Quick Tip: Color Code Your Ancestry Tree

AncestryDNA recently added color tags to their New and Improved DNA Matches beta feature (available here if you don’t already have it).  Not only can you color-code your DNA matches for a quick visual overview, you can filter using those tags.

There are 24 colors to choose from.

But which colors to assign to whom?  That’s entirely up to you, of course!  This post shares a system that’s worked for me.

The color codes apply to your DNA matches, but in theory they are reflecting relationships in your tree.  To keep my own coding system straight in my head, I created a dummy Ancestry.com tree and uploaded the dots as profile pictures as a visual reminder.  It looks like this:

My first sort for someone’s DNA match list is into the maternal (pink) and paternal (blue) sides.  Then, I can filter to show only the maternal matches, for example, and in a second cut assign the matches to the her father’s side (fuchsia) and her mother’s side (burnt orange … Hook ‘Em! ). When I can, I carry on by assigning more precise branches to matches.

Using cool colors—blues, greens, violet—for the paternal side and warm colors—reds, yellows, orange—for the maternal allows you to quickly scan through your match list to see who’s who.  The deeper the color, the more refined the sort; that is, a single light blue dot beside a match means you’ve determined only that it’s on your father’s side, while match with forest green has been localized the match to your patrilineal great grandfather’s side.

An individual match can have multiple color dots assigned.  This one has light blue for father’s side, teal for father’s father’s side, and forest green for father’s fathers’ father’s side:

This tree coding system uses 14 of the 24 colors for DNA matches.  You can use the others to code your DNA matches any way you like, such as a research status or geographic region.

If you’d like to add these icons to your tree, as in the screenshot above, you can find them in the public tree here:  https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/82989698/family.  Each ancestor position has an icon as the profile picture, and all 24 color icons are in the picture gallery for the home person in the tree.

Please share how you’re organizing your matches with the color-tags in the comments.


Updates to this post

21 March 2019—updated to clarify that Ancestry provides the color codes for our DNA matches and that I manually applied them to a tree

64 thoughts on “Quick Tip: Color Code Your Ancestry Tree”

  1. This is very similar to what I do, but I have the blues for the maternal side and the reds for the paternal (just happened that way because the reds were the first auto-assigned and there were a lot more paternal matches), and I go lighter as the generations go back and their genetic link fades… get it? Faded colours = fading genetic connection… okay, I know, I’m reaching.
    Colour coding like this really ties easily into the Leeds method (and although it’s not an easy to read spreadsheet, it’s essentially what you’re doing, right?)

    1. Thank you for the tips on colour coding. Can anyone advise me on how to extract the rest of the coloured dots from the chart? I’ve copied yours (thank you) but I’m not sure how to extract the additional colours from the colour ancestry’s chart.
      Any advice gratefully received.

  2. Leah, I had settled on the same kind of blue=paternal, red/pink=maternal theme you did, but I hadn’t thought of making the lightest blue, for example, to designate the paternal line (when you don’t know anything more), with the colors getting deeper, the deeper you go in your tree. I’m going to adopt it. I also hadn’t thought about using the color as the profile image–great idea!

    I am using a light green to designate DNA matches that I haven’t figured out which side they came from.

        1. I took screenshots of each one and uploaded it to my demo tree. Feel free to copy them from the demo tree linked in the post.

  3. The OCD part of me finds that interesting. Would you follow the DNA lineage downward with the common ancestor’s specific color to the descendent that is your DNA match?

    1. I’m still working that out. A full first cousin is descended from both grandparents, so they’d logically get two colors. But I find that confusing given that I’m using the colors to narrow down a branch rather than broaden them. Suggestions are welcome!

  4. This is really cool. Thanks for sharing. Do you mind if any of us use your profile icons? I may have to figure out how to make some of the other colours too. (hate orange hues). I know they gave us the colours to stop us using the profile icons as indicators – but I think I may do both!

    1. Yes, of course! Please use the icons. That’s why I made the tree public. All of the Ancestry colors are in the gallery for the home person if you prefer a different palette.

        1. The icons are in the public tree linked in the post. Feel free to copy them to your own tree.

  5. Thank you. I’ll bookmark this page and save it until I can renew my Ancestry paid membership since I currently can’t see the tree the colored dots are in.

  6. Hiya – I’ve enabled this on Ancestry – but how do I add a colour tag ? There doesn’t appear to be an option to add a colour tag

      1. This may sound daft, but how can i add the colour dot to eg my father’s profile but name the ‘tag’ my fathers name rather than just ‘father’, otherwise when it gets to 2 x GGP I’ll forget who is who??

