Posted by Ancestry Team on September 12, 2017 in AncestryDNA, ProGenealogists

Discovering unknown relatives is one of the most exciting parts of receiving AncestryDNA test results. Among these newly found relatives are longtime Ancestry subscribers with robust family trees. They may be able to help break down the brick walls in your research, and you may be able to do the same for them. Of course, with this gold mine of information comes the potential for frustration. Angie Bush is a genetic genealogist with AncestryProGenealogists, and she has reached out to thousands of DNA matches, including her own and those of her clients. She has found that the following tactics increase the likelihood of getting a response that is helpful to both you and your DNA matches.

  • Update your Ancestry profile before sending any messages. Include a profile picture, information about who you are, what you do, and what topics you are interested in researching. This can go a long way in showing that you are honest and trustworthy.
  • Send your message from your AncestryDNA match page. This way, your message will include a link to the match that removes all the guesswork for your recipient.

  • When you do write that first message, introduce yourself and what you are trying to achieve.
  • Be as specific as possible to avoid confusion. Use Ancestry user names and identifiers to describe who matches whom, and reference the tree you are talking about. The person you are contacting may administer more than one DNA test, and he or she may have more than one tree. Providing this information removes all guesswork and makes it far more likely that the matching person will respond to you.

In addition to these best practices, there are some common mistakes to avoid.

  • Vague messages make it difficult to give a helpful response. “I don’t have time to go hunting around figuring out what they are talking about,” Angie said. “I can’t help if I don’t have enough information.”
  • Don’t write a novel in your first message. This can overwhelm your recipient and discourage a response. Be concise, and only give pertinent information. If you do get a response, there will likely be future opportunities to resolve research problems and share the emotional impact of this experience.
  • Don’t assume the person you are contacting is a genealogist. Many of the people taking DNA tests have never done family history research, and they may not know very much about their family tree.

Sometimes, people don’t respond to even the most thoughtfully crafted message. They may not have seen it, or perhaps they intended to write a response and simply forgot. In some cases, there may be situations that make them unwilling to talk to you.

  • Look for other matches that you share with this person. Are there people you know, perhaps on a different family line?
  • Google the username of your match if it’s unique. People often use the same username across multiple social media accounts. See if you can fit them into your tree with what you learn.
  • When Angie finds a DNA match elsewhere online, she extends an offer to help build that person’s family tree or determine how they are connected. “It’s beneficial to both of us,” she said. “It gets them interested, and it helps me with my family history.”
  • That being said, use restraint. Don’t stalk them or continue to contact them if they still don’t respond. “A lot of people get frustrated when they reach out and don’t get a response,” Angie said. “Sharing DNA with someone does not entitle you to anything.”

Managing your mindset may be the most helpful way to stay positive when contacting DNA matches. Angie says it is important to always assume that the people you are communicating with have good intentions — even when tone, spelling, grammar, or ignorance tempt you to think otherwise. They may be brand new to genealogy and the Ancestry website, or they may be dealing with sensitive family situations. Not every conversation is going to take the course you want it to, but with patience and the right approach, communicating with your DNA matches can be a rewarding and fruitful addition to your genealogical research.

Have you encountered obstacles when contacting DNA matches? How did you overcome them? Share in the comments below. To learn even more about communicating with DNA matches, watch Crista Cowan’s free online lecture, Communicating with Cousins.



  1. Judy B

    In these times of breached data and information, I think most of us are more than cautious in sharing any personal data that could be compromised. There is no assurance that it will not be shared w/o our permission. As well, making our family trees “public” just provides more information to those who may have less than stellar motives. I look for those matches provided by Ancestry who have common family surnames with me and those with public trees before I contact them. I have only had one successful sharing on Ancestry which involved sharing my photos and information with another descendant of our common ancestor. In this case, we both benefitted and we both promised to not share these materials with others with first asking for permission.

    • Jason Lee

      “In these times of breached data and information, I think most of us are more than cautious in sharing any personal data that could be compromised.” I worry more about a breach Ancestry’s databases. The information we typically share with our DNA matches is trifling by comparison.

