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It's in My DNA: A SAS® Program to Assist With Finding Unknown Relatives

Started ‎03-22-2021 by
Modified ‎05-12-2021 by
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Paper 1048-2021

 Richard D. Langston


This presentation will describe a SAS program I created to process DNA matches from With this program, users create descendancy listings that help determine previously unknown relatives, such as biological parents. The program reads HTML data to extra match results, and provides a mechanism to cross-reference these results with relationships constructed from family trees, obituaries and other historical records. This presentation will walk the viewer through the entire process.

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Watch It's in My DNA: A SAS® Program to Assist With Finding Unknown Relatives on the SAS Users YouTube channel.



Many readers, especially those in the US, may have already taken a DNA test. There are many providers of these tests, with the most popular being You can purchase a DNA kit from them, simply spit in a tube and mix it with a provided chemical, pop it in an envelope and mail it off. I did that myself, and about six weeks later, I could see the DNA match profiles as per Figure 1.



Figure 1. First Page of DNA Match Profiles


(Note that all names except mine have been redacted in this and subsequent figures, to protect the privacy of individuals.)


This page shows that I have a 3456 centimorgan match with my mother (which is in the expected range) and I have matches of 2639 and 2380 with my brothers (also expected). You can use the DNA Painter website (link in the References section) to get a better understanding of what these centimorgan counts mean and what relationships are most likely based on these counts.


You can also see links to trees, which are very important when trying to understand relationships for people you might not otherwise know. Figure 2 shows my tree, which has been linked to my DNA profile and to that of my brothers and mother.


Figure 2. My Associated Family Tree For My DNA Match Profile



Now that you can see what is available to you once you've taken the DNA test, I can explain what I've been doing to assist people who take the test.


Many people take the DNA test in order to determine unknown relatives. They may be adopted, or they may have learned that their father is not who they thought he was. But after taking the DNA test, they may be overwhelmed with the data and lack the skill on how to interpret the results.


Researchers who help these people are often called "search angels" and that's a role I've taken on. And in the process of my search angel role, I found it useful to create a SAS program – originally called – in order to help me manage the data and research. That program has been through several iterations, and is now called


The read_matches4 program reads from the pages of matches (such as figure 1 above) and extracts pertinent data. Note that the HTML stream for the pages can be derived via the Firefox browser. I used the Ctrl-A key to "select all" then right-clicked on one of the highlighted fields. A drop-down menu appears which includes the selection "View Selection Source". That then displays the entire HTML stream, which can then be pasted into the Windows clipboard and then saved to a file.


That stream contains the values displayed on the page (name, centimorgan count, tree status) along with a unique ID which is not displayed – but contained within the HTML – which is very important to the operation of the program. The unique ID, also called a UUID or GUID, is associated with the individual DNA profile, and is the proper key to use when managing the data because it is unique to each profile. There is no guarantee on the uniqueness of names (e.g. multiple John Smiths can appear) but the GUID will be unique.


The program generates a comma-separated file (CSV) containing the pertinent fields, which are: name, GUID, centimorgan count, and tree status. In Figure 3, we can see another page of matches, associating various lines in the CSV with the corresponding page entries. (Note that the GUIDs in this figure are contrived and are not the actual GUIDs for these entries).


Note also that the column name for centimorgan count is the name associated with the CSV itself. In this example, the column name is rick, corresponding to my match count values. Each one of the CSVs will have a different name in that column, in order to allow for merging based on the unique GUID.



Figure 3. CSV Records And Associated DNA Profiles


An important feature of DNA matching on is Shared Matches. With this feature, you can indicate any of your matches for whom you want to see all DNA profiles that you have in common. It will display a panel that looks like Figure 4 below. This begins the page that shows shared matches with my mother.


Figure 4. Shared Match Panel


In Figure 3 above, which shows shared matches between my mother and me, we can see arrows pointing from the CSV line for a first cousin with 821 cM matching, and we see the next match for another cousin with 421 cM. But there are two CSV records highlighted in yellow that do not appear in the list of DNA profiles. That is because those two profiles are not shared matches with my mother, meaning that instead I am related to them on my father's side.


And this is the important point to understand when you are trying to determine unknown relatives. You need to know who is related on your father's side and your mother's side. These will be distinct family lines that will be divided up to be researched separately. So the known shared matches between you and other DNA profiles are very important, and those should be placed in separate CSV files.



(Note that for subsequent discussion in this paper, contrived DNA profiles will be used.)


Once the program has created that first CSV – a portion of which is shown in figure 3 above – it reads that first CSV and produces an output that shows the initial matches. The output looks like Figure 5 below. We see a name column, a column for the primary person (in this case John) showing centimorgan match counts with each other person, the tree status, and the GUID. But also seen is a CRC. This is a Cyclical Redundancy Check hash, which gives us a reduced-size version of the GUID. We want a smaller version of the GUID for a less crowded data stream that we will see later in this paper.


 Figure 5. Initial Output From The Program


We see that the person next in the list of DNA matches is Mary Jones. So we will want to view the page of shared matches between John and Mary. We capture that data like before and create another CSV. With the next run of the program, it will look for all available CSV files and will read all of them to produce updated output, including shared matches with Mary. We will see output that looks similar to Figure 6. (Note that the GUIDs are not being shown in subsequent figures to allow for less clutter in the figures.)


