Posted by Ancestry Team on February 6, 2013 in AncestryDNA, Website

The new AncestryDNA™ service is continually being updated and improved upon—it’s just a part of the overall experience. One exciting new feature of the DNA test is the addition of the shaky leaf hint on your DNA results page. This new kind of hint will help you easily spot a DNA match who shares an ancestor with you—we call it the “Shared Ancestor Hint”. Those who are familiar with the shaky leaf on know that it’s an exciting hint that could lead you to a new family discovery. So look for it in your AncestryDNA results, right next to your DNA matches as shown in this image:



When you investigate your Shared Ancestor Hint, a simple chart lets you quickly confirm this connection in your family tree and see exactly how you are related. Could finding a long-lost cousin be any easier?

And now you also have the option to filter your DNA matches by hints, so you can quickly locate and review all of the shaky leaf icons in your long list of matches. Just set your filter from the dropdown to ‘Has a Hint’, as shown below.

So, how does the Shared Ancestor Hint work? Let’s take a closer look at this new hinting feature so you can get a better understanding of all that it has to offer and, ultimately, how it can help you in your next big discovery.

  • Keeping it in the family. The Shared Ancestry Hint looks at people that you are directly descended from in your family tree. In other words, ancestors that you share DNA with. So when you see a shaky leaf in your DNA results, it means that we’ve spotted an ancestor that both you and your DNA match have in common, and share DNA with. It wouldn’t make sense to consider others in your tree (such as spouses) that could lead to false shared ancestors.
  • It’s dynamic. As you or your DNA matches add to or change the family tree linked to the DNA test, the hinting system is automatically triggered to re-evaluate the possibility for hints on all DNA matches. This exciting feature works around the clock, which for lack of a better name we call “tree edit awareness.” So you can be sure that as new discoveries are happening throughout your tree or your DNA match’s tree, your DNA results will continue to pay off with new information for you.
  • Old or new, we’re searching for hints. All DNA matches that you receive, old and new, are assessed for a Shared Ancestor Hint. Even if your match occurred months ago, a hint could appear.
  • If it’s private, it’s still useful. While you can’t actually see a private tree or any details about a hint on a private tree, the shaky leaf can still appear to let you know a hint has been found for a DNA match that has a private tree. This allows you to reach out and send a message to that DNA match and share information on your own terms.
  • Ten generations covered. The Shared Ancestor Hint looks back up to 10 generations in both your and your DNA match’s family tree. We chose 10 generations for a few reasons. The likelihood of finding matches beyond this point is low, as many well-documented trees, on average, aren’t built out that far back and due to the nature of DNA inheritance, autosomal DNA matching gets less reliable beyond 10 generations. Also, it takes massive amounts of processing power to include more generations (there are over 2,000 possible ancestors in each tree going back 10 generations). If we went back further, it would not be as fast or available in real-time.
  • Our standards are high. If the shared ancestor does not pass our specifications for determining this hint, we won’t include it. Our quality assessment runs through a whole list of comparisons to make sure it checks off every one.
  • Finding shared ancestors even without a hint. We expect customers to discover shared ancestors that are not revealed by our hinting tools. Look for new features in the future that will enable you to identify “customer-found” shared ancestors, for example, to help you track these discoveries even better.

You’ll soon see that the Shared Ancestor Hint is one of the fastest ways to find new relatives and grow your family tree. AncestryDNA is continually keeping an eye out for common ancestors among your list of DNA matches—all you have to do is keep an eye out for the shaky leaf.

If you’re interested in learning more about the new AncestryDNA, or would like to order a DNA test, you can click here.


  1. Sue Smith

    Can we upload our DNA results from other testing companies so that we can benefit from the the Ancestry hints?

    • Trevor Thacker

      Sue, If you have taken a Y-DNA or mtDNA test from another DNA testing company, you are able to manually enter and edit your results for matching with members who have results for either of these tests on their account. Click here for more information: Unfortunately it is not possible to manually enter autosomal tests to the AncestryDNA database.

  2. I’ve had a little luck with this feature so far, but there still loads of room for improvement. For instance, a 5th cousin of mine who I knew to be a 5th cousin of mine doesn’t even appear in my results matches. She does appear in my mother’s results and my brother’s results. The hint for her tree does not appear on my mother’s results where she is found, but the hint does appear on my brother’s tree. Overall it can be pretty hit or miss still.

    I am glad to hear hints will also appear for private matches. I have no problems reaching out to anyone.:)

  3. I purchased four kits and each person has over 3000 matches – all total 12,000+. Of all of those matches, I only have two shakey leaves – one was a known family member and the other was not. I need a better tool to manage my matches.

