I wrote this post for my father’s cousin, whose AncestryDNA results just came in. I hope others can benefit from it as well.
When your DNA results from AncestryDNA finally arrive, you’ll get an email with a link that will take you to a page similar to the one below. Of course, you will see your name, not mine, in the ‘Hello’ greeting at the top.
If your focus is traditional genealogy, the first thing you’ll want to do is to link your DNA results to your tree, if you haven’t already. (If you haven’t, the screen will say LINK TO TREE below the greeting. To link your DNA, click on the rectangular settings button at the top right. This will take you to a page called Test Settings. The top half of the page looks like this:
On this page, you can select how often to receive emails from AncestryDNA about new matches (Email Settings), decide how your information is displayed to others (Privacy), link your DNA results to a tree, change the information about yourself, opt in/out of AncestryDNA’s research program, and invite others to see your DNA results. You will need to scroll down to see all of these settings.
For now, let’s focus on where your DNA is linked (Family Tree Linking). In the example above, my DNA results are not linked to a tree at all. To change that, click . On the next page, you will see this a pull-down menu to select a family tree in your account. (If you only have one tree, there won’t be much of a choice.)
Select the tree you want. Sometimes, Ancestry’s computers will have already identified you in the tree based on your name and birth date. If they were correct, confirm that’s who you are, and you’ll be taken back to the main DNA page. If not, click “NO”, and you’ll be offered a blank search field into which you can start typing the correct name as it appears in your tree. Once the computer has picked up the right person, select the name and click the green button. Back on the main DNA page, the text below the ‘Hello’ greeting will now say “Linked to <your name>”.
One more thing you may want to do in Settings is to invite relatives to see your results. Click the SETTINGS button again and scroll to the section called “Sharing DNA Results” at the bottom of the page. You will see a button to . Click it, and on the popup that follows, enter the person’s email address or Ancestry user name into the blank field, and decide whether to make that person a Guest (who can’t make any changes) or an Editor (who can enter comments in the notes fields and change where your DNA results are linked). In most cases, Guest is fine, however if the invited person is someone you trust who is helping you with your results (as in an unknown parentage search), you’ll want to make them an Editor.
Now, let’s consider three vertical panels that occupy the bulk of the main DNA page: Genetic Ancestry, DNA Matches, and DNA Circles.
Click the button. The next page has two main features on the left, Ethnicity Estimate and Genetic Communities, with a map on the right that zooms as hover your computer cursor over either of those two features.
Ethnicity estimates need to be taken with a (large) grain of salt, especially for breakdowns within a continent. Explaining why is too much for this post, but suffice it to say that you needn’t have an identity crisis if, for example, you’re primarily of French and German extraction and your ethnicity estimate looks like mine above.
The Genetic Communities, on the other hand, tend to be quite detailed and accurate. Not everyone has them, though. You can read more about them here.
Once you really dive into using your DNA results, you will spend most of your time and energy working with your DNA matches. Click to see the list of people who share DNA with you. Some give their real names, some used an alias, and some show as initials followed by the text “(administered by by <name>”, when the data are being managed by someone other than the person who tested. The list is sorted by how much DNA they share and broken into categories: Parent/Child, Immediate Family, Close Family, 1st Cousin, 2nd Cousin, 3rd Cousin, 4th Cousin, and Distant Cousin.
With the exception of Parent/Child (self explanatory), the categories should be treated as approximations rather than iron clad. The more distant the category, the more “slop” there is in the estimate. The occasional full first cousin might drop down into the 2nd Cousin category but never into the 3rd Cousin one. However, sometimes a full second cousin might occasionally “drop” two categories into 4th Cousins. AncestryDNA tends to “round down” with their estimates, so relatives rarely show up in a category closer than the true relationship.
Notice along the right side of the list of people is a button beside a statement about whether the person’s test results are linked to a tree. If you’ve linked your test results to a tree yourself, some matches may also have a small green leaf icon indicating that Ancestry’s computers have found a possible connection, in the form of potential shared ancestors, in the two trees (yours and the match’s). This is called a Shared Ancestor Hint.
Along the top of the match list is a set of filters. These let you limit your visible list to people who meet certain criteria, either because they have a Shared Ancestor Hint (HINTS), are recent matches (NEW), because you flagged them as important (STARRED), or by membership in one of your Genetic Communities. If you’ve tested a parent at AncestryDNA, you can also filter by people who also match that parent (e.g., MOTHER).
Finally, SEARCH MATCHES brings up a pair of search fields, one for surname and one for location. You can use either or both fields to narrow your list of matches.
Here, you can see their name, predicted relationship, and ethnicity summary (if they’ve chosen to make that visible). You can click on the blue “Add note” link to add comments, such as a known or suspected relationship. If the match has a public tree linked to their DNA, you can scroll down the page to see a list of shared surnames and a summary pedigree. You can click to see the complete tree. Some matches do have a public tree but haven’t yet linked it to their DNA results. In that case, you will see an option to select a tree near the bottom of the match’s page: .
(Note: If you are not an Ancestry subscriber, you will not be able to see the trees. Your options are to message the individual matches and ask them to “invite” you to see their trees or to subscribe. Ancestry has an “Insights” level of membership for $49/year that will give you access to the public trees but not to records like the census. It is only available by calling: 1-800-262-3787.)
If the match has a Shared Ancestor Hint and a public tree, you will see a chart showing the connection. (I added the DNA symbols; they are not part of the default system at AncestryDNA.)
Take a closer look at this bar:
The PEDIGREE AND SURNAMES tab is where you can see the other person’s tree and the Shared Ancestor Hint(s), if available. MAP AND LOCATIONS charts places around the globe that appear in your tree and your match’s tree. Locations in both trees are highlighted in a green. You can click on a birth location to see the ancestral names associated with that place.
The SHARED MATCHES tab shows third-party matches who share DNA with both you and the relative you’re currently examining. Shared Matches is an extremely useful way to group your DNA matches into different sides of your tree. For example, shared matches with my father’s paternal first cousin are almost certainly related to me through my father’s father.
Finally, note the button at the top of the page. Use this to start an exchange of information with your DNA relative. I don’t recommend a long message to begin with, because the other person may not be an active Ancestry user or may even have passed away. A quick note mentioning possible connections (names, locations) and asking if they’re interested in sharing information will do for first contact.
If you have a tree linked to your DNA results, you may or may not have DNA Circles. These are groups of people who all have the same ancestors in their trees and who share DNA with at least some of the other people in the group. To see them, click . This is one of my Circles.
Note that I don’t share DNA with everyone in the Circle, only those connected to me by the yellow lines in the graphic. But everyone in the Circle shares DNA with at least one other person in it. You can click on the different matches around the circle to see their connections to one another, and you can reach out to them individually to share information about that ancestor.
Near the top of the page, you may see a button. (This feature is in beta testing, so I’m not certain that it’s available to everyone.) The button will take you to a page that compiles information about the ancestor from multiple trees of Ancestry members. The “facts” should be vetted before adding them to your own tree, as with any details gleaned from someone else, especially if you don’t know their skills as a genealogist.
New Ancestor Discoveries
Finally, near the bottom of your main DNA page, you may see a section called New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs for short). NADs are, in essence, DNA Circles for people who aren’t already in your tree. That is, a DNA Circle was formed among other AncestryDNA users, and you match some of the members of that circle, even though your tree does not include that particular ancestor. NADs offer a direction for your research to break down brick walls.
This post is meant to be an overview of the main utilities in the AncestryDNA results. I have’t covered everything; there are a few additional gems to discover. Enjoy!