I did the DNA test thing back in January. One of the things I was hoping to get out of it was to make contact with other (distant) cousins. What I didn't think about was putting myself out there for spearphishers. We put a lot of personal facts out there that could be used to harvest Personally Identifiable Information.

Do you have any safeguards or tips for when you get a potential cousin that reaches out to you (i.e. only those with a certain length of shared DNA)? I've started this process being super trusting, but the more I talk to people, the more my cyber-security training starts to kick in...

  • I am often the person reaching out and I have found that many people are overly cautious. I have spent a lot of time attempting to connect my DNA matches to my tree. My tree is good back to about 1800 for almost all branches, and much further for a few. I am reasonably good at researching two European countries. I can often find the birth record of an ancestor that the person hasn't found. This may connect them to my tree, but often not. I attempt to contact the person via the Ancestry messaging system. Some never read the message, some read it and ignore me.
    – Mattman944
    Commented Apr 7 at 0:02
  • ... Continued. For me to share an image of the record, I need their email address. Some won't give it to me, even though I have some valuable information for them. Maybe they don't believe me and think that it is some type of scam.
    – Mattman944
    Commented Apr 7 at 0:06

2 Answers 2


I'm quite willing to talk about my great-grandparents (say) to people that I appear to be related to. They've all been dead for 50+ years (or more).

Talking about my wife and kids, on the other hand, not so much.

How do I vet them? I look at my research; I look at their trees and try to find records to confirm the (claimed) relationship.

  • I have some recent voids in my tree. It's not always possible to place em. I have one I'm talking to now that seems more willing to hear about my family then share the tree of theirs. When they finally did, it was a link to a private tree on Ancestry with no invitation to that tree. I don't know if it's a lack of understanding how these sites work or someone playing confused. (And feel like garbage for doubting them if authentic)
    – SomeDoug
    Commented Mar 29 at 8:29
  • 1
    I'm not saying "don't be wary" - in your shoes I might be wary, too. It's more "I don't see any PII issues when discussing people who were born in 1890" Commented Mar 29 at 17:18
  • I've seen people make their trees private because they don't understand that living people aren't directly visible to the public. Sometimes they don't remember doing it. It's often inexperience. People make trees private for various reasons, sensible or naive or petty. It's not unreasonable to ask why.
    – cleaverkin
    Commented Apr 3 at 17:12

It's worth noting that adoptees are far more likely to submit DNA samples than are the general population. They often have little or no information about their birth family (or families), and are looking for close matches (half-sibs, 1st cousins, etc.). Sometimes their close matches don't respond, sometimes there just aren't any. So, they need to work with the closest matches they have who do respond. Many (if not most) lack genealogy experience, so educated guesses about shared great-great-grandparents and such may not help them much.

I try to provide as much help as I can in these situations. I've had multiple successes, but with two caveats: (1) I only provide information about any of my living family with permission from the family member(s) in question; and (2) I won't do anyone else's research for them (I'm happy to tell them what I think they need to do, but from there it's on them).

I also would be reluctant to provide information to anyone with a private tree (or no tree) without being able to verify their claims as to family &/or identity. There are various reasons for keeping trees private (I do it myself for the highly speculative), but nobody should expect others to share what they themselves do not.

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