Ancestry Blog » AncestryDNA The official blog of Ancestry Sat, 20 Dec 2014 01:41:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New AncestryDNA Technology Powers New Kinds of Discoveries Thu, 20 Nov 2014 19:26:44 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Matching_option2

Finding evidence that you’re a descendant of a particular ancestor is one of the powerful applications of DNA testing. AncestryDNA has created a groundbreaking new way to make those kinds of powerful discoveries. We call it DNA Circles and it’s currently available in BETA for AncestryDNA customers.

DNA Circles re-imagines what matching can do. It goes beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches and can link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor thus creating a Circle of people who are all related.

Once a DNA Circle is created, a new kind of discovery will appear on your DNA results page. Here is an example.

DNA homepage

Each circle is based on a common ancestor. As you click through to the Circle for an ancestor, if you have an Ancestry membership, you can see all the members in the Circle, how they are related to your ancestor, and who else they have in their family tree. This is where DNA Circles really shine. Being able to see a collection of your DNA matches centered around a common ancestor all at once gives you a new tool to do more with your new-found cousins. It makes it easier to exchange photos, stories, and other new information to add to what you all know about your ancestor. In short, it makes collaborating with your new extended family easier than ever.

DNA circles group peeps

Here is an example of a DNA Circle with William Grey as the common ancestor. It includes nine members who all have William Grey in their family tree and have also taken a DNA test.

DNA Circles can potentially uncover new relatives that DNA matching alone would not have found. Because you inherit only fractions of DNA from your distant ancestors (read more about genetic inheritance), you may have inherited different parts of your ancestors’ DNA than many of your cousins. By finding the interconnected people, it’s very possible that there will be people in your DNA Circle with whom you are not a direct genetic match with, but who do match others in the group and share the same ancestor in their family tree. It’s like meeting a friend of a friend—or in this case a cousin of a cousin. The more people who take the test, the bigger your group can get.

Exploring the links to each of the other members in the Circle will provide you with a side-by-side comparison of the connection you have and give you another look into the research.

match comparison dna

Take some time to dive into this new feature and explore all the new things you can learn. Revisit your DNA Circles often because as the database grows you can get a DNA Circle at any time.

So, How Does it Work?

DNA Circles starts with well-proven DNA matching technology to find your distant cousins among other AncestryDNA members. Then we look at all of the matches together to find people that are interconnected.

This is where the power of having an Ancestry tree connected to DNA comes into play. Using family trees, we look for an ancestor shared across this group of DNA-related people. When AncestryDNA finds one, a DNA Circle is created.

connection with dna

The good news is that we’ve trained the computer to do the hard stuff like DNA matching, tree comparisons, and triangulation for you. You then get to focus on taking this discovery and building on it to make a few more of your own. You can learn more about DNA circles and read the white paper by clicking on the help link on your DNA homepage. To access the help link, select one of your DNA Circles and click the question mark in the top right hand side.

What If You Don’t Have a DNA Circle, Yet?

Not every AncestryDNA member will have a DNA Circle. Here are some important details about how DNA Circles are created that can help explain why you might not have one.

  1. Have a “public” family tree linked to your DNA results. If you don’t have a family tree, it’s free to start one. If you have a tree, make sure it’s linked to your DNA results, set to be shared publicly, and goes back to the most distant ancestor you know. You can use research tools on Ancestry to help. I would strongly encourage linking your DNA results to a tree, even if that tree has limited information. DNA can be the tool to unlock your family discoveries and having even a small tree will help get you on the path without delay. (Standard privacy rules still apply for DNA Circles.)
  2. A DNA Circle requires three or more people. To form a DNA Circle we need at least three separate family units. (Units consist of first cousin and closer.) Three or more people  who are second cousins or more distantly related need to be tested and have the same common ancestor in their public tree to make a Circle. Mom, Uncle Joe, and you will not make up a DNA Circle, but having additional extended family members can increase your DNA Circle connection strength or potentially extend your reach, since they might have inherited the DNA to link you to another Circle.
  3. Reach out to second cousins or more distant family members. Having more people in your family tested will increase the likelihood that you will be in or create a Circle, and will make the Circle more powerful in terms of its potential reach.
  4. DNA Circles go back seven generations (six generations back, plus you). If you have matches that could be in a Circle but share a common ancestor past seven generations, they will not show up in a Circle. They will still show up as matches to you in your regular list, but the cut off for Circles is seven generations. Early analysis showed that more distant relationships were less reliable and may form DNA Circles around inaccurate data. Since DNA Circles is in beta, we are being a little more conservative to have more confidence in the results. This is something we will continue to analyze and may change over time.
  5. You must be an active subscriber (any level) to view DNA Circles.  Having a membership is not a guarantee that you will have DNA Circles, but if you do have DNA Circles, an Ancestry membership will allow you to view them.

