top of page

Color Your DNA World

DNA Helix

Starting off 2023 learning new methods to use DNA test results to find elusive ancestors. At Ancestry, I have 7,391 matches on the maternal side, and on the paternal side I have 11,597! And I have more and different matches at MyHeritage.

Most of these matches have enough shared DNA with me to indicate that they are 4th - 6th cousins, meaning we share a Great Great Great Aunt or Uncle. Think about it, we all have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, and 32 great great great grandparents. We could have an infinite number of GGG Aunts or Uncles, depending upon how many siblings they had.

There are a couple of different methods you can use to help you figure out which ancestor you share with some of these cousins. The easiest method in Ancestry is to use their dot sorting system.

Ancestry group dots

Since I set up my original groups of common surnames in trees, I have learned a much better way of sorting - by married couples! For example your mother's parents get a red dot, her maternal grandparents get a pink dot, her paternal grandparents get a maroon dot, and so on. This week, someone suggested coding your maternal matches in shades of red or pink, and your paternal matches in shades of blue. Ancestry will now sort this way with a click of a button, but I thought it was a cute idea.

If your cousins don't have a tree on Ancestry so you can't tell who you are related through, look for them by user name at other sites such as FamilySearch (free) or just google them. Chances are they will have a tree somewhere if they are researching, and you might be able to get a clue from there. If your tree is loaded to MyHeritage, they have some really neat triangulation tools that you can use to sort out how someone is related to you and other matches.

Anybody that doesn't appear to belong gets put in the LEFTOVER group for further research.

This week I learned about the Leeds Color Cluster System, created by Dana Leeds which is good for sorting out matches that do not have trees posted on the internet and especially for adoptees. This seems like a great way to combine the info with different matching cousins at MyHeritage too! I will put a link to her page at the bottom this page.

This system uses a spreadsheet or table to group by colors. She recommends only using your matches at 2nd - 3rd cousin, and not including everyone with whom you share two known grandparents (she recommends only using people who share 90 and 400 cM of DNA to be completely technical about it). Enter all of the names of your 2nd & 3rd Cousins, and then assign that person a color as seen below. Go back to THEIR matches and give them the same color.










You do this for all of your 2nd & 3rd cousins. Fear not, most of my almost 20,000 cousins are more distant (4th through 6th), yours probably will be too. If you end up with 4 distinct groups, as shown above, these people probably share the same great grandparents with you, so you at least know where they fit in your puzzle if you can find no public tree.

Of course, you can always email your match or the Administrator of the Private trees and very politely ask them if they will share their info with you. Let them know that Ancestry (MyHeritage, etc.) shows that you are cousins, and that you would gladly share any info that you have as well. The folks at FamilyLocket suggest adding the link from the Help section showing how to share a tree. If you are very lucky, you may get a response. Be aware that if they have not logged in since they got that test kit last Christmas, your odds are not good.

I hope the odds will be in your favor this year! If you'd like some help sorting through your DNA matches or setting up your tree, I would love to help you.


Leslie Ryan

Dana Leeds Color Cluster System can be found here:

Not being compensated for any of these links or referrals. No copyright infringement is intended.


bottom of page