Friday, April 28, 2017

10 Tips for Making the Most of

I'm not really shy when it comes to how much I love, the open-source tool for anyone who has taken a DNA test for genetic genealogy. And really, what's not to love? I get matched up with relatives from all of the major testing companies, for free, without having to take or pay for multiple tests. It presents me with all of the segment information for my matches, and gives me the tools to analyze and work with my own results. I can decide for myself what matching criteria I want to use. Without GEDmatch, my experience as a genetic genealogist would be controlled and limited by corporate interests and objectives.

The one downside to GEDmatch is that it has a steep learning curve. I've been using the website for several years now, and I'm still discovering new ways to use it all the time. To say nothing of all the ways I could be using it better. So in the spirit of helping us all to make the most of what GEDmatch has to offer, here are some of the tips that are making life a little easier for me.

1. Use Internet Explorer

I know. Let's party like it's 1999, right?
I'm not an expert on the technology behind web browsers, what makes them work, and why it matters which ones you use for which site. All I can tell you is what I've seen on my computer, in the hundreds of times I've used GEDmatch over the past several years. The sum of all that experience has shown that Google Chrome is the browser most likely to time out, crash, or just not load at all. Firefox is hit or miss, depending on the number of users on the site.

The only browser that consistently loads GEDmatch for me, regardless of the time of day or function I'm using, is Internet Explorer.

2. You Can Identify the Testing Company from the Kit Number

Am I the only person who didn't know the letter in the kit numbers corresponds to testing company? A is for AncestryDNA, T (and previously F) for Family Tree DNA, and M for 23&Me. (I recently saw an H, which I'm assuming is for MyHeritage.)

3. Printing your One-to-Many Match List as a PDF

In order to view all of the cousins and relatives that match with you, you have to load them all onto a single page. Called the One-to-Many list, this page takes the longest to load, and is the first thing to stop working when the site gets busy.

Rather than loading this page over and over again, print your results as a PDF document. That way, you can reference all of the information on it without creating extra strain on the site.

4. Sorting the Match List

Another feature I discovered by accident, you can actually sort by different columns on the One-to-Many match list. By default, it sorts by Total Autosomal DNA. Because of the way I sort and organize my data, however, I prefer to view it by Largest Segment. Every time I load the page, it's the first thing I change. But depending on what you want to view, you can reorganize the page and save a PDF of that version

This is especially useful when you want to create a match list of your X-DNA matches. By sorting with that column, your match list will load with a completely different set of matches. Based on the experience I had processing these matches for the first time, GEDmatch doesn't include all of the X-DNA matches on the default match list. The only way to see all of these matches is to use the sort arrow in that column. Keeping a separate list of these matches as a PDF is also helpful.

5. Use the X-DNA One-to-One Analysis

Speaking of X-DNA, which I also discovered in the past week, let me eliminate some confusion. X-DNA is Chromosome 23, and determines gender. It is not the same thing as mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited from your direct maternal line only. X-DNA is inherited by both men and women, and follows different inheritance paths according to gender. Being female, I inherited an X chromosome from my father, and my mother. My father got his X chromosome from his mother, and back through several different men and women along her lines. My mother, however, got her X chromosomes from a much larger collection of male and female relatives from both her paternal and maternal lines.

GEDmatch provides X DNA matches and analysis. If the only tools you ever use are the default match list and the general One-to-One analysis, you might not know that. There is a separate One-to-One utility for X DNA matches, which is the only one that will display those results. For relatives that share both autosomal and X DNA with you, you'll have to run their kits through both One-to-One match utilities to see all of the segments they share with you.

6. There's a Facebook Group!

Do yourself a favor and join this Facebook group. When I was first starting out, I had to ask a lot of questions that, looking back, I realize were really basic. The people there didn't have to take the time to explain such fundamental stuff to me. But they did, and it has made all of the difference in the choice I made to stick it out until I could understand. And they helped me without making me feel stupid, which is always an awesome thing.


