canstockphoto4054046This guest post is written by Skip Duett of

You took the plunge and had your autosomal DNA tested at AncestryDNA. Hooray! Welcome to the club! This cutting edge technology offers great potential for moving your research along. Maybe it will help you find that cousin with the family bible, clues to knock down that long standing brick wall, or lead you to new family photos of your ancestors.

But perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed with all the matches. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

· You remember researching one of your matches and adding a note to the match but which match it was it?

· You get a message from a match asking if you also match another user but searching through your 82 pages of matches to look for them will take too long.

· You manage the kits for several family members. It sure would be nice to be able to easily tell whether your match also matches Uncle Bill on your Dad’s side or Aunt Peg on your Mom’s side without paging through those other kits.

· You wish there was some way to download the set of all your matches to Excel so you can easily sort the data and add some additional flags and notes.

If any of these ring true for you, help is just a few clicks away in the form of a third-party tool officially called the AncestryDNA Helper, but often referred to as the “Snavely Tool” after its creator and maintainer, Jeff Snavely. The AncestryDNA Helper can do all of this and more!

The AncestryDNA Helper is an extension for the Chrome web browser. Even if this is the only thing you use Chrome for, it is worth it. Chrome and this extension are available for FREE for both PC and Mac platforms at the Chrome Web Store!

Adding the extension is straightforward and only takes a few clicks of the mouse. As with most software updates, it is usually a good idea to restart the application, in this case, Chrome, after you have added the extension. You can tell the extension is loaded if you see the extension icon in the upper right corner of the Chrome window.


New Functions on Your DNA Home Page

You will note the AncestryDNA Helper has added some new buttons to Your DNA Home Page.


The first step to using AncestryDNA Helper is to scan your matches. The tool examines each match rapidly and records various details about the match in its own database. The initial scan can take several hours, depending on how many matches you have and the speed of both your computer and your Internet connection. You will see your computer rapidly cycling through your matches as if you were pressing the View Match button for each person in your Match List. It is probably best to start the initial scan at the end of the day and let it work while you sleep, or perhaps start it in the morning before you head off to work or run errands. The initial scanning process does hog your computer resources. Fortunately, once you have completed the initial scan, the magic is available for your use and updates for new matches are quick, using the Rescan button.

Hopefully, you have taken Susan’s earlier posts about “Begging For Spit” to heart and convinced some family members to test. If you manage multiple test kits, under your user name, you will need to select each kit in turn and perform a Scan.

New Functions on Your DNA Results Page

Once the scan completes, go to the “View your DNA Results” page. You will note some new controls here too.


The new search box allows you to find specific Users in your matches (yours or any/all of the kits you manage), search for surnames in the trees of your matches (including similar sounding names), and even locate key phrases in the Notes you entered on each of your match pages. Here are some examples:

First, let’s search for a user name. I search for “howard” in the user name for all the kits I manage:


The user match names are hotlinks to View Match for that user and kit. The above “Users” search results also include those kits administered by a user name that matches your search string. I can easily tell if the user matches multiple kits I manage.

Next, let’s search for specific text in a note. Here I enter “Jesse Hisaw,” one of my ancestors, as the search text to find the match user name and the note I entered for that match containing the search text:


As before, the user match name is a hotlink to View Match for that user.

For those of us that manage multiple kits, there is another slick feature in the AncestryDNA Helper to find common matches. Assuming you have completed a full scan on each of the kits you manage, some of your matches will show a new multi-colored icon next to the “View Match” button. This “Multi-Head” icon indicates other kits you manage also share this match.


As shown below, positioning your cursor over the icon (just hovering, no click needed) causes a pop up to appearing listing the other kits you manage that also share this match. While there is no guarantee the match is really on the same chromosome and location, it can still be a huge time saver in sorting out which branch of the family the match belongs on. clip_image014


And More!

Returning to your DNA Home Page, we see two more important buttons –“Download Matches” and “Download Ancestors of Matches.” The “Download Matches” generates a Comma-Separated Values (CSV) file that can be opened with your favorite spreadsheet application, such as Excel®. You can then search, sort, filter and manipulate the match data as desired. For example, if I determine the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) for a match, I add a key phrase at the start of my Match Note. Using the downloaded matches file, I can sort on the “Note” field and have all of the matches for that MRCA grouped together.

The Ancestors of Matches CSV file pulls all of the names and dates of the direct ancestors of your matches as shown in their public tree, one row per ancestor by match. For me, this file contains over 219,000 rows. As with the data from the Matches download, you can review this CSV file as a spreadsheet and sort the data as desired. Sorting on Surname/Full Name/Born/Died fields can help you find and group matches sharing common ancestors in a fraction of the time it would take you to go through all your matches manually, even with the shaky leaf hints.

The AncestryDNA Helper has additional features beyond those I have mentioned here. You can read more about how to use the tool here.

So what’s the catch? Only this: as a third-party tool, it is constantly playing catch-up when AncestryDNA makes changes to its underlying database structure and the user interface. Changes by AncestryDNA can “break” the tool and cause some of its functionality to stop working. Jeff Snavely, the tool developer closely monitors for this and releases a new version of the tool to correct the problem, usually within a day or so unless the changes by AncestryDNA are extensive. You delete the old version of the Chrome extension and download the new one and you are back in business. When extensive changes have been made, you may need to do a new scan from scratch for the kits you manage.

The AncestryDNA Helper or “Snavely Tool” can facilitate your analysis and tracking of your DNA matches and save hours or days of manual searching through hundreds of matches. Searching can be fun but I think we would all agree that FINDING is even better! The AncestryDNA Helper can help you do that. Download the AncestryDNA Helper Chrome extension and start exploring smarter and faster!