In order to determine more about my ancestry and genealogy, I ordered several DNA tests last year. The first was an autosomal DNA test from Ancestry.com. The purpose of this test was to find potential relatives by comparing a large portion of my DNA fingerprint to others who have also provided their DNA to the same project.

The results haven’t been very encouraging. Although the Ancestry.com DNA database seems to be growing very quickly, and I receive a list of new potential every week, since July last year the best match I’ve found so far is a potential third cousin with a confidence level of 98%. As far as I can tell, this does not mean there is a 98% chance of this individual being my third cousin. I don’t know what these numbers really mean, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m part of a community — Ashkenazic Jews — whose DNA tests are more likely to present false matches.

And that’s why I have hundreds of potential matches with Ancestry.com at a confidence level of 96% or higher, listed as potential fourth to sixth cousins. I have checked the families trees of every potential match at this confidence level, for those who make their family trees available to others in the community, and I have yet to find a single confirmed match. The results are a little disappointing, but that doesn’t mean some of these matches aren’t cousins. There are a few obstacles:

  • I have details going back only four or five generations for most of my ancestors.
  • Most of my potential DNA matches have even less information listed on their trees.
  • To confirm a fourth cousin you need to have a great great great grandparent in common, and I only have information about a few of mine.

That may be because many other testers have not provided enough information about their trees, or that my ancestors may have siblings I have not yet discovered, but the results are a little disappointing.

One potential DNA match is a neighbor’s family from my childhood, and we may have found a link based on what might be my second great grandmother’s maiden name, but I have several conflicting records, and there are some other location discrepancies. It might be interesting to find out the girl next door was my third cousin once removed, but this is a long way from being a verifiable fact.

Close match DNA comparison, FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder

Close match DNA comparison, FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder

Late in the year, I ordered a similar test from FamilyTreeDNA, which this particular company is branding as “Family Finder.” Because the two companies have different sets of users, in theory, I could find different potential cousins by submitting my DNA to FamilyTreeDNA. Although FamilyTreeDNA supposedly corrects their matching results to take the problem with Ashkenazic DNA into account, my results, provided at the beginning of 2013, identify 230 potential distant relatives and two close relatives — second or third cousins. For the most part, FamilyTreeDNA does not link family trees to DNA, so I can’t peruse potential cousins’ families for matches. Emails to the two potential close relatives have not yet been answered.

What is the point of all this? Why spend so much money for DNA tests to discover cousins? At this point, the discovery of new blood relatives is unlikely to change much in my life. It seems to be for the sake of curiosity only. And with what seems to be such poor results so far, I’m not sure whether there’s a point in continuing to browse through strangers’ family trees looking for a possible connection. At the same time, I haven’t exhausted all resources yet. I have very little information about my ancestors who lived in Russia and Romania.

Sources from Lithuania, England, and Germany have been helpful, but these come from records that are already available online. To go further into my ancestry, I’ll need to find records on the ground in Eastern Europe. Perhaps a potential relative’s family tree provides some clues, like a brother or sister of one of my ancestors I haven’t confirmed yet. The chances seem low, however.

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