DNA Circles Will Continue to Grow

DNA Circles is in beta, so please give us feedback on your experience. And don’t worry if you don’t have a circle yet; not everyone will have one immediately. But as the database grows and as you expand your tree, you will have more chances to get a DNA Circles.

Watch the following video on AncestryDNA Circles and Matching with expert genealogist, Crista Cowan.



]]> 28
DNA Matching Just Got Better Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:44:33 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Matching_option1

We’re excited to tell you about some major improvements we’ve made to help you find your possible relatives with AncestryDNA.

AncestryDNA scientists have innovated new and better ways to identify family relationships by comparing DNA between AncestryDNA members. Now, AncestryDNA is almost 70x more likely to find distant relatives, and all existing AncestryDNA members will see improved results.

What this means for you:

  • More accurate — Each of your DNA matches will be more accurate and is more likely to be related to you. You can feel confident that you share a recent ancestor (up to 5–10 generations).
  • Less is more — Because DNA matching is more accurate, some people who you matched before will no longer be on your list. So you’ll see fewer matches, but each of the ones you have will be more likely to result in a new family discovery.
  • This innovative way of DNA matching lays a foundation for new DNA features.
  • Best part — you don’t need to provide a new sample. We simply compare your DNA results again to everyone in the database using our new matching algorithms and give you an improved, higher-confidence list of DNA matches.
  • Check out your matches and see more detail around the confidence levels for each match.

Here are a few of the ways we were able to improve DNA matching:

Separating What Makes Us Human from What Makes Us Related

Now that AncestryDNA has more than 500,000 DNA samples, the science team has been able to identify patterns in DNA matches that only become apparent with a unique data set like this. One of those patterns is something people call “pile-ups” for lack of a better term. The basic description of a “pile-up” is an area in DNA where there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people sharing the same genetic code. Ken Chahine describes this in a recent blog post where he says, “When you take a step back, matching isn’t as simple as it might first appear.  After all, we are all 99% identical. In other words, determining which parts of our genome make us ‘human’ and which make us ‘recent cousins’ is tricky…”

This tends to happen when people share an ethnicity or traits, but not a recent common ancestor. These kind of matches won’t appear in your results anymore because they aren’t relevant to family history research.


AncestryDNA not only uses sophisticated mathematical models to identify DNA matches, we are also one of the few autosomal DNA tests to apply a technology called “phasing” in order to better identify the strands of DNA you inherited from each of your parents. While this can’t necessarily separate your matches by which side of the family they come from, it does improve the ability to find possible relatives who share DNA by keeping the strands of DNA you inherited from each of your parents intact.


The AncestryDNA science team continues to validate the new matching algorithms and techniques and evolve the technology to help AncestryDNA customers make new and exciting  discoveries.

We’ve shared lots more details on how DNA matching at AncestryDNA works. Check out our white paper for the full details. To view the white paper, go to your DNA homepage, click View all DNA matches, and then click the help question mark in the upper-right corner. That will give you access to all the help content for matching and the white paper.


]]> 42
Coming Soon: Improved DNA Matching Mon, 03 Nov 2014 23:08:05 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> dna connectOver the past year or so, we’ve been in the AncestryDNA lab working to create new and improved ways to find distant family members with DNA. In the process, we’ve rewritten the book on AncestryDNA matching and made some significant breakthroughs we’re looking forward to sharing soon.

These advancements will make AncestryDNA matching far more accurate, and each new match will be more likely to lead to a new discovery. Best of all, we’re going to roll this out to all AncestryDNA members for free, and you don’t have to take a new test to get the benefits.

So how are we doing it?

AncestryDNA has quickly grown to over half a million people in its database. Pairing this data with well-documented family trees and the expertise of Ancestry has allowed the AncestryDNA science team to develop groundbreaking new algorithms for finding and predicting relationships through DNA. These new algorithms will lead to better matches for anyone who tests with AncestryDNA.

