Posted by on October 22, 2013 in AncestryDNA, Family History Month

Did you take the AncestryDNA test? Do you have a lot of cousin matches? Are you not quite sure how you connect with each of those matches? Here is a plan to ensure that you get the most out of your AncestryDNA experience.

How are cousins related to you? (Click for larger view.)

How are cousins related to you? (Click for larger view.)


1. Remember how cousins are connected to you. First cousins mean you have a common grandparent. Second cousins mean you have a common great-grandparent. Third cousins mean you have a common great-great-grandparent. And so on. The more great-grandparents you have in your tree, the more likely you are to discover a common relative with some of your matches.


2. Do you have dates attached to each of your ancestors? Even if you don’t know an exact date when an ancestor was born, estimate it based on the birth year of their oldest child. I typically use a date 20-22 years before that oldest child was born. You can put “about” and then the year so you know it is an estimate. Then include a note about why you chose that date so you can make adjustments as more information comes to light. Not sure who their oldest child is? Do a little more research.


3. Go back through your family tree and make sure you use the drop-down list to enter birth locations for each of your ancestors. This allows us to compare locations in your tree to the locations in the family trees of your matches. If you have “non-standardized” locations entered (for example, abbreviations for state names or missing counties), you may be missing out on match hints because our computers don’t recognize the place.


4. Some people don’t know how to attach their DNA results to their online tree so it looks like they have “No Family Tree.” Click through to review the match anyway. You may discover that they actually DO have a family tree, but just haven’t attached it yet. Better yet, send them a (kind) message and let them know that you’d love to learn more about your family connection. Invite them to attach their DNA results to their online tree so you will both have all of the automated tools at your disposal to help discover more. (Haven’t attached your own results yet? Follow these simple instructions.)



.5. If someone has a private tree, especially if they are a close match (4th cousins or closer), send them a message and ask for permission to view their tree for a couple of days so you can work with them to discover your connection.  If you have a private tree, be sure to check your message box and respond to messages in a timely manner.


6. Be patient! More than 200,000 people have taken the AncestryDNA test and more people are taking the test every day. New cousin matches are being added to your list each time one of those new people has DNA that connects with yours.


What are your best tips for finding success with your AncestryDNA matches? 

Now, go have fun climbing your (genetic) family tree!

About Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist.Google Twitter


Shannon E Johnson 

I have been researching using for over 10 years now and got all the way back to God…. no joke — there are definite “glitches” in the system though and to really investigate my line would take thousands of dollars… How does this DNA test work and I would love to work with someone on mine. I love


October 22, 2013 at 5:23 pm
Patricia Hartley 

Great tips! I love that you included the non-connected and private trees…that can be so frustrating when you see a third or fourth cousin match and can’t make the connection. Thanks!

October 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm
Donna Rife 

My mother always told me that we have Indian blood. It was through her grandmother (who looked very much Indian) Is there any way to trace Indian relatives? That is how I got started in genealogy – looking for the Indian blood in our family. Thanks

October 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm
Tinny Scott 

I am somewhat confused about the DNA test. The nearest relative match is 13 generations from me. Is this someone that is just distantly related to me? Should I be looking for DNA test that are taken by closer relatives. Very confused.

Also, how many nationalities can be found by taking the test?

October 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm

How can we or how could we attach our DNA test to multiple trees?

October 23, 2013 at 2:14 am
Juanita Stephens 


The issue I have with the DNA portion is not Ancestry’s fault, it is all the cousins I have with private trees or not connected to a tree. I send messages to them and many times get a not back saying no I see not connection. So I stopped connecting them. Let them contact me.

October 23, 2013 at 3:38 am
Crista Cowan 

#3 Donna – The AncestryDNA test does include a Native American reference population for comparison.

#4 Tinny – It sounds like you may have taken the YDNA or mtDNA test not the AncestryDNA (autosomal) test. This article might help explain the differences:

#5 Jeff – You can only attach DNA results to a single tree.

October 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm


Why can’t we attach our DNA results to multiple trees?

October 24, 2013 at 1:50 am

Challenge: I also discovered that if you have an adopted parent who is listed in your tree as the preferred parent and then have a biological parent with tree information (which kind of remains hidden in Ancestry since about 2 or 3 years ago, that the DNA matching doesn’t look at the “hidden” leg of the tree.

