Posted by Anna Swayne on January 29, 2014 in AncestryDNA

If you have taken a DNA test, you have seen that AncestryDNA gives you Hints to where you and your DNA match may share a common ancestor. DNA Hints aren’t influenced by Tree Hints—DNA Hints combine the power of genetics and family history to show where an ancestor is shared among your DNA match.

Many of us are very familiar with the Tree Hints or the Shaky Leaf Hints that are calculated for us when we begin a tree on If any of you are like me, then you always check your number of Hints, which are shown after login at the top right hand corner. You can see that I five waiting for me now.

shaky leaf hints

Tree Hints help me identify what other records Ancestry has found based on the information I have entered into my tree and even looks at other member trees. It’s reassuring to know Ancestry is constantly doing work in the background to help me discover more about my family, but remember, these are just hints. You still need to verify the research to  make sure the match Ancestry has identified is accurate.

DNA Hints are similar to tree Hints but work in a different way. After you take a DNA test, AncestryDNA compares your DNA to everyone in the AncestryDNA database and depending on how much DNA you share with another individual, Ancestry estimates a relationship and gives you a list of matches. If you have linked your tree to your DNA results, AncestryDNA can now look through your and  your DNA match’s trees and search for common names. If Ancestry finds the same person in your tree and your DNA match’s tree then it will indicate with a DNA Hint on the match page. A leaf is displayed next to the number of people in your match’s tree used to indicate that AncestryDNA has found where the possible connection is.

shared ancesty hint match list

When you click “review match” you will be able to see where the possible connection is. Again, this information is based on the tree you linked to your results. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you link the correct tree to the right DNA results.

Because this match and I both share DNA and had Samuel Plummer and Sarah Miles in our trees – AncestryDNA gave me a DNA Hint and now I can see where the possible connection is.

shared ancestry hint samuel plumber and sarah miles

I still need to go in and verify the connection, but descendancy research is something I would like to get better at and my DNA matches will help me discover more. Go to the DNA homepage, click see matches and then you can filter all your DNA matches by Hints. See example below.


Next week I will share with you how I found my great grandfather’s picture through a DNA hint.  In the meantime go search all your matches by hints. Good Luck!

Anna Swayne

Anna Swayne has 9 years of experience in the DNA genealogy world. At Ancestry, she leads efforts in developing education to help our community maximize their experience with AncestryDNA. She believes there is real power behind DNA and the story it can unlock for each of us. When she is not talking DNA you can find her hiking or cycling in the mountains or cooking at home.


  1. Delphia

    I took the AncestryDNA test, and while I have been rather pleased with the ethnicity results, I am at a loss as to how to use the hints. My father and great-grandfather were both adopted. How do I find who I am really related to?

  2. Yvonne Quinn

    My grandmother has no clue who her father is but I can trace her mothers side and she went by 2 or 3 different names. I can’t ask her because her memory is going. So I’m lost. I have managed to do a big part of my grandfather’s side and I have some photo’s of one of my multiple great grandfather’s that served in the Civil War.

  3. Tamara

    How does it work when someone has a private or non -published FT? Does it still pop up as a possible match? thanks

  4. Linda

    I really feel for people who have no family info I am lucky both my parents have done genealogy so I do have a base of info. I I have been able to find my dads family in England that he hasn’t found and that is exciting using suggestions from here. Getting obsessed!!

  5. brian

    Delphia, it would help a lot if you had your parents’ DNA tested as well because that would help separate which side of the family your connections come from. If you find people connected to your father, then you’ll have a clue as to his background. Otherwise you’ll have to do a process of elimination by researching your mother’s side as much as possible and eliminating any connections from her side to get your fathers’.
    Tamara, Ancestry finds the matches whether or not the person has uploaded a tree. If their tree is private or not uploaded, you can contact the person through Ancestry.

  6. Brandy

    I am struggling with my grandfather on my dads side, all I know is very minimil information. Such as his mothers name, where she was born and whom she married before my grandfathers dad. Now we are at a complete road block. There has been question that the man may be of color or mixed, about where he is from, and how the name Richardson even came. I sent in my DNA sample today. Now I am hoping maybe to find out more…

  7. Dinorah

    I had my DNA test & the results amaze me, even though now I have more questions than before. But I consider everything to be a positive, I have found connections to my family that I never knew existed. We have always have questions about my father’s side of the family, I have learn a lot about my Mom’s side of the family, but now I have run into a road block, 1st their memory are not so clear anymore, 2nd records weren’t kept as good. So I have many questions that I hope some day I could find my answers. Besides that I like looking at the hints both through the tree hints and the DNA hints, I believe this is great!!!!

