When you take a MyHeritage DNA test, the amount of DNA matches you can expect to receive varies dramatically from community to community. While in some genetic groups, a user can expect tens of thousands of matches, others might have to make do with 100. Still, the number of matches in MyHeritage is growing by the day, and future matches are only a question of time.
Regardless of how many matches you have, we suggest taking a systematic approach to investigating them. You’ll be amazed by how much you can discover by working with your matches systematically.
Since DNA is inherited at random, striking gold is a matter of digging in the right place. This means we first need to decide how to prioritize the matches and where to invest the time we have to work with them.
The method we recommend involves dividing your list of matches into 4 groups in the manner described below, while taking full advantage of MyHeritage tools to compare and explore them.
Group 1: “Beacons”
We at MyHeritage recommend testing your oldest direct ancestors and second-degree relatives first. Testing cousins and second cousins will contribute almost as much, and therefore is very important as well.
After you hand out several DNA kits as Christmas gifts and birthday presents and your relatives have taken them, you have multiple beacons: people who you personally know, and to whom you know exactly how you are related.
The beacons are the key to your research. The fact that their relationship to you is already known will have a significant role. It also means that we don’t need to invest any effort investigating this group. Instead, we can use them to help us learn more about the other groups.
Our goal is ultimately to “upgrade” the individuals from the groups described below into this group. The bigger the group of beacons is, the more powerful your own private DNA database will be. Eventually, you will be able to use this database to break through brick walls in your genealogical research.
Group 2: “Anchors”
The second group is your anchors. These are the matches who you are not familiar with just yet. This group typically consists of people with whom you share more than 2% of your DNA.
If both you and the match can trace your ancestry 4–5 generations back, you’re likely to find a common pair of ancestors. However, this is not always the case. We recommend considering all matches with whom you share more than 1.8% of your DNA.
First, identify which of the “anchor” matches have family trees. Familiarize yourself with the trees of those anchors who do have them:
- Request membership to their family site. In their tree, you’re looking for the (a) birth places and (b) last names of the match’s ancestors. If you don’t want to request membership, you can leverage the information our system provides: the pedigree tree, shared locations, and shared last names as well as Smart Matches™ you share with this person.
- Check who your shared DNA matches are. Can any of your beacon matches be found there? If so, that can help you determine who your common ancestor with the anchor is.
- Document every hint or conclusion in the match’s notes. You can add a note to a DNA Match from the DNA Matches list by clicking the speech bubble icon on the upper right corner of the match card:
It is essential to make sure you check every aspect and every detail that the match has to offer. Don’t let any detail pass you by.
- Be familiar with your DNA Matches so you can recognize their family members in other discoveries or through other DNA Matches. This is also why it is important to document every detail in the notes.
Group 3: “Potential Anchors”
The real gold mine is the group of second, third, or fourth cousins with whom you share more than 1%
In this group, a user can expect tens to hundreds of matches. Remember: this number will keep growing as more people around the world test their DNA every day.
Note that in some communities and ethnicities, one may have a high percentage match with another user due to endogamy (the practice of marrying within a small community). In endogamous populations, some of your strong matches might represent aggregated similarity — meaning you inherited many small segments of shared DNA from some very distant ancestors rather than a few larger segments of shared DNA from a closer ancestor. In a case like this, the estimated relationship will be closer than the true relationship.
In the group of potential anchors, we need to prioritize, as we want to get a more focused list of the matches with a better chance of being identified and “upgraded” into beacons.
It’s important to understand that relatives of the same relationship might get a totally different percentage and amount of DNA shared. Even full siblings can get different percentages — let alone cousins, where the range of possible matches is extremely flexible.
MyHeritage provides you with the option of filtering all matches by the following criteria:
- Those with whom you share Smart Matches™
- Those with whom you share any location on the family tree
- Those who have an extended family tree
- Those who reside in a country of interest
This section can help you find additional hints, but sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the right balance of best practices that will help you with your research.
To review all important individuals among the potential anchors, use the filter:
Relationship-> “Extended Family” and then Sort by-> “Largest segments”
This list will include some of the people we identified as anchors as well.
Group 4: “Prospects”
All matches below 1% of shared DNA are called prospects. This group most likely includes thousands of matches.
Here, prioritization is not a choice but a must. If you don’t prioritize the matches here, you will invest too much time in the most difficult matches and might miss the matches most important to you.
To investigate this group, start by generating AutoClusters.
The generated clusters consist of a maximum of 500 names — often significantly less, depending on one’s family and matches.
Your aim for this group is to try to expand the clusters generated by the system by grouping weaker matches based on shared matches, known locations, and known last names.
To benefit from this group, we try to “harvest” information from each match. It is important to work thoroughly and systematically so we avoid reviewing the same matches more than once.
One system is to locate a beacon or anchor and note the mutual matches between you and that match. Focus on those whose largest shared segment is longer.
Grouping the matches in clusters can make it much more beneficial once the next significant lead pops up.
The number of DNA matches you get is always both too few and too much. Take advantage of the few strong matches, and work efficiently on the mass of weaker matches. By dividing your matches into the 4 groups described above and using MyHeritage tools, you’ll be able to get the most out of your matches as efficiently as possible.