Why Your DNA Matches Aren’t Responding

DNA has unlocked countless genealogical mysteries. Whether it’s a woman learning she has two half sisters or finding a match that helps break down a brick wall, the potential of DNA as a genealogical tool cannot be overstated. So why is it that when we take an AncestryDNA test, our matches don’t respond when we reach out to them?

Why Your DNA Matches Aren't Responding

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Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 4

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and many other podcast apps.)
Length: 13 minutes

(I’m going to focus my responses based on my experience with AncestryDNA, but some of these reasons are applicable to other DNA testing sites as well.)

Your Match Only Wanted the Ethnicity Estimate

Just like people start doing genealogy for a variety of reasons, people take DNA tests for different reasons. Some people who take an DNA test are only interested in the ethnicity estimate. They aren’t interested in meeting genetic cousins. They’re just curious to get a general idea of where they came from.

But I have to say that I'm ok with people who take the test just for the ethnicity estimate. Some of them will eventually want to get involved in genealogy. 

Your Match Is an Adoptee

DNA has reunited countless adoptees with birth families. This doesn’t mean that all adoptees want to respond to every genetic match they get. If your estimated relationship is 3rd cousin, but they don’t know who their parents are, they may not see the point in communicating.

Even if your relationship is closer, they may not be ready to communicate. Making contact with members of a birth family is really big deal. They might need some time to work up to responding.

The Match Is a Surprise

If testing shows a relationship that your match doesn’t think is possible — what do you mean Grandpa had a family before marrying Grandma?! — they might not want to deal with it right now.

Judy Russell is not only the Legal Genealogist —she's also very interested in genetic genealogy. She has excellent advice on proceeding ethically with contacting our matches, especially when there is a surprise. You can watch our interview here.

Your Relationship Isn't Close Enough

“Distant cousin” doesn’t excite everyone, especially if you don’t give any clues in your message how you think you might be related.

Blaine Bettinger, the Genetic Genealogist, shared his systematic strategy for contacting matches. You can watch my interview with Blaine here.

Your Match Didn't Get the Message

Ancestry’s messaging system has been known to have its quirks. It’s possible that your match didn’t receive the message. They might also not have noticed the icon that shows they have a message. And, yes, it is possible that they haven’t been on the site for awhile. (Believe it or not, not everyone goes on Ancestry or MyHeritage every day!)

Your Message Didn't Say Enough

What message did you send to your match? A message like “Hi! We’re genetic cousins. Let’s talk” doesn’t instill a lot of enthusiasm to respond. Introduce yourself, tell the estimated relationship, and the name of the common ancestors (if shown). If the match doesn’t show the common ancestors, give a general idea of where your research is. (For example, tell where your great-great-grandparents lived to give the other person a starting point. Or if you know several people in the generation that you think the match occurs, share the names of the ancestors that you know.)

Bottom Line

Don’t take it personally if a match doesn’t respond. Don’t let it raise your blood pressure. Just because the person is a genetic cousin doesn’t mean that they have to respond to your message, even if they received it. And remember: It could be that they haven’t responded yet. It doesn't mean that they never will.

DNA holds countless clues for genealogy, but there are reasons why your DNA matches aren't answering you. Fortunately, there are also some things you can do to increase the chances of them answering. Generations Cafe podcast, episode 4. #genealogy #DNA #genetics #ancestry #geneticgenealogy #generationscafe

140 thoughts on “Why Your DNA Matches Aren’t Responding

  1. The last reason, not saying enough, is a biggie. A lot of times I have to respond with, “Which kit do you match? I administer many kits.” Then I never hear back from them. I suspect they are sending massive numbers of messages to every match on the site. I really do not have time to deal with that.

    • Strange,i have same situation…..”which kit doo you match?I administer many kits,and then nou answer.I contact my cousin from Ursinus clan.
      My dna cousin have similar problem ,she wrote too 5 cousins and nou answers.

      • I administer kits for people who wanted to test but didn’t want an Ancestry subscription. Who pays for a test and who Admins aren’t always the same.

    • It says show the match and you click the link. This has happened to me. I found a first cousin and messages. She responded I didn’t match her, but I so match someone she manages. Best bet I had to find birth family. I sent additional info and she will not respond 🙁 🙁

      • It is indeed heartbreaking. I was so excited to find a half-sister. Give me a break ancestry-“don’t raise your blood pressure”. Really? It’s soul crushing when you find a close connection and they don’t respond. People who aren’t adopted have NO idea what it’s like and shouldn’t be doling out advice.
        It’s 2018. We know that people have sex, which leads to babies. People need to get over their hang ups and realize that a birth mother’s right to privacy does not supersede my right to know who I am!!!

  2. Count me as one of those people who would do a DNA test for ethnicity estimates. However, I respond to inquiries and if they are looking for some sources or a family tree, I will point them to my public tree. That is what I do with my One Name Study inquiries as well as my “paper trails” ones. I think it’s good manners to respond, even if there is no match.

      • I think that some people are generally untrusting about stuff on-line because of identity theft. They don’t know if you might be phishing for personal info with an ulterior motive. They may have done the DNA testing, then thought; “OMG, my personal data is out there! What if someone can tell if I have this ____ health issue & won’t hire me for a job!” I think that the more that the DNA companies can reassure customers that their data is safe & anonymized, they might get more comfortable.

        Others may be curious about family, but don’t know where to start on their family tree. It is a tremendous amount of time/energy to do the research. They might be willing for someone else to do the research for them, but they don’t want to be responsible for it.

        • I’ve never gotten a response to any of my inquiries to my DNA matches. So I’ve given up on my “cousins” even though I can tell that they are closely related. Yes, why did they bother to get the DNA test?
          Robert Sloop

          • Robert don’t give up on your “cousins”. I too had the same experience as you. I got no response from most of them. I don’t have much family left and wanted to see if there were family members still out there. I was able to finally get some responses. I stay in touch with 4 of them by phone or on Facebook. And we are becoming friends. I no longer call them my “DNAcousins.” I just call them my cousins.