  4. I have found quite a few matches through Ancestry DNA; for some of my matches, we can establish two different connections. This would be extremely useful if we had the genetic information for chromosome mapping, but the lack of this information greatly limits the degree of certainty in the results and the ability to correlate matches. I am hoping that this feature will eventually be added.

  5. Valerie

    About three weeks ago I wrote to Support to report a problem with hints/leaves, in which not all of the matches that had ancestor hints had a leaf. They said: “We do not yet have a timeline for when the hints are going to be fixed. It is a known issue.” I was hoping that with this blog post the problem had been fixed. Unfortunately, after checking my matches I still have (at least) three ancestor hints without leaves. Do you have any information to provide on this problem? This feature is great, but it’s extremely disappointing that it doesn’t work properly.

  6. I was very disappointed to see this post as I have been waiting anxiously for new ways to manage and understand my many matches. I purchased four kits for over $400 and have over 12,000 matches. This shaky leaf has been in use for over a month and in all of my matches, I have two leaves, one a cousin that I knew and one that I did not. New features and improvements have been promised at AncestryDNA. I hope that we see them soon.

  7. Lindi

    So far I have two problems with the shaky hint for the DNA test. One is the aforementioned, where not all the hints are showing, which is a known issue. So I’m glad that is something that will be addressed. The second is that almost all of my shared ancestor hints are in private trees. Those private trees can view my tree (as public) and see which ancestor has a hint in the tree, but I have no way to know who that ancestor is. I don’t need their member information or their lineage, but seeing which ancestor has the hint would be nice. Since those trees can see the hint where I can’t, they have no motivation to respond to my requests for simply who the ancestor we share is. In fact, with six trees I’ve messaged that are private and simply asked to know which ancestor is the common one, only one has ever responded.

  8. Don Richard

    I agree Lindi. Private tree owners should have to click an approval for us to be able to see what they see if they want to see the hint. It’s not about not being able to put in the work and finding what they have discovered for ourselves. They should be blocked from the hints if they are not willing to let us see it as well.

  9. Don Richard

    I agree Lindi. Private tree owners should have to click an approval for us to be able to see what they see if they want to see the hint. They should be blocked from the hints if they are not willing to let us see it as well.

  10. Mike

    I agree with don and Lindi. Matches with private trees would be fine if those folks responded to mail, but often times they don’t.

    I agree with don’s resolution. If a private tree blocks me, they should be blocked from my tree.

    That said, I love the hints that gives me, and the relative confirmation of the lines associated. I look forward to the issue of other hints that should have a shaky leaf being corrected.

    I have 5 tests in the system now 🙂

  11. I have recently received my results from 23andMe, another DNA testing company, and I am wondering if these results can be incorporated within your DNA data. It would be great if it could, for the extra information gained would be considered in our genealogical data, and could be shared with many of our people.

  12. I agree with Lindi, Don, and Mike. And I also agree with Don’s resolution. Another problem I have is people adding my tree to theirs when they can’t connect it with anything other than the leaf, so they grabbed it. When and if they return an email mail, they say the leaf gave them the name.

  13. Karen

    I am unimpressed with the shaky leaf hints. About a third of mine do not, in fact, go to a common ancestor. The person who is supposed to be “in common” is a person in one tree, but not the other. The name, place and date are not in common at all.

    Ancestry’s computer misses shared surnames (even within the 10 generation limit). It makes up names of places on the map that do not exist in my tree.

    While I have found many ancestors in common with my matches, it is by going through the trees line-by-line in the pedigree view. Since the “tools” provided can’t be trusted, I don’t even bother with them.

    When I find 3-4 common couples in a match’s tree that show as 5th-8th cousin in the very low confidence range, there is no way to figure out to whom (if anyone) the DNA corresponds. We need something akin to a chromosome browser & an “in common with” feature.

    Ancestry, your lack of professionalism in this test is very disappointing.

  14. Anne Reeves

    First my complaint about the DNA test matches. IF DNA is the basis of the matching, then why do I find “matches” that can only be derived from our trees having surnames in common? Among my so called matches that Ancestry sends are some (among the 4th cousin range) that have NO Central European or Scandanavian genes, yet my DNA read out contains genetic material from ONLY those two regions.

    As for the surnames in common – that is all they are: surnames. In no manner can those names be connected to the people on my tree with like surnames; or vice versa.

    We need to know what the criteria are that Ancestry uses to produce these so-called DNA matches. They certainly do not seem to be based on haploid matching, at least in my experience.

    As for private tree versus public tree: a) I always respond to enquiries and am more than willing to share my tree with those who turn out to be in some wise connected to people on it. For those who turn out not to be related, I provide an outline of the lines of descent on my tree, and offer to help them as best I can with whatever access to online materials that I have.