Figure 6. Next Output With Shared Matches


With this output, we can see that Mary has a shared match with Ann, Angela, and Peter. Note that we don't know the actual shared match count, since we don't have access to that data. We simply know that they are a shared match, so that is why we see Y for those cells. For the others in the column for Mary, we see an underscore. This means that Mary is not a shared match, and we should consider viewing a shared match page between those lines and John Smith. This may possibly show additional family lines. We see Bill Johnson is the first person with an underscore, so we can build a shared match CSV for him and run again. And that output appears in Figure 7. We will now see some columns with the standard dot missing value, meaning that the person is a shared match with some other column. And we can begin to see a pattern of who is related to whom. This process of repeated matching is known as the Leeds Method, created by Dana Leeds.



 Figure 7. Next Output With Still More Shared Matches



Once we have established some family line understanding via the Leeds method, and created meaningful output as seen in the previous section, then we begin the work involving genealogical research.


The trees that are associated with the various DNA profiles are examined to look for common ancestors. Additional trees that are available at, plus other genealogical records, such as obituaries, can also be used in order to get a better understanding of how the various matches are connected together.


The general consensus among DNA researchers seems to be that one starts building trees in order to help find unknown relatives. However, my experience has shown that it is better to go in the opposite direction and build a descendancy listing. This means that you start with a common ancestor and show all known children for each generation. Figure 8 shows an example descendancy listing. Two separate ancestors, Josiah Smith and George Avery begin the descendancies. Each later generation is indented two spaces. We can see that Randolph, Quincy, and William Smith are all grandchildren of Josiah. And we can see that one of George Avery's daughters, Lucille, is married to William Smith. So their children John and Edward are connected to both descendancies and have both Josiah Smith and George Avery as ancestors.



Figure 8. A Descendancy Listing Example


At this point, we can connect the descendancy listings with the DNA match information. We do this by adding the CRCs for DNA matches with brackets into the proper lines of the listing. In figure 7 above, we see Angela, Mary, and John all in our cross-reference listing with their CRCs, and we can add those CRCs into the listing as seen in red in figure 9. Being able to insert smaller amounts of text (the CRC) instead of the 36-character GUID makes the descendancy listing more readable to human eyes.


Figure 9. Descendancy Listing With CRC Key Association


Once that match-up is in place, read_matches4 can be run again. Note that at this point its input includes not only the CSV files but also the descendancy listing seen in figure 9. The program will substitute match information into the output. An example of that appears in figure 10. We can see that Angela is a match with John at 300 cM and also a match with Bill and Mary. These was evident in the cross-reference in figure 7, but now we can apply our understanding of the meaning of centimorgan counts to see how they match with the actual known relationship of Angela, Mary, and John. We can see that Angela and Mary are second cousins. Mary is first cousin to John.



Figure 10. Output From The Program Substituting Match Information


If it had been the case that we did not know John's actual relationship, we could use the other known relationships as clues as to his placement in the listing.


As you might expect, this becomes an iterative process of continued genealogical research to expand out the descendancy listings to try and match up as many people as you can in order to determine unknown relatives.



Read_matches4 can produce textual output, seen in various figures above. But it can also produce HTML output, which may be more easily readable to many. And because the Leeds method also suggests the use of colors to help determine different family lines, the program can do that too. Figure 11 shows the browser rendering of an HTML table. The asterisks indicate that the entry appears in the descendancy listing, and in fact is a link to the proper place in the descendancy listing. The mother's side is shown in red and the father's side is shown in blue, and the letter Y is replaced with M (mother's side) or F (father's side).


Figure 11. HTML Output From The Program As Displayed By A Browser



I used several interesting techniques within the implementation of the program. In this section, I highlight several of these techniques with code snippets.


The %file_metadata macro is used to create a SAS data set containing variables for each metadata value that is available. These will include filename, file size, and creation date and time. First, we use the DOPEN function to open the directory containing the files. DNUM tells us how many files there are, and DREAD will read a directory entry to obtain the filename. The second pass will use FOPEN on each filename, FOPTNUM for the number of metadata values available, FOPTNAME for the metadata name, and FINFO for the metadata value. When done, we transpose the data set so that the metadata names become the variable names. Note that VALIDVARNAME=ANY must be used here because the metadata names will contain blanks:

%macro file_metadata(dirname,slash,metadata_dataset);
data &metadata_dataset;
     length filename $256;
     rc  = filename('dfileref',"&dirname.");
     did = dopen('dfileref');
     nmems = dnum(did);
     do i=1 to nmems; 
        filename = dread(did,i);
     rc = dclose(did); 
     rc = filename('dfileref'); 
     keep filename;
data &metadata_dataset; set &metadata_dataset;
     fullqual = "&dirname.&slash."||filename;
     length opt $32 optval $256;
     do while(1); 
        fid = 0;
        filename_rc = filename('myfile',fullqual); 
        put filename_rc= fullqual=;
        if filename_rc ne 0 then leave;  
        fid = fopen('myfile');
        put fid=;  
        if fid = 0 then leave;
        n_metadata = foptnum(fid); 
        do i=1 to n_metadata;
           opt = foptname(fid,i); 
           if opt = "&opt_filename." then continue;
           optval = finfo(fid,opt); 
     if fid ne 0 then rc = fclose(fid); 
     if filename_rc = 0 then rc = filename('myfile'); 
     keep filename opt optval; 
proc transpose data=&metadata_dataset out=&metadata_dataset(drop=_NAME_); by filename notsorted; 
     var optval; 
     id opt; 