    • Nancy

      You imply that we should not have public trees for safety reasons, yet you look for public trees for your safety before contacting matches. I don’t have any information on my tree that someone would want to use and have gotten a lot of help through other members who are 4th to distant cousins. Some of them have the photos of great great great- grandparents, for example, that I cherish.

      • Amy

        This is what I don’t understand–why can’t people attach a separate tree stripped of private info to their DNA, like you apparently do? People will say, for instance, they have living relatives in their tree and that’s why they make it private. Well, how about attaching a tree excluding their info. They’ll complain they have photos they don’t want to share–well make a separate tree w/o photos to attach to the DNA test. Anything would help.

        Honestly, I now just ignore the matches w/private trees and delete their match–I have plenty of other matches to deal with. I’ve never gotten a response from a match with a private tree. I even had one contact me about my dad, when I responded that he was deceased and asked how they were related, they didn’t even respond back.

        • David L Miller

          I have connected with several private tree DNA Matches with great success. I usually start with a message stating my name and that I’m tracing our DNA Match connection. With my tree being public they can see how we are connected, and then they add me to their tree as a guest, some have even allowed me to see the living. Currently I have traced 94 cousins and have 5 trees from the private tree match. Similar results for tracing my wife’s DNA Matches.

  2. Tom Ontis

    I have been in contact with two cousins who found me through Ancestry. One I have met, the other, we talk on the phone about once a month.

  3. Alan

    A few better to tools from Ancestry to help us search through many pages of matches, and sort and more easily identify who we have already contacted, etc. etc, would go a long way to make the process of contacting others more efficient. You must admit that the available tools (such as the ability to “star” the match) are very rudimentary…

    • Janice

      I absolutely agree with you. I want a way to sort my matches beyond a star. And I want to know who I’ve already contacted. If I’ve contacted them before, I may not want to write again as I could seem a pest. Although I have to say – this once paid off for me.

      • Kerry

        I add a note in the added note section for each person I sent an email and put a date so I know who I sent and email too (though I wish these notes could be viewed in the DNA match section, right now I have to click on each DNA match to see if I have any notes. I also wish I could see my notes in the DNA match area since I list any common names we share.

        • Crista Cowan

          You can see the notes from the DNA Match list page. Just look for the little notepad icon just to the right of the match name. You can click on that to view the note without having to click through to view the match. This especially useful when viewing Shared Matches so you know which branch of the family tree they are on.

    • Sue Etherington

      You can search for specific surnames in your matches by ‘viewing all DNA matches’ then clicking ‘search matches’ and entering the relevant surname in the box. This enables you to see far more of your distant matches without going through hundreds of pages.

    • David L Miller

      The one thing I would love is to be able to choose a color of star. I use the star to indicate a successful trace, but would like to use a red star to indicate issues with the match, and say a green to in the process of the trace. I do add the notes to the match, but the different star would help.

  4. Janice

    It is a problem to get people to reply. I always try to tell them where I think we might related and/or who or whose line I am researching. More often than not, I probably have information I can share with them and I will tell them that if I think I do. Last, some of the messages never reach the intended recipient. I have recently learned that unless you are the manager of the tree and go to “settings” for DNA to make sure you receive notices, you could miss out. I recently learned from a nephew about a message he’d received 2 years ago – to which he hadn’t replied. I did and, luckily, the person still had an account and replied. Ancestry, we need a way to sort through our DNA matches that is less tedious and a way to organize them according to what we learn or where they may fit in our tree. I keep making notes but that’s really satisfactory.

    • Alfonso Vigil

      My DNA let’s me know I am 31% Iberian peninsula& 28%Native American trying to find my roots in Spain I know a little about my root surname but want to go back as far as is possible thank you! Pahado.

