Posted by Anna Swayne on February 5, 2014 in AncestryDNA

It seemed too easy—thanks to my DNA match.

It had been several months since I received my results, and I wasn’t expecting what I found. It all started with a DNA shared ancestor hint that connected me to a cousin who had another piece of my story. After reviewing the hint I confirmed we share 3rd great-grandparents. Dates and locations were the extent of my research on this line, so I quickly reviewed my cousin’s public tree and saw a picture for my great-grandfather, Finis Richard Phillips, who was my cousin’s direct ancestor’s brother. You can only imagine my excitement. I clicked into Finis’s profile on my cousin’s tree and there it was, a picture of him. I thought could this be? Has my dad even seen this picture? This would be his grandfather who died when he was 11.


And if it couldn’t get any better, next to the picture was a scanned newspaper article about him from the Sugar City, Colorado, Gazette, Nov. 3, 1916.


I learned he was running for Democratic Commissioner of the 2nd Commissioners District in southeastern Colorado. But that wasn’t the best part of the article—he was known by his friends as “Rosy.” That’s information I would have never found in a census record.  Here was a piece of my story waiting for me to discover and now I can share it with my family. I was so proud to be his descendant and I had so much gratitude for this DNA match, whom I had never met, who took the time to share what she had with me.

A quick tip to make the best connections with your DNA matches: make sure you link the right DNA results to the right individual in your tree. If you took the test, link your DNA results to you in your tree. If you don’t have a tree that starts with you, I would highly encourage you do so to get the most out of your matching. You can only link individual results to one tree, but you can link multiple results to the same tree.

It’s your turn, take a DNA test. Then get others in your family tested and see what more you can add to your story.


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. Leslie

    On Facebook, the description of this article stated: “Our DNA expert Anna Swayne discusses linking your AncestryDNA test to your tree and what to do if you have multiple trees.” I don’t think this article addresses multiple trees at all, and the discussion about linking individual results to one tree, but linking multiple results to the same tree is confusing and doesn’t explain what is meant by multiple results or how to link them.

  2. How do you link in to matches……is there a special way or do you just take down their information and enter it individually…….Look forward to hearing from you…..Thank you jean

  3. Crista Cowan

    Leslie – Anna states in the article above, “You can only link individual results to ONE tree…” (emphasis added). She suggests that you create one tree that starts with yourself if you are the one that took the test. Multiple trees cause a lot of confusion for those DNA cousins trying to figure out exactly how they are related to you.

    As for multiple results – I have had several people in my family tested in order to get a more complete picture of the DNA of our family tree. I have all three of those test results attached to the same tree.

    Does that help?

  4. Susan Blattner

    I wish Ancestry would allow me to enter yDNA results from FTDNA on all the men in my tree who have tested. Right now my uncles’s results are posted as mine as account holder, which is physically impossible. It is the only kit allowed. I also wish those results were available during DNA match searches.

  5. Lynn Koehler

    I am helping a friend with his family history and in order for him to see what I am working on, I created a tree on Ancestry that he is invited to. He took the DNA test. Can he link his results to himself in the tree that he is just invited to or do I have to do that?
    Thank you,
    Lynn Koehler

  6. observer

    I wasn’t aware of the linking feature of linking my DNA to my family tree.

    I’m a little disappointed in the interactive features of the DNA results that match up with mine. I don’t know if others are having the same experience.

    One of the reasons I did the test was because of a brick wall that has confounded me for forty years of research. I thought that perhaps by doing this I might find some possible descendants. I had a number of close matches… two of them actually had the last name in their list that I was searching for. But nine times out of ten, when I contact them with a polite request for a response, and sharing surnames, I do not hear back from them.

    So many people seem to have partaken in the DNA testing but so few seem to want to connect.

    I did have one very successful experience with a second cousin I had never met who also tested and replied to me. Her information took me back three generations that I did not have plus photos and family stories I would never have known.

    I only wish that the other very close matches were as cordial and helpful as she was. It just seems that there isn’t a lot of interest other than doing the test to learn ethnic breakdowns.

  7. Eva Goeken

    I have DNA matches confirmed after checking trees, but many do not post tree or many surnames. I agree that when you contact some people they do not reply.

