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My DNA Painting Obsession

As a genetic genealogist, I love finding family through DNA. I love finding other people's family through DNA. A day doesn't go by where I don't do something connected to DNA, whether it's looking at my own matches, looking at matches for my family members, or looking at matches for my clients.

For my own family research, I get very excited when a new match appears. I get even more excited when that match shows up on one of the DNA sites that have a chromosome browser: 23andme, Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), or the third-party site GEDmatch. That's because I can take that information and add it to my DNA painting through DNA Painter.

DNA Painter " is for anyone who would like visual tools to interpret results from an autosomal DNA test for family history research." Many use it for its "What Are The Odds (WATO)" tool, which in conjunction with the Shared cM Project, provides probabilities for potential DNA relationships. If you have misattributed parentage in your tree, for example, you can figure out how you might fit using the WATO tool.

DNA Painting aka Chromosome Mapping is another amazing tool and my current obsession. The goal is to effectively tag various segments with known ancestral couples, so I know from where my DNA is inherited. I choose a different color for each ancestral couple, which really creates a beautiful painting of my DNA.

My DNA Painting. Isn't it beautiful?

As I am from an endogamous population (Ashkenazi Jews), I also get a front row seat into those segments that overlap from different sides of my family. I try to mitigate this by only including segments greater than 10cMs (centimorgans), but it's still apparent. Sometimes, it's the result of imputation errors, which typically happen when MyHeritage laces segments together to create longer, sometimes even false segments. Other times, it's an IBP (identical by population) or IBC (identical by chance) segment that's just Ashkenazi Jewish DNA being Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. Basically, this means I can't quite figure out to whom the segment belongs, assuming it belongs at all.

The pink is my maternal grandfather's side, the periwinkle my maternal grandmother. Both are segments that show up for my mother, and I tend to think these are IBP or IBC and/or or more recent for the maternal grandfather's side. On FTDNA, the segment is less than my personal requirement of 10cM for J, so it wouldn't show up at all on my painting if not for MyHeritage.

In my own chromosome painting, I've covered around 46% of my genome with 218 segments. I've figured out several unknown matches because they triangulated (or at least appeared to triangulate) with other known family members. To be clear, none of this painting is set in stone, but it's just a fun way to learn more about your DNA and potentially unlock new branches.


How to do this you might ask? It's fairly simple once you get the hang of it. For FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) and MyHeritage, you download the DNA match data into a CSV document and copy and paste the data in the document into DNA Painter. You can also just copy and paste the "detailed segment data" on FTDNA if you like.

How to Download DNA Segment Data on MyHeritage

How to get DNA Segment Data on FTDNA

On 23andme, you need to run the Advanced DNA comparison, then copy and paste the "Detailed Segment Data" found when you scroll down.

Scroll to the bottom of the 23andme page to find the Advanced DNA comparison.

After you run the Advanced DNA comparison, scroll down until you reach Detailed Segment Data.

After I cut from the appropriate site, I go to "Paint a Match" on DNA Painter and I paste the information. You can choose your cM threshold, but as mentioned, I prefer segments over 10cMs because it helps with endogamy. You can assign the match to the maternal or paternal side and/or with known ancestral couples. You even have the option of assigning confidence levels to your matches (in case you aren't quite sure where they fit in) or other notes to keep track.

What it looks like when I paint a match into DNA Painter. You can set the minimum threshold for segment sizes where I circled.
I already assigned this match here, but you can see how the tool notes with which groups the new DNA matches might fit, or you can add a new ancestral couple below.

You can also check matches against your DNA painting without adding them. Rather than the "Save match now" button, click on "Preview These Segments." I've done this many times just to test matches against my current painting.

No matter how you decide to use DNA Painter, definitely consider giving it a try (and if you're related to me and tested at AncestryDNA, please upload your raw DNA to FTDNA, MyHeritage, and/or GEDMatch!). It's addictive, and if you're a visual learner like me, it's even more helpful. Stay tuned for a future post on how DNA Painter along with AncestryDNA shared matches, and documentary evidence may have provided some insight into my 3rd great-grandmother's family.


Please contact me at if you're interesting in exploring your family history. Free initial consultations.

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