        1. You can name tags anything you want. Click on the blue “Add to group” or “Add/edit groups” link beside any match. Then click either “Add custom group” to create a new one or click the grey pencil beside an existing one to edit it. There, you can enter whatever name you want.

  7. If only Ancestry would share or give the bbn option to link the info on a DNA match with the corresponding person in my tree instead of having to enter it twice. And while they’re at it, a search by username seems obvious.

  8. Thank you for the suggestions on using Ancestry’s color coding. I think your idea is good for known lines back through 2X great grandparents. How would you handle color coding a proven DNA match that is a half sibling of your paternal great grandfather (or anyone in the 2XGG range)? With the color scheme shown, the half sibling would be the same color as your 2x great grandparents and your great grandfather. The color would give the initial appearance that the match descends from a full sibling of your great grandfather. Another color shade would allow you to only select one of your 2XGG. Of course you could add a note on the DNA match page…on the tree you would see the half siblings parent and you could use “MyTreeTags”.

    I’ve been working on the color coding to find something that works best for me since ancestry released it. I would like to see Ancestry release a video detailing how they envisioned it being used. I am probably making this more difficult than it needs to be but I have several different situations I’m working on and I want to attempt to make the process somewhat uniform as possible (probably not possible). Some cases are known parentage back through 2X great grandparent’s, another is one unknown parent and others are adoptee’s with unknown maternal and paternal sides.

    How would you color code an adoptee where the matches are not easily identifiable as maternal or paternal… or someone with one unknown parent?

    This link also had some good suggestions: https://memoriesintime.co.nz/blogs/news/5-tips-for-using-ancestry-dna-custom-groups I messed with some of the suggestions here. I like the numbering and naming idea. seems helpful. I like to keep descendants in the same color scheme (basically like your suggestion). I started in reverse of you with 2XGG…example, paternal great grandfather was middle shade of yellow, his father was the darker yellow and his mother was the lighter yellow. Problem is you run out of colors at the great grandparents.

    Here are a few things I would like to see added: I would like to see Ancestry incorporate the color coding into the “MyTreeTags” and have the color appear on the tree when viewed in either pedigree or family view mode….maybe next to the person’s name under where the leaf hint is. I know you used it as a visual example but I would prefer to keep the profile for other use (actual photo of the person or DNA icon for working with unknown parents). Also, maybe expand each color swatch by one shade….24 shades seems like a lot but when attempting to color code back to 2XGG it seems to fall a few colors short.

    1. Personally, I use the colors as an initial rough cut, so I don’t worry about full vs half siblings. From the perspective of my test, they’re related to me through that great grandfather, whether their ancestor was a full or a half sib to him. The beauty of the color codes, though, is that your system can be different from my system can be different from anyone else’s system. As long as it makes sense to you.

      For adoptees, I’ve been coding them as Parent A and Parent B or Group A, Group B, etc. I can change the name of the group and the color as I figure out more.

      Thanks for the link, and those are really good suggestions.

  9. i use some of the colored dots for an ancestor by him or herself if they had children by another spouse. i have a few half cousin relationships at various generation levels.

  10. one more thing, if you have Windows, you can download the Speedy Painter app for free. you can use the bucket mode to fill in the blank circle space that you can download via the image section from google or dogpile.

  11. I am applying the colors to DNA matches. I like being able to sort all the matches with a most recent common ancestor (MRCA) belonging to i.e. a set of 3rd great grandparents. I can later sort my matches to locate all the dna matches belonging to that line and then looking at shared matches possibly figure out that some other DNA matches connect with this MRCA.

  12. Much thanks for this helpful article, Leah. I’ve was experimenting with the colour code system myself, but your system is perfect for my needs. Grateful!

  13. I’ve been color coding my lines forever and already had a color scheme (see: https://ancstry.me/2DmmwxE ) which closely resembles your choices, but it started out based on the arrangement in a rainbow. 😀
    As for the DNA dots, I number my list like the writer in Will’s link but based on the ahnentafel numbers of the great-grandparents (e.g. 08-SURNAME). The great-grandparents get the darkest color and subsequent generations get lighter (like Nicole Sparks said) but they’re numbered 08a-MomsSURNAME (where “a” would indicate a generation farther back). Thus the 8 main branches are used by the 8 darkest colors leaving 8 colors for the great-great grandmothers and the remaining 8 could be shared by both great-great-great-grandmothers.
    If you manage more than 1 person’s DNA as I do, then you can have multiple schemes. Since my color scheme was already in place and I now have my Mother’s DNA matches, I just recycled the rainbow. Since her maiden name fell in the red group, her rainbow starts with red instead of purple and her list is numbered and colored accordingly. Whereas my husband’s 24 colors starts with purple and my 24 colors start with yellow (taking into account my mom’s scheme). Our children’s are based strictly on the 8 main lines, so if they ever take over managing their own DNA they’ll have a starting point.
    I keep a binder of notes for each person’s DNA and have a color coded Ahnentafel Table in the front in a sheet protector. You can get colored dots from Amazon to stick next to your surnames or just use colored pencils and color in the corresponding color on the chart.
    Ahnentafel Table, Front: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GBsJ2xRBtqpjTj2UrdRHBPCntL3liEtw/view?usp=sharing
    Ahnentafel Table, Back: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FsUn3ZHw-Vq7xzUwEdJFTfbokDqIa_4n/view?usp=sharing

