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

28 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?)

  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.

  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.

  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

  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

  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.

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