Tips & Tricks for Working with Theories of Family Relativity

If you’re a MyHeritage DNA customer, either by taking their DNA test or uploading a file from another vendor, this is an exciting time. MyHeritage has provided new Theories of Family Relativity and updates, so you’ll want to check your account. 

Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) is the marriage of DNA matching with other types of hints, such as:

  • Common ancestors and links to ancestors in various public trees such as FamilySearch and Geni
  • Common ancestors and links to ancestors in MyHeritage trees
  • Supporting documents, such as census records

The results are Theories about how you are related to your matches, and who your common ancestors are.

MyHeritage introduced Theories of Family Relativity (TOFR) In February 2019 and periodically runs the algorithm, adding new Theories to your DNA results page.

After initial introduction, MyHeritage updated customers’ TOFR in July 2019, May 2020, September 2020, February 2021, and October 2021, so there were plenty of new theory candidates just waiting.

I received an email from MyHeritage stating that TOFR has been updated again, with the following information:

In case you’re still unfamiliar with Theory of Family Relativity™, this feature pulls together billions of data points from across all the family tree profiles and historical records on MyHeritage to bring you theories about how your DNA Matches may be related to you. The calculations are run on a periodic basis, and since our last update, countless new DNA kits, family tree profiles, and historical records have been added to MyHeritage.

This means that the number of theories, the number of DNA Matches that include a theory, and the number of kits that have a theory have all increased significantly — and so have your chances of getting a new theory!

As a result of this new update:

    • 25,636,711 Theories of Family Relativity™ were added
    • 328,439 kits that didn’t have any theories previously now have at least one
    • 233,297 additional users will have at least one theory following this update

What Do I Need for a TOFR to Form?

For a Theory to have the opportunity to form, you need the following at MyHeritage:

You can try a MyHeritage subscription for free, here.

  • Or, if you uploaded your DNA from another site, the one-time unlock fee of $29 also provides access to the advanced DNA tools, including TOFR.

TOFRs Form for DNA Matches

For a TOFR to form, first, you need to be a DNA match.

Second, you need some combination of tree links and records connecting you and your match with a common ancestor.

Those resources can be:

  • Public trees, like FamilySearch or Geni
  • Private trees within MyHeritage
  • Records such as census or other records connecting ancestors and their offsping

Those trees and resources are stitched together to create a Theory that you can review and confirm or reject.

Remember, Theories are just that, theories aka intelligent hints. Accuracy is up to you to confirm.

Let’s step through this process.

How Many New Theories?

How many new Theories do I have, and how do I find them?

In my case, I have a total of 91 theories, which is 9 more than I had the last time Theories was run, representing a 10% increase. Please note that some of the older TOFR may have been updated as well.

However, for now, I don’t want to view the Theories that I’ve already processed, just new ones.

I’ve discovered a way to view only Theories that are new since I processed my TOFR last time.

By processing, I mean

  1. Reviewing the Theory
  2. Confirming or rejecting the Theory
  3. Making notes about my findings
  4. Painting the segment(s) to DNAPainter

All of these steps are important for different reasons.

Viewing Your New Theories

Sign on to your account and click on DNA at the top, then DNA Matches.

You’ll see a purple banner if you have Theories.

In order to see my newest Theories, I’m going to click on the Filters funnel, then select Tree Details.

Then filter Tree Details by “Has Theory of Family Relativity.”

Now I’m only seeing my matches that have Theories.

Next, I’m going to sort those in the most recent order.

This allows me to see my newest matches first, which are probably the most likely to have TOFR that didn’t have a Theory the last time MyHeritage updated the Theories. It’s also possible that some older matches have new Theories too, but let’s start with these first.

Why Notes Help

I always make notes when I review a match, whether it’s a TOFR or a DNA match without a TOFR.

Why?

When you create a note, the note box turns purple.

When a note is present on a match, it’s easy to see and means I have already reviewed that match at least once. Of course, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take a look again. Notes are a way of talking to myself.

When I see a match without a purple note icon, I know for sure that I do indeed need to review this TOFR because I have not done so previously.

You could use another methodology to indicate already analyzed TOFR, such as the star (favorites) or even a colored match label (square box.)

I can’t wait to review my new Theories.

Wow – Dutch Matches!!!

My first new Theory is with Gerard from the Netherlands. This is a VERY exciting turn of events because my mother is 25% Dutch and we have very few matches on her Dutch lines.

One of MyHeritage’s strengths is that a lot of Europeans test with MyHeritage.

Click to enlarge any image

My match to Gerard is through my great-great-grandfather’s sister’s descendants who still live in the Netherlands. The connection was made based on tree connections and records.

I love the circular confidence links at each join so you can see exactly how that connection was made and the confidence level at each joining connection.

This particular theory is created from one community tree and three MyHeritage trees, plus records documentation.

