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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

DNA: Branching Out in Search for Lost Ancestors

Column this month covers our decision to upload DNA results to both GEDMatch and My Heritage to expand our search for lost ancestors. Basically, we will examine and compare quotes directly from those sites as to benefits and thier How To's.

Nothing is more frustrating than a fruitless search, years long in duration, having utilized every known means to discover (or confirm) the identity of an ancestor whose existence and/or connection cannot be proven. Every available search engine, family research site, county, state, or Federal document site has failed to produce vital information to finally blast through a brick wall.

Your author continues to work on five such daunting ancestral blocks. Our latest efforts will now focus on an attempt to utilize the benefits of casting our net, so to speak, abroad - by uploading DNA test results to new sites. Three sites are widely touted as having not only the advantage of the ability to have one's DNA uploaded for comparison without paying for new testing but also offer additional enticements. The three sites are My Heritage, GEDMatch, and Family Tree DNA. Each site advertises the benefits offered. Let's examine the advantages each site offers:

My Heritage:

MyHeritage is one of the few DNA matching databases that allows you to upload your raw DNA data for free. So you really have nothing to lose! When you upload your data, you’ll have free access to your list of DNA Matches on MyHeritage and you’ll be able to contact your matches free of charge.

If you don’t have a paid MyHeritage subscription, you will need to pay a one-time unlock fee of $29 to access the advanced DNA features, such as the Ethnicity Estimate and the Chromosome Browser. If you do have a subscription, you’ll be able to access those features at no additional cost.

When you upload your raw DNA data to MyHeritage, your matches and ethnicity results will be calculated within a few days — often as fast as 24 hours.

It helps you cast your net wider:

Even if you’ve found valuable information on other DNA databases, there is always more to learn. Many adoptees searching for their biological families have tested with other providers with no success, and when they finally uploaded their results to MyHeritage, they immediately found what they were looking for.

What is the difference between AncestryDNA and MyHeritage DNA?

Ancestry DNA requires a saliva sample, whereas a MyHeritage DNA test goes with the cheek swab option to collect DNA samples. However, Ancestry has a slightly more interactive results platform and gives you historical information such as possible migration routes your family may have taken.

MyHeritage DNA Features:

  • Free DNA transfers
  • DNA Ethnicity Estimates: With historical information
  • Ethnicities Map: With layers
  • DNA Genetic Groups
  • DNA Matches: With filterable, shared DNA matches; grouping/labeling features; areas for notation; tons of filtering capabilities; sortable by shared DNA or shared segments, among others; estimated relationships; match quality; shared ethnicities, shared genetic groups; shared ancestral places; and exportable match list
  • DNA Match Contacting
  • DNA Match Trees (if they have one and are sharing it)
  • Theory of Family Relativity
  • Chromosome Browser
  • AutoClusters


MyHeritage DNA test claims to have 104 million users worldwide, thereby allowing you to potentially find out in-depth information about your unique genetic profile and family tree. Your DNA results could be categorized among 2,114 possible geographic regions and 42 ethnicities.

MyHeritage had humble beginnings as a home business. This “genealogy garage startup” was founded in 2003 by Gilad Japhet as a free online service to help people build their family trees. It continued to grow exponentially over the years, adding advanced matching technologies to allow individuals to more easily locate and research members of their lineage. The company developed a MyHeritage app in 2010 and added a historical record database in 2012.

The first MyHeritage DNA at-home genetic test was offered in 2016. In the past six years, it has collected data from more than 6.2 million DNA tests and compiled 18.6 billion digitized historical records and more than 1 million annual subscribers, according to the company

The second free site we will upload to is a bit different in that GEDmatch does not offer its own DNA testing. This site operates fully on test results uploaded by users from their DNA testing company, such as Ancestry, 23&Me, Family Tree DNA, and so forth. This site caters to three levels of public subscribers or users: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. It is also used extensively by law enforcement agencies whose recent successes in closing cold cases such as the Golden State Killer (see your author's prior column concerning this case) and the recent high profile case of Bryan Kohberger arrested and to be tried for the killing of four Idaho students.

It should be noted you are given the opportunity to opt out of having your DNA utilized by law enforcement if you wish; however, your author believes this use is one that rises above. If my DNA should solve a cold case, lead to the arrest and conviction of a rapist or killer, or help identify a Joan or John Doe, that is fine with me.


What is GEDmatch?

GEDmatch is a great “family finder” tool for people who are interested in tracking down relatives for free. It aids your genealogical research with the power of DNA. The core features include:

One-To-Many DNA Comparison Result: Helps you compare your genetic profile with other GEDmatch users. Their emails are provided so you can quickly contact them if you get a hit.