  8. Marci Bowman

    You are aware, I hope, that the leaf hints in the DNA portion are no more accurate than the hints in regular Ancestry, or proof of any DNA connection. It is POSSIBLE that you found a distant cousin. Having evaluated many Ancestry “matches” using GedMatch, you have an equally good chance of not actually sharing any IBD DNA at all. Or of sharing a bit of DNA from some other ancestor on a totally different line.

    Until you can evaluate the matches with a Chromosome Browser and similar tools, you are only kidding yourself. Shaky leaves hardly rise to the level of acceptable genealogical proof. Until Ancestry can provide these tools, you need to be very skeptical.

  9. Patricia Whitney-Jones (maiden: Lackie

    I took the DNA test (for females) and was happy with the results. I had two 2nd cousins (both male) on the report. I wish more would contribute and be willing to discuss research. Happy searching ~ Tricia

  10. Marilyn Whitaker

    I had DNA tests done on Husband, son and Nephew on my paternal side. I have had contact with individuals on Paternal side and think we have moved back one generation after 40 years of searching. My problem is I can not get the matches to open to even check possible connections. Just too slow .
    Wish I could open them have lots of promissing matches listed.

  11. Another Observer

    I have very few close DNA matches. Only fourth cousins or more and most of the names do not fit. So I am not really having a positive experience with DNA matching.

  12. Observer

    Marcy Bowman: I don’t get shaky leaf hints for DNA results. I’m not speaking of those when I talk about possible DNA matches. For instance, my brother did the Ancestry DNA test as well and he shows up as immediate family. My cousins who I did get in contact with show up as second cousins. And we confirmed that relationship through shared tree information.

    I have also had several third cousin matches with 95% confidence in the matches. These are the individuals I was speaking of when I mentioned that close matches don’t always seem to be interested in comparing notes. When I contact them, I send a list of surnames, maternal and paternal, and an introduction as to origins etc. What I am thinking is that many people do this test to find out their ethnicity rather than to connect and expand family trees.

    So, no, there are no shaky leaves in my results. Just a list of possible matches and the ones that I’ve had results with are confirmed relatives. I would enjoy it if more folks would respond and compare results.

    I’ve been doing “paper genealogy” and have worked as a researcher for over forty years and I take nothing for granted. It just would be nice to use this new tool more effectively with others who have taken the test.

  13. TC

    For those that expected to find immediate results, if you do not know your family history, the DNA is only a tool to help you look at others possibilities. I have crashed through a few brick walls, and working with 6 people now to see how I fit into their tree, as I clearly do, but through what ancestor. Those elusive maiden names ..

    For those that get upset when they do not hear back, well.. everyone is using the DNA results their way. Or perhaps they are not online as much as some of us may be. Some just want to know who they match to, and do so privately. Again, their way.

    For those that want to insert Y-DNA – call customer service, they will tell you how. It is easy, but they must do the end work once you have done a temporary account, entering the Y information for the person you wish to follow. I have attached 4 different male lines to my tree and 2 females

    Shaking leave when doing DNA is pretty cool! when I see them, I send a message to the person and let them know our connection, providing their information is correct. I use many online tools as well, and I have yet to regret doing all the DNA tests we have done (so far! and I ordered 3 more atDNA tests last week) via Ancestry.

  14. observer

    TC: I have a question if you come back to read the replies. Are you saying that one will get more matches if we call customer service to attach our results to male members in our online tree? I was under the impression that by doing the AncestryDNA test that what I received under the DNA results tab at the top of the page would include all possible matches. Is there a step further that I should take because more matches will appear? As I said in my earlier post, I’ve been at paper/primary source genealogy for forty years or more and DNA genealogy is new to me. However I have had several good results through the standard matching at that tab.
    Yes I realize that not everyone uses their DNA results in the same way. It’s just disappointing when you find a high confidence match with the brick wall name in it and can’t get in touch with the matching person. So if I can expand my chances to find other matches, that would be great. You mention setting up a temporary account. That too is something new to me as I have been a member of ancestry for almost as long as they have been online.
    I do have my results on various other sites either by uploading DNA results to them or testing using their protocols and test kits.
    I would like to get the maximum results that I can from each of them.

  15. S_H999

    Anna writes: “After reviewing the hint I confirmed we share 3rd great-grandparents.”

    This begs the question of what it means to “confirm” a DNA match.

