Here are some ideas for how to use AncestryDNA matches.
The short version:
- Connect your DNA to a public or private & searchable tree at Ancestry
- Use ThruLines to identify common ancestors
- Create Groups (color coded) and add matches to their proper family group (ThruLines and Shared Matches help you do this)
- Use Shared Matches to sort matches into family groups
- Encourage parents & older relatives to test
Connect your DNA to a public or private & searchable tree at Ancestry
GET A TREE* on Ancestry and link your DNA to your public or private & searchable tree. Even if it’s only a tiny tree with two or three people. You will only get ThruLines results if you have your DNA linked to a public tree at Ancestry or a private & searchable tree. I have two accounts at Ancestry, each linked to a DNA test. One account has a tree with only four people: me, my father, and his parents. On this account, I see ThruLines for my father’s side of the family. Even a tiny tree will give you ThruLines!!!
This allows Ancestry to search your tree and your matches’ trees (and other trees at Ancestry) and show you Common Ancestors in ThruLines. ThruLines is a great tool for sorting your DNA matches and discovering/confirming your parents/grandparents/great grandparents-5th great grandparents.
Build or borrow. Either build your own tree at Ancestry (very easy, and with hints you’ll most likely be able to quickly build a nice tree) or borrow a tree (GEDCOM file) from a family member, import it into Ancestry, and add yourself into the appropriate place in the tree.
If you borrow a tree, when prompted to give your tree a name at Ancestry, name the tree in a way that shows who you got it from and that it’s not your original research. (This shows you’re being an honest player and you can deflect any criticism from DNA matches who message you with errors in your tree.)
Use ThruLines to identify common ancestors
Common Ancestors are the key to figuring out how you relate to DNA matches. Check your ThruLines. On the homepage, Select DNA, Select ThruLines. These will show you the potential parents/grandparents/great grandparents who are the common ancestors you share with your DNA matches. WARNING: these ancestors’ names can be wrong-they’re only as good as the family tree data. Any ancestor outlined with a dotted line/green background (versus a solid line/blue or pink background) is a potential ancestor NOT found in your family tree at Ancestry.
In the image above I have several 4th Great Grandparents with dotted line boxes/green background color. These are potential ancestors I can research before adding to my family tree.
Ancestry provides these suggestions based on the family trees of my DNA Matches. We share the same DNA that points to this common ancestor and my match/matches think they know the name of this ancestor, so Ancestry provides me this hint with ThruLines. I still need to do the research, but it’s a DNA Match freebie!
Create Groups (color coded)
Add ThruLines matches to groups. Groups are a sorting & filtering tool at Ancestry.
This is an easy way to do a first sort of your matches. When you select this common ancestor, and look at each of the matches and their predicted relationship, Ancestry allows you to add them to a group. This a great way to organize your matches visually. I’ve created surname groups for many of my matches. NOTE: Groups can be edited or deleted, they can be used for guesses, they are just a tool, so experiment and find your own technique for using them.
Check each individual common ancestor at ThruLines. As you hover over each ancestor, a pop-up will appear showing you how many DNA Matches you have with that common ancestor (parent, grandparent, etc) and the range of shared centimorgans (helps determine proximity of your relationship to a match).
Select a ThruLine common ancestor (image above), then Select one of the DNA matches, then Select Add to group (I’ve blocked out some names for privacy reasons).
Then Create a Group and choose a color for the group OR Select from Groups you’ve already created. Ancestry only allows 24 groups–not enough to make a surname for each common ancestor, so choose wisely. If your mother or father haven’t tested at Ancestry, you may want to use two groups for them. I started with 4 groups, one for each of my Great-Grandparent couples, and added my close matches (4th cousin or closer) to one of these four groups.