          • Dear Robert !I doo not believe thath cousins gott letters at all.
            The emails are intrastible,from dna sites.

        • I think phishing definitely goes on and it’s something I would like to see talked about more. I’ve had several emails from fifth cousins acting all excited about corresponding with me. The average person has nearly 5000 fifth cousins. We probably share a quarter million ancestors. I can’t think of many legitimate reasons to want to contact a fifth cousin.

          • I think the distant cousin emails are often from people who don’t understand the math of how many 5th (or greater) cousins they have and/or who think that they need to contact everyone in order to get the answer they’re looking for.

          • There are plenty of people who are newbies. I respond to all messages because it is polite.

          • I would say there are very good reasons to contact a fifth cousin. If the link comes up, it means both they and you are investigating ancestry – the number out of the 5000 who are doing this would be small. Either one of you may well have info. that would be of use to the other one in their research but they may not yet have.

          • I frequently contact “5th to 8th cousins” because Ancestry is incredibly conservative about predicting relationships. I’ve found predicted 5th cousins who are actually 3rd cousins, and I have easily found the common ancestors. In fact, I don’t think Ancestry has correctly predicted the closeness of ANY of my relationships.

          • I have a brick wall. I need those 5th to infinity cousins. Someone somewhere knows something I need to know. I track all my mathces. I contact ALL of them. Someone in my family has been working on Daniel D. Ward for over 100 years. Surely we will find him now that DNA has entered the picture. Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. All I ask is we solve it before I die.

  3. Another reason an adoptee may not respond, in one situation I am involved with the birth mother has been contacted and has asked to remain anonymous. She has asked that there be no contact with her family.

        • Florida has some of the most strict laws regarding adoptions but they created FARR – the Florida Adoption Reunion Registry. People who put up their children for adoption and the adult-age adoptees can give consent to be contacted. Adoptees can pre-select who can contact them, such as birth parents only, or they can include biological aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, etc.

        • I am adopted and in NJ since 2017, adoptees can receive their original birth certificate (exception: if the birth parents ask to remain anonymous. I received my mother’s name and found a prior live birth listed on the certificate (no name of course).

          It’s been an interesting journey. Some folks respond and some don’t. The ones that do are kind, so far in my experience.

          Hang in there!

  4. I trying to respond to all of my messages; but, sometimes I read the message and get into other things and forget to respond. As a rule, if they do not respond after the second message I do not contact them again. For those of you that delete your messages, I will contact you again . . . because there’s no reference of who, what, when where and how. When I contact someone I also keep notes.

  5. When I contact a distant match it is either because I have found where we match in our trees OR they don’t have enough information in their to know where we match but I have information for them to prove the match and add to their tree or where an unknown match shares matches i do know and would like to figure out the mutual connection.

    Frankly, I get a better response from GEDMatch or even 23andme than I do from my AncestryDNA matches. I would have to go with the never the got the notice reason as being most likely.

    I had heard Ancestry was going to allow us to opt into providing our DNA matches at 4th cousin and closer with our contact EMAIL address but so far I haven’t seen that happen. It would be a big help though and shouldn’t be a problem since it would be opt in.

  6. I would be happy to have a button on Ancestry which would allow me to hide (not delete) the matches which have no tree or have a locked tree. Easier to sort through the live ones.

    • Ann Lamb, there is a button – it looks like a trash can. I doesn’t delete them, but does hide them so you don’t see them in your list. You can always retrieve them later. You never know, they may unlock their tree or add a tree in the future.

    • Look at their profile when they don’t have a tree. Often there are trees (old, previously deleted or affiliated?) to be found there

  7. I’m an adoptee and have a hard time when people want to know how we are related.Most want me to tell them how we are related and I have to tell them I don’t know. If they continue to be comunicative or want to help me figure it out then I will tell them I am adopted, but I dont tell everyone because it is a subject still that will close doors for us adoptees.

    • As an adoptee, too, Kelly, I’ve also wondered how to proceed with my DNA results concerning making contact with “new cousins!” So basically, I’m at a standstill…not good with rejections! Any advice for this gal? Thanks for sharing your message!

      • I am adopted as well. I have a family tree for my adopted family. But I also created a generic family tree that just list me, a biological father and a biological mother. That is the tree I linked my DNA to.

    • I’m an adoptee, as well. Several (Ancestry) DNA-matched cousins of varying degrees have initiated contact. Most have no help to give but have been very friendly and welcomed me. Not one of the matches to whom I’ve initiated contact has responded. Except for one on Facebook who, I learned later, hasn’t posted anything to her FB page in 3 years, the others have logged into their Ancestry accounts since I contacted them. I identified myself and that I was an adoptee, and I explained that I didn’t know how we were related. Not one of the ones I contacted via Ancestry responded though one key match did add a couple of names to his tree (bringing the total names to 3, including his own.) I’m frustrated because of the lack of late-20th century documentation and the lack of response from a few relatives. I understand that we all took the DNA test for our own personal reasons and I accept that a few of my brick walls may be permanent.

  8. I contacted a person with my great grandmother’s middle name hoping to learn if that was her maiden name. Wound up with the DNA person’s wife emailing me and telling me they weren’t interested. (So why did he have the test?)

    • People dont only get DNA test to try to meet family. Most people, I feel, are just more interested in knowning what part of the world they came from, not necessarily wanting to meet new people/family. Why do you believe you can only get a DNA test if your wanting to meet family? I think you should stop being selfish and wanting people to carter to you own needs. Other people have their own needs as well. People dont always feel safe sharing info with people they dont even know. especially sensitive info like family information. people also dont need people coming out of the wood work and bothering what they allready have going on. for instances wanting to get close for money purposes etc.

    • I’ve done that, too, with the family middle names. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes I filled in the gap for them. At the end of the day we both benefit. I think too many people saw the lederhosen commercial and think they are going to get their life story handed to them.

