DNA Beginnings: How Many DNA Matches Do I Have?

People often want to know how many DNA matches they have.

Sounds simple, right?

At some vendors, the answer to this question is easy to find, and at others, not so much.

How do you locate this information at each of the four major vendors?

What else do you need to know?

I’ve written handy step-by-step instructions for each company!

Matches at FamilyTreeDNA

Sign on at FamilyTreeDNA and under autosomal results, click on Family Finder Matches.

At the top of the next page, you’ll see your total number of matches along with matches that FamilyTreeDNA has been able to assign maternally or paternally based on creating/uploading a tree and linking known matches to that tree in their proper place.

Your parents do NOT need to have tested for the maternal/paternal bucketing functionality, but you DO need to identify some relatives and link their tests to their place in your tree. It’s that easy. Instructions for linking can be found in the “Linking Matches on Your Tree” section of this article (click here), along with information about how that helps you, or here.

Obviously, if your parents have tested, that’s the best scenario. For people who don’t have that option, FamilyTreeDNA is the ONLY vendor that offers this type of feature if your parents have NOT tested.

At FamilyTreeDNA, I have 7313 total matches of which 3169 are paternal, 1402 are maternal and 6 are related to both parents.

Hint – your siblings, their children, your children, grandchildren, etc. will be related to you on both your paternal and maternal sides.

If you don’t have an autosomal DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, you can upload one from Ancestry, 23andMe, or MyHeritage for free. Click here for instructions.

Matches at MyHeritage

At MyHeritage, sign on and click on DNA, then DNA Matches.

At the top of your matches page, you’ll see your total number of matches.

At MyHeritage, I have 14,082 matches.

Matches are not broken down maternally and paternally automatically, but I can filter my matches in a wide variety of ways, including shared matches with either parent if they have tested, or other relatives.

If you don’t have an autosomal DNA test at MyHeritage, you can transfer one from Ancestry, 23andMe, or FamilyTreeDNA for free. Click here to begin your upload to MyHeritage.

Click here for instructions about how to download a copy of your DNA file from other vendors.

Matches at Ancestry

At Ancestry, sign on and click on DNA, then DNA Matches.

On your matches page, at the top, you’ll see a number of function widgets. Look for “Shared DNA.”

Click the down arrow to expand the Shared DNA box and you’ll see the total number of matches, along with the breakdown between 4th cousins or closer and distant matches.

Sometimes the number of matches doesn’t show up which means Ancestry’s servers are too busy to calculate the number of matches. Refresh your screen or try again in a few minutes. This happens often to me and always makes me question my sanity:)

I have 53,435 matches at Ancestry, of which 4,102 are estimated to be 4th cousins or closer and 49,333 are more distant.

For close matches only, if your parents have tested at Ancestry, when possible, Ancestry tells you on each match if that person is associated with your father’s side or your mother’s side.

You can’t upload DNA files from other vendors to Ancestry, but you can download a copy of your DNA file from Ancestry and upload to either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage. Click here for instructions.

You can also download a copy of your tree from Ancestry and upload it to either of those vendors, along with your DNA file for best results.

Matches at 23andMe

23andMe functions differently from the other vendors. They set a hard limit on the number of matches you receive.

That maximum number differs based on the test version you took and if you pay for a membership subscription that provides enhanced medical information along with advanced filters and the ability to have a maximum of 5000 matches.

In order to purchase the membership subscription, you need to take their most current V5 test. If you tested with an earlier product, you will need to repurchase, retest or upgrade your current test which means you’ll need to spit in the vial again.

Please note the words, “up to 5000 relatives,” in the 23andMe verbiage. They also say that’s “over 3 times what you get” with their test without a subscription.

23andMe handles things differently from any other vendor in the industry. They made changes recently which created quite a stir because they removed some capabilities from existing customers and made those functions part of their subscription model. You can read about that here and here.

The match limit on the current 23andMe V5 test, WITHOUT the subscription, is 1500. If you tested previously on earlier kits, V2-V4, 23andMe has reinstated your prior maximum match limit which was 2000.

So, here’s the maximum match summary for 23andMe:

  • Earlier kits (V2-V4) – 2000 maximum matches
  • Current V5 kit with no subscription – 1500 maximum matches
  • Current V5 kit with subscription – 5000 maximum matches

Except, that’s NOT the number of matches you’ll actually see.

23andMe handles matching differently too.

