One of the great things about subscribing to Ancestry.com is the ability to contact your Ancestry DNA matches. Non-members can buy Ancestry DNA kits, see their results and look at a list of DNA matches. However, you need to be a member in order to send messages to your DNA matches.
I’ve found corresponding with my DNA matches fun and interesting, but it seems like a seriously underused resource. I say that because nobody has reached out to me, and I have an enormous number of DNA matches.
Here’s how to contact your Ancestry DNA matches and do it in a way that makes it more likely that they’ll respond.
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Whose Side Are They On?
Sometimes, you can figure out which side of the family your DNA match comes from simply by the person’s username. If they share a last name with someone in your tree, you’ve probably got your link.
You can also check the match’s family tree to look for surnames that appear in your own family tree as well. Remember to allow for different spellings.
Some branches of the same family may have started spelling the last name in a slightly different manner at some point. That happened with my 2x great grandfather and his brother when they started spelling their last name Stockdale instead of Stockdill.
If you don’t see any familiar surnames in that match’s tree, click “Shared Matches” and select another of your DNA matches which is in the same family segment as that person. Check the new person’s family tree for surnames you recognize.
Choose the Right Matches
When choosing which DNA matches to contact, look for entries with user names rather than initials. When a match lists initials, it means that your DNA matched someone whose test was purchased by another Ancestry user.
In other words, my own DNA test is labeled with my Ancestry user name. If I bought a test for my dad, it would show his initials and “managed by” with my user name. You’ll see what I mean if you look at your list of DNA matches.
You’ll probably get better results by contacting people whose user names are listed, since you’ll be directly reaching out to the person your DNA matched.
In addition, I prefer to contact folks who have a family tree in Ancestry. True genealogy enthusiasts probably have family trees in Ancestry rather than just an account.
Some folks order an Ancestry DNA test even if they have little actual interest in genealogy. They might have thought it would be cool to have the information or relatives might have convinced them take a test.
Someone like me who has a passion for genealogical research is more likely to respond to your message. She’ll be curious about how you’re related and have a desire to connect the dots.
Plus, if the match you contact hasn’t done any genealogy research, it’ll be very hard for you to figure out how you’re related. You can’t connect the dots if only one of you has any dots.
I’ve started with the most closely related matches, up to 4th to 6th cousins. You might want to go further out if you don’t have a lot of DNA matches.
Star Your Contacts
To keep track of who you’ve already contacted, click the star icon to the left of the person’s DNA match entry. That makes it a “favorite,” which is a good way of making sure you don’t accidentally contact someone twice.
Don’t Ask For Help – Offer It
To initiate the contact, click View Match, then Send Message.
If I’ve found surnames in common with the match’s family tree, I include those in my message. If not, then I list some of the surnames in my own family history in case they ring a bell with him/her.
I try to convey an attitude of helpfulness, that I’d like to figure out how we’re related and share any information I have that he/she might be missing. On occasion, I’ll ask a question if something in his/her tree piques my interest.
Share Your Name
Your message through the Ancestry.com site won’t include your real name unless you use it as your Ancestry username. Be sure to sign your name to your message so the person knows who you are.
You could also choose to include your email address so you can be contacted directly. I usually wait until I’ve gone back and forth with the person at least once or twice before sharing my email address. The Ancestry system won’t block adding an email address whenever you feel comfortable doing so.
Don’t be offended, though, by people who prefer to continue corresponding with you through the Ancestry system rather than via direct email. You may be distantly related, but you’re still strangers.
Check Back Regularly
Check back every month or two to see if you have more DNA matches. Ancestry DNA denotes new matches with a blue circle. You’ll probably have scads of new matches two or three months after Christmas, when the results come in from people who found Ancestry DNA tests under the tree.
Don’t Worry About Non-Responders
Don’t be discouraged by DNA matches who don’t respond to you. As noted above, you’re strangers, and some folks aren’t keen on corresponding with people they don’t know.
Plus, some folks don’t check their messages often and might take weeks or months before responding.
This post was originally written in August 2017 and updated in January 2019.