canstockphoto4054046Do you think you have identified an ancestral couple and have a paper trail to them? Matching your DNA to a couple of distant cousins may prove your paper trial is right!

If all you’ve tested are your siblings and 1st cousins, you’re only linking back to your grandparents.

You need to find someone on a different line from that ancestral couple to compare your DNA with theirs.

What if you don’t know anyone on those other lines? How do you find those “cousins” to test?

Let’s say you want to find other descendants of your 2nd great-grandparents. Tracing down through this couple’s descendants can take some time, and then you will often find only the deceased family because of privacy and identity issues.

Here’s what I do:

I go online and search for that early couple on the different tree sites and also through Google.  For instance, I check some public trees on (advanced search) and I also Google search for the couple’s names in separate quotes like, “Joseph Chaplin” & “Abigail Kingsley.” If they have common names, I might also add the marriage date if I have it.

Some descendants ARE putting their trees publicly online. It’s usually someone descended from that same couple. You can root around each site and see how to contact them.

Now comes the part the Genetic Genealogist, Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D. called, “Begging for spit.” You need to move forward delicately, because if you just email say, “I need your DNA,” they’ll probably run for the hills or hang up on you because they are afraid of identity theft, or of being linked to a crime or something sinister. So write your speech and practice it.

Things to include are:

  • You believe you share the same common ancestor and that you are (2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th) cousins. Describe your descendant line and what you know about your branch of the family.
  • Describe how genetic DNA has been used bring families back together and what you hope to accomplish.
  • Explain that DNA testing may show their ethnic background but there is no guarantee.
  • Include a screen shot of the chromosome where you think you will match them.
  • Assure that it will not be used for medical/health information.
  • Offer to pay for the test. It’s easy to say “no,” if they have to fork over money. When you offer to pay, it’s easier to say, “yes,” because it might answer some of their own questions.

When you’ve written the email, send it and hold your breath. It may be a while before they respond. You may need to contact several descendants before you find one that will take you up on your offer.

Have you approached a distant cousin for their DNA? What was your approach? How was it received?


Illustration Credit: “Stock Illustration – Surfing DNA,” CanStockPhoto ( : downloaded 19 January 2015), uploaded 19 January 2015 by Susan Bankhead; used under license.