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.