Friday, January 20, 2012

Determining a genealogical connection using online family trees - Part 1

This is Part 1

The autosomal DNA tests offered by 23andMe and ftDNA are becoming more and more popular for use in genealogy these days. Oftentimes genealogists are overwhelmed by the number of matches they get back with their test results though and are not sure where to go from there. I have 178 matches to date and I took the test 6 months ago! They might have sent out several emails to matches only to be disappointed when no one wrote them back. Or my favorite so far is a match who simply tells me “My tree is online, check it out and when you find a connection, let me know.” Of course, I am only paraphrasing, but you get my point. And if you are lucky enough to find a match who is interested in finding a genealogical connection, he or she might actually ask to see your tree in exchange, so it might be good to have a copy of your online family tree on hand as well. (I recommend keeping your tree private and invite matches as guests with viewing privileges only).

So what happens when you find a match?

Last week I emailed one of my matches from my ftDNA Family Finder test. It said we had 28.54 shared cMs of DNA and a prediction of 4th to distant cousin. She was also a match to a gentleman that I had already confirmed a connection to via a paper trail – he and I were 8th cousins, 2x removed on the HARDIN line from VA/KY. So I prefaced my email with an inquiry as to whether or not she had any HARDINS in her paper trail.  Unfortunately, she did not have any surnames uploaded to her profile, so I also requested a list of her surnames with a promise of an exchange of my own (even though *my* surnames *were* posted to my profile – some people don’t know how to access this or use this utility of the ftDNA homepage.) She emailed me back and said she did not have any HARDINs in her family tree, but she had Denham, Coats, Minter, Peugh, and Crew and that her tree was posted online on She told me the name of her online tree – “Beauchamp-Denny” - but did not provide me with a link.

Although I have been using online family trees for several years, both accessing other members’ trees and updating my own, I still do not feel like I have a good handle on how to use it with any measure of expertise. I find myself constantly bungling around the database and waiting for pages to load and hitting the back button so I don’t lose my place.

How to find a member tree without a link:

The name of my match’s tree is “Beauchamp-Denny.” I could not figure out a way to search for a tree name in The only options I could find were in the Research Interests tab which searched by Last Name, Location and Year. Typing in her last name brought up 2800 results.

Next I tried the Basic Information Tab and put in her name as the User Name. I don’t know her actual user name, but I figured it would resolve a user name from whatever real name I put in, right? Well that gave me over 10,000 results!!!

Ok, so simple solution…I noticed a trend lately. One of my goals for 2012 is to do more Google searches and one of the annoying things I’m finding come up in my results are links to entries at (in addition to and, etc), so finally the light bulb went off.

I couldn't resist adding a DNA-themed lightbulb 

What if I do a google search on the “Beauchamp-Denny” tree on “site:”?

I click on the first result which says “Members researching Ambrose Dixon –” I don’t know who Ambrose Dixon is, but since this is my first time using Google search to find an online family tree, I am going to click this link to see where it takes me. This is what comes up when I click the link – a list of members researching Ambrose Dixon.

Even though I am not interested in Ambrose Dixon, has displayed a list of public online family trees, with user names, and the names of the trees for me to peruse. The very first one on the list is the “Beauchamp-Denny upload” tree name. I have put a red box around it. So you see the Google search did a very good job retrieving this online tree for me and I didn’t have to know the user name. It does tell me the user name PDenny9470. It just so happens that my match’s name is P Denny, so this seems to be the right tree, which is good, because as you can see, the box in the upper right hand corner tells me that there are 462 members researching the surname Dixon! I would hate to have to weed through all of those trees!

In Part 2, I discuss how to navigate my match’s Beauchamp-Denny tree and find a connection to my own line. I will also reveal a surprise! 


Photo credits: 
Dog and Cat shaking hands from Free Printable Coloring Pages
DNA Lightbulb copied from Terry Barton's page


  1. Hi Ginger,

    Google is so great for genealogy searches. I did not think to use it like you just demostrated though. Great tutorial by the way.

    Oh yea I see you have Putman in your line. Mine are out of upstate NY. Then into Canada as Loyalist, then on to Michigan.

  2. Hi DuSyl, thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you liked the tutorial and the tip on using google search. It really saved my butt! Yes, I have Putmans that were from GA. Not sure how they got there though. I really like your blog and I'm glad to finally "meet" you!

  3. Great post, Ginger! I love, but it's not exactly the easiest to navigate at times. I'm sure I will be referring back to your post!

    1. Cherie, exactly! I have been having the hardest time with as well and I think that's why there are so many errors - it's hard to navigate and then once a mistake is made, it's even harder to fix!

  4. I get so frustrated when a DNA match simply gives you the name of their tree with no link and no list of surnames. It can be difficult to find their tree and I don't always have a current subscription, which means I can't access their tree.

  5. Valerie, I thought you could access the trees without a subscription but I could be wrong. Also, you can search for the tree with google search using the command in the search box.

  6. WoW Ginger... perfect timing. I have used Ancestry for years. I took down my family tree a couple years ago, because people were using it and not giving me credit (personal notes about my parents that really got me). Anyway, just yesterday (before reading your Blog) I decided to try it again, this time keep it private. Needless to say, by 10 pm last night, I had taken it off. It is not easy to navigate, I keep getting lost. Thanks, at least I don't feel alone now. Alissa in Muskogee, OK

    1. HI Alissa, I hope to make more blog posts about how to navigate our trees. You are right, they can be cumbersome and I think that's why there are so many errors out there. This is also why I don't add more stuff to my tree, or if I do, I am very careful with it. Thanks for reading!