Of course, we can’t make your list of matches more accurate without removing the less accurate ones. So, your DNA match list may get a little smaller—in some cases, quite a bit smaller. For example, some of the more distant cousin matches will no longer be considered a DNA match and will drop off your list. You can learn more about the science behind these improvements in this blog post from AncestryDNA General Manager Ken Chahine. The post refers to DNA matching challenges found in specific populations, but these same kind of improvements can be made across all AncestryDNA tests.

What do you need to do in the meantime? Not a thing. We’re providing this update for free to all AncestryDNA members, and we’ll send out an email when your new DNA matching results are ready. Also, when our improved matching launches, we’ll be providing a way for you to download your pre-upgrade list of matches in case you have saved notes about a DNA match and want to preserve them for the future.

Be confident that your matches are in good hands with our team of experts. DNA testing is a huge, real-time science project we’re watching unfold, and we get to be a part of it. As the database grows you will get new matches, and now better matches, and even more opportunities to discover something new about you.


]]> 103
4 Tips for Adoptees Using AncestryDNA to Find Their Family Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:53:15 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Hear it from an adoptee, a story of she not only found out she is Irish, Scandinavian and European Jewish, but how she connected to a few family members as well. Read or listen to Nancy’s story hereBackground image of DNA molecule. Science concept

Taking a DNA test can open up possibilities that haven’t been available before, but will they happen to you? There is only one way to find out. Take a DNA test for yourself.

Once you have those results back, you can review them. DNA can unlock the mystery of where your genetic roots came from 500+ years ago. Your unique DNA reveals what you have inherited from those who came before you. Are you Irish? Native American? Italian? When you take an AncestryDNA test, we compare your DNA to the known regions around the world and give you an estimate of how your DNA matches those regions. I have talked to many people who are adopted and the ethnicity is one of their top reasons for taking the test.

Now that you know where in the world your story started, you can dive into the matching. We compare your DNA to everyone else who has taken an AncestryDNA test to see if you can find family members to connect you with. Can you image finding a 1st cousin, aunt or even a sibling? It has happened. I have heard of some life-changing stories. If you didn’t read the story at the beginning of this article make sure you go back and read it. I would be confident to say that it has changed her life.

Are you an adoptee who is hoping to find family members through an AncestryDNA test? Here are four tips for success.

1. Look at the Closest Matches First

This seems simply enough, but if you don’t have anything closer than a 4th cousin-matching can get discouraging. It may take some time before a closer connection takes the test and we can compare them to you.

2. Contact All of Your 2nd Cousin Matches and Closer

Asking never hurts. Based on the predicted relationship, contact your 1st cousin and 2nd cousin matches to see what the possible connection could be. For example, a 1st cousin relationship would mean you probably share grandparents and 2nd cousins would share great-grandparents. A half-aunt or uncle could also show up as a 1st cousin and that is because you share only enough DNA as a 1st cousin. The further you go back the harder it will be to decide where the connection is.

3. Link Your AncestryDNA Results to a Tree

I know, you’re adopted and don’t know your tree. But put in your tree “adopted” and include anything you may know: a location, a surname… something. Not linking a tree is discouraging to your matches; they want to see something. It may seem like a crazy idea, but it may also help.

4. Be Patient

Depending on how much tree data you have online you may never figure out how you are related to some of your matches. Don’t get discouraged. Check back often and revisit your matches.

Read adoption success stories.

Begin with an AncestryDNA test and start making discoveries of your own.

]]> 2
A 126-Year Mystery Solved with DNA: Who was Jack the Ripper? Tue, 07 Oct 2014 19:09:20 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> JacktheRipper1888

Picture complements of Wikipedia. “With the Vigilance Committee in the East End: A Suspicious Character” from The Illustrated London News, 13 October 1888 (unknown illustrator).

Who Was Jack the Ripper?

We’re kicking off October with a murder mystery that has recently been covered in the news. A claim that DNA evidence points to a suspect in a 126-year old cold case from England is behind the recent discussions. DNA found on a shawl that was left on one of the victims of Jack the Ripper has been lifted and tested, and points to the identity of the killer.

Aaron Kosminski was a Jewish, Polish-born immigrant.  Kosminski was one of six major suspects in the case. The Finnish molecular biologist who did the DNA testing claims that there is a perfect match between the DNA lifted from the shawl and a descendant of the sister of Kosminski. The crimes were committed in 1888 and the shawl has been passed down in a family from generation to generation, before being placed in a museum, and ultimately put up for auction in 2007. That is when the journey began for English detective Edwards Russell who began researching the case.