  9. Amy, your post is a comprehensive attempt to explain a frustrating problem. One additional causative factor may be that many testers do not maintain their Ancestry membership after they get their test reports back. Have you seen any studies that report on this?

    • Dave — no, I haven’t seen anything that reports on the matches on people who no longer have accounts. Interesting question.

    • I paid for the $100 match but I do not understand why it only has “eastern decent” I thought I would be getting ” Ireland” and specific areas.
      I too have stopped my ancestry as I did not know if you didn’t keep up the subscription, “which is expensive,” that you would not hear from them.
      Is there a DNA you could do the is more precise and you do not have to keep paying?

      • AncestryDNA does give regions/countries. It lists my ethnicity estimate as 45% Ireland, 22% Great Britain, 19% Scandinavia, 6% Europe West, 3% Europe East, 3% Finland/Northwest Russia, 2% Italy/Greece. I’ve never seen AncestryDNA give a result of “Eastern descent.”

        If you still have access to your results, what is the website you use to view them?

      • I have taken my raw DNA results and posted them on GEDmatch. People that have gotten their DNA tested from many sites are able to upload the results and compare with those that used a different testing company. Not more precise but more people and it is free to compare.

  10. Like many others, I too have experienced a distinct lack of response with regard to one match in particular: the closest and most significant one. This woman is a probable first cousin, possibly a second cousin, and connecting with her would mean that I could very likely find out the name of my birth father. I have messaged her through Ancestry (no answer) and I’ve also written her via her home address. I told her a bit about myself, including that I’m an adoptee and am very interested in medical history at the very least. I made sure to say that I do not want anything from her or her family beyond information. No answer yet again. It seems incredibly cold and unfeeling that she wouldn’t even acknowledge my letter, even given the fact that I have important reasons for wanting my medical history, reasons that could maybe even affect her and her children. I don’t understand how people can be so callous.

    • Renee
      You might have told her too much, too soon. Never tell people you are an adoptee at first. Let it come up in conversation. It’s like dating: you never tell someone on a first date about your parents’ swinging lifestyle 🙂

      Robin

      • It is unfortunate people cannot tell someone they are an adoptee. it is 2016, and I think we need to get passed all these all ways. I respond to all the people who contact me, even if I am not able to figure out how we are related. Someone from Denmark says we are related, albeit sixth cousins, I am not able to help them because the names on their family tree do not match mine, but I was at least honest with the person. I did not hear back from the person, but you never know when someone might next that extra clue to help them find a relative.

        • I think the problem with saying right away that you are searching for birth parents is because, in this day and age, birth parents could have left contact info if they wanted to be contacted. So it’s likely they won’t respond if they think it will hurt themselves or another family member. Otoh, not being upfront about why you are contacting some one is not nice behavior–very sneaky and not how one behaves when introducing yourself to potential relatives.

          • To be honest, I sort of have a different take on this. If someone was adopted out the birth parents need to be open to the fact that one day the kids might want to reconnect. After meeting a distant cousin on ancestry who simply wanted to know more information about her birth family, and was cut off by some people in that said family who made the assumption she wanted to become part of their family, I sympathize with the children being adopted out. Birth parents should be happy their biological kids actually want to have some form of a relationship with them. I am not sure how I would feel if I had been adopted out, but I think I probably would not want much to do with my biological family. In this day an age keeping a family secret like adopting a child is not really going to work anymore. I think this is a new reality people are going to have to plan for. Also, it is not the adopted child’s fault their parents made this decision. I know many birth parents want to make the best decision for the child by putting them in a stable home, but in most cases people reconnecting just want more information about their ancestral family, not to barge in and assume a role.

    • Renee, I am so sorry and can understand your frustration. My real father left my mother when I was one. My mother was so heart broken, she destroyed everything about him. So, at age 47, on a whim, I took the DNA test just to see what I was. Imagine my surprise when a match came up with my father showing “child and parent” relationship. I did send a message just to say I was okay and did not ask for anything. That was over 1 1/2 years ago. I have had no response. Also, since that time, I have had 1st and 2nd cousins pop up. I emailed two of them just to be sure I had not contacted the wrong person. Nothing! So, as wonderful as DNA feature may be, knowledge can come with a price and sometimes a painful one. I do hope that you receive a response of any kind soon.

      • why would you try to connect with someone who just up and left you and your mother? To me that just says he doesn’t care about you at all. so why would you care about him. don’t you think if he was interested he would have connected with you on his own? Sorry if this seems mean, but i really don’t understand why people want to connect with people who purposely left them in the first place. I mean…why would you except a response??

        • Though I have not been in this situation, I’ve had friends who have been. To them, it’s the never knowing what “really” happened (if that’s even possible). It’s the regret they fear they would have later if they didn’t at least try. It’s the tiny bit of hope they have that they can reconnect somehow.

        • You say the adoptee should just wait around for the father to contact her – what if he doesn’t want to intrude on her life, and is waiting around for her to make first contact? So no one makes contact and an opportunity is lost. My husband found his birth mother in the early 1990’s. She accepted the inevitable and consented to snail mail correspondence. It took her a few years before she would consent to meeting in person, but they built a relationship through letters and photos in the meantime. It’s scary to meet birth family, but it’s not the end of the world – no one ever died of it! Now we are waiting for his DNA results so that he can connect with his father’s family. Essentially he will be offering them a chance to get to know him and our family. They can either embrace that opportunity or reject it, but I hope they have the decency to at least reply to any requests. If we are successful, I hope they aren’t as heartless as some of the people on this board!
          If my husband followed your advice and waited for his mother to contact him, we would still be waiting. Instead, we spent the last 25 years building relationships, and just got back from a week’s vacation in Mexico with his birth mom and two half-sisters. 🙂

      • Kim, I don’t blame you for wanting to connect. People can have a change of heart. It makes sense to me.

