Wouldn’t it be great if your autosomal DNA matches were automatically labeled as maternal or paternal? This is also known as “bucketing.” It is helpful to know which side of your family a match is on before you start checking their tree for surnames you recognize or send them a message. What if I told you that you can make this happen at FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA)? All you need to do is link close matches and up to 3rd cousin matches to your tree in the correct position, and the FTDNA Family Matching algorithm will work its magic.
What is Family Matching?
FTDNA allows you to link your autosomal DNA matches directly to the family tree you create on their site. Once you link a match to your tree, you can see your relationship to them (brother, 1st cousin 1R, 3rd cousin) in the relationship column of your match list. This is not just a convenient way to see your matches’ relationships. Once you link a match, FTDNA uses its Family Matching algorithm to assign maternal and paternal icons to other matches based on phased matching. You might think this is based on shared matching or in-common-with matches, but it’s not. The Family Matching system is actually based on “phased blocks detected between relations.” To read more about this, see:
“Family Finder – Family Matching Feature,” Family Tree DNA Learning Center (https://learn.familytreedna.com/user-guide/family-finder-myftdna/ftdna-family-matching-system/ : accessed 6 August 2021).
The article says that linking matches who range from parents – 3rd cousins in your tree will result in the family matching tool bucketing other matches who share the same segments of 9 cM and above. When I discovered this feature last year, I spent several hours identifying and adding the closest matches in my match list to my family tree. It was exciting to see the number of bucketed paternal/maternal matches increase each time I added a new DNA match to my tree! See the screenshot below that I took in 2020 as my match list was calculating the family matching:
FamilyTreeDNA updated its website and interface recently, so it looks a little different now. You can read about the recent changes at the FamilyTreeDNA blog here:
“Updates To Family Finder, Featuring Improved Matching And A Soon To Be Released Chromosome Painter,” 1 July 2021, FamilyTreeDNA Blog (https://blog.familytreedna.com/updates-to-family-finder-matching-and-chromosome-painter/ : accessed 6 August 2021).
One of the updates is that the match list loads faster and is easier to sort and filter. More importantly, FTDNA has removed segments smaller than 6 cM from reported numbers of shared cM with matches. The total amount of shared cM with matches and relationship ranges will now be more accurate. The above-referenced blog post says, “The most notable difference might be that some matches predicted to be closer relatives are now predicted to be more distant, and some previously predicted as distant may no longer be a match.”
How to Link Matches to Your Tree
Start by building your family tree manually at FTDNA or importing a GEDCOM file. You can get to the family tree portion of the FTDNA website by going to the “Family Tree” tab at the top of the site after logging in.
Next, figure out how you and one of your matches are related by finding the most recent common ancestral couple (MRCA). You may need to contact the DNA match, check their family tree, or look for them at other testing sites where they may have a tree (like AncestryDNA or MyHeritage).
Once you know how the match is related to you, go back to your FTDNA family tree and locate the MRCA couple in your tree. Click the pedigree icon next to the ancestor to view their tree, then switch to family view by clicking “Family View” at the top of the page. From there, click on the ancestor and choose “add a relationship,” then click “add son” or “add daughter.”
In the pop-up box, you can add their name, check a box if they are deceased, and add other info you want to include. I generally just include their name. This tree isn’t where I keep all the genealogical details – I just add matches in order to make use of the family matching and bucketing. Continue to add descendants down to your DNA match. Add the DNA match as well. Marking a person as deceased means their name won’t be marked “private” when others view your tree – so be sure to mark only people who are deceased as such.
Once you add the DNA match’s name, you are ready to link the DNA match to the name you just added to the family tree. Click “link matches” at the top of the page and a list of matches pops up, from closest to more distant. Find the name of the DNA match in the list and click on their name and drag it to the box you created in your tree for them. When you release the name, a pop-up appears and asks you to confirm who you are linking the match to in the tree. Click on the correct person and click “Confirm.”
Now the match and the family tree should be linked. When you go back to your match list, you will see that the match now has a label with their exact relationship below the relationship range estimate – i.e. “3RD COUSIN 1R.”
DNA matches in your match list who aren’t in your tree yet will have a link in the relationship range column that says “assign relationship.” Clicking that link takes you to your FTDNA family tree. From there, you can add the descendants of the common ancestor and the match, as discussed earlier in this post.
How Does This Help Me?
Why is it helpful to have your matches grouped into maternal or paternal matches? It helps you narrow down the matches that will be helpful for you when working on a particular research problem. If you are looking for matches that will help you with your paternal great grandfather’s line, just click on the tab for paternal matches at the top of your atDNA match list, then start working to identify the MRCA for these matches.
Another way this can help is with identifying unknown matches. Let’s say you have searched your match-list for a surname you’re working on. This surname is from your mother’s side of the family. Your search returns a list of six matches. One of them has the blue paternal bucket icon. You can throw that one out because you know they are not related on your mother’s side. Three other matches have the pink maternal icon next to their name. You can focus on these ones with more confidence that they are related on the right side of your family.
If you haven’t tested at FTDNA or transferred your DNA test results there, you can do so by downloading your raw autosomal DNA data from another site and uploading it here: https://www.familytreedna.com/autosomal-transfer.
Would you like to learn more about using DNA evidence to solve your genealogical questions? Check out our book, Research Like a Pro with DNA and corresponding eCourse and study group. We also frequently discuss DNA topics in our weekly podcast, Research Like a Pro.