Advancements in DNA Testing

Technology continues to advance the field of DNA testing. Unfortunately, contamination of the shawl and the lack of details in the DNA testing process, as well as a lack of peer-reviewed or published data, casts doubt on the verdict of Jack the Ripper’s identity. However, it raises a few good questions: Could we solve this mystery with DNA? What would it take?

It is very possible.

DNA has been used in the past to answer historical questions when records weren’t available to researchers. In cases where there has been lack of evidence, DNA has stepped in to provide evidence and help prove a theory. One thing to keep in mind is that the case of Jack the Ripper isn’t closed, but new evidence has stirred the pot.

If it was possible to test descendants of the other suspects and the victim, a close shared DNA relationship between any of them could be ruled out, adding supporting evidence. To even go deeper, the DNA of the family members who had the shawl in their possession should be tested, eliminating the possibility that their DNA contaminated the evidence. For now though, there is still some lingering doubt as to who Jack the Ripper really was.

Solving Mysteries

Do you have unsolved mysteries in your own family history?

DNA can help. The important thing in any case is getting the right people tested. Start with yourself. Gender doesn’t matter. Both males and females can take this test, so you can discover something out about yourself. Keep in mind, you don’t carry all of the DNA that has come before you, so it’s important to get others in your family tested too. DNA can help, but it may take some time to find the answers you are looking for.


*This article was about how an unsolved mystery is using modern technology to solve a historical case. AncestryDNA doesn’t test the DNA of a deceased person or match your DNA to that of a deceased person.  AncestryDNA or did not participate in any of the research. Our role is simply to share industry news.



]]> 2 Between The Leaves: It’s in our DNA Fri, 26 Sep 2014 14:48:24 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> In this episode, professional genealogists Anne Gillespie Mitchell, Crista Cowan, and Juliana Szucs Smith were joined by AncestryDNA product manager, Anna Swayne who shared how DNA testing can provide break through’s in your family history research.

We also learned Crista’s mom has 48 pages of possible cousin matches, wow! We hope you’ll be able to use some of the tips and strategies shared on how to best manage all your DNA matches.

See the full episode of Between the Leaves here:

Our Between the Leaves Google+ Hangouts are an informal and, hopefully, educational conversation where our professional genealogists share their methods, stories and passion for family history research. To see all our Between the Leaves episodes visit our playlist on YouTube here.

]]> 36
Get It on Paper: Printing Your Ethnicity Estimate Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:10:00 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> You spoke and we are listening. You can now print your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate! This has been a highly-requested feature and gives you one more way that you can share your results with your family. This could be handy especially during the upcoming holiday season when you’ll be seeing a lot of your family members.

How to Print Your AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimate

Sign into  your account and click on the DNA tab at the top of the page. Select “See full Ethnicity Estimate” (shown below).

dna homepage

Click the print icon on the right hand side of the page (see red box below).



From here you have two options to print:

First option is a print_options1summary chart of all regions that is 1-2 pages







print_options_all regions1



Second option is a more detailed report of your ethnicity regions-pages with vary depending on many ethnicity regions you have.

When you choose the second option, the system will estimate how many pages you would be printing before you click print. You can see from my example, my more detailed report will be 21 pages to print.

Click “Print” and you will be taken to your printer’s features from there.

Remember that your ethnicity estimate may change with future updates. To learn more about how your ethnicity results are calculated, check out “The Faces Behind AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Regions.”

]]> 10
It’s a Small World: Discovering a 5th Cousin at FGS 2014 Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:31:48 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> Recently at the annual Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) conference in San Antonio, Texas, I was giving a presentation on how best leverage AncestryDNA to break down brick walls within your research. I showed the audience my 5th Cousin_w/Anna Swaynelist of DNA matches and the best strategies to tackling them one by one. After the class a man approached me and said, “I am your cousin.”

Don’t hear those words every day. He saw himself in my list of matches! Wow, in a room of 300 people from across the country – what are the chances I had a cousin sitting in the audience? He lives in New York, I live in Utah, and we meet for the first time in Texas. We quickly figured out how we were related (we both have public trees linked to our DNA results online). We committed to each other to stay connected. After all, we share ancestors and some DNA – what more reason do you need to stay connected?

Glad that Scott, my DNA cousin, introduced himself and we became fast friends. Who will you connect with? Making a DNA connection isn’t lucky, it’s likely. Click here to make a connection of your own.