    • My Brother comes up showing as a 1st cousin on my matches. And after 70 years by doing Ancestry DNA I find out he is my half sibling. My Mother died in 2014 and Dad in 1963. So my brother is showing up matches on my Dad’s side and I’m not. So I’m assuming this woman can be your half sister and might be afraid to accept the truth. I have an adopted sister which did the ancestry DNA And she has a few half sisters which had no clue of her existance. But, they were willing to share medical info with her.

    • It’s not ethical, but if you know her address, you know her name, you know she’s living, so you could trace her family tree and see who her great-grandparents were to get an idea of some names.

  11. It infuriates me that all my matches are now 5th to 8th cousins. Who wants to unravel that vague link.

    Also I do not think people who have not linked to trees should be allowed on the matches. Then you have nothing to go on.

    I pretty much ignore all matches with no trees, not close cousins, and has no names I recognize.

    • Have you ever clicked through a person’s profile to see if they have any public trees? People sometimes have trees that aren’t attached to a test. I’ve had some success doing that for matches that are 2nd-4th cousins.

      I completely get the frustration, but I don’t think banning the non-tree people is the answer. First, it would prevent adoptees from making matches. But also, you never know when getting a match is going to be what spurs a person to want to start to create a tree.

      • also, if a tree was required for dna,testing, then we would see a lot more of those junk trees hastily put together. I too have found success by clicking on the name of the person that seemingly has no tree only to find that they have several. One thing I have run across is, it seems even some dna matches “linked” to trees are not the person that comes up full and center when the tree is opened.. If I’m looking at what is said to be a 4th cousin, I like to then count back the generations in a good and full tree to about where the 4th cousins would match. Sometimes the dna is linked to someone who lived in the 1800″s – early 1900’s. It seems to be operator error (mistakenly or purposefully) and ancesrty.com glitches..

        • I am someone that has worked hard on my trees And my tree is extensive. I work on shirt tail relatives sometimes just to find main ones or because they caught my curiosity.I go through birth death census, marriage, docs and attach them all. I have my tree is private because some family isn’t ready for certain truths. I do help and send documents when people have questions.

          That being said a couple days ago someone asked me about my research on a person from Poland. The name they gave matched my 5th grandfather’s.German version of his name, which he was born by but he changed it and the family from their on used the American version. Side note, it’s a VERY COMMON name. I think everyone knows someone with this name in it’s either German or American version. You might even know more than 1.

          Regardless, I advised the writer I didn’t think it was a match, as my relation was not from Poland, but just in case I gave his dates and places of birth and death.

          The response I got ” well you’re related somehow because we matched DNA”
          Nothing was said of if the other info I gave matched.

          Which,more importantly, I confess what has me most perplexed is that I never have had DNA testing!!

          Since making my tree I’ve “met” some half cousins on Ancestry that have done DNA testing and I was impressed that they found out easily they were of another family easily, where I had dug up the truth the hard way. Bravo. but since they didn’t research they didn’t know there were other “half” relatives. I’m not even sure I got them all. (I had a naughty baby making GGGrandfather we hadn’t known about previously)
          But how could someone match a DNA I didn’t give???

          I suppose it is using my tree in connection with other’s that HAVE done the DNA, but that doesn’t seem like a completely good idea. Especially with common names. Someone that had the DNA done earlier may have just made a tree grabbing names the first one they seen tacked it on and the other’s follow suit?

          • I have had this happen twice. The person who contacted me thought beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were related, due to the fact that the names were the same of one person in both our trees. However the rest of the family information was not related. And it happens the most when people do not check the children against the names of the children in their tree or the siblings. Even a genealogist, and I won’t mention any names, thought we were connected until I pointed out the facts, documents, places and people that couldn’t possibly match. I knew my tree well enough to know the information didn’t belong. After further examination that was the conclusion, but the explanation for connecting the person was to see if further linking information did come up. I have done that as well, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But just simple, knowledgeable, deductive reasoning and conversation will solve the issue. And politeness!

    • The links may be distant but they are not vague. If you were able to establish the link through the surname or location it could help you extend the information on your own tree. That said, there are a lot of questions I am not sure about for which Ancestry could provide responses – in particular, how high is the chance that a moderate link identified as fifth to eighth is not in fact a link at all? and can Ancestry confirm when suggest a close cousin link that the ONLY information they have used is the DNA result, nothing that they may have seen on any tree.

      • The matches that are shown on your list of DNA matches are based solely on the DNA test. The trees are not compared until after the DNA makes the match.

        As for how accurate the test is for more distant cousins, I’d suggest you check out Roberta Estes’ blog DNAeXplained. She has great info over there.

    • My mother matches you. She is a 5th to 8th cousin match in the Gray family and I know exactly how you guys are related. You have your rights. Enjoy your research. 🙂

    • No link is vague – it is either right or wrong! But it is frustrating that so many people, even tho the page says the signed in today or yesterday, don’t take the trouble to respond. In some cases i have been able to find out who they are with other online searches and can see how they are related, but they still don’t respond. I am not sure why so many people pay out for the test and then seem completely uninterested in its results.

    • I wouldn’t just ignore 5th to 8th cousin matches — several of mine have turned out to be MUCH closer (as close as 3rd cousin). Ancestry is extremely conservative in predicting matches, because they think it’s better to underestimate relationships than to overestimate them. Fine, but they go too far in that direction. Almost one of my matches I have checked out has been closer than predicted. (The opposite happens on FTDNA’s Family Finder.) Also, if there’s no tree, you can at least try sending a message. I didn’t post a tree on Ancestry at first, because it’s not where I want to maintain a tree (uploading GEDCOMs loses lots of information, and I have a huge tree that I maintain offline). (I finally posted a small portion of my tree to Ancestry, when I found out that the surname “search” function only searches trees, not usernames of the matches.)

  12. I would like to see Ancestry offer a product to people who only want ethnicity results that doesn’t link in to the matching process. That seems as though it would reduce problems on both sides. The person testing could upgrade if they wanted to get into genealogy later.

