got to see my birth father face to face, I have been able to meet my brother and other relatives, including my grandmother Richards, who passed away just months after us meeting,” Melyssa explains.  “I received information on grandparents and great-grandparents and have successfully taken my ancestry back to Norway — with photos!”

Melyssa attributes a lot of her success to Claudia, the cousin she met through AncestryDNA. The one who was able to hold her hand, help answer her questions about the missing links in her family — and ultimately change her life.

Power of DNA: helping cousins connect to their past. 

Interested in taking the AncestryDNA test, order now!


Anna Swayne

Anna Swayne has 9 years of experience in the DNA genealogy world. At Ancestry, she leads efforts in developing education to help our community maximize their experience with AncestryDNA. She believes there is real power behind DNA and the story it can unlock for each of us. When she is not talking DNA you can find her hiking or cycling in the mountains or cooking at home.


  1. This is a really nice story, and at the same time a little weird. I am also looking for some family members with the last name of Richards and I live in PA. My grandmother and her sister(don’t) know her name were daughters of James P. Richards and Mattie B Artz. James born in 1181 and died in 1904 at he age of 23. I am stuck on him.
    Also I have met 2 of my distant cousins through ancestry.

  2. I have all most all my family memorized all the way back to the first time they set foot on us. Land! I have abstracts dating back to old Abe licoln him self!

  3. Lee J.

    My friend from high school and I were chatting about how hard it was to go through all of the Italians names that we both share through our fathers, whom we don’t have any information on. Somehow it came up that my mom’s family was from WV and she shared that her’s was too. After telling her about my experience with AncestryDNA, I told her to start a family tree here. She did, but needed help navigating the site, so I had her add me via the sharing option so I could see what she was doing. While on there I noticed she had added someone in her family with a middle name (mom’s maiden name we came to find out) that was the same as in my family tree. It was not a common name and so I asked her about it. I went ahead in her site and found who this relatives’ parents/grandparents were, and low and behold, her relative was the sister of one of my relatives. We share the same GGGgrandparents. What makes this an interesting story is that this all happened while we live two states away from each other now, we both went to high school together in California and didn’t even know we were related. 40+ years out of high school and 3,000 miles away from where it all began, two cousins went to high school together and didn’t even know it. We have kept in touch through Facebook as a place where a lot of high schoolers reunite and chat, but that was one conversation that lead to an amazing find. Please contact me if you want any more information on this great discovery! July 6, 2014

  4. Kenneth W Decker

    I did your DNA test about 2-3 years ago. The response was very broad.
    Estimated 45% Western European, 32% Great Britain, !8% Scandinavian and 5% Trace? I’m sure there are millions of persons that fall into these overlapping areas. How can you sort out possible relationships? Do you have more detailed DNA data than we have been provided? The hints I have been provided don’t have common names with those in my ancestry lines.
    I am interested in your response.
    Thank you, Ken Decker

  5. Howard Blair

    I think a good DNA test is a must. But, unfortunately this was the worst $99 I spent so far. This test was way too broad, only giving what countries my families may have come from.

    I already found the countries where my surnames came from by much leg work. I was hoping to find what group I am in the HOWARD Blood line. This test gave me nothing of help.

    I hope that you can give our samples to a company that will connect us to a family group blood line.
    oward Blair (Howard by Blood)

  6. Judy Archer Brucker

    I currently have a DNA match for a 1st cousin, adopted after being born in a town by my mothers family (see first match) and 2 different 4th cousins. The second match below, was adopted but do not yet know which side of my family there is a match. This does not narrow down where to start. The third match is also a 4th cousin. No common names were give, so where do we start to find a connection?

    Predicted relationship: Close Family
    Possible range: Close family – 1st cousins ( What does this mean? )
    Confidence: 99%

    Possible range: 4th – 6th cousins
    Confidence: 96%

    Possible range: 4th – 6th cousins
    Confidence: 95%

  7. Harriet Hartshorne Strobel

    I took the DNA test through Ancestry over a year ago and received DNA possible matches for several months. But then they stopped and I have not received any in a long time. Did I opt out by mistake? Please continue sending them, if there are any. Thanks!

