In genealogy in general there is a lot of ‘cousin hunting’ but in DNA Genealogy where people do not necessarily also have published trees for you to explore but you are reasonably close matches you have to sometimes make a shot in the dark in your initial communications with the individual match to try to find common ancestor.

This usually seems to be most helpful if you keep it high level narrowed down to last names and be decisive with your information. I have been trying to revise my first contact email for autosomal (ftDNA FamilyFinder, AncestryDNA, 23andMe) matches as well as Y-DNA & mtDNA matches. Other than some specific information included in the introduction of the email I try to convey basic information back to about 5-6 generations which is the effective normal reach of the Autosomal test; though I have had good matches up to 8. Conveying less than 4 though based on most of my matches is usually not effective.

I have not had good luck with graphic screenshots of trees, charts (especially the Fan Chart and Double Ancestor), PDFs, or even GEDs and had much more success with basic text outline. As well Ancestry.com and some other sites messaging system only allow text.

So I have been trying to refine my text outline format for DNA Matching Communications without it becoming confusing and keeping my entire message under 1 printed page if not shorter. I have also tried additional indentation to the bullets and not all email clients (or stack exchange) handle this well or excessive wrapping makes it unreadable to those, especially if they are reading it on their phone. I also do not want to get all crazy with highlighting / coloring as it would be lost in b&w printing.

I am really looking for something simple and not over whelming but conveys the information. It does not need to be out of a program.

The following example is for one line I have used but feel it becomes confusing about generation 5 and start adding previous generation’s name as well as do not always include beyond generation 5.

I have tried other variations of it including 5 generations in 5 lines but I even get lost in it.

Note I use mother / father abbreviations vs. the Great GGG abbreviation to try to denote which side of the family and make it easier to track.

I am really looking for something simple and not over whelming ** but conveys the basic information.**

What are others doing to communicate this same set of information clearly in the same format without overloading the individual being messaged?


  • Each Generation adds a letter to the right side of the label. M=Mother, F=Father; not Male/Female. (Location Abbreviation)
  • The solid FFF.. line is the Y-DNA line and the solid MMM.. is the mtDNA line.
  • The number of families doubles each generation and I usually build these templates out to at least 8 generations (if the information is available) for each individual I am administering their DNA test results.

Note: All but target individual are deceased in this example and I am more than 2 generation removed from it.

  1. Generation 1
    • a. S. Target Individual (IL)
  2. Generation 2 (Parents)
    • a. F. Souser ** (PA) / M. Van Duesen (Van Dusen) in (IL)
  3. Generation 3 (Grand Parents) (2 Familie)
    • a. FF. Souser (PA) ** / FM. Averill (IL)
    • b. MF. Van Duesen or Van Dusen / MM. Allen (IL)
  4. Generation 4 (Great Grand Parents) (4 Families)
    • a. FFF. Souser (PA?) / FFM. Ickes (PA)
    • b. FMF. Averill (IL) / FMM. Cole (OH & IL)
    • c. MFF. Van Duesen / MFM. Pomeroy
    • d. MMF. Allen / MMM. Miller
  5. Generation 5 (Great Great Grand Parents) (8 Families)
    • a. FFFF. Unknown / FFFM. Unknown
    • b. FFMF. Ickes (PA) / FFMM. Slick or Sleek (PA)
    • c. FMFF. Averill (VT or NH) / FMFM. Standish (England)
    • d. FMMF. Cole (OH & NY) / FMMM. Frost
    • e. MFFF. Van Duesen / MFFM Jordan
    • f. MFMF. Pomeroy (NY & MI) / MFMM. Halcomb (MA & MI)
    • g. MMMF. Miller (PA) / MMMM. Kuntz or Koontz (PA)?
    • h. MMFF. Allen (PA) / MMFM. Plaugh (PA)

**Known to have had another spouse that had at least one child.

This post is meant to both share information of what I am doing, but also seek a specific answer(s)/suggestion to increase information communication efficiency. This is not meant to be a discussion post, please include a personal example or a revised version of the above in your response.

Update: 03/06/15 - As mentioned by Jan Murphy below, I acknowledge if you can communicate a horizontal grid display this is a good option but it is not something that you can get by most websites text based message systems, as well as run into a few other minor constraints. Though I thought about it, and if you build a grid template and copy and paste it into most email clients it will send it as HTML. This is a great email first contact, but doesn't overcome the text messaging system of Ancestry. I did do some testing and for narrow columns you can get a very slimmed down up couple of generations (<4) through Ancestry.com but the display of it does get messed up a bit. (unless I am missing something) so that puts focuses back on text.

