DNA Testing Causes Grey Hair

6973062078_4d8964e126_cIs it me, or is DNA testing for genealogy both awesome and a huge pain in the ass?

I’ve tested at both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. Lately, I’ve been spending a bit of time trying to find the connection with some of my matches. This should be easy, because I have quite a few third and fourth cousins…but it isn’t. At all. I feel like I’m playing Go Fish. Do you have any Nelsons? Go fish. Do you have any Ericksons? Go fish. Do you have any Taylors? You’ve got to be kidding. We’ll never find the connection at this rate.

Part of the problem is precisely the Go Fish effect: Comparing surnames isn’t always efficient. It’s great if you have a relatively uncommon surname like Holthusen; I figured out my fifth-cousin Holthusen connection in about seven minutes flat. But when you’re talking about Nelsons and Ericksons and Taylors…forget it. We’d be far better off if everyone listed their locations, because those are often more telling than the surnames. If you tell me you have Ericksons, I don’t have a clue who you are. If you tell me you have roots in Luster, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, I can nail you down in no time,even without a surname (and if you’re Scandinavian, you know those patronyms are of limited use anyway). We need this Go Fish game to be more like Crazy Eights, where you can ask for either the number on the card or the suit. When we list our surnames, we need to list locations too.

Another tool I’ve been using is Ancestry trees. When I see a cousin listed, I look for that person’s tree on Ancestry (and there usually IS a tree on Ancestry). Then I painstakingly enter my own surnames into the list of people to see if any of them appear in that tree. This is still annoying, time-consuming and inefficient, but I haven’t figured out a way to search trees by location [UPDATE: Ancestry now has this function, although I’ve found a lot of false positives/negatives].  That’s one function that would be a huge help as we all continue to figure out how to make DNA testing useful for genealogy.

What techniques have you used to successfully connect DNA cousins to your family tree?

Photo by sebilden

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