23andMe matches you with their other customers up to your maximum, whatever that is, then subtracts the people who have not opted-in to genealogy matching. Remember, 23andMe focuses on health, not genealogy, so not all of their customers want matching.

Therefore, you’ll NEVER see your total number of allowed matches, which is why 23andMe cleverly says you “get access to up to 5000 relatives.”

Let’s look at my V4 test at 23andMe. Sign on and click on Ancestry, then DNA Relatives. (Please note, Ancestry is not Ancestry the company, but at 23andMe means genealogy results as opposed to medical/health results.)

At the top of your DNA Relatives page, you’ll see your total number of matches, before any sorting filters are applied.

23andMe does not automatically assign matches maternally or paternally, but if your parents have tested AND opt-in to matching, then you can filter by people who also match either parent.

I have 1796 matches at 23andMe, which means that 204 or 11% of my matches have not opted-in to matching.

You can’t upload DNA files from other vendors to 23andMe, but you can download a copy of your DNA file from 23andMe and upload to either FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage where you will assuredly receive more matches. Click here for instructions.

Summary

Each vendor has its own unique set of features and operates differently. It’s not so much the number of matches you have, but if you have the RIGHT match to break through a particular brick wall or provide you with a previously unknown photo of a cherished family member.

I encourage everyone to fish in all 4 of these ponds by testing or uploading your DNA. Uploading and matching are both free. Advanced tools require a small one-time unlock fee, but it’s significantly less than testing again. You can find step-by-step instructions to walk you through the process, here.

Have fun!!!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

DNA Beginnings: What is a Match?

Before we evaluate matches at each of the four major vendors, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry and 23andMe, let’s discuss what a DNA match is, what it means, and what it does NOT mean.

A Match to Another Person

Each of the four major vendors, but not some other vendors, provide matches to you and other individuals in their database.

This example from FamilyTreeDNA shows my mother’s match list listing me as her closest match, along with a kit I uploaded from Ancestry when I was recently updating upload/download article instructions for my readers. You don’t need to upload multiple kits to vendors.

Every vendor’s match list looks different, as is the information they provide. We will cover each vendor’s match list individually in future articles in this DNA Beginnings series.

Each vendor has different criteria for matching, but in essence, using that vendor’s match criteria – your DNA and the DNA of a person you match are identical on a section of DNA of a vendor-defined length.

Each of those vendors identifies the people who match each other and opt-in to matching in one way or another,

When you sign on to your account at each vendor, you’ll see a match list. Each of those people on that list match your DNA:

  • At or above the vendor-defined centiMorgan (cM) threshold. You can read more about centiMorgans here.
  • At or above the vendor-defined SNP threshold, meaning the number individual contiguous matching locations.

Each vendor has their own thresholds and internal algorithms that define matches. For example, a match of 8 cM with 1500 SNPs refers to both the length of the match (cM) and the density of locations within that segment of DNA that match between two people. Only matches above each vendor’s threshold appear on your match list.

Matches smaller than or beneath those vendor thresholds are considered less likely to be valid matches, so are excluded and do not appear on your match list.

Imputation Affects Matching

Different vendors test their customers’ DNA on different DNA chips:

  • Different chips test a different amount of DNA, but generally roughly 700,000 SNP locations
  • That 700K locations of DNA can be in different locations in your genome

In other words, just because two vendors both test 700,000 locations doesn’t mean they test the same 700,000 locations.

Even the same vendor will, over time, implement different DNA testing chips or modify the SNP locations tested on the same chip.

These different chips, chip versions and SNP locations are not fully compatible with each other, so the vendors use a technique known as imputation to level the playing field between non-identical files.

This is particularly relevant for vendors that accept uploads from other vendors.

In this example, we have 3 vendors and 10 different SNPs, or DNA locations.

  • Vendor 1, on their first Version 1 chip, tested locations 1-8.
  • Vendor 1, on their second V2 chip, tested locations 3-10.

Therefore only 6 locations, 3-8, were “common” between those two different chips used by the same vendor.

  • Vendor 2, on yet a different DNA testing chip version (V3) tested locations 1-4 and 7-10.
  • Vendor 3 on chip version V4 tested locations 2-5, 7, 8 and 10.

There are only 4 locations out of 10 tested by all the vendors’ chips.

If the vendor’s match criteria is that 10 locations in a row must match, then none of these people will match each other.

