How To Sort Your DNA Matches with Index Cards

I’m a big fan of visualizing & organizing our DNA results in different ways. When we do this, we see things we might have otherwise missed or not noticed: patterns, trends & perhaps a new discovery along the way.

This was the case when I used poster board to map out my relatives’ DNA. And here’s something else you can try if you want to bring your results from your computer screen to a good old-fashioned real-world way of organizing: index cards. One index card for each of your matches.

Here is a template I came up with, and then I’ll explain it. You can of course customize this any way you wish – for example, you may want to assign each match an ID # to help with organizing.

To start, simple: your DNA match’s name. You can start with your very first match on any site – AncestryDNA, Gedmatch, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritageDNA, wherever. Put the surname first if you know it, followed by given name. Sometimes you only have a nickname or initials, so use those instead.

Next you have the estimated relationship provided by the DNA sites. And if you actually know the relationship, you can just put that.

Next is the total cM and segments shared.

The next line I have the Gedmatch Kit #, if they have one. As you flip through your index cards, you’ll quickly see who is on Gedmatch and who isn’t. It may become clear that you have key matches that you want to get on Gedmatch, and you may want to reach out to them.

Next is the MRCA (most recent common ancestors), with the two surnames of the common couple, if you know them.

Finally, put where you matched them, whether it be AncestryDNA, 23andme, Gedmatch, wherever. This is useful in case you want to follow up on a match in the future, or if you are on multiple DNA sites and want to aggregate all of your matches in one index card system.

The top right I have little stickers that correlate (as best I can) with the AncestryDNA dots, each representing a family or whatever you wish to group your matches. You can get stickers like this online, or pick some up at virtually any craft store.

And then I have the path for the relationship. This is a series of numbers that follows an ahnentafel format (see chart below), and each line represents a generation. I am using 2 to represent the father & 3 to represent the mother, with 1 being the DNA tester. If you don’t know how someone is related yet, but the Shared Matches indicate it is a paternal match, you can put a 2. If you know it’s on your paternal grandfather’s side, you can put 2 on one line, and 4 on the next line. And so on. With this method, even numbers represent males & odd numbers represent females. If you double a number, that will be a person’s father, and if you double a number and +1, you get the mother.

So, in the example index card above, the match’s path is 3-6-12. That would be through your mother (3), her father (6), & his father (12) – your great-grandfather on your maternal grandfather’s side.

This shows the inheritance path for the DNA, and it helps organize the matches. Essentially, you are creating clusters.

On the back of each index card, you might list the segments you match on (if you have segment data) or maybe Shared Matches. From time to time, you can check if new Shared Matches appear on Ancestry, or wherever, especially for key lines you are researching or brickwall families.

Creating an index card system for all of your DNA matches is useful in many ways:

  • The cards are small & can be reshuffled/arranged or organized any way you wish (by family, by path, by color, by surname, whatever)
  • When you get a new match, it’s easy to just add a new index card to wherever it belongs (perhaps you organize by centimorgans shared or by family – maybe by family first, alphabetical order next, whatever)
  • It’s easy to add to a card over time – you can write down what you know about a match, and months or years later you may be able to add more about that match
  • You can put all of the index cards in an index card binder, like these

If you’ve had multiple family members test, you could create a different index card binder for each one.

Give it a try. It’s a fun way to organize your matches, and you may make some discoveries along the way.

(Note: Some links above are affiliate links, which means we may receive a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Irish DNA Net!)

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