Organizing my AncestryDNA matches

One of my ‘resolutions’ for 2018 was to come up with a better process for me to manage my AncestryDNA matches.  We’re halfway through the year, so I thought I’d share my progress.

My new strategy depends on the Notes option in AncestryDNA and a cool Chrome extension called MedBetterDNA. I established three baseline steps (do it once and I’m done!) and two recurring steps.

Baseline Step 1. Develop a notes template.

Everyone has their own approach to the notes we can enter in AncestryDNA on each match. Here is what is working for me. My basic format is this:

date | cM | relationship | ICW | #surnames | notes: (#FLUP and misc)

  • date is year-month-day that I add or update the note, e.g. 2018 Jul 01.
  • cM is short for centiMorgans, or the numeric strength of the DNA match. It’s available by clicking the little circled i [info] on a match, next to the Extremely High/Very High/High/etc. degree of confidence on that individual match page.
  • relationship is entered IF I know how we’re related. I use abbreviations. e.g. 2c1r is second cousin once removed.
  • ICW aka In Common With is where I mention anything I think is worthwhile about the Shared Matches. I’ve tested a paternal 1st cousin and a maternal 1st cousin, so if the new match matches one of them, I might include that here. Or I could note a DNA circle the new match is in, or some key shared matches, mention that there were none—or lots—of relevant ones… whatever.
  • #Surnames. If I know our relationship, then I know our Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA) and I enter those surnames here. Say I have a new match, Kevin. Our shared common ancestors are J.A.S. Hammond and Eleanor McCurdy. I’ll enter #Hammond #McCurdy. Because I know their parents too (James Hammond and Nancy Jameson; TT McCurdy and Eleanor Davis), I may even add #Jameson and #Davis. After all, Kevin and I share just one DNA segment, and it might have come from any of those four lines: Hammond, McCurdy, Jameson, or Davis. But I know the first two names I enter are our Most Recent Common Ancestors.
  • Notes: anything else I might want to add. If I want to follow up on this match (perhaps I’ve initiated a message and want to give myself an action item to check back), I also add #FLUP (aka FolLowUP.) I might enter DNC (Did Not Contact), or how I think we may be related when I don’t know our MRCA, etc.

Baseline Step 2. Update the top matches. 

As of July 1 2018,

  • I have 12 Extremely High matches (not counting the siblings and 1st cousins I recruited). These share at least 60cM with me. For two or three I know the Most Recent Common Ancestor; I’m just not positive yet whether my match and I are any generations removed from each other (because I haven’t worked with the match to figure it out.) One match is a stumper—though he may be related to me via my 19th century German immigrant ancestors. (I have almost no matches on that line.) The rest of my Extremely High matches are solved. I’ve added a note for each Extremely High match using the template.
  • I have 9 Very High matches. These share 45-59 cM with me. Like my Extremely High’s, I can identify most of them. There are a couple where I can figure out the MRCA, even if I’m not positive how many generations down the match is. I have two where I think I know which of my four grandparents’ lines holds our MRCA, but so far, I don’t know any more than that. And one is new. I’ve updated the notes, following the template, for each of these too.

Now and then, I may update some of the High matches, but my baseline is my Extremely High and Very High matches. (I did this for each of my four siblings’ matches too.)

Baseline Step 3. MedBetterDNA!

I really like the free Chrome extension MedBetterDNA, which works with the Google Chrome browser. Two or three features are huge time-savers for me.

A. It can show the notes for all the matches on the match list page; I don’t have to click on each individual note icon to see the note for that one match. To set this up after installing MedBetterDNA, see image 1.

Image 1.

blog July 1

Click on the MedBetterDNA icon (shown circled). A dropdown box opens; select [Options]. From there, a new window will open and you’ll see Configure MedBetterDNA; check the box for [always show Notes]. Then scroll to the bottom, select [Save], and close this window. Back on AncestryDNA, refresh your screen. You are now set to always see Notes.

