Tips for Finding Relatives Quickly and Easily on 23andMe and Improving Your Odds That They Return Contact

I am a member of the 23andMe community.  For those of you not aware of 23andme, they are a personal genetic testing company located in Mountain View, California not far from my home.
If you are interested in wellness and in science (which I assume you are if you have found my blog!), then check out their site to learn more about their service.I tweeted today about how I had been able to find three 23andMe users with whom I had determined our relationships.  What I found really interesting was that the four of us are scattered around the world and didn’t see a link initially based on our last names or our listed surnames.  While our ages ranged from 30s to 80s, we all ended up being related via the same family line!

My tweet received a reply from a 23andMe member who wanted to know if I had any tips on how to make the Relative Finder process less intimidating.  For example, when I log in, I can see 352 people who are predicted third cousins to “distant” cousins.  Most are just listed as “Male” or “Female,” so unless a member has made their profile public it can be tough to decide where to begin.  A second tweet came shortly after from @akhomenko via Twitter asking me to share my tips widely.  Seemed a perfect topic for today’s blog, so here goes!

Tip #1 — Go for the Low-hanging Fruit!
Log in to the service and navigate to Relative Finder.
At the top, you will see an option to sort your list in a variety of ways.
Select “Sort by Last Name”.  This will bring you all of the users with public profiles to whom there is a predicted relationship.  Scan the list of names to see if anything rings a bell and go from there.  If nothing looks familiar to you, then select the person who has the highest percentage of DNA in common with you.  I have found that members with public profiles are more responsive to direct messages and tend to share more in their profiles.  When you invite someone to share genomes make sure to customize the message!  Receiving a message that looks like it was written by a computer program is about as exciting as opening junk mail at home.  I find that I get the greatest response when I make the other party curious enough to answer my message.  Make it personal!  I might say something like this:

Hi Jennifer,

23andMe has identified us as potential 3rd cousins with .24% DNA in common, so we are definitely related.  I’d like to share stories with you to see if we can determine how we are related.  I hope to hear from you soon.



Tip #2 — Sort by Percent Shared
Still in Relative Finder, select “Sort by Percent Shared” from the drop-down menu.
Now you are going to see those members with whom you share the most DNA.  In my case, many of these are NOT public profiles, so you have to start out by sending an introductory message.  Again, customizing the message will increase the likelihood that the other person writes you back because you have peaked their curiousity.  For folks in this category, I started by those with whom I shared the greatest percentage of DNA.  The person at the top of my list and I shared .76% DNA, and we were quick to determine how we were related after sharing surnames.  With some of the other connections, I’ve really had to go through my family tree database (which luckily I had handed down to me by a first cousin of my grandmother that I met randomly via!)

This should get you started making a few initial connections.  In my next post, I will talk about how you can use the Compare Genes and Family Inheritance features to help you even further.

Enjoy the weekend!

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