    1. Your 1st link brings up a warning on my screen. “that the website may be impersonating “ancestry.me” to steal your personal and financial information”. Could you possibly send me the link thru my personal email. mcdonagh@mac.com

      I really like how you switch up the “colour coding” and would like to investigate further. Thank you

  14. Hello Leah,
    Back in 2016 I finally took the step and did a DNA test along with my sister; my husband’s cousins; then my cousins; with results of yes we are; family myth disproved; and an OMG shock horror surprise; as the set of results.
    Then in April 2018 at the Family History Fair held in Port Macquarie we were honoured with a talk given by Jason Reeve (Ancestry) talking about DNA and the Ancestry website. During this talk Jason showed us how to sort by paternal and maternal lines. Thinking of what I had seen on my tree it was a question of ‘I don’t have that’, but then realised that our difference was Jason had his parents DNA whilst I, like so many others, was unable to get their or their siblings DNA due to them having passed away long before. This would also apply in theory to those adopted. After the talk I asked Jason if Ancestry could make it possible for us to ‘Choose a colour for the Star, usually yellow, to designate which matches were paternal or maternal side, or even a different shape with colour choice.’
    Wow, the colour palate they have come up with is great (and I am not saying that I’m the only one who would have had this idea) but now having read some of the comments, I now make these suggestions:-
    Half siblings; cousins etc – there be a choice of circles in an extended palate that are half white half coloured, using the current colour palate. Use the father or mother colour shade with half white for the half sibling, cousin etc who relates to them.
    New Shapes eg
    Triangle, say, for Adoptee line
    Diamond or Square, say, for multiple Great Grandparent lines
    As in the colour palate you show us, there is a tick, if we could add a shape or letter to define Adoptee; multiple Great Grandparent; or other; then we could go back more generations for the more dodgy DNA match who may descend from some distant multiple Great Uncle or Aunt.

    1. The more tools for sorting our matches, the better! In the meantime, though, you can do a lot of what you want with what’s already available. For example, since you can assign more than one color dot to a given match, you can put two dots on a full cousin (marking each shared grandparent) and just one dot on a half cousin. You can assign color dots to adoptees, or alternately, write “adoptee” in the notes field, which is now visible in the match list.

  15. Thank you for this post and the colours. I’ve downloaded them and am using them in my Ancestry tree. I’m using the same colour scheme in DNA Painter, so am hoping that all this will enable me to sort my matches more efficiently.

    1. DNA Painter is introducing a gedcom import that includes color schemes. One of the options matches the Ancestry colors used here. 🙂

  16. I am reconstructing my DNA marches with this scheme, I really like it. I do a lot of descendant research, how do you suggest color coding 2nd & 3rd cousins? I do not like to have multiple colors on a person….

    1. I struggled with this myself and finally ended up settling for multiple colors. It’s a bit ungainly at times, but I can filter by paternal, by paternal grandmother, by paternal grandmother’s father, etc.

  17. I think this post and consequent conversation is so fantastic that I’m saying so here (I rarely comment on blog posts)! I’m pretty new to this trying-to-understand-how-to-use-dna-in-genealogy thing. I recently heard about the idea of using Ancestry’s color coding this way, and just started googling to find a how-to about those Ancestry colors. It looks like one of your comment responses has a link for this, too– thank you!

    The idea of creating an Ancestry color-coded tree for reference is great. Your sharing the work you already put into making such a reference tree is generous– thank you!

    In playing around with DNA Painter (for a Mac), I’ve already assigned some colors to some of my ancestor couples. I was thinking to be consistent on Ancestry with these colors, but your idea of specifically going from a lighter color to a more saturated version makes good sense– thanks for that tip! If that means re-doing my DNA Painter colors, I’m sure that’ll be easy; unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of known matches. And you say that DNA Painter might have a GEDcom for this? Thanks for that tip, too!

