Genealogy Collaboration: the Nitty-Gritty

 Collaboration is magic! Your own work, experience and inspiration combined with others who share an interest, create more than seems possible. See The Magic of Collaboration (and Wikitree) for more about that. But how to begin? 

First, collaborate with relatives

  • Pick up the phone!
  • Set up an interview
  • Write a letter
  • Send images, information and questions, through the mail or email, or shared documents such as Google Drive
  • Ask them to share images and questions too
  • Invite them to your Ancestry or MyHeritage tree
  • Share a timeline for your family

Next, collaborate with DNA matches

  1. Start with the closest and largest matches, and put them into your tree
  2. Use the site tools to figure out who they are (shared matches, dots)
  3. Use the site messaging system; give them your email and some information
• As you learn one site, upload to another, 1, 2, 3!
• Sometimes you will need to build their trees for them; invite them to the tree
• Keep sharing as you find more information
• Remember to use shared matches

DNA matches are family too, and the more you collaborate with them, the more you can reconnect what has been lost.

Ancestry has a way to collaborate with DNA cousins which is often overlooked. Click Account Settings and then DNA Settings, and scroll to Sharing Preferences. Here you can add another person as a viewer or collaborator, or set someone else to manage your kit.

  • Viewer - view the test results.
  • Collaborator - view test results, add notes, and favorite match.
  • Manager - view and modify test details and message users.
If you allow others to see your test results, they may in turn give you the same privilege. Seeing who the common matches are can be very powerful.

Collaborate in online groups

While reading online posts of others can be very useful, the magic happens when you post questions and tough problems. Not only will you get help, but often you will find cool connections too! There are loads of groups in, Google Groups, Facebook and other places.

Collaborate in your own Ancestry tree!

If you have a question about a particular person or line, add a comment. "Notes" are private to you; comments are public. 

Click to add tag, note or comment

Once clicked, a new menu opens, where you can add tree tags, private notes, and public comments. 

Member Connect

Another collaboration feature in your tree is more direct. Called Member Connect, it works for every deceased person, and is found in the bottom of the header to the profile on the right.

Click it and see the most recent activity by others about your relative, and links to all of them! This is from my dad's profile:

Click the member connection link and get a list of those who have added records to their tree for, in this case, my dad. Here is the top of the list for his granddaughter, my niece:

(Name of connection not shown)

Click the connection name, see the person in their tree, and/or message them. True, not all of them answer, but they will not answer if you don't reach out! And I think we all know to run a Google search, and look on Facebook for them. Remember that not all of them are interested in your person; some are instead interested in one of their children, their parents, or spouse. That does not mean you can't help one another! You never know who has the stories, photos, family Bible or other records you don't.

Collaborate in "world trees"

FamilySearch Family Tree, Geni, and Wikitree

If you have never used FamilySearch Family Tree, this is a good place to start: Overview.

Add your self, your parents, and their parents until you connect to the world tree. Since their hinting has vastly improved, and they add millions of new records every month, it is worth the time you put into it. It takes awhile to learn how to take advantage of the Source Linker, but it is so powerful. And the better sourced each profile is, the more sure you can be that your work is correct. Fill in the "reason statements" to remind yourself and collaborators why the relationships and record links are correct.

The tree was designed for collaboration. When you see that someone has contributed to a profile on which you are working, or watching, click on their name. You can message them on the FSFT system, or email them. You can also see how you are related! Just click View Relationship. 

Many non-genealogists and Europeans use Geni, so it is always a good place to search, at least. You can link your DNA to your Geni tree if you have tested or uploaded to Family Tree DNA. See How do I link Family Tree DNA test results to my profile?

My favorite is Wikitree, because of the emphasis on accuracy, completeness and sourcing. The volunteers are amazingly helpful. Again, begin with yourself and work slowly and accurately. You will be happy you did! See Help:How to Start Climbing Our Tree. You will find it hard to stop. 

Family Tree DNA

In some ways, FTDNA is the easiest to collaborate in, because you have the email address for each match -  click the little envelope. On the other hand, their tree* has no handy collaboration features, and not everyone has a useful tree. But, if you have tested there, you can join their DNA groups, which are super-useful, especially for surnames and haplogroups. 

Ted Cowan's FamilyTreeDNA Projects

To make the groups work for you, supply as much information as possible in your profile. For instance, keeping your most distant paternal ancestor updated helps your Y DNA group administrator and fellow group members both. Remember to grant the admins the rights to look at your kit results, or they will be unable to help you much, or even group you accurately within the group.

Remember, Y DNA in particular is a team sport! Unless you want to just wait, to have success you need to recruit your "team." See the Lee Martinez videos for much more about this. 


As with FTDNA, there are not many collaborative tools built into Gedmatch, beyond their groups, called Ancestor Projects. Many of these groups are paired to an Facebook group. I personally have not gotten much from the groups I have joined, but you never know when your most prized match will join! Remember that you have access to email for every match or their profile manager. When you write to a match, be sure to mention the name and kit # of the match.


23andMe has never catered primarily to genealogists, but the site does have messaging, and if asked, most people will allow DNA comparison. I've had the best luck by simply clicking the match name in my match list and then Connect -- and send. I used to write a note, but just sending gets more connections!

Click Connect and send!

Sort your match list by "newest" and just click, click, click while you are watching TV. Once connected, you can compare with other suspected matches, and then drop them a note telling them how you think you are related. Of course some do not reply, but some do!


MyHeritage has some cool DNA tools, but aside from their messaging system, has few features which encourage collaboration. I do sometimes request membership in a relative's tree, but there is no way to allow others to see living persons. On your main login page, in the section RECENT ACTIVITY you can see what members of your own tree are doing on their own trees, which might be useful. That said, it is always useful to upload your DNA data and a small gedcom there, and link your DNA kit to your tree. Urge cousins to do the same! Both 23andMe show connections to common matches:

My father Ted Cowan's match to me and my sister on MyHeritage

I find this display of the match information useful and easy-to-understand. 

Find collaborators: Lost Cousins

I love Lost Cousins for so many reasons. If you have Canadian or UK ancestors, check it out! It is unique.

What are your favorite ways to collaborate?

I would love to hear more ideas in the comments. Collaboration is magic!

* Although FTDNA trees aren't collaborative, if you link your matches to your tree, your match sorting will improve, so take the time to do that.


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