  13. Pingback: This week’s crème de la crème — August 6, 2016 | Genealogy à la carte

  14. I just want to plan a big party with my matches, but I think I scared some away! I grew up with a super tiny family and to communicate with someone related to me is freaking awesome! It does make me very sad when they don’t want to communicate. I guess I’m looking for them to be sorta pen pals! Plus I’d love nothing more than to meet them and giggle ” haha you are related to me!! 😀

  15. I would like to see Ancestry.com upgrade the messaging system by enlarging the tiny envelope icon in the top right corner to a larger “in your face” flashing icon that stands out from the rest of the page.

    We also need a badge for our pages or a way to show or matches that we are “Adoptee Friendly” and eager to help discover their true identity.

    • I totally agree. Larger icon and a safe haven sticker for adoptees. Sometimes I’m left feeling like something stuck to the bottom of their shoe! A simple response would be better than silence.

  16. I try to respond but it can be overwhelming sometimes. Not being able to find the connection or the other person can’t find it either is frustrating.

    • My experience is the opposite – far from being overwhelmed, I have never received a message from a suggested link except where I have contacted them first. And in most cases no response then either. The exceptions, however, have been excellent and useful contacts so I am still supportive of Ancestry DNA overall.

  17. The whole DNA thing has kind of ticked me off. I have over a hundred pages of results, but most of them are have no tree or are private. Why show them at all? Sending a message, no matter how polite or informative or whatever doesn’t help. I’ve yet to have any of them reply.
    Personally, I would prefer to not see them (as a match) and if they could not see my Public tree then that would seem fair (not so much a one way street).
    As of right now, I still have no leads to my deceased father’s (no dna from him) side of the family. We’re a very small family, so not much to go on and dna hasn’t helped at all in the two years since we had the test done. Kind of disappointing.

    • Quite often, if a match has no tree, you can click on their match to you and look at the bottom and you WILL find a tree, just not linked to their DNA.

  18. My main complaint are the people who took the DNA tests and either have 3 people or no family tree. I ran across one DNA relative who even after a year had no tree and a lot who even after 6 months have no tree. Why even bother to have the test. And worst of all I contacted people whose connection I knew of before the test. Offered info on their tree that only a family member would know. And still no response. I gave up on them as it was not worth the aggravation.

    • The people with no tree or 3 people must be looking for ethnicity estimates, or find research unattainable for one reason or another. I have lots of those too.

    • Yes, that’s normal. Considering the combination of descendants and married names, many (if not most) of your matches will have a different surname. If you mean the names in their trees, it’s possible that you match on a line that one of you doesn’t show yet in the tree.

  19. I generally respond to matches, but when I get an email (like I did a few days ago) saying “you need to share your tree with me so I can find my grandfather’s birth father.” with no other info included, I tend not to reply! You get more flies with sugar than vinegar, the old saying goes. Be polite when writing, include information, and I’d be happy to help.

  20. I haven’t had the DNA testing yet but one of my maternal first cousins did. It has led, we suspect, to the second family of my maternal grandfather. He “disappeared” in 1928 when my mother was two. He changed his name to his step-father”s on the WWII draft registration. My cousin reached out to one of the grandchildren(our generation) but was unable to get much information. I had already reached out to one of his half siblings’son but now he is deceased. I don’t want to “upset” the others but would like to know more about him. This other family probably didn’t know about us! How do you walk the fine line approaching someone about a “shared relative”? I understand all the turmoil
    adoptees/adoptive families/biological families go through as I was an adoption caseworker for over 30 years. Thanks for your help.

  21. I was a foster child and I have learned about my ancestors & cousin as a result of Family Trees and DNA Matches. The Cousin Connections I’ve made have been 4th thru 8th Cousins. I’m thankful for all my new cousins because I’ve been able to meet Cousins by way of photos and connecting on Facebook. Yes I’m frustrated by the fact that I have a group of Share Matches but I do not see a connection because I do not know the names but one day at a time. I’m also frustred by the fact that my father’s mother’s Line seems to gets all the DNA Green Leaf Hints but it’s great to have conformation.
    I keep at it day after day because you never know. I have a 4th DNA Match Cousin who was born in Vietnam, his father was an American Solder. My cousin has been looking for his father for over 20 years. Last December one of his DNA Match Cousin was able to help him find his father. I not only Match my cousin but I also match his father’s DNA. Still do not know our Common Ancestor but … I was very frustrated because I was unable to help my cousin find his father.
    It’s also a wonderful feeling when you’re able to help another cousin or two and reunite sisters who hadn’t seen each other in 50+ years.

  22. The problem for me is I have a lot of potential cousins who are far, far too old (like one woman was elderly). I never put up my family tree because someone on my mother’s side had already done so. As much as I’d love to meet all of my cousins… The point kind of gets lost when you’d rather approach them on other media that’s not linked– no email or anything!

    The $99 dollars was enough for me personally, but it shouldn’t be up to my wallet to get in contact with someone who may or may not want to talk to me at all. Ancestry was beautiful in helping me find the truth, but it comes with more frustrations to be bargained for. I don’t have a lot of family left, but who knows, maybe I’ll have a change of heart later.

  23. The message system at Ancestry doesn’t work. There are a billion posts on Facebook groups talking about this. I experienced it recently after a match contacted me through GEDmatch. I still have never gotten her message on ancestry, and am certain I never will. The best way to make sure contact is made is to go to their profile page and contact through the Orange link from there. If you try by using the message system directly on DNA match pop-up, it will not be delivered. THAT is why nobody is responding to you.

  24. I’ve had some luck and some non respondents regarding dna results, but I am very thankful for the few that have responded. A cousin contacted me from Australia, we have a common ancestor from Chester, Nova Scotia which was exciting and learned one brother was a mariner the other boat builder. Also a cousin from Waterford, Ireland contacted me and together we were able to piece family stories, church and civil records.

  25. I’ve come to accept that many people just want their origin info. So now if I contact someone with no tree or with just a few people, I acknowledge that they may not be interested in research. Then I offer to share info if they do want to learn more.

