Three Degrees of 23andMe

23andMe’s Shawna, who has a degree in biological sciences focusing her studies on genetics, put together this video and post that illustrates the interconnectedness between all people. Enjoy. We hope it inspires your own journey through your DNA.

By Shawna, Customer Care Representative at 23andMe

23andMe’s Customer Care team representatives have a lot in common. Besides the obvious — a love of dogs and chocolate — we also share relatives. In fact, a relative of my maternal great great grandfather is also related to another team member through her maternal grandfather.

I work at 23andMe on the Customer Care Team. I’m one of the people you may talk to when you need to reset your password, have questions about our features, or want to find out about a specific branch of your family. We are constantly juggling questions and input from 23andMe customers who want to get the best out of the service. Sometimes we have our own questions and wonder out loud about the possibilities of what we could find out from our own DNA.

One of those questions triggered a fun exploration that I thought illustrated just how interrelated we all are.

It started when I jokingly said:

“I bet we (all) are related.”

Sadly, we weren’t and I lost the bet. But one day, out of pure coincidence, I realized that I shared a cousin with another team member. That’s what really pushed us to find out who else shared cousins and how we fit into each others’ ancestry.

We took a chance and decided to compare our “Public” matches Relative Finder. Public matches are people who have made their profiles fully visible in Relative Finder and Ancestry Finder, so that you wouldn’t necessarily need to make contact in order to learn information that could be useful for determining your genealogical connection. You can choose which information and how much information you want to make public on your profile page, and you can change these settings at any time.

Comparing Relative Finder Public Matches can reveal something quite extraordinary. The people I work with in customer service are a relatively random collection of people. Even with our vastly different backgrounds and experiences we found that we are all interconnected. This gets to something one of our scientists, Mike Macpherson, illustrated to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. host of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” Mike showed how when it comes to genetics there is only two or three degrees of separation between us.

How Shawna Drew These Connections
While I could have compared Relative Finder data in a program like Excel, I created a simple program to find matching names.
Excel offers an easy way to compare Relative Finder Public Matches between two-to-three people. First, color code each person’s matches with a different color. Then, create a merged document— combine the Public Match data from the two or three different people into one document — by copying and pasting each person’s matches into one spreadsheet. Next, select all and sort from A to Z. This will place the listings with the same name together. If you see the same person show up with your color and with your friends or family members, you share that match.

In our case, I found that I had cousins in common with three people I work with — Kristina, Tiffany, and Jessica. Our team, excluding one person, was able to create a web of interconnections connecting me to  people who I didn’t even know before I started working here. As a collective group our ancestors came from roughly 23 countries around the world. The majority of these countries spanned Europe, however our collective ancestry stretched out to also incorporate Japan, China, and the Philippines. One team member had only a few Public Matches and couldn’t find a link using this method.

Now with at least yourself and one parent genotyped, you can identify whether your match is a relative on your mother’s or your father’s side of the family in our Relative Finder feature. This can be helpful if you are only able to genotype yourself and one parent. Comparing Relative Finder Matches with friends could help you identify where your families’ paths crossed to produce a mutual cousin. If you share a lot of cousins, you may want to check if you also share segments in common. You may actually be related yourselves!

Besides interesting dinner conversation about how your great great great great great uncle married your best friend’s great great great great aunt, you can learn more about your ancestry by determining where and when your ancestry overlaps with someone else’s ancestry. For example, we later found that two employees shared a large number of mutual cousins, but weren’t related themselves. After reviewing the cousins they had in common, a trend appeared. All the cousins they shared listed that they had German ancestry. German ancestry was confirmed by both employees.

By looking for similarities that mutual cousins share, you may be able to find out more about your own ancestral origins, family surnames, and family migration.

View your Relative Finder results and find public matches. Not yet a customer? Visit our store!






  • Linda Ferris

    Does the results show lineage for both my father and mother sides of my heritage?

    • ScottH

      Thanks for the question. The short answer is, “Yes.”
      The results in 23andMe’s Relative Finder can identify relationships on any branch of your family tree, unlike some other services that only look at just the paternal or maternal lines, 23andMe’s Relative Finder looks at the autosomal chromosomes. Those are the 22 chromosomes and your X chromosome(s) that are passed down from your ancestors.

  • Joy Upton

    I have developed a 1-page chart that has the generations, the relationships from me to the 12 great grandparents, the cousins level, the % of DNA shared and my list of surnames under the column headings. Genealogists who have used it found it to clarify what they are discovering with their DNA.
    I am willing to share but don’t know how to post it here. It is in excel format. If I can have an email address to send it to, I can easily attach it as a file. Just shared it with Tiffany Moore who I found here at 23andme. We share a 2nd great grandmother. I’m descended from the first husband and she the second.
    I have documented proof of all surnames through the 6th generation. So, I am very interested in learning who my fourth DNA cousins are. Your website has helped explain so much regarding the diseases I have and my Mother and siblings didn’t. Thank you so very much for opening it to genealogists.

    • Sandy Beasley

      Would love to have your chart. Is there a charge? My daughter and I both sent our samples back and anxiously wait on the result. Thank you for developing the chart.

    • Andy

      I would also like a copy of your chart. Thanks!

  • Mary Corriveau-Edwards

    Please share your chart – am anxious to try out your methods.
    Thank you.

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