5 reasons to take your family tree sideways

Do you know how many siblings your grandparents had? Great! And the married names, too, for their sisters?

How about your grandparents’ first cousins? (And both maiden and married names, for the girls?)

Why is that important for genetic genealogy?


Reason 1. How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t recognize the names of any of my matches!”

Alice said that, looking at her seven top matches that she didn’t know at AncestryDNA. One tester’s ‘name’ is a cryptic combination of letters and numbers, but the other six contain apparently real last names. Alice doesn’t recognize any of those names, and only one of them has a public tree.

Guess what? Once she tackled the task of identifying her grandparents’ siblings and first cousins, with married names too, five of the six became clear.

HOWEVER! The other one of the six matched a surname in the grandparents’ extended family: but it seems to be a case of fools’ gold. It’s the same surname as one of her Grandpa’s cousins, but the match is actually related via Grandma’s line, when we look at shared matches.

So—comparing the names of our matches to our grandparents’ kin isn’t proof that we’re related on that line, but it can be a shortcut to figuring out the connection.

Reason 2. How often have you said, “Even the matches who have trees are no help. Their trees are too small!”

Here is one of my matches (names changed.) See image 1.

Image 1.

Dec 2018 blog

There’s only one name in Paul’s tree: his father, Peter Piper. But if I click [View Full Tree], I discover that he has input 1930 for a birth year for Peter. No death info shows up in the full tree view, but I clicked Peter’s name, and in the profile view I got his birthplace too, a marriage date and place, and a death place but no death date.  Always click the name of the person of interest to get the profile view! See image 2 for what that looks like.

Image 2.

Dec 2018 blog 2

Since Peter Piper is deceased, he may show up in someone else’s tree. So I click the [Search] button, and sure enough, I strike gold. See Image 3. The first three entries are someone else’s family tree, a 1953 marriage record that matches the data in my DNA match’s profile, and a birth record that matches the info in the stranger’s family tree.

Image 3.

Dec 2018 blog 3

And because I have worked to identify my grandparents’ siblings and cousins, I recognized right away that Schwanbeck surname. My Granddad had Schwanbeck first cousins.

Reason 3. Have you ever sighed when asking yourself, “How can I get more of my matches to reply?”

Suppose I wanted to craft a message to this match, Paul Piper. Will I have more luck with

  1. Hi! How are we related? Or
  2. Hi! Are you descended from Hermione Schwanbeck? Our DNA tests suggest that might be our connection. She was my Granddad’s cousin. I have photos and stories I’m happy to share. If you or anyone in your family is interested in genealogy, I hope you’ll email me at XYZ.

Reason 4. “I don’t have any matches on one line!”

That’s me. Talking about Nana. I have lots of relatively good matches on Grandma’s line, and none yet on Nana’s side. With this exercise, I discovered that Nana had just 6 first cousins. Grandma had 23. It makes sense now that I’ll find more third cousins on Grandma’s side than on Nana’s. (I haven’t tried to figure out how many possible fourth cousins I might have on each side!) With a grandparent with lots of first cousins in the U.S., I may be content to wait and watch for their descendants to test. But if I want to make more progress on Nana’s line, with her smaller extended family, I may want to try to trace those 6 cousins of hers down to my generation, and recruit one of those descendants to test. (I have no second cousins on her line; Nana was an only child.)

This segues into….

Reason 5. Connect with your second and third cousins!

I’m not talking about connecting with the ones who took a DNA test. Wouldn’t it be great to connect with them regardless? Find out who has the family artifacts—bibles and funeral cards and newspaper clippings and photos. Who knows the answers to family mysteries?

It’s usually not too hard. At least in the U.S., it’s often pretty simple to use census records to find your grandparents’ grandparents and then trace their children and grandchildren forward up to the 1940 census. From there, newspaper articles and obituaries and Google and even Facebook may help you find your second and third cousins.

Especially in the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to reach out to them, ask if they’re interested in genealogy or if someone else in the family is, and offer to exchange info. At some point, they may even consider taking a DNA test too!

But it all starts with taking your family tree sideways!

© Ann Raymont, CG® December 2018




3 thoughts on “5 reasons to take your family tree sideways

  1. caith

    In addition to your bon mots, I always scour the indexes of my matches for potential further illumination.

    Also, after I look at the tree of my match, I then look at the tree of his/her spouse; primarily because sometimes the tree is set up to start with the spouse, instead of the home person, you match.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clorinda Madsen

    Thank you for these tips. I’ve found several relationships and trees by going sideways and then doing tip #2. Having tools at our fingertips like found on Rootsfinder, or the other sites can help with finding where to focus our efforts in going sideways.

    Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s