Sometimes differences occur because of chip differences, and sometimes a difference occurs because a location doesn’t read well for some reason.

In order to compensate for the differences in DNA locations tested/reported, a technique called imputation is widely used.

Imputation uses scientific probability techniques to fill in the blanks based on DNA that typically neighbors or “travels with” the nucleotides or DNA values, (T, A, C or G), found in the customer being tested.

Imputation allows all of those blanks to be filled in for all customers for each of those 10 locations, assuming the “missing DNA” is close to tested DNA locations.

It’s thanks to imputation that customers can download their raw DNA files from one vendor and upload to another for matching, even though the vendors don’t use the same exact chip.

Sometimes imputation is incorrect. Matching can be affected in both directions, meaning that some people will be on each other’s match lists who actually don’t match on a particular segment. Others would actually match if all of those locations were tested.

The highest quality matches are between people who tested at the same vendor, on the same chip or at two different vendors who use exactly the same chip. However, that’s often not possible and isn’t within the control of the customer.

False Positive Matches

This translates to, “You’re a match but not really” and is a headache for genealogists.

False positive matches show as a match between two people on their match lists, but they aren’t actually valid matches for genealogy.

  • A false positive match could occur as a result of imputation, of course.
  • A false positive match could also occur because the two people match because part of the DNA of their mother and part of the DNA of their father at those locations just happens to combine to appear as a match.

For purposes of these examples, presume that each of these matches exceeds the vendor’s match criteria so would be shown on your match list.

In our example, Person 1 and Person 2 match at all 10 locations, so they would appear on each other’s match lists.

However, if we could see the DNA of Person 2’s parents, we would see that Person 2 DOES match Person 1, but is NOT a valid match. Person 3 inherited the first 5 DNA locations from their mother and the second 5 DNA locations from their father.

While Person 2 technically is a match to Person 1, they aren’t a legitimate match because the segment of DNA that matches does not descend from the same parent. This means that the DNA did not descend in one piece from ONE ancestor, but clearly descended in pieces from two ancestors – one maternal and one paternal.

Therefore a technical match that is not a genealogical match because the DNA is inherited in part from both parents is known as a false positive and is said to be Identical by Chance, or IBC. You can read about IBC matches here.

False Negative Matches

A false negative match is just the opposite. False negatives occur when two people are NOT reported on each other’s match lists when they actually would match if all of the DNA at the various required locations were tested, read, and reported accurately. In other words, if imputation were not necessary.

  • False negatives can be caused by imputation not working as accurately as we would hope. Imputation is a probability tool, and it’s not perfect.
  • False negatives can also be caused by differing match thresholds at different vendors.

For example, if one vendor reports matches at 6 cM and above, and a second vendor reports matches at 8 cM and above, the same two people who match at 7 cM will match at the first vendor, but not at the second.

The only way you would ever know about a false negative match, because they aren’t reported, is if you simply happen to match at a vendor who allows smaller thresholds.

Also, keep in mind that each vendor creates their own imputations algorithms, so two different vendors using imputation on the same file may produce different results.

Determining Valid Matches

So, how might you determine which matches are actually valid matches?

That’s a great question.

There are useful “hints:”

  • If your parents have tested, a valid match will match one of your parents on that same segment of DNA. If your match does NOT match one of your parents, it’s a false positive match and invalid for genealogy.
  • If only one of your parents has tested, and your match does NOT match the tested parent, you can’t presume that person automatically matches your other, non-tested parent. That match could match your non-tested parent, or could be IBC.
  • If neither of your parents have tested, check to see if your match also matches close relatives who have tested, but not your descendants. For example, if a match also matches your aunt or uncle, or first cousins, that increases the probability that the match is probably valid.
  • The larger the match, the more likely it is to be a valid match. For example, matches in the 6-7 cM level are IBC about half the time. By the time you’re evaluating matches at the 20 cM level for a single segment, they are accurate almost all the time.

Keep in mind that each matching segment must be confirmed separately, and not every vendor shares the locations of the segments that match.

So What Is a Match?

  • A match is a person who is found on your match list at one of the major vendors.
  • A match at one vendor may not be on your match list if you both have DNA at another common vendor due to various reasons including the vendor’s match criteria, imputation, or file compatibility issues.
  • A match may be false positive, or IBC which means that person is not an accurate match for genealogy. This is especially true for smaller segment matches.
  • A false positive match can occur because of erroneous reads, imputation, or because your match is identical by chance.
  • The larger a matching segment of DNA, the more likely it is to be an accurate match meaning you and your match share a common ancestor.
  • The best way to tell if your match is valid is to compare your match to both of your parents as well.

