The top six DNA tools I can’t live without
1 – AncestryDNA – Groups / Dots feature
When I first launched this site, I used to talk about the Chrome extension DNA tool that allowed you to apply little coloured dots to different match groups in your AncestryDNA matches, so you could sort your matches into different groups. Little did I know that Ancestry were hard at work on their own tool! This great tool allows you to sort your matches into different groups, for whatever purpose you want. There are 24 different groups available, each of which is assigned a different colour.
What can you use it for?
But why would I want to do that, I also hear you ask? Well, you can use it in a few different ways. For example, you might want to create a group of DNA matches that you know exactly how they are related to you or a group of matches you want to concentrate on researching.
More helpfully you can use it to segment groups when you are researching. A really simple way to begin your research, if you know some of your family tree, is to create one group for paternal matches, and another for maternal matches. You might not be able to segment all your matches in this way, but unless you have endogamy in your family, or you have a parent from a country where DNA testing is not yet a thing, it’s usually quite easy to differentiate two different sides in your matches at least for closer matches (if you don’t know who either of your parents are, you may not be able to label them as paternal/maternal yet, but you could label them say ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’).
You can also use this same process to create groups of matches who share DNA with each other by using the shared matches tab of a particular match to colour everyone in that group the same colour; the likelihood is that those people share a common ancestor on a particular line or lines of your family tree.
2 – AncestryDNA Thrulines
Ancestry unveiled their Thrulines DNA tool, at the same time as the groups feature in 2019. It’s not infallible, it does make some errors, but it can be a useful starting point, and it can uncover relationships that you hadn’t found, particularly in more distant matches I’ve found.
To use Thrulines, you must have a populated Ancestry tree, and your DNA results must be linked to a person in the tree. Let’s see how it works in practice.
I have a 3x great-grandfather named Robert Tweedley, born in Scotland in about 1827. If I go to the Thrulines tool and hover over his entry, I can see that there are seven DNA matches who Ancestry can link to him:
I can ignore some of the matches as they are my immediate relatives, I already know about them, we all descend from the same child of Robert. Another match appears to descend from a daughter Margaret. Three other matches are descended via Robert’s son James. All are exactly third cousins to my mother, with the amount of shared DNA with my mother ranging from 13cm to 37cm.
One of the matches only had a private tree and none of the other matches had fleshed out their trees as far as Robert, but Ancestry was able to use other public Ancestry trees and its records to fill out the details to prove the link, making it relatively easy for me to double-check the details and confirm that Ancestry had it correct. Without Thrulines I wouldn’t have been able to work with one match at all unless they responded to a message, and for the others, I would have had to do a couple of hours of research at least to work out the link.
3- DNA Painter – Shared CM Calculator
The first thing I do whenever I’m researching a new match is go to DNA Painter’s Shared CM Calculator, which is a great DNA Tool which allows you to see all the possible relationships for a new match; although the testing company itself gives you an idea of the relationships, I prefer to see all the possibilities.