  5. Karyn Paulman

    I also wish that the DNA match site was more user-friendly. I don’t check it as often because there are so many matches and so little time. Why, when I check a match for names in common and try to return to the list, does it take me back to the beginning again? Am I not doing it right or is it a flaw in the programming? I have found numerous cousins on here. Some I share info with and some I don’t. Depends on how close a match it is and whether I’ve seen their trees when looking for info, even if private like mine. I do get overly cautious about handing out information about my family but am more than willing to help others when I have verified that they are truly related and not just phishing. I do my best to respond to all messages but am more receptive to those who ask about specific people they are looking for, which gives me a clue about who they are and how they might be related. This instance happened just a few months ago. I was asked about specific people and after seeing them in my tree I responded. Turned out that this person gave me the connection I needed for family in Nebraska to the family in Iowa that had been a mystery up until then. Also provided her with info she didn’t have. So exciting to find long lost relatives.

  6. Julie Layton

    I am adopted and I have info on my mother, but I don’t even know my father’s name. How do I separate my mother’s relatives from my father’s relatives? Everything comes up with relatives relating to my mother.

    • Janice

      Julie, If Ancestry has put you into one or more genetic communities, you can see a list of matches associated with a particular community (on that page there is a little tree-type icon you can click to see connections). If you know that one of those communities doesn’t reflect your mother’s heritage, it may be one that shows matches for your paternal side. No guarantee this will work if both parents have similar ethnic origins but it may be worth a shot. Wishing you luck.

    • Crista Cowan

      Has your mother or a close family member (1/2 sibling, 1st cousin, etc.) on your mother’s side of the family also tested? You could use your shared matches with that individual to sort out which matches are maternal and which are likely to be paternal.

    • Christina Nunn

      I was adopted and found my birth parents in 2004. My birth father didn’t want to know me and even though I eventually got his name, he was too young to show in the census. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my birth mother’s relatives as I discovered them. I included a column of mutual matches. I started to see a pattern of names that didn’t seem to fit any of my known maternal lines. I kept those in a separate page. Sometimes the surnames may overlap. In my case they did but I could see my father’s family likely connected to one Meyer family line from Switzerland. I don’t have all the information but I found two male cousins using DNA that helped me figure out who my father’s parents are. That let me skip my father and continue my genetic (DNA) and family tree (usually paper trail). I hope this helps you. I also found two adopted cousins, and a half-sister I didn’t know existed, who was also put up for adoption. Feel free to write me if I can help in any way. I’ve helped a lot of adoptees over the years.

  7. Malcolm Hanley

    I agree with the points made about better organization as I have over 200 pages of matches. I tend to concentrate on the “4th cousin or closer” matches. It’s rare that I’ve been able to figure out shared ancestors with cousins more distant than that. Also, I wish Ancestry would provide ALL matches you share with an individual, not just the closely-related ones. It’s annoying to get a new match, and after clicking “Shared Matches” when viewing their page, being told I “have no shared matches” with that person. It’s very likely I do, but because our shared matches are more distant than 4th or 5th cousins Ancestry is filtering them out.

  8. Alan Doyne

    I too have found dozens of cousins through Ancestry DNA and have communicated with several. I only write to those for whom I have determined a common ancestor and exact relationship which I convey in my original message. many have replied with much helpful information. We really need a better way to filter our matches, I routinely scan 60+ pages of “New Matches” but if a tree has less than a few hundred people the chance of finding a common ancestor is nil. We need to be able to screen out trees that can’t help us. I even click on matches with “No Family Tree”, at least half of them have trees (sometimes more than a dozen) but have not linked their DNA test to any. We need a way to sort this out.
    Al Doyne

  9. Barbara

    I noticed you recommend the green button for sending a message. But I heard that the green button doesn’t send an email to the person. Only the orange “Contact ” button (on the profile page) sends an email to the person. Both buttons put the message in the Ancestry message box, but who thinks to look at it?

    • Janet

      Barbara, both the green button (on the DNA page) and the orange button (on the member’s profile page) generate an email notification that a message is waiting in the Message Center.