My own tree is one of those trees and so is the FamilySearch Tree. Two other trees are MyHeritage user trees, plus two additional documents.

This is an accurate Theory.

Be sure to confirm or reject each Theory so that MyHeritage can refine their TOFR formation process and update your Theories in the future.

Of course, Theories are only one aspect of matching. You’ll need to review the entire match for more information.

Review The Entire Match

Each DNA match comes with a significant amount of information.

Click on Review DNA Match.

The first piece of information that you’ll see is how you and your match are related to your common ancestor.

Next, you’ll see “Shared Matches” which can prove especially helpful.

In my case, because I uploaded my mother’s DNA file to MyHeritage, I can immediately see if Gerard, my Dutch TOFR match, shares DNA with my mother. If it’s a valid match, he will match Mother of course. If my mother’s DNA wasn’t available, I could look for a match with a sibling, aunt, cousin, or another close relative on my mother’s relevant side.

I can also see that we triangulate by the presence of the little purple triangulation widget which would be expected with my mother if the match is valid and not identical by chance.

I wrote about Triangulation in Action at MyHeritage, here.

We do triangulate, of course.

Triangulating with my mother isn’t terribly remarkable because I received half of her DNA, and triangulation with Mom only means that we’ve confirmed that the match with Gerard is valid.

Since we’ve confirmed that this is a legitimate match, let’s look at other aspects of my match with Gerard.

I can also see ethnicities and Genetic Communities that Gerard and I share.

We share three ethnicities and two Genetic Groups.

The Genetic Groups are spot on.

Scrolling on down, I see where Gerard and I match on our chromosomes.

We match on two segments. One smaller segment is on chromosome 12, and a larger segment on chromosome 13.

Of course, we saw that segment when clicking on my mother’s triangulation widget, but that’s a three-way match. This match is just between me and Gerard.

I’ll be harvesting this segment information to paint at DNA Painter where I gather all of my segments from each vendor and compile them into one chromosome map. This allows me to identify specific segments and walk each one back in time to earlier ancestors.

For example, before this match, I knew the segment above was assigned to the Ferverda side, but now I know it descends from one (or both) of my 3X great-grandparents. This match pushed my knowledge about that segment back three generations in time.

What Can You Do to Get More Theories?

You won’t be able to get new Theories immediately, but you can certainly set yourself up to receive additional TOFR in the next run. I wrote about this process in detail, here, but in summary, you can:

  1. Encourage cousins to take a DNA test or upload their DNA files (for free) if they have tested elsewhere.
  2. Encourage matches, especially close matches at other vendors to upload their DNA file to MyHeritage.
  3. If you or your family members uploaded your DNA from elsewhere, unlock the advanced features (including TOFR) for $29.
  4. Expand your tree to include your ancestor’s children and descendants, in addition to your direct ancestor. Each person you add acts like a little handle for another tree to hook onto and join with to form a new TOFR. I started by expanding every ancestor through their grandchildren, where possible.
  5. Be sure to link your DNA, and the DNA of any other tests that you manage, to their proper profile person in your tree.
  6. Make sure your tree is public so MyHeritage can connect you to other people by utilizing people in your tree.
  7. Confirm, or reject, both Smart Matches and Record Matches for each person in your tree.
  8. Maintain a MyHeritage subscription (Premium or above,) as noted earlier, so that you have access to and receive all available genealogical and record information.

What Else Can I Do?

Now that you’ve evaluated your new Theories and made notes, what else can you do to obtain even more information?

Shared Matches

By clicking on “Review DNA Matches,” I can see who I match in common with Gerard.

I see that I have 62 shared matches, meaning other people that Gerard and I both match. Scrolling down the list reveals several people who have Dutch names or live in the Netherlands. Sixteen triangulate with me and Gerard, meaning we share the same DNA.

Reviewing these matches individually may reveal whether matching segments are from the Ferverda/Ferwerda or the Camstra line.

AutoClusters

MyHeritage includes AutoClusters under DNA Tools.

You can order an AutoCluster report. Your TOFR matches and/or Shared Matches may be included in AutoClusters. Membership in a cluster suggests that each person in the cluster shares an ancestral line with all the other people in the cluster.

All of these tools, working together, will help you understand how you are related to your matches, identify your common ancestors, and which ancestors contributed specific DNA segments to you.

I wrote about using AutoClusters at MyHeritage to analyze DNA matches, here.

What About You?

How many new Theories did you receive with this update?

Were any of your existing Theories revised?

Did you discover something fun?

Do you have relatives or matches who tested elsewhere that might be willing to upload their DNA for matching?