    The main reason for my changing my formerly public tree to private was because there were those who would simply take documents, stories, transcriptions etc. from my tree, publish them on theirs without acknowledging the original source and very often without the reference details (citation) that I had added.

  15. Sue

    I, for one, appreciate very much the continual enhancements and new tools that you keep rolling out. This product is only about a year old and just out of beta. It keeps getting better and better. The shaky leaf hint thing isn’t perfect yet, but it is very helpful. Last night, I got about 30 new matches, no leafs, but this morning two new leafs appeared on some of these new matches so I assume the leaf hint program just lags a bit behind uploading new matches. I have taken the DNA test with two other companies and’s autosomal dna results are 100% more useful to me, despite the problems with private trees etc. I also appreciated the explanation in this blog on why you only produce hints back 10 generations — a little problematic in that colonial America generations tend to be at 12-14 generations, but your explanation makes sense, and it is still possible to look for matches by viewing pedigrees of matches. (I have confirmed a good many colonial america ancestors that way even though most don’t promise results from autosomal dna tests that far back.) Anyway, great job in continuing to improve the search tools and I look forward to more in the coming months (surname search!, search “in common with” , raw data and chrom browser…and search by user name please.) along with explanations like this blog that help explain why certain features are designed one way or another.

  16. Patty Miller

    I’m confused!! Why would my dna results match to surnames of my husband????? We have no children yet I’ve rec’d dna matches from folk within his family!! Also, if my male cousins have taken the ydna test and I took the “new” dna text why aren’t we matching? I have not matched to any 1-3 level cousins.

    thank you

  17. Anne Reeves

    A further note: after checking all of my so-called DNA matches – not a ‘shaky leaf’ among them, suggesting, as I wrote earlier, that these ‘matches’ are often based simply on trees having like surnames and the ‘owners’ possibly having ancestors originating from similar regions. Hardly ‘matches.’ At least not in my understanding.

    Nothing can replace documentary evidence. And that is all the more true when, as in my case, one’s personal genome clearly has no trace of DNA from known ancestors.

  18. Alice Lynch

    So, do the DNA matches really mean that we share DNA or that we just originate from the same geographic region? I’m confused. I thought that a match indicated that we were definitely related.

  19. Karen

    @PATTY MILLER – If your DNA test results are attached to YOU in your tree, then you will not receive DNA matches to your husband unless you are related.

    Your cousins would have to take the new autosomal test that you took in order to “match”. The atDNA & Y-DNA tests look at different DNA segments. The tests are not interchangeable.

  20. Karen

    @ANNE REEVES – I have had thousands of matches and only about a dozen leaf hints – several being incorrect. The test is about the DNA, not the tree. At Family Tree DNA there are no trees until someone puts them up after receiving their results. I have matches at Ancestry that I also matched at FTDNA.

    I have found common ancestors with several hundred of my matches. Most of my matches are in the 5th-8th cousin, low to very low confidence range. Most are colonials. Some matches & I share as many as 5 common ancestral couples. My results with ancestors who immigrated in the mid 1800s have not been as good. But Ancestry has not opened the testing up worldwide. I believe those results will change when that happens.

  21. Karen

    @ALICE LYNCH – The DNA results mean we share DNA and are related. Although, at some point in the very low confidence range, the results may not be true. If the amount of DNA that we appear to share with out matches is very small, it may be real, or it may be what is called “noise”. Just too little to actually know for sure. But I have hundreds of low confidence range matches with whom I share common ancestors.

    What is lacking at Ancestry are the tools to cross check these results. Hopefully they will be forthcoming.

  22. Mike

    @Karen – I look forward to additional cross checking tools in the DNA results.

    I have 5 tests in the system – I’d love to be able to search across them. I’d like to be able to search for specific Surnames among the matches

  23. Anne Reeves

    Karen. First, I do roughly understand the mechanics of genetic descent. Thus I understand why I have zero trace of “British Isles” DNA in my personal genome, despite the documented fact of my having Welsh forebears (several, though most fairly distant). What I cannot accept as meaningful, however, is the following. Among my so-called matches, including one amongst the “4th” cousin range (!), are those who have ONLY “British Isles” DNA. MY personal genome supposedly contains ONLY Central European and Scandanavian (65% and 35% respectively). How then could there conceivably be a match with someone whose genome contains no DNA from either area (or vice versa)? Having like surnames in our respective trees is surely NOT supposed to be the point of the exercise? Yet those “matches” wherein they and I share zero DNA (apparently) seem to spring solely from coincidence of surnames.

  24. James

    I have been checking to see if I have any shaky leaves next to my matches and not one has appear I have a 3rd cousin that I know we are related and not one of us have a shaky leaf by our names. How accurate are these matches

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