    I definitely agree that one reason for non response is matches that don’t agree with what people expect. I’m African American and it’s rare that I even attempt to contact my purely European matches. Of those few, I’ve only gotten one response and no shared info or tree access.

    History is often painful and we aren’t always ready to deal with it, even when it’s staring us in the face. I’ve been dealing with it for decades, even though it’s tough at times. I know at least a tiny portion of the story (my 2ggrandfather told the enumerator his father was from Ireland , and I can guess at the rest of why I have DNA from Europe. But I know it may be impossibly hard for someone on the other side of the story who has never even had to contemplate having a Black 5th -8th cousin to acknowledge or deal with it.

    On the plus side, just one contact from a DNA match can make it all worthwhile. My maternal grandfather died when my mother was only 2. I’ve never seen a picture of him and I only knew his name and the info I dug up on Ancestry. I was contacted by a close DNA cousin. She didn’t have a picture of him either but she shared a picture of HIS father. What an unimaginable gift!

    So in spite of all the silence and rejection it is worth persevering. You may be the person who shares the gift of family information, even if you don’t receive it from other matches.

    • I am 98-99% European, with a trace of African. I would love to find an African near ancestors. My GGG grandmother was born in India and I was so disappointed that my ethnicity did not show up with some Indian. (and still hoping it is there but just fell under the threshold) All I’m saying is, African American, adoptee, if you were my dna match, I would write to you and try to help. Whatever the reason for the match was. That’s what makes it so interesting. We are not responsible for our ancestors choices, so embrace them, don’t hide from them.

  26. re: AncestryDNA: I have sent 3 contact messages to possible 3rd cousin matches in the last 2 weeks but I do not see any indication in the Messages area of Ancestry.Com that they went out. Using their “help” website is useless. Has this been a common problem with Ancestry.com?

  27. I’ve had a couple of pretty interesting replies. One insisted we weren’t related because she didn’t see any common surnames in my tree. When she finally sent access to her tree, I pulled a string on a common name even though it wasn’t something that would connect us genetically and discovered a surname that *would* connect us. I’m now trying to prove it. We’re 4th – 6th cousins…I think my great-great grandfather is her ancestor’s brother giving us shared 3 times great grandparents so, it fits. I have parentage for her ancestor, but none for mine… Frustrating, but I love it.

  28. One factor I never see listed is time. I am retired but a caregiver to several family members. I’m new to genealogy and DNA. I did the test to discover if we had Indian ancestry. I did not know how interesting it was. But no, I have had no time to do a tree or put one up. I have the intention. But being a senior citizen, I would need some clear information and a close relation to respond to anyone. It is a safety thing.

  29. I’d like Ancestry to change the star system to 2 colors, the orange is fine for one but put another color as an option so I can tell by looking at them whether they are paternal or maternal matches. Also if someone has no tree I always look at shared matches, many times that tells me which side they are on and really helps if they have no shared matches. I leave them unstarred but don’t hide them, one day a known relative might turn up to be a shared match.

  30. Well, I saw one of my closer matches originally on Ancestry.com, who then posted their results to GEDMATCH. I thought “well, that appears to be someone who wants to be found” and sent her a polite email about she and my mother potentially being 2nd cousins and offering information I thought she might have an interest in (though I didn’t mention my mother was adopted, just that we didn’t know much about the paternal side of her family). She never answered, and went so far to change her public family tree on Ancestry to private. I don’t honestly know if my email was the reason, but I thought it was rather odd (and more than a bit frustrating) behavior on her part. Thankfully she’s just one of a long line of people who have a certain mutual ancestor in common, so I don’t have to rely on this person for all my answers. (And some of the other people I have contacted elsewhere have been VERY NICE).

    • Maybe the person you talked about was just overwhelmed with the number of responses (or maybe had a “surprise” discovery of her own). I’m glad you found some people who were willing and able to help you!

  31. Last year, I tested myself and my parents on FTDNA. As expected, they showed up as my parents. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to test on Ancestry too. So far I’ve found some of my Dad’s cousins, but nothing really greater than that. Pretty normal stuff. A few days ago, I looked on Ancestry and saw that I had a new close match. I thought maybe it was another one of my Dad’s cousins. The match was listed as “close to 1st cousin” and the matching CMs were 1742. I looked it up and by process of elimination, OMG this is a half-sibling.

    By looking at our shared matches, I can see that this is from my father’s side. My father is still around, so I asked him about it and he told me he has no idea. Truth be told, he was a little too “wild” and “free” back in the 1960s so this sadly is not out of the realm of possibilities.

    So now I’m left with wondering what to do now. I’m excited to think that I have another sister out in the world, but I’m not so sure is she would feel the same. I don’t know what she knows or doesn’t know and the last thing I want to do is possibly turn her world upside down. On the other hand, maybe this is something she would want to know. Ancestry doesn’t really spell out – “Hey this could be a half-sibling” so it’s possible she may not even realize the connection especially if she got the kit to just check out her ethnicity. Coincidentally, I just had my Dad (and his siblings) tested at Ancestry. All of their kits are still being processed.

    I asked my Dad how he wanted to handle this and he was actually looking to me for advice. Would it be best to reach out now, or wait till my Dad’s kit comes back?And what in the world do you say? Or should I just not do anything at all. I’m torn between the idea of talking/meeting a sister I never knew I had and letting her meet her father (who is pretty wonderful) and the fear that I might upturn her life.

    Any advice?

    • Wow, that is quite the situation you’ve found. My first instinct is to wait until your dad’s results come back. She’ll see the match after that. (She may not have quite connected the dots the way that you did.) As for what to say, I’m not sure.

      My suggestion: join the Facebook group “Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques” https://www.facebook.com/groups/geneticgenealogytipsandtechniques/ . It’s lead by Blaine Bettinger, noted genetic genealogist. There are people in that group who have been through similar situations and can help guide you on your next steps. (I might be completely wrong about waiting for his results to come back.)

      I wish you well in this journey that you, your father, and new-found sister (and others) are about to embark upon.