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15 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks for Working with Theories of Family Relativity

  1. Hi Roberta – thanks for this great article! Nicely explained. I also received 9 more TOFRs and my husband finally received his first set. One more comment with notes and autoclusters. I add the following code right at the beginning of the note, at each company (H/MyHer, A/Ances, M/23Me, T/FTDNA). ex 📘 H 85.7cM/3s/L59 = 3C2R. MRCA MARTIN/NICHOLSON. This comes thru in the autocluster data table. But since the color dots do not come thru, I also preface with color book emoji’s for the 4 grandparent lines. The blue is for my paternal grandfather’s line. Therefore this appearance in a cluster is a huge hint to identifying that cluster. Love your blogs and articles and webinars.

  2. Thanks for another great article, Roberta. In it you wrote, “I’ll be harvesting this segment information to paint at DNA Painter where I gather all of my segments from each vendor and compile them into one chromosome map.” Does one of your DNA Painter articles explain how you compile segments from various vendors into a single chromosome map? I’d love to do that!

  3. Is there a place for me to tell why I am rejecting a Theory of Relativity? Part of the theory could be right but someone has confused people with the same name so they have the 3-great grandfather 9 years older than the great grandmother and the 2-great grandmother 30 years younger than the great grandmother.
    I have found most of the theories to be accurate.

  4. I’ve been having some trouble with TOFR lately. I’ve got a 3rd-great grandfather who had 13 kids with one wife (whom I descend from) and 7 kids with another. I’ve got half-cousin matches along that latter line, some of whom have trees that incorrectly attribute their connection to this ancestor to the first wife rather than the second. As a result, TOFR suggests that they are my full cousins rather than half-cousins. Perhaps it’s the case that TOFR doesn’t distinguish between half– and full-cousin relationships, but if so that is neither obvious nor documented.

    1 – do you think it’s best to confirm or reject theories that are mostly, but not entirely correct? I want to help refine data, but it’s unclear which action is better.
    2 – has anyone had experience reducing this type of incorrect TOFR by making one’s own MyHeritage tree more complete? I’ve tried adding in the extra spouses but so far that has not corrected things. I could add in the children in that generation, but I don’t really want to copy over full trees for their descendants given how many there are. (I’ve been pretty thorough in updating FamilySearch with my research already, so it’s not like the information isn’t out there.)

    A somewhat related issue is that one user has a fairly extensive tree that includes my branch down to my parents. The problem is, this person chose incorrect parents for my 2nd-great-grandfather (people with similar names), and for whatever reason MyHeritage ignores my own correct tree in favor of this guy’s. (I’ve sent him a message informing him of the error, to which he responded “Thanks.” and made no changes.) Of course, this branch is along an endogamous line (French settlers of the Gulf Coast) so I have lots of matches that connect that way, and the incorrect parents are at best semi-distant cousins anyway…

    I appreciate that TOFR automatically constructs “Frankentrees” in order to tie possibly unknown matches to you, but it’s frustrating to not be able to get those Theories to include correct information when I already know it and it’s in my own tree on MH.

    • I reject any ToFR that is not completely correct, and hope for a correct one to turn up eventually. Sometimes I contact people who made obvious mistakes in their trees and hope that they correct it. Some don’t even reply.

  5. Thanks for your clear explanation of this update. I got 4 new TOFR and they are mostly correct. I wish, though that it was possible to choose another option apart from confirm or reject. I have one theory that is correct at the Common Ancestor end and at the match end, but is partially incorrect in the middle. I decided that since it was essentially correct, I should confirm it. It would be nice to be able to let them know what is the correct connection.

  6. I had 15 ToFR before the latest batch, and added two more for a total of 17. Both of the new ones are related to one of the old ToFR matches so I didn’t gain much this time.

    So I have 17 ToFR out of 10,520 DNA matches on MyHeritage, or 0.161% of the total. On AncestryDNA, I have about 460 known common ancestors out of 40,430 DNA matches. So about 1.138% – about 7 times as many. I attribute this to the lack of many big trees on MyHeritage. Even with my extensive descendancy research for my 4th great-grandparents, which is all in my latest MyHeritage tree, it indicates that many MH DNA testers don’t even have grandparents in their MH trees.

    • Which is pretty amazing because MyHeritage has lots of documents and hints if one has a tree. I noticed the same thing when I was going through shared matches. Also several private trees.

  7. I have 16 000 matches and 196 with ToFR, some have multiple theories (not just multiple paths for the same theory but actually multiple theories). I have rejected 93 so far, mostly because the system doesn’t seem to compare places, only names and birth years. If it’s a very common name, like the Scandinavian patronymics, I think a lot of erroneous theories could be avoided if they also looked at the birth places. I often get theories based on patronymics, for people born in completely different parts of Sweden, which is frustrating. I love the ToFR feature, it’s a great help when it works, I would just love it even more if I got rid of all those obvious (to me) errors. Being able to reject them was a great step forward compared to when we couldn’t even do that.

    • I also get theories based on people who died as infants or were only a couple of years older than the child that the theory suggests they had. This would also be easy to avoid, you’d think.

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