- ICW Tayler/Webber kin (I could use this for 1/4 of my matches. Any match In Common With\ICW another match descended from the Tayler/Webber family goes in this group–some won’t be Tayler/Webber kin and I’ll remove them when I figure that out)
- ICW Randall/Stone kin (same as above but for in common with Randall/Stone kin)
- ICW Vernon/Wisler kin
- ICW Clawson/Roberts kin
- Randall family (If I can pinpoint a specific surname/ancestor for a match, I’ve created these more specific groups, but left each match in the generalized ICW Randall/Stone kin group as well if it’s also correct)
- Stone family
- Tayler family
- Webber family
- Jayne family
- Cass family
- Cutter family
- Morphy family
- Wells family
- Vernon clan
- Wisler clan
- Clawson clan
- Roberts clan
- Little clan
- Mankin clan
- McCraw clan
- Taylor clan
- Spencer clan
- Smith clan
- and only one unused group to spare
When choosing a color, you may want to coordinate with color schemes used in other popular tree programs. This is an example of a fan chart from TreeSeek.com. My Father’s side uses the Blues and Greens, my Mother’s side uses the Reds and Yellows.
If you don’t know family surnames, choose a different way to identify your groups. I named my father’s surname groups “Family” and my mother’s surname groups “Clan” as another way to easily distinguish them. (If a group says “xxx Clan” then it’s from my Mother’s side of the family.)
On this same screen, you can Add note (below Add to group).
I’m trying to choose a consistent way to add my notes and I’ll be going back and editing notes to make them conform to this pattern. Basically, I’ll write, “2nd cousin 1x removed ascendant. Wells/Cass. Our common ancestors are Abel Wells and Hannah Cass.” This means the match is my 2nd cousin, one generation removed from my generation, and they are the generation that is closer to our common ancestor. If the cousin is a generation or more above me, they’re ascendant, if they’re a generation or more below me, they’re descendant.
Go to your DNA Match list. From the top menu bar, Select DNA, Select DNA Matches. Now your DNA matches will have color coded markings showing which common ancestor they probably are related through. I’ve also added notes to many of my matches (I hid the most descriptive notes for privacy reasons.)
Use Shared Matches
Sort your matches by Group. At the Filter by menu, Select which group you want to sort by. I chose the Roberts Clan and you can see they’re all identified by dark pink circles.
Select one of these matches and on the center of the page you’ll see three tabs. Select Shared Matches and Ancestry will show you 4th cousin and closer matches to this person. (See image below.)
Shared matches are people whose DNA matches both you and this selected DNA Match. These matches are probably from the same side of your family (if your mother’s and father’s DNA are distinct enough) and may share the same common ancestor. WARNING: You, Your Match, and Your Shared Match may be related through different ancestors/family lines. But for an initial sorting mechanism, it’s a good gamble to lump them together for now because often if their common ancestor isn’t your great grandparents, it may be your 2nd great-grandparents, 3rd great-grandparents, etc. You can create a group to designate this hypothesized family line. I like to use “ICW Tayler/Webber kin” to show this shared match has DNA in common with other Tayler/Webber kin. Again, the DNA they share with one of my known Tayler/Webber kin, may be from a completely different line, i.e. Clawson/Vernon kin, I don’t care right now. I’m just doing an initial sort.
You can see that some of these Shared matches DO NOT have a family tree associated with their DNA and DO NOT share a large amount of DNA (measured in cM). On their own, they’re like a needle in a haystack, but Shared matches allows you to take one giant haystack and divide it into many smaller haystacks you may be able to identify. It’s one more tool to help identify how we’re related to matches.
Encourage parents and older relatives to test.
I wanted to put this first because this will be one of your biggest regrets, not asking for DNA while someone is alive to give it. My closest DNA matches are an aunt and a 1st cousin. The more close matches you have, the easier it is to determine how you’re related to other matches.
At Ancestry, if your biological mother or father has tested, Ancestry will automatically designate some DNA matches as being from your Mother’s Side or Father’s Side of your family (see the image below). Freebie! If this isn’t an option, consider using a Group (described later) to color code Mother’s Side and Father’s Side.
More to come…
I’ll continue to add ideas for How to Use AncestryDNA Matches.
*My ancestry is almost all early colonial with some polygamy. I have more DNA matches than the average Ancestry user. I also inherited a well-research family tree on both sides of my family. If you are starting from scratch, don’t be discouraged by my results. Go to YouTube and watch some tutorials on Sorting Ancestry DNA Matches when you don’t have as many matches or known ancestors. Blaine Bettinger has one titled New AncestryDNA Tools – Thru Lines and DNA Match List and another Sub-Clustering Your Shared Matches at AncestryDNA , and Family History Fanatics has one titled Color Code Ancestry DNA Matches and there are many, many more.