    I’ve figured out some relationships on Ancestry by some sort of DNA Matching logic — if my unknown dna cousin is also a dna cousin of these groups of known dna cousins, then the unknown one is probably related the same as the known group. I’m not sure how much assumptions/assigning I should do, though, considering how many “kissing cousins” appear in Jewish family trees. I look forward to learning more about dna-and-genealogy on your blog, reading other posts and the consequent comments– double thank you!

    P.S. Sure would be great if Ancestry provided information on specific chromosome matching, wouldn’t it? I’m starting to ask some known-now-but-previously-unknown-before-contact-through-ancestry cousins if they’d upload their dna to other site/s? I’m having mixed results, and I’m afraid I’m putting some off.

  18. I love this, thank you. I was on the path already, but knew someone else would have solved it, and you have done an elegant job of it.
    I’m an adoptee, so I have been building two trees based on my dna matches. I have built quite a large paternal one, and included every snippet of info, for the algorhythms, and now have copied that over to a new, second tree and deleted everyone that I’m not genetically related to. I created a “picture” for each of my identified dna matches (at least I think they are identified) and put a color in the back, and the dna numbers on top (like 140/3). This has really helped to see if the relationships match up, eg now I think I have a group in the wrong cousin level because of the comparisons, its because I can see the numbers too. I can’t wait to start again and do the same, but with color gradients. Not quite ready to talk to real people, but love the numbers and research, and now the visuals.

    1. Sounds like you’re making progress. I sketch out cousin matches, their cMs, and how they descend from MRCAs in a separate program, but it’s the same concept to what you’re doing. It really helps ot visualize things that way. When you’re ready to reach out to matches, I recommend this approach:

      Good luck!

  19. That article was great and now I’m looking forward to spending more time looking through your website.
    I am a lover of data, math and design, so I matched the Ancestry colors in Photoshop and labeled them with their hex#, if someone would like that, to be able to match more closely. Its at this google drive link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UG4CiFnIl4luAT0v6BCyrK0TVMv1YMBf/view?usp=sharing. Now I’m ready to have fun color coding my matches! Thank you again!

        1. I’m not familiar with that link. It must be a typo there. The hex codes should all be different.

  20. Sorry, I didn’t mean in the groups bit, but in the family tree, you put a coloured dot for the profile picture for father, mother, grandfather etc etc. i couldn’t figure out how to put a coloured dot on their profile!

    1. To copy a dot to your tree, click on the person in my tree, and go to their profile. Then, click on their profile picture (the dot) and select “View Profile Image”. On the right, you should see a blue link to “Add”. Click that, select your tree, then start typing in the name of the person for whom you want to use the dot, then select them. If they don’t already have ine, the dot should automatically become their profile image. If they do, you’ll have to go into the gallery and set the dot to be the profile image.

  21. Thank you so much for that. I have managed to do it now.

    It nows thows up a couple more questions:

    1. What do you do with subsequent generations i.e. 3rd, 4th, 5th etc
    2. How do you colour code your dna matches to each person? For example, d if you think someone is related via your paternal 2xGGP, do you just use the same colour?

    I think I need to lie down in a dark room and take this all in :o)

    1. Haha! I hear you on the dark room sometimes. I don’t color code everyone in the tree, just my direct ancestors. Those colors are coordinated with the color tags I use in my DNA match list. That way, it’s easy to see at a glance where someone fits in.

  22. I assigned colored dots in my Ancestry tree DNA Matches. The further back I go (beyond 6th generation), the more often I use a color for an ancestral “group”, whether it’s a couple (Brunelle – Doole) or an ethnicity (Polish). My recent generations have one color for each surname in my direct line.

  23. Thanks for creating and sharing this! I am using your colors in my search for my maternal grandfather’s ancestors. The colors give me an easy quick understanding of how my DNA matches are related to their common ancestors and to each other. I put my DNA matches (and their ancestors) that are related to my grandfather onto a special tree. I look for common ancestors and I use a color to identify each person in line from the matches to the couple they all descended from. I’m just getting started and, after much work, discovered that one group of matches all descended from the same couple. Looking at the projected relationship of the matches to me gives me a starting point to focus my ancestry search. I have other groups of matches that are related to each other and will do the same thing, except use different colors for their lines since they may be related to different ancestors of mine/be descended from different common ancestors than the first group. I hope to eventually see where the colored lines all converge!

  24. Ancestry DNA- Any one know how I can change the color of dots for a group I have already created? I Don’t want to have to change one person at a time. I want to change the whole group to a different color dot as I am trying to be more color coordinated. Thanks!

    1. Sure. Go to the profile of a match in that group, click Add/Edit Groups, then click the little pencil icon beside the one you want to change. You can reassign the color, rename the group, and even delete it entirely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.