  8. freeseek

    When I look for AncestryDNA hints, I find none and I get a message saying “Add more people to your family tree to find your shared ancestors.” I find this a little off. In fact, AncestryDNA will only show hints for DNA relatives that have one of my ancestors in *their* tree. If I have a relative in my tree that it is an ancestors in one of my DNA relative’s tree, it doesn’t matter, as the system won’t look for those. In such a scenario if they don’t add more ancestors it won’t help and the suggestion should therefore be more like “Add more people to your family tree and tell them to do so as well to find your shared ancestors.” Overall, AncestryDNA should not just look for ancestors-ancestors matches, it should also look for relatives-ancestors and ancestors-relatives matches (notice that my ancestor’s relative is also my relative, but my relative’s relative is not necessarily a relative of mine).

  9. Diane

    My DNA came up as having the shared ancestors of John Chipman and Hope Howland with a tree containing a line of male Chipman ancestors. My ancestor Silence Dimmock is thought to be the daughter of Bethia Chipman and this would be the only link I would have with this other tree. The Mayflower Society begs to differ, however, and they say that Silence Dimmock is NOT the daughter of Bethia Chipman but is the daughter of Timothy Dimmock’s second unnamed wife. They, of course, will not accept this DNA evidence. So what does this mean for the accuracy of this DNA test if the results are not accepted? How did I come to be linked with the Chipmans if Bethia Chipman is not my ancestor? Or is she?

  10. MarilynL

    @freeseek and to the AncestryDNA team: I also have no hints, though I currently have 167 pages of DNA cousins. I am Ashkenazi Jewish, so it is very distressing to read the note that pops up whenever I look to see if I have a hint yet. I have not received a single hint since I took the test in June 2013. I have been working on my tree very diligently; it’s just not possible yet to find relatives in Europe, though I greatly appreciate the work you are doing to help us, with your partnership with among others. I have high hopes of finding more ancestors, and work on my tree almost daily.

    All of my known ancestors arrived in the US between 1850 and 1920. I have not identified any beyond great great grandparents on the maternal side, and great grandparents on the paternal side. Many were probably lost in pogroms in the late 1800s, early 1900s, and in the Holocaust.

    So, I ask you to please consider our feelings, and change the message that I see every time I check to see if a hint has appeared. It may be applicable to some, but certainly not to me or others in a similar situation.

  11. S_H999

    While AncestryDNA is interesting, sometimes fun, and occasionally a source of insight, the bothersome truth is that AncestryDNA has not given us the tools to answer many of our questions, nor have the general users been provided with the training on how to best use the product.

    In order to mine the mountain of information provided in those thousands of DNA matches, we need ways, for example:
    (1) to have our matches’ pedigrees analyzed for the most common names that occur at a frequency that is higher than the average in the database;
    (2) to check which of our matches can be put into sets as “in common with” or “not in common with” other matches;
    (3) mark the DNA segments we have with any given match, to track if these segments re-occur in another match (this implies the availability of a segment browser);
    (4) get a good estimate of the importance of a match, which ought to be conveyed on a frequency scale (i.e., centiMorgans).

  12. Lincoln Lowery

    I really would like to know HOW I match people – such as where on which chromosome. Otherwise, I ignore most of my “matches” there. Most of the distant matches aren’t even related to me. I have no idea which matches match each other. There are so many unknowns. It is the least helpful DNA site. I love so much about Ancestry, but the DNA aspects are sorely lacking.

  13. Dee Flint

    That far back in a tree, autosomal DNA can not be proof positive. Small populations shared a lot of common DNA and that is probably what you are running into. With the one wife as being unidentified, you cannot know how she might be related to the other members of the community.

  14. As an adoptee, I need a way to find matching ancestors between my cousins. I’ve tried building my closest matches trees on my account and setting myself to them, and that works to some extent but it’s hugely time consuming. What I would much prefer is if Ancestry had a pair of fields I could fill in with my matches screen names and say ‘find matches between’ A and B.