  10. Christine

    My closest match has not replied to my emails. I sent an initial response. I suspected throgh the user name (e.g. Delomill) that it was a mix of names and suspected a branch. After a few months a shared match came up with a third cousin that I know well. This confirmed my branch suspicion e.g. Miller. I wrote again saying I was able to pinpoint the branch and suggested ancestors. Still no reply but on ancestry weekly. So I put on my sleuthing hat. I found the adnimistrator had a small public tree on ancestry. No millers, but that did give me the first half of the username. E.g. Delongville. I started a private mirror tree on ancestry and through hints and electoral rolls was able to identify the user. Onto Facebook and I find she is friends with only two Millers, possibly her sons. Her sons are only friends with her and each other. No father, cousins or extended family with that surname. Most like they are estranged from their father who I can’t identify. This genie does not want contact for a reason and does not need me contantacting ber further. I’m dissapointed I cannot find the connection I wanted, but that’s ok.

  11. Joyce

    I have found a LOT of people don’t respond. Does not matter if it is a DNA link msg or a regular msg. Many folks have email notifications blocked.

    I have msg’d people I know are related to me, as I have an extensive tree and often know exactly where they fit in. I give people some brief info, tell them how to find my tree on my profile and point them in the correct direction on my tree so they can find out about ancestors that are not on their tree. (when they have them–MOST DNA matches don’t even have trees these days).

    I rarely get a response…sometimes get a thanks…sometimes hear from people a year or even 2 after sending a message.

    It is quite disappointing.

    On the lines I NEED I have never seen anyone with the info–I am missing ancestry on 3 pairs of Potato Famine Era Irish.

    I have seen a SHARP decline in recent year or 2 of people who have trees on DNA test. It did NOT used to be that way. I think ancestry push for DNA has created problems in that MOST tests these days don’t have trees, they don’t answer emails etc. In ancestry striving to get more people to do DNA they have attracted more DNA samples, but most those folks are not serious about genealogy. So while it has filled the coffers at corp HQ-it really has not helped US much at all.

    • Martin

      Hello Joyce,
      I know exactly what you mean. I have reached out to a few people who are working the same lines which I happen to be. The problem lies in that somewhere someone filled in blanks that I have literally spent years of my life trying to unravel with completely unsubstantiated, albeit likely if not highly probable “information” using my research to make it work. This is work that I did without Ancestry, by pounding through actual 125+ year old Customs and Immigration, multi state tax, articles of incorporation, deeds of sale, and a large wealth of listening to long past family members. This might be so old for some but in ALaska and the Pacific Northwest it was very primitive and records are precious! I wouldn’t mind so much if they responded but they do not! How completely rude can one be? We are related and close too but they post all this rubbish, not deign to respond, then the masses, looking to fill in blanks just plunk it in as fact. Now the water is so muddied I have no chance of finding the one or two people who must have knew some of what I did. Obviously ruining any chance to corroborate a cohesive and possibly citable account of how our common ancestor came to be in Alaska, conducting business on a scale that led to the formation of the North Pacific Packing Company. All for not wishing to respond, what ever happened to common courtesy if nothing else. Haha, end rant but as you can see, you’re not alone! I have since closed everything for now, which goes against everything I believe as a self professed conservator and perpetual student to our shared history in this human experience!
      Cheers, good hunting and better luck in the future! Martin

  12. Richard Stigall

    I always worry if i’m saying to much in a message when im reaching out to long lost family members on ancestry, and i never intend to overwhelm who im trying to contact, but it doesn’t keep me from worrying about it either. I can say i have had a lot of success with Ancestry DNA with breaking down several of my families brick walls, and more recently i was finally able to learn who my Grandpa Juniors’ biological father was thanks to a couple of DNA matches on Ancestry DNA.