One-to-One Autosomal DNA Comparison: This helps you narrow down the comparison with one specific relative member. Use this to confirm how much DNA data you actually share with that person before you reach out.

Admixture (heritage): This is a well-known analysis for identifying your ethnic roots. Like AncestryDNA and 23andMe, it shows the proportion of your DNA coming from a particular ethnicity / geography. It’s interesting to compare these results with that of other ancestry tests.

There are numerous tools listed on the GEDmatch homepage that you can use for different purposes... For first-timers, we recommend starting out with the 3 tools listed above.

Source: Who are you made of?

When you upload your DNA data to Gedmatch, you get access to different tools and results than you would on your DNA testing site. On Gedmatch, you can:

Use the One-to-Many comparison tool to find new DNA matches that didn’t test at the same company that you did

Use the Chromosome Browser to compare your DNA to your DNA matches on the site to view detailed information about size and location on your chromosomes of shared DNA segments

Use the Admixture (Heritage) tool to get a different ethnicity estimate to see where your ancient ancestors may have lived

Find people who might be related to you on the same line of your family tree by using the People Who Match Both or 1 of 2 Kits tool

Discover whether your DNA matches ancient DNA samples by exploring the Archaic DNA Matches Tool

There are several other free tools in addition to those that I mentioned above. Furthermore, there is a paid subscription to Gedmatch, called “Tier 1“, that you can access in order to use more advanced tools such as:

Expanded versions of the One-to-Many Tool to find thousands of new DNA matches

Phasing of your DNA matches in order to create new “kits” with only the DNA that you inherited from your mother or father, which helps in identifying paternal vs. maternal DNA matches on Gedmatch

Matching Segment Search, which can assist you in finding segments shared in common with groups of matches

There are several more technical tools in the Tier 1 dashboard – too many to discuss right here. All you need to know is that there is a lot more that you can learn than what I could possibly list in this article.

The third company known to accept free uploads of DNA testing results derived from other companies is Family Tree DNA. Although this site offers DNA comparison tools, your author has not decided to utilize the site for uploading. This decision is based upon a couple of factors: first, an evaluation of the quality of services comparing Ancestry, 23&Me, and Family Tree DNA disparaged the value of Family Tree DNA compared to the other two sites; second, it is a time consuming process comparing the data obtained and the sheer volume of Matching results could prove overwhelming. Regardless, in all fairness I have chosen to list the benefits or advantages claimed by Family Tree DNA for those who may wish to upload their results to that site.


How many people use FamilyTreeDNA?

FamilyTreeDNA's autosomal DNA test is known as the Family Finder and the company has a database of about 1.5 million people. Jan 9 2023.

Source: genomelink

Overall, reviews for Family Tree DNA tend to score lower than reviews for other companies, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Users report a lack of information in Family Tree DNA’s database for people with ancestors from Asia or Africa, as well as frustration with their website, which is not as well-developed as other companies’ sites.

It will take anywhere from one to 48 hours for your results to be processed. If this is a new account at FTDNA, write down the kit number and password that was assigned to you.

Once your results have been processed, decide whether to pay a modest, one-time fee to gain full access to the FTDNA suite of tools. These include your ethnicity estimate, haplogroup information and the chromosome browser

What do I get if I transfer my autosomal DNA?

After transferring your results, for free, you will receive a list of your autosomal matches from our database and have access to our Family Finder - Matrix. The Matrix feature allows you to select and compare the autosomal DNA relationship between up to ten of your matches at one time.

Note: Family Finder is the name of our autosomal DNA test.

After transferring, you can unlock all Family Finder features, which include the Chromosome Browser, myOrigins®, and ancientOrigins for only $19.

As is quickly apparent from the FamilyTreeDNA website, the "tools" offered appear sparse, and wholly inadequate compared to those offered on the other two sites.

Suffice it to say, we will not be utilizing this site at the present time.

It is my fervent hope this added step will bear fruit. Of course, in order to fully utilize the tools offered it will be necessary for our known DNA matches to upload their own DNA test results to assist in the segment and chromosome comparison applications. No DNA test results can be useful if your relative's DNA is not furnished to the comparison site. So, guess we will be busy contacting selected Matches to entice them to upload to MyHeritage and GEDMatch.

In the meantime, we will continue to use the miracle of the Internet to research our intriguing family. See you next month ... Hopefully with at least one brick wall SMASHED!!

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