    Of course, it would be nice if you could search your matches by screen name to start with… I feel like I see more distant matches once, review them and then the fall off into the ocean of mediocre matches.

    Also, they seriously need to switch to the cM system for matching….

  15. Kristin Robinson

    As for Hints that show matches between your tree and a DNA match, they only seem to give you one even if there is more than one common ancestor. Because ANCESTRY does not see fit to provide us with the actual matching segments, we have no way of knowing if the one hint they give you is the correct one. They don’t seem to scan for hints after the first run through as I have added new confirmed DNA branches…from other DNA companies to my tree, but ANCESTRY never adds a new hint connection to my tree. I have a new second cousin who has tested and THEY get the hint and my old test does not and both tests are connected to the same tree. I have tested both of my parents and I get hints for matches on my mother’s side when the match doesn’t exist on my mom’s test. Again, we need segment data and ways to sort “in common with” matches. I would love to know which names come up most frequently but how? One at a time? More Excel sheets? I have over 6500 matches and no way to deal with them in any meaningful way. Boo Ancestry.

  16. I have found on a couple of occasions where failed to identify and list a dna hint with one of the most recent common ancestor with which I have a dna match.

  17. MWard6702

    These hints are great, and almost always correct. But they’re pretty rare, considering how many candidate matches there are. I’ve also found a few paper-trail connections that somehow escaped the matching algorithms.

    If only Ancestry would give us the actual match data, we could make more DNA/DNA matches ourselves. I’ve got a large number of 4th to 6th cousins who must also match each other — but they don’t seem to know it, and we don’t have the paper trails to find out how and where. If only Ancestry gave us the actual match data, we could put them in groups by common-ancestor name. If only.

    Does anyone have any idea why Ancestry won’t give us the data? Everybody else does.

  18. Deeanna

    We need some tools to work with. Sometimes when I am trying to work with my matches (I have tested 5 people here) I feel like I am drowning in data with no way to adequately analyze it or organize it. Both the other main ancestry testing sites, as well as Gedmatch could teach ancestry a lot about how to work with DNA matches. We need a chromosome browser, or at least an “in common with” tool. We need the ability to file our matches better – the star is not adequate, and we need to be able to search by username.

  19. Joe

    Many DNA bloggers have found too many inaccuracies with these hints.
    “Shakey Leaf” should be re-named “Dodgy Leaf” Hints.

    Without a Chromosome Browser and the ability to see the segment matching data, I would not recommend ancestryDNA.

  20. Beverly Bonton

    As many have already suggested, we need tools to work with: a chromosome browser, or at least the chromosome and segment length we share with our match.

    I have over 8,000 matches. My relative whose account I manage has over 9,000 matches. The yellow star is just useless for organizing this abundance of matches.

    Yes, green leaf hints are great, that is, when they work. But several of my matches and I share descent from more than one line of ancestors. A chromosome browser is definitely needed to sort this situation out. The leaf hint system also misses obvious shared ancestors in trees.

    The worst thing the green leaf hint system does is tell me that my match is matching one of my parents who are listed as Private in my tree. Then the leaf hint will proceed to tell me that the top person on my match’s side of the equation, who was born say in 1803, is my parent’s great great grand niece. You just have to see one of these matches to believe how absurd the leaf system can be, and I have several of these totally absurd leaf hint matches.

    Please give us better tools to work with.

  21. Kelly Wheaton

    A picture is worth a thousand words. people do ‘t believe these matches and comment that they are just pull the matches iff matching trees. We need to show the matching segments because people do not understand what a match is.

    It would be very nice to be able to search by User Name and I would like ways to organize the huge number of matches. More colored dots or tabs or something.

    Thank you.

  22. Cheryl Klym

    My requests echo most above:

    *a segment browser, in cMs….
    *an “in common with” filter
    *ability to search by user name
    *new scans for leaf hints (so as I add a line to my tree I can see who becomes a leaf match)

    *how about 4 or 5 colors for each of several shapes for our own organization or general categories?


  23. Tanisha

    To echo what others are saying:

    Having a function that lets us know what segments and chromosomes match would be helpful. Not all of us have a paper trail going back 7 or 8 generations, also in my family’s case often the father listed is not the biological father.