    user friendly is my major frustration.
    for young people who grew up with computers, use may not be any problems, but for us old fogies, it can be a overwhelming mess. I often stumble upon hints/clues/ connections and later when I try to relocate them, I cannot seem to find them.
    I see computer terms/references that I have no idea what they mean or where to go to check it/them out or how to access the info.
    I greatly appreciate the vast potential the computer and family trees have to offer, I only wish I had the potential to know and understand how to use it all.
    Granted, many do not reply to to requests, but the one who do make it rewarding and I appreciate their responses.
    I have posted a couple family trees on different networks and have been fortunate to get responses from the old country on both the maternal and paternal pushing my lineage back another three(3) generations on each side, opening up new avenues of joy/frustration (take your pick) helping to clear up mysteries, it is well worth it.
    My major complaint it trying to enter new info or to make corrective changes in my established trees. I run into roadblocks trying to change wrong info on my trees. It was easy to enter the original info, but trying to update my tree is a nightmare!!!!!


    sut te movish ??? What did I just say. Simple, I just asked “what did you say” in a language you probably don’t understand. no I don’t expect you to understand it, but that is the problem with computers. many of the instructions/boxes infer we all know the computer language and know what each box/word means but such is not the case.
    Now I know website is relating to e-mail (I think) but do not know specifically means and if not knowing the specifics, how can I answer it. I have run across questions asking for answers in different areas which give an example of what they mean or a box to click on to explain what they mean, hence enabling me to answer the question or fill out the info. Still learning the language but it is taking me longer as the years go by and harder to remember it when I finally do learn it.

    • Patti McConville

      Hi Dennis,

      I read your comments and thought I would send you a note. I am 64 and am able to function well on a computer but I don’t text or use a cell phone a lot so I can empathize with your frustration. I am also not a computer techie!

      Editing info on your tree is quite simple as is changing or deleting info.

      Just go to help and type something pertinent in and answers should come up.

      The one I had a problem with was: Fixing relationships in your tree. In the search bar I typed in correcting mistakes in your tree.

      I fixed everything I need to fix about 4 or 5 months ago. Don’t ask me how I did that now. I would have to search for the instructions again!

      If you can’t remember just type something relevant into the search bar and something should come up which will help.

      If you get stuck, call or email me and I will find the link for you and walk you thru ir if necessary.

      Good luck!

      Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      • Jo-Anne Gannon are so nice….I was not surprised to read you are Canadian!
        I’m in Cobourg On…and if I hit a snag working with my tree I shall get in touch with you!
        Thanks so much.

  15. Amy Schloesser

    I have reached out to DNA matches that are 2nd and 3rd Cousins…2 of them have helped and contacted me back however 2 others have been excited and offered to help me with Family Tree but once I told them I was adopted as an Infant but found my Birthparents 25 years ago and just need help on Birth Maternal Grandparents side of the family I don’t ever hear back from them we match DNA I don’t know what I’m doing wrong I am up front with them and none of them are in contact with my Birthmother I even have some Birth family pictures they don’t have and they have even used the pics on their family tree which I don’t mind at all that’s why I made it public it seems once I say the Adopted word it scares relatives off…what am I doing wrong should I not tell them? I would like to know some family stories do you have any suggestions?…Thank you, Amy

  16. Cathy Richardson

    After being able to see all my DNA genetic community matches for a year, I am now only able to see 50, even though my connection says I have many more shared community members. I really liked to be able to see them all. Is there something I am doing wrong? Was there an update that changed the way it displays?

  17. Bryon

    My instinct was dead on. My g.f. bought the initial DNA test kit. And to get further than cousins, to see cousins trees, or to get ‘better results’ you have to pay more.. Ugh!!
    Being adopted. Not having much to go with. And looking at roadblocks and running into walls, I had my hopes crushed, again. I don’t have thousands for an ‘expert’ , and possibly being a secret birth, my DNA cousins have tried, but haven’t been able to help me. A very high possibility 1st cousin hasn’t been on since early 2017,(possibly my best bet to find my mother I’ve been looking for for over 30 years),has a message from me for over a month now.. no answer back..
    I should of listened to my heart.
    I got my hopes up. I’m not sure if I will ever find my mother.

