Legacy 101 - Privacy
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DNA Matches - Where's Their Tree?

DNA Matches - Where's Their Tree?

 I am a member of several DNA Facebook groups and a common frustration you will see is when someone contacts a match and the match doesn't answer, there is no tree attached to their DNA, or they have their tree marked as private. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The person is not a genealogist and took a DNA test just for their ethnicity report. All of the DNA advertisements on TV focus on ethnicity because that appeals to non genealogists. These testers log in to see their results and then never log in again
  • The person doesn't work on their genealogy full time like some of us do. They only log in once in a while so they aren't seeing their messages immediately
  • The person is a newbie genealogist just starting out. They may only have their tree sketched out on paper and haven't tried to construct a tree online or by using a genealogy software program. They may not know what a gedcom is
  • The person is adopted and has no clue about their biological family so they don't have a tree
  • The person has a close misattributed parentage issue and doesn't want to advertise it so they keep their tree private
  • The person is working off of mirror trees which must be kept private (A mirror tree is when you create a tree for a cousin match and then attach your DNA to it in hopes of discovering which line this cousin match is on or even the most recent common ancestor. This technique is used a lot by adoptees)
  • The person in control of the DNA is working for someone else and wants to keep their information private

So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? You need to record what you do know about this person and his/her DNA as well as your attempts at contact. This is no different than what you would do for any DNA match. Most of the DNA websites have a notes section that you can use but some do not.

I handle it by recording this information in Legacy. It is easier for me to keep track of everything if it is all in one place. I can easily add the tester to my database as an unlinked individual (by their AKA if I need to) and I can add any known contact information. I can use events to record their DNA info (who they tested with, kit numbers if applicable etc.) I can also use events to record attempts of correspondence with them. I can still put these people in triangulation groups by using Hashtags. If I find the connection I can then add their ancestors that hook up with mine. These people are "invisible" in my file and  I use a temporary source of DNA Match - Lineage not Confirmed.  

I try not to get frustrated because that is non productive. Actively working with these matches reduces the frustration for me. If I get further information at some point it is easy for me to add it to what I already have. You can also view this as a teaching opportunity to help others understand DNA research.

For more tips on connecting with your DNA matches watch "Who are You? Identifying Your Mysterious DNA Matches" by Blaine Bettinger in the Legacy library.


Michele Simmons Lewis, CG® is part of the Legacy Family Tree team at MyHeritage. She handles the enhancement suggestions that come in from our users as well as writing for Legacy News. You can usually find her hanging out on the Legacy User Group Facebook page answering questions and posting tips.


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Another reason people keep their tree private (as in my case) is they are tired of others copying without a by your leave the data from that tree. People work damn hard on their trees and are probably investing a lot of money purchasing the relevant documentation to back up their facts. Only to see a "name harvester" come along a "steal" that information.

I am only too willing to open my tree up to someone who asks in a polite manner and can show that they have a genuine connection to me. I am also very happy to help people with how I have derived that data. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I do have my direct lines sourced wherever I can.

I agree with the above. someone 2000 miles away copied all my stuff and it was lised as "originally posted by" him.
when I contacted him, he said I do all my own work, I never copy. when I asked him how he got a picture of a tombstone with my husband in the background I never heard from him again. that's when I made my tree private

I had the same problem with people not asking if they can use pictures or info that I have sent to them in a personal note to them. I would be nice if people WOULD ask for your permission to put on a website.

Sadly, the greatest majority of matches I find on any of the sites do not have trees and will not respond. Literally 75% don’t have trees.
I ignore them and move on to others. I know that "some" of those are adoptees and I wish them every success, but I suspect the majority are not.
If someone contacts me, I always get back to them in a timely matter. I have made some excellent connections and located a family member's biological family via DNA.
I will continue to use it, but certainly wish more people were interested in something besides their ethnicity.

Some of us had our first cousins tested, but don't know how to get in their files , and don't know how to do the tree to put on the site.

Hi there , I have been researching my family trees for over 38 years now..Started when living in Darwin when there was very little in their genie record centre..lol...Anyway i am origianlly from Tassy but moved to Australia in 1970.. i am back in Melbourne now.

only in last 2 years i have been able to afford Ancestry and also have the time to work on my tree fulltime.

I do come across peoples public trees and i try to leave a comment and thank them for sharing.

It is also time consuming to come across a photo say and have to ask if you can use it in your tree ...i have done this a few times but when i have gone back to find the photo again its either not there or theres no hint to that person again .

all i am saying is i am grateful for anything that is shared... i too have been the recipient of bad manners .

a few years ago on three occasions people contacted me and to one i actually allowed her to borrow my hard copies of certificates ..manuscripts...etc it took me 12 months of trying to get them back...she just wouldnt answer emails...she even went on a trip to scotland and promised she would share what she found but never has been forthcoming or contacted me again...i felt so annoyed.

another one did the same and even contacted me when she was over there for more info but since she came back nothing plain and utter nothing ...no contact whatsoever.

i have a family member who is married to a cousin who is absolutely wonderful..he and I share lots of photos , stories, thoughts , everything...

we recently did our dna to solve a puzzle in our family, he needed my help to do it...i was more than happy to oblige as he has helped me in the past.

i think the majority of people don't steal or harvest...most people are happy to share.

just make sure you share back. my tree is to private as well for no other reason but my children have asked me to screen people...we had a bad experience with a cousin who promised not to put living relatives onthe net and went ahead and did it ..i was angry as..and it took me threatening legal action to the site and argument s before they finally removed it...she refused to..

hence she is the loser because i no longer help or share with her

so it goes both ways


Good suggestions, thank you. I've started adding matches to my main Legacy file because it provides warnings when I attempt to enter the same person twice. I cannot always remember my matches' names nor those of their close relatives. There have been a number of matches where initially I had no idea how we were related, but eventually other matches have appeared and light the way.

My tree is also private. I have had a similar experience of helping someone and then when i asked her to share her info with me she didn't until I told her about my trip to Germany and then she shared a bit of her information. Later I received an email from her offering to SELL me a book with her tree in it.

I made my tree private because of this person. I have shared my tree with many people who have asked. I have had lots of success with my DNA test. I even found a cousin living a couple of miles from me!!

I have quite a few DNA matches within my family tree. (I too use Legacy 9.0). In any case, a lot of my matches have shared their trees with me. But, the one drawback is that their family trees are not sourced or they do not want to share their sources with me. I share mine, by the way. But now I refuse to share my sources with anyone who does not share theirs with this biogeographical genealogist - historian. (I authored, Juan Ponce de Leon His New And Revised Genealogy.)
I do not mind having to search for their documentation because it, in the end, benefits me.

I do not have them filed under DNA matches, nor are they invisible within my family tree. No need to. Like an artist that I am, once the work is completed I do not go back to it.

A word to the wise when quering an expert. Share your sources and documentation.

I can understand this frustration, but time can be a block. I am currently trying to find time to write my first of four books of my family lines, and unless these matches pertain to that family line - I just do not have that extra time. I will try harder - but when one doesn't know any of the names that appear - one has to make an executive decision.

I think greedy people who keep their tree Private should not be able to see other Public trees. I have a very huge Public family tree. If you don't want to share, you should not be able to see Public Trees. I am sick and tired of others who have private trees taking stuff from my tree and yes, it makes me upset because they are not sharing, just taking. I say that Private Trees should not be able to see Public trees at all. Let them by themselves.

Here is an article I wrote on this very subject :)


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