A match is not a guarantee that you share a common ancestor unless you are matching to close relatives. You won’t match a close relative if the match is not valid.

What About You?

What is your plan to verify that your matches are valid?

Have your parents tested their DNA? Either of both parents?

If so, ask for your parents to upload their DNA with you to each vendor where you upload your own results.

At each vendor, you’ll have different matches. That’s exactly why we fish in multiple ponds.

I always work with my closest matches first, because I’m the most likely to be able to easily identify our common ancestor.

Locate your closest known relatives from both your mother’s side and your father’s side at each vendor. These people will be extremely helpful for our next article about shared matches.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Announcing DNA Beginnings – A New Series

Welcome to DNA Beginnings. This exciting, upcoming series will be focused on the new DNA tester who may also be a novice genealogist and is unsure of quite what to do.

People ask, “Where do I even start?”

If this is you, welcome!

Which Vendors Will Be Covered?

This series will consist of one article for each of the four main DNA vendors:

Topics

Each article will cover two primary topics:

  • Matches
  • In-common-with or shared matches between you and other people

Along with:

  • Why each match type is important.
  • What matches and shared matches can tell you
  • How to make use of that information

More Information

For those who are ready – at the end of each article, I’ll include links with instructions for using more advanced tools at each vendor.

Get Ready!

While you’re waiting, you can upload your DNA data file from some vendors to other vendors, for free! That way you’ll have matches to work with, in multiple places. You’ll match different people at each vendor who are related to you in different ways. You never know where the match you need will be found – so fish in multiple ponds.

If you’ve tested at any vendor, you can download your raw DNA file. Downloading your raw DNA data file doesn’t affect your DNA file or matches at the vendor where you tested. The file you’re downloading is just a copy of the raw DNA file.

Just don’t delete the DNA test at the original vendor. That’s an entirely separate function, so don’t worry.

Uploading your raw DNA file to another vendor, for free, saves the cost of retesting, even if you do have to pay a small fee to utilize that vendor’s advanced tools.

Which Vendors Accept Upload Files?

Which vendors accept raw DNA data file uploads from other vendors? The chart below shows the vendors where you’ve tested on the left side, and the vendors you want to transfer to across the top.

To read this, people who have tested at FamilyTreeDNA (from the left column) can upload their raw DNA file to MyHeritage, but not to 23andMe or Ancestry. Note the asterisks. For example, people who tested at MyHeritage can upload their DNA file to FamilyTreeDNA, but only if they tested after May 7, 2019.

From to >>>>> FamilyTreeDNA MyHeritage 23andMe* Ancestry*
FamilyTreeDNA N/A Yes No No
MyHeritage Yes** N/A No No
23andMe*** V3, V4, V5 V3, V4, V5 N/A No
Ancestry V1, V2 V1, V2 No N/A

* Neither 23andMe nor Ancestry accept any DNA file uploads from any vendors. To receive matches at these two vendors, you must test there.

** FamilyTreeDNA accepts MyHeritage DNA tests taken after May 7, 2019.

*** Vendors do not accept the early 23andMe V2 file type used before December 2010.

None of these vendors accept files from LivingDNA who uses an incompatible DNA testing chip, although LivingDNA accepts upload files from other vendors.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Transferring Your Raw DNA Files

I wrote articles about how to download your raw DNA file from each vendor and how to upload your DNA file to vendors who accept DNA uploads in lieu of testing at their site.

You’ll save money by transferring your DNA file instead of testing at each vendor.

Transfer your file now and get ready to have fun with our DNA Beginnings articles!

Share and Subscribe – It’s Free

Feel free to share these articles with your friends and organizations. Anyone can subscribe to DNAexplained (this blog) for free and receive weekly articles in their inbox by entering their email and clicking on the little grey “Follow” button on the upper right-hand side of the blog on a computer or tablet screen. Hint – if you received this article in your email – you’re already subscribed so you don’t need to do anything. If you’re not subscribed already, just filling the info and click on “Follow.”

Every genealogist and genetic genealogist starts someplace and DNA Beginnings is a wonderful opportunity. The first article in the series will be arriving later this week!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research