I participate in myheritage.com. It has a feature called smartmatches that show you where they surmise other trees have common ancestors with your tree. I find this feature both useful and annoying. I try to 'confirm' the smartmatches (their term for when you acknowledge they are the same people) for people I think actually share those relatives. For example myheritage tells you your relation to the person and their relation to that person.

The annoying part is distinguishing people with common ancestors from people trolling to make their tree bigger. I have 3,023 matching trees at the moment and a large number of them are of people with trees in the tens of thousands (some hundreds of thousands). Many of the creators of these trees have multiple trees of this size and the trees have names that seem to me are computer generated. They don't appear to be related to the people in the tree.

Is there an easy way to sort the smartmatches by size of tree so I could focus on smaller trees? I can only sort on number of matches which is loosely coupled to size of tree. However, doing this I missed my 2nd-cousins tree (which was small but had a large amount of matches); yet I still got lots of huge trees that only had a single match.

Note one of my concerns is confirming those single matches (which I did early on) leads some of the people to then fan out from that match and include my entire tree in their tree. I keep my tree private and include my living relatives, so I was very upset when this occurred since I promised my relatives I would not expose them to non-relatives which is why I am more careful now.

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    Do you mean to say, in the last paragraph, that confirming smart matches opens up your entire tree to somebody else? I sincerely hope that's not true.
    – user47
    May 6, 2013 at 3:22
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    As someone working on a particular closely interrelated ethnic sub-group, only 54% of the people in my tree are actually known to be related to me. They link to people who link to people... who sometimes link back to other relatives. Don't dismiss matches just because a relationship is not obvious. It depends on what you want from the match process.
    – bgwiehle
    May 6, 2013 at 16:17
  • @justinY - I'm not exactly sure how my living relatives ended up in other trees. But I suspect it was because early on I did some 'accept all' on some large trees and that got them close enough to then grab more. When it does the match, it gives the family members (so you can extend one further). But I could be wrong, it may have been thru other means. But I've become more careful just in case.
    – Duncan
    May 7, 2013 at 4:37
  • @bgwiehle - If someone is actually reseaching a particular individual, I'd be happy to help. But when I see tree sizes in the hundreds of thousands, I am skeptical they are researching individuals.
    – Duncan
    May 7, 2013 at 4:40

3 Answers 3


Randy Seaver went through a similar exercise as you have at MyHeritage. He uploaded his tree of 39,904 people, and found that he had 198,729 Smart Matches from 18,168 family trees.

The big takeaway is in Randy's blog post the next day. He says what you want to use the smartmatches for is to find a submitter who is a close cousin to yourself. Then you'll have someone you'll want to contact and share real information with. The other possible use is to look at the common ancestors you have with the smart matches, and see if they have a different line or maybe other useful information to help you get further.

My analysis, then, would be that you should use the little green "Smart Matches" icons, ignore all your cousins and everyone else, and simply work your way up through your ancestors. Parents first, grandparents next. Look at only the smart matches on your ancestors, and then you'll have the potential to find someone who has useful information about them, and also you'll have the potential of finding a direct relative who is researching a line in common with you.


You have highlighted the evils of what might be called genea-philatelists (who collect "ancestors" as other people do stamps) when their activities disrupt the research of others.

But there are circumstances in which a family historian should gather information on people to whom they have no direct connection.

Consider the case of a child of the 1920s who insisted in an oral history that the "family member" they were closest to was Uncle Jack. A study of World War I records showed that Jack and her father fought side-by-side on the Western Front where they formed a bond stronger than that of many brothers. To understand the history of that family, you must include Jack in your research, even though an outsider might look at "the tree" and say that he does not belong.

Similarly there might seem little justification to add a grandfather's sister's husband's brother to a database, except if you have an employee list for the major factory in the town that shows them as workmates. By adding that (non-family) relationship to the records, you increase the chance of recognising the name if it turns up as (for example) that of a pall-bearer at the funeral. It might also prompt you to search for another connection through membership a trade union or fraternal organistion.

I keep my extended database on a private computer rather than on-line, but I imagine that there are many who have been attracted by the advertisements and use one of the big cloud providers. So there may be a legitimate reason for a person unrelated to you having a member of your family in "their" public tree.

Unfortunately, it might also be as you suspect -- that this person is vacuuming up the work of other people to achieve some huge target of claimed ancestors. All that you can do is to exercise caution. Just as we now promote defensive driving on the road, we might need to adopt some principles of defensive on-line searching!


this is really late but as a member of a small ethnic community myself I will say I see a lot of people do this, and after doing dna testing I see why. on geni.com the same people you match as third to fifth cousins, using the geni.com , geni connects your relationship: this is an example of what the results will show using the "family tree on geni": your third great aunt's nephew's wife's brother's sister-in-law's grandfather".

another example is my 5x grandfather Mr. X marries a Y.

hundred years later: my grandfather, X, marries a Z. Z's sister, Z² marries a Y. now, y's family is already my relation), but if you don't expand it to include not related, when my cousin makes his tree he has no reason to include his great aunt (my grandmother's husband's family)..if he doesn't include his extended family, he wouldn't see his grandfather's uncle's ancestor's married to another end of my tree. or that a third cousin's ancestor married the OTHER SIDE of my family tree.

if you don't do this, you get your dna results, and you see the matches and think - as a friend did - omg my parents are related, they both match families X, Y and Z. (and prior to knowing the above, we saw names and towns, OH mr Muppet from sesame, Argentina , that's paternal town & muppet is great grandfather's mom's name.

now we see, oh that is maternal, 5th cousin, 6th removed changed their name from smurf to muppet, and etc.....

then there's town mapping people. thankful. can't find an ancestor... I see relatives on a town mapper with weird spellings. I learn that the records were written a certain way in a language I can't read and he's found family by mapping the town and connecting dots. with paperwork I can click on. edited: I forgot to add this, different countries have different spellings, I have an ancestor with six different spellings of his last name depending on the record, gets lost in translation from using the meaning. (I.e. Black, it becomes the word for Black in another language). an ancestor's documents are listed this way.. my great grandmother is only listed here too - I'm instead making a tree of all the people from that county w/that last name to try & trace her. Another relative we can't find her surname or husband but KNOW her 2nd husband's (no relation to me) family, name and town.

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take the Tour to learn about our focussed Q&A format which is quite different from bulletin boards, discussion forums and other Q&A sites you may be used to.
    – PolyGeo
    Jun 21, 2018 at 3:15
  • I forgot to add this, different countries have different pronunciations for spellings, I have an ancestor with six different spellings of his last name depending on the record. many people used wife's last name because of restrictions by local governments. or it gets lost in translation from taking the spelling to the meaning. (I.e. if your name is Black, it becomes the word for Black in another language).
    – user8213
    Jun 21, 2018 at 3:34
  • Answers can always be improved by using the edit button beneath them, but my concern with your answer is that appears to be trying to discuss the question rather than providing a direct and focused answer to it. This is explained in the Tour and the help center to which it links.
    – PolyGeo
    Jun 21, 2018 at 3:37

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