    Also what would be helpful is a “matches in common” feature to group relatives from the same branch and a stronger “Surnames in Common” function and the ability to search by username.

    Currently I have to use outside tools such as Gedmatch, Genome Mate, and the Ancestry Chrome Extension to serve all these functions when Ancestry could just develop and add these much needed tools.

  24. Patty

    I’m sorry, I personally don’t see the difference between “tree hints” and “DNA hints” They work the same way!

    Someone shares an ancestor with you and you get a “tree hint”

    If a DNA cousin shares the same ancestor with you get a “DNA hint”! If your tree isn’t extended out far enough you would NOT get a DNA hint.

    Plus the “DNA hint” does NOT mean this ancestor is the one whose DNA the two of you share. I have gotten a number of DNA hints through my father’s side of the tree and when I ask my DNA cousin to upload to GEDmatch, the DNA cousin matches my mother and me on the same chromosome and does not match any of my father’s siblings!

    The “DNA hints” are misleading!!

  25. Kathy

    Please give us more tools! I would love a Chromosome browser that would allow us to see on which segment of which chromosome we match with our matches. This would help with trying to identify who our common ancestors were if we already had a match on that segment with someone else with whom we’ve already found a common ancestor.

    I would love to see dna matches have a different symbol instead of a shaky leaf, maybe a helix Icon and then incorporate them into our trees along with shaky leaves so when we are working on our trees we can see if we have dna hints right along side of our tree hints.

    I wish there was a way to see if we have names that pop up in more than one of our matches trees, even if they are not known names of one of our ancestors. If a certain ancestral line shows up in a number of our matches trees than it would be nice to be able to check out the possibility if that line is a possible ancestral line of mine that I haven’t discovered yet.

    I wish we could do a search by user name. I also wish there was a better way to organize all of our matches.

  26. Beverly Bonton

    Here are two examples of how unreliable the dna matching green leaf hint can be:

    Example #l: the tree matching algorithm completely missed my and my match’s shared set of 3rd great grandparents. Instead it has me as the sister of a female born in 1870.

    Example #2: The green leaf matching dna hint has 2 options listed for me and my match. The algorithm picked up my and my match’s shared set of 2nd great grandparents. It completely missed our third cousin once removed match. Instead the second option has me as the sister of a female born in 1852.

    Does anyone seriously believe I am the sister of a female born in 1870 and a female born in 1852? That would make me approximately 140 to 150 years old. Granted I’m getting older, but come on Ancestry, your green leaf dna matching family tree hint algorithm has some serious problems.

    Show me the matching dna segments, please!

  27. Tom Duescher

    I have been generally pleased on the results but have two issues. One is unless the common Ancestor has EXACTLY the same spelling and an EXACT date it is not shown as a match. Perhaps allow Soundex and a date match range.

    I agree a Chromosome browser is needed. Gedmatch has done a good job in building a useable table based database. Real matches can not be confirmed unless a way to match segments is allowed. Take a look at Gedmatch. They have the features I need but do not have the finance and manpower to scale it up. Simple (Hire the two of them)

  28. leesa dunne

    I agree with tom hire the people from #gedmatch. A chromosome browser would be lovely to have. Would love people from other countries to be tested as my family is somewhat recent immigrants. I have only received one green leaf hint for dna match

  29. Elizabeth

    We really need to have a chromosome browser on Ancestry DNA. Not everyone is uploading to Gedmatch and it would be helpful to use to analyze our DNA matches. All the other testing sites have a chromosome browser and I don’t understand why this site does not.

  30. Cathy Kesseler

    We definitely need tools to work the matches and matching segment information. An in common with filter is needed to work matches. The DNA hints are great but without being able to do triangulation, it is not possible to know that the matching DNA came from the ancestor indicated in the tree hint. In some cases my daughter and I both have a match. My daughter has a tree hint pointing to her father’s side. She may very match that person on her father’s side but I don’t.

  31. Angel Piper

    I’ve tested at all three of the big players in the genetic genealogy field, and Ancestry is the one that’s the least useful to me. Without a chromosome browser or a way to compare our matches to each other, there’s no real way to interpret the data.

    Sorry Ancestry, but until we get a chromosome browser, I can’t recommend your service.

  32. Denise Tyler

    2000+ matches are interesting, but without the ability to match segments with other DNA cousins, the information isn’t very useful. PLEASE give us a chromosome browser.