B. This has even more value when I look at Shared Matches. When I have a new match, with no tree, imagine how helpful it could be to see that the top 3-4 shared matches all have notes with the same Surnames. See Image 2. Voilà! They all have #Gorsuch. Based on that result, I can decide right away if this is a match I want to contact or spend more time on.

Image 2.

July blog 1

C. Wonder why I use a hashtag # with some of my notes? MedBetterDNA lets you filter your match list. For example, I can ask it to show me only matches who have #Gleason in the notes. Or I can ask it to show me every match I have flagged with #FLUP (to follow-up). Check out more in Recurring Step 2.

These are my three baseline steps, once and done! Now, I have two recurring steps.

Recurring Step 1. Once a week, for each AncestryDNA account that I manage, I run through the first page of matches. Your mileage may vary, but that gives me all my Extremely High and Very High matches; i.e. those that share 45cM or more with me. If the match is new, or if I haven’t figured out the relationship yet, I check out any tree info or profile info, explore Shared Matches, and start developing hypotheses on how we’re related. It especially helps when I decide to contact the match; I find that I get better results if I can include something like “My Grandpa had a 1st cousin who married a Gleason. I wonder if that might be our connection?”) I update the notes with what I’ve learned. If I decide not to contact the match yet, I may add DNC (Did Not Contact). If I do contact him or her, I may put #FLUP in the notes. If there was a note previously and I’m updating it, I over-type the date in the note with the current date.

I may keep going when I get to the High matches, if I recognize a user name or if I have time to look at shared hints or trees. Also, I do update notes using my template for any useful Shared Matches that I work with. So High, Moderate, or even Good matches may end up with notes too.

Recurring Step 2. Whenever I have time—maybe once a month?—I filter my matches. If I decide to work that day on, say, my Jameson brick wall, I’ll filter my matches by #Jameson. This will bring up every match in which I have entered #Jameson in the notes.

To do this, go back into MedBetterDNA options as shown in Baseline Step 3. This time, on the Configure MedBetterDNA window, scroll down to the filter area. See Image 3. I would type in #Jameson and click [active], then scroll down and select [Save]. Once again, close the MedBetterDNA window, return to AncestryDNA, and refresh the screen. (When you’re done using that filter, return to MedBetterDNA and just unclick [active], then [save] again, and refresh the page when back on AncestryDNA.

Image 3.

blog July 2

For each of the resulting matches, I’ll check for updates. Maybe they’ve updated their trees? I’ll check Shared Matches for each. Maybe we have some new ones. Or perhaps I’ve uncovered new documentary evidence I want to share with this cousin now. Or it could be time to suggest to them that they copy their AncestryDNA data to a site with a chromosome browser and matches from other companies, like or FamilyTreeDNA. Then maybe I’ll take the filter off and search all my matches for a surname Jameson (and alternate spellings). For the ones in the right geographic area, I’ll query their Shared Matches and see if any of them have #Jameson in the notes field.

I can also filter by #FLUP to see which matches I wanted to follow up on. (After we’ve followed up, I can remove #FLUP from the note and update the date and any other elements needed.)

And that’s it! That’s the plan.

I feel that I am definitely saving time with this process, making more efficient progress. And I haven’t even decided how I want to use the star feature on matches yet!

Ann Raymont (c) July 2018



5 thoughts on “Organizing my AncestryDNA matches

  1. Barb LaFara

    Thanks for making me aware of MedBetterDNA, I will check it out. I am already using standardized notes with shorthand, but you gave me some ideas to improve what I currently use.


    1. dnasleuth Post author

      I have 564 matches that AncestryDNA says are “4th” cousins (amount shown on the main DNA dashboard). Those are the ones AncestryDNA really means are 4th-6th cousins, I think.


  2. Joanne Shackford Parkes

    Excellent thoughts on how to organize DNA matches! Had been using the notes area but not in such an organized fashion — thinking I’ll now review my method of using this tool. And thanks for the tip on MedBetterDNA!

    Liked by 1 person


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