To do DNA analysis, you have to process and compare literally hundreds of pieces of unique data. It's time-consuming and slow. From GEDmatch alone, I've processed over 1,500 samples. And I still haven't made it through half of the 23 pages of matches GEDmatch has to offer me. Let alone all of the matches on other websites I haven't gotten to yet. I may actually die before I process them all. And I know I'm not unique in that respect.

The number of people who upload duplicate kits for themselves, especially when they don't make it obvious, does a disservice to everyone. They take up precious space on the site servers with duplicated information. They waste everyone else's time in processing extra samples for the same person. And as much as I hate this behavior, I can at least understand it if you upload results from different testing companies. I seriously wish you wouldn't. But I get it.

But y'all who are uploading duplicate kits from the same testing company. Why? WHY?! What did you think it was going to tell you the second, third, fourth, or fifth time that it didn't say the first time? And before you think I'm blowing my stack about nothing, I'm not making this up. I have seen multiple people in my match list upload as many as give kits for themselves, and they're all from the same testing company.


Just stop it already!

(Note: You can tell if it's a duplicate if you do a One-to-One comparison with the Graphics turned on. The bars that show up will be solid blue and green)

8. Link Your Kit Number and Tree Together

DNA segment data isn't useless without a tree. Certainly adoptees have had to make do with less. But everything about genetic genealogy is so much easier with a tree. So the more you do to connect your GEDmatch kit number and your online tree together, the better.

I post my kit number all over the place. It's on my blog, in my profile, and on my Find a Grave profile. On Twitter, I put my kit number in the location field of my profile. I made a graphic of my kit number with a template on Then I set it to be a Featured Photo in the sidebar of my Facebook profile. You can also share it on Instagram, Pinterest, and other forms of social media. Put your kit number anywhere a relative might see it, and who knows? Maybe one day, it'll pay off.

I only wish it were that simple to link to our various online trees on GEDmatch. While the site allows people to upload gedcom files, the interface is dated and limited. It doesn't display any source information, and does nothing to connect users to their profiles or trees from their original testing companies. Links to online trees, usernames, and testing company user profiles would be much more useful, in terms of building bridges between trees and segment data. I'd love to see that in future builds for the site.

9. Tell Your Cousin Matches About GEDmatch

Whenever I contact cousin matches on AncestryDNA, I tell them about GEDmatch. I always send along my kit number, in case they're already users. If it's someone I'm particularly interested in connecting with, I tell them they can access more free matches from other testing companies at GEDmatch. Quite a few people have taken me up on that invitation, and some of my best matches are with people I've introduced to the site.

GEDmatch exists entirely from word of mouth. Everyone who uses it heard about it from someone else once upon a time. If we want the site to keep growing, we have to keep telling people about it.

10. Do Descendancy Research!

When I took my DNA test, I thought it was going to tell me who my ancestors were. Now I see that isn't how it works, at least not directly. The thing DNA tests are best at is connecting me to other living descendants of my ancestors. It's up to us to figure out where the connection is through collaboration and traditional research.

Since cousins and distant relatives are primarily what my test gives to me, it makes sense to spend time researching who they are. The more you know about the descendants of your ancestors, the more easily your will recognize them when they take a DNA test. Since most of us start a new tree with only biological ancestral connections anyway (or at least you should!), it makes sense to include descendants on that same tree.

When your biological tree becomes a more complete record of every person who is biologically related to you, the more DNA testing will reward you for those efforts.

Learning to use segment data can seem like a daunting task. It requires an investment of time that some of us may question. Is the value of what I've going to get back in the end worth the time I'm taking away from traditional research? I know that was a question I once had. I know it's a question that many people ask themselves before and after taking a DNA test. Is it worth the time and money I'm about to spend on it?

Even as many are asking themselves those questions, they still underestimate the investment that goes into doing genetic genealogy well. There truly is no royal road to geometry, no easy way to learn to use DNA, and no credible way to make it easier. We all have to pay what it costs to achieve understanding.