  33. Jo Gessford

    I echo what everyone else has been saying. A chromosome browser is essential. Ancestry if you want to stay in this DNA testing competition you need to supply the tools we need. The tree comparison is wonderful, but we all know our trees aren’t perfect and they won’t ever be unless we can use DNA to prove who our ancestors really are.

  34. Jenny Stephenson

    AncestryDNA users are able to access an infinitesimally small fraction of this product’s potential without an on-site chromosome browser. Why transferring raw AncestryDNA results to gedmatch or ftDNA doesn’t cut the mustard: I transferred AncestryDNA results to ftDNA. Their autosomal DNA database is very small in comparison with Ancestry’s so you get only 100-200 matches– if you’re lucky. I transferred AncestryDNA results to and invited AncestryDNA matches to upload their results there so we can tell where we have matching segments. I have found that most matches (all but 2) lack the momentum to go that extra step to transfer their raw results to a different service provider. If the chromosome browser is here at people will use it. Ancestry is missing out on an opportunity to become the premier atDNA testing resource. Now is the perfect time. 23andme’s reputation has suffered from the FDA debacle, ftDNA is hindered by their small atDNA database. With’s large atDNA database, is perfectly positioned to take a commanding lead. Please don’t let bureaucratic difficulties hinder you.

  35. Karen White

    Chromosome Browser. Please, oh please, oh PLEASE. Obviously some people wouldn’t use it/need it/understand it, but geez. If the guys at gedmatch can do it for free, how hard could it be for a company with your resources?

    I realize that you’re supposed to be working on something “better than a chromosome browser” but from what I’ve heard, it still may not let us actually SEE the matches on the chromosomes.

    I can’t tell you how many times that it would appear, from matching trees, that I match someone at ftdna on a particular ancestor… only to find out, after looking at the chromosome browser, that we actually have ANOTHER ancestor in common as well, and that is where the matching dna comes from. It happens a LOT.

  36. zajiou

    I really think that if someone has their tree set to private you should still be able to see the common person in the tree. Far too many have it set to private and almost none of them reply back..

  37. I have a dna connection that makes me think my tree is not correct due to a different father than who was the legal father. Yet I have a hint in a tree that says they are a dna match showing the legal father IS the biological father. When we get hints of dna connection in the ancestry tree, is this a true connection or does it mean an inferred connection. I had not connected to this inferred tree before but am trying to to see what happens.

  38. gberlucchi

    I am growing impatient waiting for the Ancestry to give us the tools we need to screen for matches. The green leaf just doesn’t cut it. I downloaded my DNA results to They have a great site and excellent tools. Make a donation if you can. I suggest others do the same. Don’t expect Ancestry to deliver on what we have been asking for.

  39. frederick underwood

    I wish for my raw DNA charts to be mailed to me on my underwood tree and my wife JoAnn canady tree or snail mail all to me… Frederick

  40. frederick underwood

    I have underwoods in Canada, 1800 ,now I find I have underwood / Flowers in U.S.A. 1700’s.. how will D.N.A. Tell me if all underwoods are related blood line. England, Scotland or Ireland, would I have to have three Different underwood group programs working? Frederick Underwood

  41. Christine Schomaker

    Please make it possible to search the DNA results list by user name! I have 147 pages of matches and I want to quickly go to the results for the one I’m corresponding with.

    Also, why don’t the DNA Hints update after I make a change to the tree my DNA is linked to? Sometimes if I return to the site a week or more later I can see that an update has happened. If Ancestry understandably cannot update the DNA Hints instantly when I click on the DNA Hints button, then please provide a note explaining how long I need to wait before expecting to get updated DNA Hints.

  42. Scott

    I actually research the siblings of direct descendants because . . . women are normally the history keepers in the family. Men . . . not so much! Case in point: my great grandfather abandoned the family, so there isn’t a death record for him, however, he had a brother and sister. The brother’s death certificate listed the parents as “unknown”; however, the sister’s death certificate listed the names of the parents. Same issue with trying to determine the maiden name of one of my paternal 2 x great grandmothers. All the death certs on the sons just listed her first name, but my great-grandfather’s sister’s death cert listed her mother’s . . . maiden name. So, research the siblings of direct ancestors can often help you break through the brick walls.

Comments are closed.