  18. Beth

    I have two suggestions for the match interface: (1) It would be really useful to be able to filter matches *twice*. For example: Filter first on “new matches” then on “genetic community.” Slightly more complicated would be a negative filter – selecting a dominant ethnicity to ignore in order to receive info on other ethnicities. (2) The “no family tree” indicator is really misleading, since what it really seems to mean is “the match has not linked a DNA test to the family tree”. Often a match has a tree or multiple trees, but because they’re not linked to a DNA test, the “no tree” indicator shows up. It’s also problematic since Ancestry only allows a DNA test to be linked to one tree – people often have several trees. Maybe a few categories would be more useful – “linked tree”, “tree, not linked”, and “no tree” with the “private” indicator as appropriate.

  19. Donna Hutcheson

    I would love it if we could select a group of “SHARED MATCHES” with family trees to search for common names in the trees. You can generally determine what branch of your family a select group of shared matches connect with, but they often do not show any names that match surnames that are in your tree. If we had that tool, it could possibly lead to determining a missing family name (female ancestor that last name is unknown).

    I’ve loved reviewing DNA matches, especially with the surname search. It has helped to confirm ancestral connections that I was fairly certain were correct, but unable to locate documentation.

  20. Terri mcghee

    I am having a very difficult time trying to get a answer on who my grandfathers biological parents are as well as when his actual birth year was. I have my grandpa’s SS#. Shouldn’t his biological parents names be linked to his SS#_ even if he filed it as a delayed SS application, in Franklin County, TN , and he was born before 1900?
    My grandpa Earl Altaman Weaver has a diffferent DOB that he had imprinted himself, and made up , way before he died with his DOB on it & DOD left off. DOB is one year earlier than the year he had stated on his delayed SS Application form- being July 17, 1898 on his SS form. Toumbstone said 1897.
    Almost all census matched up to the 1898 Birthday except the 1900 census. That is the first census on record for Earl found.
    Earl’s name had been erased and changed on the 1900 census. The name was another name before and started with the letter “ R” or “ P”. The DOB was also errased & changed in the 1900 census.
    I tried sending in my $21 to SS records dep. to get the answers to who Earl’s biological parents were, and I filled out the form and added the names of the 2 people that he stated were his parents when he sent in his delayed SS application at the age of 50 something.
    He stated Elizabeth or Betty Shasteen & J N Weaver.
    I got my check sent back stating they needed the parents name.
    So my check was not cashed.
    I did not send it back in and try again.

    Earl did not serve in the military, so there is no military records. He did not work for anyone, he was a farmer. So how else could I find his info?
    The state of TN or Franklin County, TN before 1900, did not require Birth Certificates . So I can’t say I have a legitimate birth certificate.
    Newspapers did not survive before that date.
    What am I to do?
    Where Can I look to find my grsndpa’s Birth parents if I have his SS#?
    Any help his grately appreciated.

  21. Theresa Hamper

    My maiden name is Werder. My dad s name is Herman J Werder and my grandad is Herman Werder and my great grandad is Dr Xavier Oswald Werder from Switzerland but traveled to the U. S.. and had a home in Pittsburgh Pa and worked as a teaching doctor at Mercy Hospital and had written in the AMA Medical Journals.

  22. Pamela Sutterfield

    The DNA match list is so frustrating, I don’t even look at it unless asked to. Ancestry gives a list of names that are shown on my tree and also appear on other peoples trees. It’s up to us to pinpoint a connection. So, we look at the names only to find there is really no connection. It has to be somewhere else. I just hate scrolling down this long list. Wish there was a way to have file area to put ones that just make no sense.

  23. Marieanne

    I really don’t understand why so many people have gone to the trouble of having a DNA test through Ancestry, but then have no family tree. Why would you do that? I would say that 75% of my matches are completely useless to me, and because there are so many it’s impossible to contact them all to ask why. Does anyone understand what could be going on?

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Marieanne: We understand how frustrating this could be; that’s why we encourage all our members to start building their own tree. We also know that contacting all the Matches in your list would be challenging – if not impossible – so we’d recommend to always filter by ‘relationship’ and only message the Matches with the closest relationship predictions. Hopefully some of them will have a private tree or they will be inspired by your query to create one. Good luck with your DNA journey!

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