Don’t Be Like My DNA Cousin

As you know, I love DNA and what it can do for your research, and I especially like to help others with their research. So a recent interaction with a DNA cousin caught me off guard. Here’s the story.

On July 5th, I received an email from a gentleman on MyHeritage; let’s call him Mr. PS. His message was;

it would be nice if you could help a bit to make sense of the how we are related.

I was a bit taken aback by this comment, so I checked, and sure enough, he’d written to me before on June 12th. In this initial contact, he had written;

Hi, I wondering if you are willing to share a bit of informations regarding the DNA we have in commun ?
you can see my other tree in geneanet.org much bigger, any help from you would help me the break this wall .

I vaguely thought I remembered seeing this email but, I’m not even sure if I had, but at the very minimum, if I had, I would have searched to see how we were connected. So when I received this apparent second email, I decided I better have a good look. Because I have so many of my family’s kits on MyHeritage, I search, and at first, I couldn’t figure out which kit he was referring to. He definitely wasn’t my own match and wasn’t a match to either my mother or father.

So the same day I received his note I replied with this;

Sorry about not getting back to you sooner. I believe I looked at this when you originally sent it and at the time I couldn’t figure out which kit of mine you matched to. (I manage 14). Can you advise the name of the person you match as I couldn’t seem to make anything come up?

I was pretty sure that because Mr. PS wasn’t a match to my mom or dad, he had to connect to one of my aunts or uncles. Searching for a match on MyHeritage is easy; all you have to do is go to your match list and then click the search magnifying glass and enter the name. I did search, but I must have missed my one uncle’s kits.

Mr. PS got back to me the next day.

Hi Ellen, I am glad to hear from you, the account I am talking about is ” Middlebrough” sharing 48.3cM with me ,5 segments any help would be appreciated as so far you are the only non French connection that share that amount of cM , meaning you are holdings the keys to that brick wall.

So now, at least it narrowed down the kits to go through, and when I search, I realized that Mr. PS was a match to my one uncle… and only him. As Mr. PS had mentioned, it was a match at 48.3 cM and 5 segments. I was quite busy at the time, but my next step was to look at the in common matches, and there were only two. One with no tree and one with a tree. I had a quick look at the match with a tree, and there weren’t any names that jumped out at me. That’s not necessarily a problem because you can always look at the other people you have in common with them and see if you can figure it out. In this case, I could now see connections with my mom and other members of the family, but we are also talking about much smaller amounts of DNA, so much more distance relationships. As you can imagine this would take a bit of work looking at any trees and seeing if you can find a common ancestor. Certainly possible but more time-consuming.

I didn’t answer this message right away because I wanted to see if I could make the connections. On the 7th, I got this.

Everytime I see the profile of Middlebrough in my match, I can’t help thinking this is not a genuine profile, I believe you are working for MyHeritage and that you are paid to manage different accounts and that you may be using dna of peoples who has not been active on MyHeritage for years.
Anyway your help was very helpful thank you very much .

What? Wow…. so this was my reply. Maybe not a great answer, because now that I’m calmer I realize there might have been a language barrier but I was a bit choked.

“Wow, that’s an incredibly rude message. Especially when you say you want me to help. This is a genuine account, and yes I have a lot of DNA kits associated with me because I handle all the DNA for my family and a few friends. No, I don’t work for MyHeritage, but I do know some of the people who work there.

FYI I checked yesterday, and you only connect through my one uncle’s account. However, when I look at the in common with I do see other relations. So it would take more time to go through those relationships and understand where the link might be. 48.3 cM match is not a great deal, but I’ve worked with less.”

So why am I telling you all this? Because when you are messaging a cousin, I believe there are a few things you need to include in your message or to consider to have a better experience.

  1. Make sure you tell them the person you are a DNA connect with and how many cM because the person you are messaging isn’t always the person you are a DNA match to. In the case of Ancestry and MyHeritage you can see that the kit is managed by someone else. But don’t assume they only manage one kit. The idea is to make it easy for someone else to help you. So provide the information that can help them.
  2. Even if you know you’re messaging directly to your DNA cousin don’t be shy about saying why you are trying to connect and be specific with the information that you provide as to the kit and cM.
  3. That being said, don’t tell them everything you know and get into a long story… As my friend, Diahan Southard says “think of it like a first date”. You wouldn’t tell a first date your entire life story with all the gory details because you’d probably never get a second date. Tell them the information they need to know and leaving them wanting a “second date“.
  4. Leave them with a question that they will feel compelled to answer back about.
  5. Be patient and don’t give up. I’ve messaged cousins, sometimes for the fourth time, and I was about to give up, and then they replied.
  6. Remember people have busy lives and may be dealing with personal situations that makes them unble to reply immediately.

I realize that sometimes dealing with people that don’t reply can be an obstacle to your research and sometimes very frustrating … I know that all too well. But I also know that my grandfather always said “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.

8 Comments

  • Thank you for sharing this experience. I’ve veered from amused to horrified and settled on shaking my head at what happened.

    To give PS the most generous interpretation, they have trouble with both the language and the culture, possibly of English, but more of genealogy. In all the years I’ve been a member of this community, generosity has been a by-word. As you explain, the DNA match is a small one, and it would take time to work out the connection. I would guess PS does not understand this – that a DNA match is not an automatic slam-dunk, get an instant tree, win.

  • jorja says:

    Hi I thought the study of Genealogy was a sharing process I would help any one if I could and I am not ashamed of my ancestors they must have a reason for what they did so any skeletons are free to rattle any time they like especially
    if someone asks

    • Yes for me I share my genealogy and I believe I’ve done DNA so that I can help others discover how we connect. I often hear of bad experiences and I’ve been doing genealogy for over 20 years and DNA since 2010 and this was my first experience where the person was more demanding. I will absolutely help but I also know when I send messages to my matches that they could be busy or dealing with a personal situation. So it’s always a good approach to be kind.

  • Marion Parton says:

    lol, tell you a story – get my results – all excited, especially as a match turned up that verified a family connection (name was Oliver btw) – So just for the hell of it I messaged my new found cousin with a friendly hi, that was all, I asked nothing of her just said her DNA and tree had solved a puzzle. – No response and she made her tree private the next day! How ruuude! – Interested in if you hear from him again,
    Regards, Marion

  • EJ Jackson says:

    Oh my goodness! It sounds as if this Mr S has a lot more free time on his hands than you probably do, and has no appreciation that others might not be able to respond as quickly as he’d like. Very helpful tips – I mostly use Ancestry (find the other sites quite hard to use tbh though I have done a little) and I always include as much info regarding the match as I can, to help the other person see where the link might be. Did you continue the correspondence, did he reply later?!? Amazing conclusion for him to jump to with no evidence! Astonishing.

  • Shannon Cherkowski says:

    Wow is right! Thank you for sharing!

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