  32. Hi I have a question for you. There seems to be DNA matches for me that have no relation to my family whatsoever. Then there are some of my cousins that sometimes show as a match and sometimes do not. There have been 2 that have showed as NO shared DNA when our parents are cousins like 2nd or 3rd..that makes no sense. And no one was adopted in the past. Have you ever heard of anything like this happening? Thank you.

    • Did you test with AncestryDNA? Occasionally there will be glitches with the list of matches, but that’s pretty unusual.

      When you say that some of your cousins show as a match and sometimes not, do you mean that your cousin Bob (for example) doesn’t always show up on your list? That would be unusual. If you mean that there are some cousins who show up and some who don’t, that’s more normal, especially as your relationship is further apart. (If your parents and your cousin’s parents are 3rd cousins, you and he/she are 4th cousins. I wouldn’t be as surprised if they didn’t appear on your list. With each generation, there is going to be less and less shared DNA. Plus, the further back you go, you never know if there was an undocumented adoption or a “non-paternal event” in an earlier generation.)

  33. I hesitated to respond because someone’s estimation of a close match, and I have a hard time believing this, as zero of their surnames are anywhere in our family history, dating back to the Revolution and then some. I mean, none. We have an extensive .paf but not a single one of their names is in my database. But, they keep insisting they’re a match simply based on the DNA result.

    • There are several reasons why genetic matches don’t seem to have any surnames in common. First, the match could be further back than what one of the trees has connected to. (If the match that you and I share is 6 generations back for me, but my tree only goes back 5 generations, that surname might not be in my tree yet.)

      The other person’s tree might just be missing the surname, especially if it’s from a maternal line of theirs.

      There could be an NPE (non-paternal event — in other words, the father listed on someone’s record isn’t actually the father).

      There could be an error in one or both trees.

      The DNA doesn’t lie. If the test says there’s a match, there’s a match somewhere. (By the way, there’s a common misconception that AncestryDNA uses trees to make matches. It doesn’t. AncestryDNA relies on comparing the DNA for the match. Only if there is a DNA match does it start to compare the trees for possible connections.)

  34. Any suggestions – after I took the dna test I got many matches with people who are black -I have no dna from the parts of Africa they did – looked into it and I think a distant relative was a slave owner – it came as a shock and Iwould like to know who – I know what the last name is but cant make the connection to my line with that last name – would like to ask these matches if they have any connection to the name but don’t feel that comfortable doing it – any suggestions – I did contact a couple but they ignored me. Thanks

    • First, take a look at how close the estimated relationship is. Let’s say it’s a third cousin. That means you would share one or two great-great-grandparents. It’s entirely possible that either your tree or their tree doesn’t contain that surname yet, simply because the research hasn’t gone back that far. Compounding the issue with African Amerian research is how fluid names were after the Civil War. It’s a myth that “all” freed slaves took the surname of their slaveholder. The name that the family ended up using may or may not even be the same as the ancestor you have in common.

  35. LOL, this sounds like something I would write. So of course, I love it! And I’ve experienced all of the above. (I once wrote a blog post called “14 reasons why they didn’t answer your email and what to do about it.”)

  36. I had an encounter with a dna match who told me his dad was a famous celebrity. The dna tests he took has proven to be untrue but they are still pretending this man is their father and telling people that and using the celebs last name. They are also telling people their real dad never tested which is untrue, and pretending the celeb is still their dad. He still has everyone believing this. He thinks the multiple test they took are wrong, just weird! Through it all though most of my DNA matches have been okay. I do wish more would respond back.

  37. I did a Test, found new first cousins, and the stories matched for our mutual grandfather (who wasn’t faithful!!) we’re all happy. haven’t met face to face yet as they are in the US and I’m in Australia.

    • Glad you enjoyed the episode.

      What do you mean about the music? “Bad” in terms of quality or you’re not a fan of the style of music (or something else)?

  38. I have reached out to a distant cousin. Her tree is private. However, her handle for Find A Grave is what she uses on Ancestry. We have matched and knowing what cemeteries and family she documents, plus the enhanced results from Ancestry DNA have led me to believe that we share a GGG grandparent. Her only responses have been that she can’t wait to learn how we’re related ( access to your tree would help, dear) and Stay in touch!
    Why would I want to keep in touch with someone so uncommunicative? I’ve done all the work, and she won’t even confirm my guesses. How blunt should I be with her?

  39. I agree 100% with all of these. I have friends who’ve taken the test, and honestly, they just want the ethnicity estimates. They’re also not familiar enough with Ancestry to even REALIZE how contacting works. (I tried explaining, and just got a polite nod that told me they didn’t get it.) And that’s fine. Frustrating, but fine.

    I’m also with you that sometimes Ancestry doesn’t send messages. I don’t check every day, and I’ve realized in the past that I had messages I definitely didn’t want to miss. It happens.

  40. First, I want to recommend FtDNA, where you can forever access your kits without a paid subscription!

    Second, I want to advise folks to be careful what you ask for when contacting a match for the first time, especially when no solid relationship has yet been established. Recently, I received a DNA query from a “ 2nd cousin” who only wanted names of my grandparents, and that they “would take it from there”. In my 40 years of researching, I’ve never had that question right off the bat! it immediately sent up a red flag because it sounded like a phishing question. We all know cousins can also be crooks! So I felt it necessary to go all around the bush with my replies until that cousin shared enough about his family research and sincerity to give me the confidence to lay everything out on the table.

  41. This is the message I sent on an Ancestry Tree hint. The person did get back to me. She was adopted. Has no tree. We are communicating in Ancestry message.

    “You are a shared match with XXXX XXXXX. He and I are related via his Chase line. Ruth Chase is the granddaughter of my 2nd great grandfather Alonzo Chase. I don’t see a tree to compare our ancestors. I hope to hear from you. Thank you, June”

    I built my tree from our shared hints to find the matches. I’m hoping I can help her build her tree. Thank you for a great Podcast on DNA match responsing.