An example of what the observations look like:

filename=rick_mother_matches.txt 'File Size (bytes)'n=21 
 'Last Modified'n=03Feb2021:14:04:10
filename=rick_rick_matches.csv 'File Size (bytes)'n=22  
 'Last Modified'n=03Feb2021:14:04:33
filename=rick_rick_matches.txt 'File Size (bytes)'n=20 
 'Last Modified'n=03Feb2021:14:03:55



With this SAS code snippet, I demonstrate a method I described in my 2009 SAS Global Forum paper (see References section for more information). RECFM=F and LRECL=&filesize. is used so that the entire HTML stream is read as a single record. The @'…' operator is used in the INPUT statement to locate specific HTML tags. And the GUID values, which are part of HREF addresses, are extracted:

data _null_; infile "&dirname.&slash.&filename." 
             recfm=f lrecl=&filesize. end=eof column=c missover; 
             file "&dirname.&slash.&part1._&part2._matches.csv"; 
     put "name,guid,&part2,tree_status"; 
     input @'batBeacon' @; 
     do while(c < &filesize.); 
        input @'with%2F' @; 
        if c < &filesize.
           then input guid $char36. @;

We can use the file names and file sizes from the %file_metadata macro described above.



The CSV files that are previously generated in the program are read via this macro. PROC IMPORT is used to read each CSV file. The first time the macro is called, the data set ALL is created. For all subsequent times the previous version of ALL is merged. The GUID is used as the key. We need to ensure that the name is also added so it is included in the BY statement.


Once all data sets are merged, we will have unique variable names corresponding to the centimorgan counts of each. From our example in figure 7 above, the variable names would be john, mary, and bill:

%macro read_csv_and_merge(filename,first); 
proc import file="&filename." dbms=csv out=temp replace; run;
data temp; set temp; guid=upcase(guid); run; 
proc sort; by guid name; run;
%if &first %then %do;
data all; set temp; run;
%end; %else %do; 
data all; merge all temp(drop=tree_status); by guid name; run;
%mend read_csv_and_merge;


The CRC is computed using the HASHING function. This function was introduced in 9.4m6 of the SAS System. Prior to 9.4m6, one would use the CRCXX1 function. I discussed these functions in my 2020 SAS Global Forum paper, which is in cited in the References section below. Code choices:

crc = crcxx1(strip(guid)); /* Prior to 9.4m6, returns an integer */
crc = hashing('crc32',strip(guid)); /* As of 9.4m6, returns hex */


The MATCHES data set has a set of numeric variables which are the centimorgan match values, or just the special missing value .Y if there is a match but the centimorgan count is unknown. This code uses an old-style array with the _NUMERIC_ shorthand to process all numeric variables. The VNAME function obtains the variable name, which will be the first name of the matching person. The CATS function continuously concatenates the data into a single label. The CRC is the key corresponding to the label:

data temp; set matches; 
     array cM _numeric_; /* john mary bill ... */
     length label $100; 
     label=' '; 
     do over cM; 
        if int(cM) ne cM then cM=.y;
     keep fmtname start label; 

proc format cntlin=temp; run;


The format is used in the following code. If brackets appear in the record, the CRC will be within the brackets. The CRC is extracted, and is replaced with the label from the format:

     i = index(_infile_,'[');
     if i then do; 
        length part1 crc part3 $200; 
        part1 = scan(_infile_,1,'[]'); 
        crc = scan(_infile_,2,'[]');         
        part3 = scan(_infile_,3,'[]'); 
        _infile_ = trim(part1)
                   ||' ['||trim(put(crc,$matchinfo.))
     put _infile_;

Extracting lines from figures 9 and 10 above, we can see how the _infile_ replacement appears:

   Angela Smith 1948- [6784051D] 
   Angela Smith 1948- [john:300,bill:Y,mary:Y]


I have had a good deal of success using with data to assist many people with determining unknown relatives. I have helped to reunite family members and bring closure to many peoples' lives. And I hope to continue using and improving on the technology to continue to assist more people.


DNA Painter.


Langston, Richard D. 2009.  "Creating SAS® Data Sets from HTML Table Definitions", Proceedings of the SAS Global Forum 2009 Conference. Available at .


Langston, Richard D. 2020. "Slinging Hash: The HASHING Functions available in SAS®", Proceedings of the SAS Global Forum 2020 Conference. Available at .


Leeds, Dana. "The Leeds Method".


Wikipedia. "Universal Identifier".


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Last update:
‎05-12-2021 10:02 AM
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