Next week, I’ll share more in-depth about this connection and how it can happen for you.


]]> 3
This Grandparents Day, Honor Your Grandparents by Preserving Their Legacy Wed, 03 Sep 2014 13:47:56 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> looking at results

Emily and her grandmother

Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 7th. It’s a great time to stop and remember a story or two about them or, if they are still around, take the opportunity to see them. One of my favorite times before my grandfather passed away was listening to him tell stories about his childhood. If you are the grandparent, don’t wait around for your grandchildren to ask questions — write the stories down now. Chances are they will be interested later in life and what better way to remember you than by your first-hand accounts? I am lucky because my grandmother wrote a little book and it’s even more meaningful to me as an adult. The one thing I wish was around before my grandparents passed was DNA testing. If you have older members in your family, get them tested to help preserve your family legacy.

Emily and her grandmother took the AncestryDNA test her during Christmas break last year and planned to review the results during her summer visit. She was surprised to find out that she had quite a few different ethnicity regions and wasn’t 100% European. Emily discovered that one of her grandmother’s matches actually lived close by. That started a conversation about her grandmother’s childhood and how they were related to the long-lost ancestor.  Her test not only preserved her DNA but created the opportunity to make new discoveries on that side of the family.

On this Grandparents Day, take the time to remember your grandparents. Their stories are part of their legacy and so is their DNA. Preserve it for the generations to come. If you don’t, who will? You might be surprised in what you find out. Start here with AncestryDNA for you or your grandparent.

What are some of your most treasured memories with your grandparent(s)? We’d love for you to share them in the comments below!

]]> 4
Back to School with AncestryDNA Tue, 26 Aug 2014 19:03:45 +0000 Anna Swayne Read more]]> chalk broad blog

It doesn’t matter what clothes you buy or the school supplies you have for this back to school special, let AncestryDNA take you back to school in DNA testing. If you are just getting started this will help you understand the process. If you have already been tested but haven’t looked at your results in a while, this will help you revisit the results and refresh your mind on the power of DNA.

Below you will see 5 unique lessons/topics of what you need to know about DNA testing. If you are like a few of my classmates and need the cliff’s notes version before you read the actual book, see this blog post to give you a taste of what you can learn below.




Lesson 1: Take the AncestryDNA test

This is the first step, after ordering the kit. The collection of saliva is simple and easy but you need to review the instructions before hand.

In fact did you know how much saliva you actually need to provide? (1 teaspoon)

To review the instructions on how to provide a sample click here.





inheritance you Lesson 2: Genetic Inheritance

While you are waiting for your DNA sample to be processed at the lab, let’s walk you through how you got your DNA and why it’s important.

Click here to learn about genetic inheritance. It’s fun to learn about how unique you are in your family and that DNA that makes you so unique also opens up a world of discoveries to your past.



ethnicity Lesson 3: Ethnicity Estimate 

Now that you understand whom you got your DNA from and why that matters, check out the first part of your DNA results, ethnicity estimate.

Click here to learn how diverse you are.  Perhaps you already have your DNA results and you were a little surprise at the results, click here to read why that could happen.



matchesLesson 4: Matching Process

Ethnicity estimate is only half of your DNA results. Diving into your matches can lead you to unknown discoveries of your own.

Click here to learn a few tips and tricks in exploring your matches.


If you can do the first one I think it’s one of the most important steps. Check it out, we don’t want you to miss any thing.  Reference this post as you revisit your results every so often. As more people get tested, the more matches you could possibly have. The more matches you have, the more DNA hints you can discover.


settingsLesson 5: Settings and Features

The button to the left you can find on the DNA homepage.


This is where you can change the name of a test, change the tree the DNA results are linked to and share your DNA results.

If you purchased the kit for your grandmother and had the results posted to your account and now she wants access to them-you can now share them with her. Click here to get the step-by-step instructions on how to do this.


Now that you have gone through all 5 lessons we congratulate you on going back to school with AncestryDNA!


Extra Credit

Watch this video, Getting started with AncestryDNA, and see Crista Cowan and myself walk through AncestryDNA results and answer questions from a live online audience.


The best advice I can give is, don’t give up. DNA may be a new thing to a lot of you and as you revisit your results often you may find gems along the way. I remember it took a few months before I was able to make a connection on a family line I had been researching.

DNA is another tool to help us make connections, be patient with it and with yourself as you start to discover new things about your past. Remember if you haven’t taken the test you can do so now, click here



]]> 2