  42. As an adoptee, I believe that the reason we who have had our identities stolen do DNA testing is to find the family we have been separated from, which is far more important than the guesstimate of who migrated where … (It is not ethnicity! It is simply a supposition that Ancestor Family H may have been in the Balkans and Ancestro C may have been in North Africa at some point in time, whether briefly of for centuries we will never know… This is my pet peeve about incorrect use of the tem ethnicity, which in itself is an artificial construct.)

    For me, DNA matches have confirmed legitimacy in both paternal and maternal lineage, even when those twigs, branches and trunks with thier tangled roots are unwanted by those who are just as entangled in them as we, the adoptees, are. There can be complex reasons that another refuses to answer a message about relativity, anywhere from a macabre family myth that tells of two small girls having been incinerated in some fire to simple disbelief because the match has never heard of us.

    Both examples are very personally known by me. Imagine being told at age 65 by a woman whose deceased husband is a paternal uncle who never met you that you are an imposter because she ‘knows’ that you and your younger sister ‘burned up in a fire’-an event that she had no documentation or facts about but of which she an her children were so very certain about. Despite proof of birth (an OBC) and DNA, to this day this group still relies on the ‘but my father or mother said Blah blah blah …’ I find it amazing that others are so convinced that they -who never met or knew me-have the audacity to dare to suggest that they could know my story better than do I who has lived it.

    For the few matches that interest me I send my summarized bio and let it go, knowing that they probably will not respond. I am far more interested in finding my sister from whom I was separated in 1948 than I am in the 2nd cousin who only thinks they know my story better than I do. Family connectons are a two-way street, some go one direction, others go another, and occasionally two meet along the way by mutual consent.

    By the way, I love your Podcast and the Café. thanks for sharing.

  43. Another reason someone may not respond: They died. I went into my mother’s ancestry and found a 6 month old message. I responded, explained what happened. They have family with my mother’s maiden name. I can’t find the connection yet because it is in Poland but I’ll keep digging.

    A lot of people that took the test were older retired people looking for a hobby. If they didn’t give anyone their infomation no one can respond.

    Maybe a future podcast, what to do with your research when you die.

  44. Something that has not been mentioned is that there is no sense in responding if you know your DNA results are wrong. I have first cousins who share the same last name, look alike and share many family characteristics. Info on one stated that he was Ashkenazi Jewish while the other results showed a Scottish background which fit what we knew about our family. The Ashkenazi results took over a year and several e-mails asking about the delay. Because of this, I know there is no use in responding to the DNA results that cannot possibly be correct.

  45. One thing I would appreciate with DNA matches is, even if they aren’t interested in finding a connection or whatever, it would be nice if they at least responded and said something to that effect (nicely).

    I just wanted to add that on Ancestry, it’s important to click on each DNA match, because even if it appears that they don’t have a tree, it’s possible they do, they just didn’t attach their DNA to their tree. You won’t know this by looking at main match page. Also, there’s a really good lecture from Roots Tech (2018 or 2017?) about how to find more info about your DNA matches who don’t have trees. It basically teaches you internet stalking skills! I’ve found it very useful. It’s still available online, as far as I know.

  46. You also never know when someone will finally respond to you. Not DNA but I’ve had messages out in the ether for years before somebody will end up sending a request for a follow-up. So being polite, putting out the basic information, and then moving on to other projects while waiting will still pay off in the end 🙂

  47. My first time responding but I just experienced a truly amazing connection re: a “fifth cousin.” From 1976-1978 I worked on a NOAA research ship and my roommate was a great guy from Bessemer, Alabama. (I’m from the SW corner of GA, and about to get clobbered by Hurricane Michael, BTW, but I digress…)
    This new family tree had about 20 people in it and I took a quick look to see if I recognized any family names. I didn’t but the very last one on the list was “Waltz”, which just happened to be my ex-roommate’s name from that first ship, all those years ago. I open the person’s file, and sure enough, he was my roommate’s brother. FYI, Dave, the roommate died about five years ago, so we never knew we were cousins. As it was, he was a Roll Tide Bama fan and I’m a UGA Bulldawg fan so we had plenty of ammunition for various arguments. So, take a look at those fifth cousins, you just never know what you’ll find… Cheers, MEH

  48. I have tried to reach out to my more distant cousins, meaning 4th cousins and I get little response. I am looking for DNA connections to verify my findings from them. I am asking for them to click on my name and see who I match on their DNA profile. When a cousin responds that they administer many trees that tells me they aren’t interested in helping because all you have to do is click on my name and then click on shared matches. It really isn’t too big a deal. I know back to 3rd and 4th generations depending on who a person matches up to on my tree. I know not everyone understand how to use the DNA matches, but I have helped a 4th cousin to find her father. Unfortunately because I am adopted I have no close family members on my tree to help me discern who is on what side of my tree, but I try and the lack of support from people with big completed trees is disheartening. I know you could help me to unravel some of the Brown and Smith brick walls but there is a lack of willingness to help others in this genealogical community. I had one very nice cousin help me and she introduced to me to how helpful newspapers are. I found treasure troves of information, but genealogy is process and everyone is in a different place. Some have DNA and have no idea how to use it, while I use my extensively. I try to help others with providing any information I can to them and not by responding with, I have too many kits to manage I don’t have time for you.

    • I don’t think it’s because they aren’t interested. It’s just that for someone who is managing a couple dozen (or more) kits, trying to track down how someone fits as a 4th cousin is an arduous process. If the estimate is correct, that’s sharing 3rd-great-grandparents. When you have nothing else to go on, which of the 32 3rd-Great-grandparents do you start with? What if it’s a match on a set that hasn’t been identified yet? You would have the genetic match, but not the paper research to go along with it. In my experience, people who manage multiple kits are quite experienced and quite interested (otherwise, they wouldn’t be managing so many kits). But there truly are only 24 hours in a day. If it’s a matter of seeing where a 2nd cousin fits in vs a 4th cousin, the 2nd cousin is almost always going to win. (Just my experience. Your mileage may vary.)

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