Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Using AncestryDNA as Research Guidance

Even though I tested at AncestryDNA in 2012, I didn't get excited about DNA until this year when my uncle and my father tested as well. With more close family in the pool it became more obvious to me how to use the results.

Then last week I watched a webinar "Watch Geoff Live: DNA" where host Geoff Rasmussen revealed DNA results live in the webinar with the help of DNA expert Diahan Southard.  This webinar was very helpful as Diahan went through what everything meant (ie how to interpret the results). Geoff was also very lucky because the results he was sharing belonged to his grandmother, who is a few generations closer to his more distant ancestors than he is.

I learned many new tricks but there was one in particular that stood out for me.

[The webinar, by the way, is still available to watch for free through Sunday, May 1, 2016. If you have tested with AncestryDNA you will definitely want to watch this.]

Filtering Your Matches

Diahan showed how we can use the filters to maximize the benefit of our DNA matches. In the webinar Geoff was actually able to prove (with Diahan's help) that two people he suspected belonged to his Brown family actually did belong because they were DNA matches for his grandmother. He was able to prove this because he had done quite a bit of previous research identifying these individuals. So he knew they existed before the DNA test was done. He just needed to prove they were connected.

In my case, I have a brick wall, Magdalena Roemer, who is my 2nd great grandmother. She was born in what is now Baerenthal, Moselle, Lorraine, France.  Many genealogists refer to the larger region as simply Alsace-Lorraine.

Unlike Geoff, I don't have any "suspect" relative matches.

But I can still use Diahan's trick to my benefit.
I went into AncestryDNA and brought up my matches. Next I clicked on Search Matches button.

Next I entered a surname, in this case, Roemer. You also have the option to add a location but I opted to skip that so as not to narrow down the results.

What happens next is that AncestryDNA searches all the trees of your DNA matches for the same surname and returns those results to you.

Before learning this trick I was clicking into every DNA match individually and trying to figure out how they connected to me. With 101 4th cousins or closer matches, this was a slow process!

Remember, I didn't have any potential relatives for Magdalena Roemer before this search but afterwards I did!  I am basically starting from scratch. But identifying potential ancestral relatives is half the battle. AncestryDNA pointed me in the right direction and now it's up to me to do some good old fashioned genealogy research to see if I can connect the two on paper with documents. In other words, AncestryDNA is acting as research guidance!

After finding the surname match my objective was to find out as much as possible about the match. My number one goal was to find naturalization paperwork so that I could identify whether the match came from Baerenthal just like my ancestor. That would make for a very strong case for them being family!

Some Important Considerations

In order for this trick to work you need to have a public family tree associated with your AncestryDNA account AND your matches also need to have a public family tree. If they have no tree or a private tree their shared surnames will not return in the results.

The other thing to consider is that even though you have a DNA connection with a potential match, unless the match is definitive, in other words you can identify exactly which ancestor you share in common, then you might actually be connected through a different ancestor than the "shared surname." For instance, if a DNA match doesn't have a very complete tree or if there are errors in their family then that might lead you in the wrong direction.

Watch Me Walk You Through the Process!

I created a video showing you exactly what I did and how. You can watch it here!

Try using the Search Matches filter for yourself and see what kind of results you find!  And let me know if you have any tricks of your own!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

American Ancestors offers Free Week of Access to All Databases

In an unprecedented move,, the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, is providing free access to all of it's online records. This is over one billion free records. Free access will be available April 6-13, 2016. See full press release below for further details.

American Ancestors by NEHGS Announces an Unprecedented, Historic Event for Genealogists: A BILLION Records FREE!
April 6, 2016—Boston, Massachusetts America’s oldest and largest genealogical society announces a historic event for family historians around the world. From April 6 to April 13, American Ancestors by New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is offering FREE access to all of its online records on More than one billion records covering 18 countries— including the most important family history research materials for early America created by the experts and scholars at NEHGS—and all are open to anyone who registers for a free account.  Start searching now at
To assist family historians of all levels in locating more pieces of the family tree puzzle, NEHGS is granting this unprecedented free access to its entire collection of genealogical databases from Wednesday, April 6, 2016, at 12:00 a.m. (EDT) through Wednesday, April 13, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. (EDT). Free accounts on ordinarily allow visitors only a sample of the vast offerings that NEHGS provides family historians of all levels. This unprecedented free access promotion by NEHGS from April 6 through April 13 offers the Society’s entire collection of online content for eight full days to anyone who registers for a free account.
About American Ancestors and NEHGS
Holding the largest collection of original family history materials in the country, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, founded in 1845, is the nation’s oldest and largest genealogical society. Our website,, offers access to more than 1 billion searchable records and leading scholarly resources to help you advance your family history research. Our expert staff helps researchers of all levels explore their past and their families’ unique place in history. Located in Boston, our research center houses millions of manuscripts, books, and original items to preserve the stories of families in America and beyond.