  • We agree that Ancestry's message system is extremely primitive. However, it's extremely unfortunate that your shorthand for maternal and paternal relatives as M and F is in direct opposition to the usual convention of using M and F to mark Male and Female on records. So I think looking at what other people do instead is a very good idea. Sorry if my answer seemed dismissive; that was not my intention.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 22:28
  • 1
    @JanMurphy No I was actually trying to compliment your answer just clarify I am looking still for a text version. I've thought about using the normal F & M as well as GGG.. But it becomes harder to track across generations. I am obviously open to suggestions.
    – CRSouser
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 22:44
  • 1
    See also this blog post from @lkessler beholdgenealogy.com/blog/?p=1624
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 19, 2015 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


An elegant solution to this problem was published by Artefacts in a post dated Sunday, 8 February 2015, on the blog Analytic Genealogy: Genetic genealogy needs horizontal pedigree charts.

A seven to nine generation horizontal pedigree model provides a way of easily working with a complex situation. For full fifth cousin matches there are 32 potential pathways on your side and 32 potential pathways on your match's side (because the two sides of the final complete path between you and the match will connect at a couple). While this means that there are over one thousand potential pathways to investigate (odds that can seem overwhelming) checking two reasonably complete lists of 32 pairs of fourth-great-grandparents to find a common pair is not that hard.

The author and readers share templates in the comments.

One of the commenters was Sue Griffith, who has a large number of templates and other downloads for DNA analysis available on her site Genealogy Junkie, including charts which have space for Ahnentafel numbers.

The advantage of the Excel charts and other horizontal pedigrees made for this purpose is that the names for Generations 1-3 are turned sideways. This allows the information for Generations 4-7 to be accessed more readily for matching.

On the comments for the Analytic Genealogy post, there is a passing reference to how difficult it can be to squeeze information in a text format into a brief, readable format. Perhaps it would be easier to send a link to a read-only, shared pedigree in a chart hosted on a cloud service.

The following information is not specific to DNA research, but here's a link to the website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The section Genealogies on the page Sample Work Products says:

The most critical element is your choice of a numbering system that enables other users of your work to correctly interpret the relationships between individuals. The two standard numbering systems are those developed by the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.

Following this paragraph are links to examples of three different styles of conveying information about a genealogy to others.

For this specific case (transmitting the information via text, without reference to lists or charts posted elsewhere on the Internet), I wonder if an old-school Ahnentafel numbering scheme might work well for this application. In an Ahnentafel, the subject is #1, the father is #2, the mother is #3, and so on. Not counting number 1,

...all even-numbered persons are male, and all odd-numbered persons are female. In this schema, the number of any person's father is double the person's number, and a person's mother is double the person's number plus one. Using this knowledge of numeration, one can derive some basic information about individuals who are listed without additional research.

Using this convention, where even-numbered people are male and odd-numbered people are female, you avoid the confusion of M/F = male/female with M/F = mother/father.

An alternative approach, from Jim Bartlett's article Succeeding with Autosomal DNA, posted at the website DNAAdoption.com:

Compile a Surname List (FTDNA does this from your GEDcom)

  • Make an alphabetical list of all your surnames (alphabetical is easier for your Matches)
  • Many people add year(s) and/or places in parentheses after each surname
  • Post these surnames at your company (FTDNA or 23andMe)

Expand Surnames to make a Patriarch (or Matriarch) List; and add this to initial emails…

  • Put a comma after the surname and add the Patriarch’s given name and some info
  • Bold the surname and keep the Patriarch info to one line
  • Use Matriarchs if no Patriarch is known
  • Most genealogists can't resist scanning down this list
  • 2
    Good stuff here thanks. Wish I had more time for blogs. I tried the horizontal but ran into people not having Excel, PDF, won't click on unknow links, attachment too big,etc, so part of the issue is delivery method/medium. But I'll look at further at this info.
    – CRSouser
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:44
  • 2
    @CRSouser -- I too find it difficult to keep up with blogs. I discover many of these posts via Google+ and Twitter -- following a few key people can yield highly curated content.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 23:28
  • 1
    @CRSouser -- I added an update with a link to the BCG website, where you can look at work samples. You may be able to find other work samples via the blogs I listed in the answer to your earlier question Generational Loss of Data with DNA Testing. If I spot anything else, I'll add it to the bottom of my answer.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 0:41

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