I was looking at locations when I discovered some locations that should have shown up for my son did not.

Otherwise I love the DNA information. My son matched a second cousin once removed (ancestry said 4-6) and she sent me some more photos of the ancestors.

My husband and I did the 23andme thing several years ago before it was doing the relative match for medical purposes. He discovered his biological father via DNA by matching a first cousin when they started the relative matching. People on ancestry are much more willing to share family information. I just ordered another test for one of my family members and will order another one in the near future.

People should be aware that they may encounter surprises that they didn’t expect, but DNA does bring out the truth.

October 24, 2013 at 9:10 am
Marilyn Whitker 

I have been doing family trees for 60 years and every day I am leraning something new abt the information I have and how to use it. Thank you Christa for this article. Just wish I could get into often. I have been unable to check most of my matches on 3 DNA samples as I can not get into DNA section.
I subscribed to Genealogical helper from 1956 and donated ll the old ones to local library.

October 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Crista: Have loved using Ancestry and Family Tree Maker (many versions; 2014 the current one) for quite some time. For the most part, I simply love it. Upon reading your blog “How to find Y-DNA or mtDNA test results on”, I constantly run into a problem! When I hover over the DNA tab, I do not see “Learn about AncestryDNA” nor do I see “Y-DNA and mtDNA tests”. I had originally been able to access the results I wanted; i.e., haplogroup(s) and the colorized, nicely spaced/presented charts of same. I had printed them out; quite a lot of pages, to be sure and have not been able to dig deep enough to retrieve them. All I get now is hundreds of pages in black and white, the columns do not line up, and the information looks ‘old school’ to me – not at all helpful! I have used Excel databases and charts as well as PowerPoint presentations extensively during my ‘work’ life; I know how to ‘read’ charts; but feel with all the advances in technology during the last 13 years, one should be able to retrieve and print out the many wonderful, colorful charts on the way they are presented. I do get the maps and the information of where my ancestors came from, percentages, emails from ‘cousins’, etc., which is great. However, I would also like to retrieve the charts, etc. as described above. Would typing the customer number from my DNA test be the way to go? Thanks for all your expertise – it has been extremely helpful to me. Also, thanks for the ability to ‘print out’ your latest blog, “Making More Family Connections with Ancestry DNA”. I much prefer to print out the instructions, rather than watch the video; very difficult to remember all of it; much better to be able to read it as I work. Thanks again …

October 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm
M L 

I’m with Jeff about the multiple trees. My trees are split up for personal reasons. I’d connect them all to my DNA profile, but you can only “connect” one tree. Therefore, I don’t have any connected. I created “public” versions of my trees (names, dates, places), specifically so I could share them, and to help others see if we have a connection. I keep a private version with more info (photos or copies of documents I’ve paid for), which I (usually) share with relatives who have connected with me and are willing to collaborate and/or communicate.

October 27, 2013 at 12:17 am
Britt Clark 

When will we have better search tools to analyze our DNA matches? The current tool is much too basic and limited. I am very disappointed. For example, it would be nice to have a tool to show how many matches I have in common with a match. Just searching by username and location is not enough.

January 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm
Brenda Sears 

I agree, the method of which we have to view our DNA matches is rather lengthy. Additionally, why are people taking the test, then not responding when you send them a nice little note with a subject line ” DNA 3rd cousin match”? I just dont understand the lack of responses. I see my 3rd – 4th cousin matches logging in each day yet they don’t bother to respond. Only have 6, 3rd – 4th cousins. It would be nice also if Ancestry would find a way to link their past DNA test results with this new test. Since the testing has gone on for many years, I doubt the people who had the earlier more expensive DNA tests want to take another to hook up with the new DNA results. I did not realize the results would be limited like this.

January 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm
Tracy Frederick 

Christa – Is there a way to compare two individual DNA tests to see if they are related? My father-in-law has cousins that have shown up as cousins to his wife. Can I compare his results to my mother-in-law to see if they are related – I am the administrator for both of their tests. I would also like to compare my father with my father in law because we have reason to think they have a common ancestor, but it would be 9 generations back. Would that even show up as a connection? Are these comparisons already made between the different test that are administered by the same Ancestry member?

January 26, 2014 at 3:04 pm