  8. Dennis Potts

    Harriet, There isn’t an “opt out” option. You might want to reach out to Ancestry’s Customer Service.

    Howard, A little research goes a long way. You took an autosomal DNA test. The Ethnicity results derived from it are nothing more than dinner party conversation starter. The real benefit of atDNA can’t really be realized strictly through Ancestry since they have yet to provide any segment comparison tools. It sounds like you should have taken a yDNA test. See FTDNA. Ancestry is getting out of the yDNA business (not that they were ever really in it).

    Kenneth, To get any real benefit out of your atDNA results you need to develop as good a tree as you can using conventional genealogical methods. You also should export your results to GEDmatch or FTDNA which has real segment comparison tools since sharing surnames is not sharing DNA.


  9. Deborah Hentgen

    Will Ancestry eventually be able to separate cousins or other relatives DNA matches to the Paternal side only and then the Maternal side of the family only.
    I have lots of 4th-6th cousins and 5th-8th cousins and I don’t recognize any of the surnames . I am hoping that Ancestry will eventually tell me if these cousins are from my father or mothers side of the family.
    My father and mother have siblings out there from their parents affairs.
    So I have uncles and aunts that I don’t know and cousins that names are not recognizable to me.

  10. Donna Hartman

    I also found cousins from the DNA connection. The most amazing was a cousin twice removed. It turned out she has been teaching school for about 20 years at a high school about two miles up the road from my house. To make this even stranger, I had worked with her then husband for several years at the company where I was employed. She and I had no idea the other even existed. Her great grandmother and my grandmother were half sisters. The other cousins are spread all over the U.S. What a great opportunity the is.

  11. Marianne Fulmer Pursell

    I discovered that a good friend of mine, since first grade, is fairly closely related to my husband. I’ve since found several other relatives of his that he didn’t know, but that I did. I’ve been working on family history since about 1993, and I never cease to be amazed at what I find. It can be time-consuming and tedious, but it’s worth it, for me.

  12. Leah Palmer

    I found several distant cousins on, and continue to be in contact with two of them. I did my DNA test, and when one of the two cousins did his, it confirmed that we are indeed related by blood. That was cool…… I am often frustrated that possible close matches either don’t have a family tree, or keep their family tree private…… I also seem to get mostly matches from my Jewish side, for which I have very little information. I think I read that Jewish DNA has many false positives. Can you explain why?

  13. Marisol Rivera

    I shared my enthusiasm about with a co-worker-friend. We’ve always felt a strong connection. I helped her set up her tree and about a year after she did a DNA test and it turns out we are Fourth Cousins! ! We still have’t figured out the common lineage, but this experience confirmed what we already “knew”. There is Spanish saying la sangre llama” which means “the blood [bloodline] is calling” and we couldn’t be happier to confirm our link and look forward to discovering more information.

  14. barbara Goodridge

    Touching article and nice comments. I feel encouraged. My DNA test isn’t back yet but I hope I find more family out there. In 1995 I found 5 2nd cousins, and 3 first cousins and 2 gt. aunties one who died within months of meeting her. Unfortunately most folks that I meet or have spoken to have all died. We didn’t stay in touch well and poof they are gone. Life is fragile it seems.
    Now I’m trying to find my gt granddad’s parents and it is a big wall so far. Any ideas since I can’t find a birth record for William Goodridge born 1 Jun 1820 anywhere in Essex Co, MA. He was supposed to have been born in Salem. He changed his last name to Smith and settled in IL then IA and I have a picture of his grave stone but no death certificate. It seems to have disappeared from the Crawford Co, IA Ct House where those records are kept. What is a poor searcher to do? Any ideas are welcomed.
    Barbara Goodridge

  15. What a wonderful story about Meylssa’s search for her birth father. Two years ago both my husband & I did the DNA test. Most of my hits could not be connected due to trees not being filled out. My husband had very good results. Just this summer I have found two 3-4th cousin matches that I’ve connected with some of my surnames. One has opened the door to my 2nd great grandfather’s family. So, now I’m a believer and looking forward to more productive results.
    Will there be new tests that can give a broader range of DNA matches & ethnicity? also, is there a test that can determine Native American ethnicity?

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