    The example given by Anna is a bit special, I think. In her case there was a photo of an individual in her match’s tree, that Anna could immediately recognize as being an individual in her own tree from not so long ago.

    While this is “confirmation”, it’s not really a DNA confirmation that most of us will try to tackle.

    DNA leaf hints as now implemented only “confirms” that two people have written the same name down somewhere in their individual trees, and that two people share (some secret, not revealed by AncestryDNA) amount of identical-by-decent DNA. There is no way to tie the actual shared DNA between two tested people to any individual ancestral source.

    There are millions of trees on, and if all it takes to “confirm” something is to find something in someone’s trees then that is not genealogy in the sense of identifying good provenance sources. “I found it on the internet” is not good genealogy.

    Absolutely none of the leaf hints on the AncestryDNA profile I manage can come close to the example that Anna has given. First, nearly all matches are farther back in time. But more importantly, the reason to do the DNA test is not to confirm a photo that I may or may not have of an ancestor already known to me, but to find the identities of ancestors I do not already know (and since I don’t know them how would I know what they looked like, even if there were a picture of them? Or, how would I know *any* document about a long dead ancestor of somebody else applies to me?)

    With the amount of tree-copying that goes on at, it is expected that trees will end up with the same “ancestors”, even if said ancestors are not real (or are non-factual in some detail.) Given the founder effect on the colonials, and many users are of colonial American ancestry, a tested subscriber of AncestryDNA will match thousands of other people. If said person merely copied trees here to make their own, they will, if only randomly, “match” someone by DNA and also have a similar colonial “ancestor” in their tree.

    There is much more to genetic genealogy than these blog entries are leading us to believe. I think it would be in’s interest to hire a specialist to provide more expertise in this area, who could provide lessons on how to tackle the more difficult problems most of us face.

  16. Michael Ward

    I’ve got 27 matches with shaking leaves, of which about almost all show a reasonable connection based on our submitted family trees. They range from one 3rd cousin to four 4th to 5th cousins, to anything up to 8th cousin in the low-end section.

    But I’ve got 28 more 4th-6th cousins that we can’t figure out how the heck we’re related, and I’ve got pretty good data for most of these branches. We just need additional information. There is nothing so frustrating as seeing a guaranteed match that we just can’t figure out!

    I’ve gotten additional info for a couple of them who were willing to send their data to GEDmatch — including the pointer to the vaunted paper trail! But we’re really not going to crack this problem until we get individual match data on which chromosomes and where we match. I don’t need a chromosome browser, just the numbers. I sure wish Ancestry would give us the match numbers.

    If we had the numbers, we could figure out a lot more hidden links, thus making the trees more useful and even more valuable to Ancestry. I wish they’d think of it that way.

  17. Kelly Wheaton


    I love ANCESTRY’s matching Tree Hints and especially the closer ones probably represent the in common individuals they are purported to represent. However like S_H99 I cannot really conclude these are the matches they say they are until I can verify via seeing the matching segments. Until ANCESTRY gives us the start and stop positions these matches will remain speculative. The only current option is to download ones Raw DNA file and cajole your matches i to doing the same and uploading to or testing at one of your competitors. I just wish ANCESTRY would see the value if adding this feature.

    Serious genetic genealogists continue to beg for this. And I agree with Michael Ward that we are probably in a better position to help ANCESTRY than you realize. If you give me the segment data for my matches I can probably identify and connect a lot of trees just like magic.

    Please tell us we are not praying in vain.

  18. Deeanna

    People should not put much confidence in the tree hints. For instance, I have a 3G grandfather who married twice – several children by the first wife, who died, then he married a second time and my 2G grandmother was born to the second wife. Many trees at ancestry have this family all wrong, usually connecting all the children to the second wife (who would have been eleven yrs old when the first baby in the first family was born). There is documentation of the first wife and the names of her children (her father’s will names them all). I have this family correct in my tree. Someone who has all the children attributed to the second wife is matched to me, with a leaf hint. In my tree, the child who is his ancestor is correctly connected to the first wife. So even though his ancestor is shown with one mother in my tree, and a different mother in his tree, we have a leaf hint showing my gr-gr-grandmother as his ancestor, when she is not. The matching DNA is probably through the father of all the children, but until we have a way of knowing the location of the DNA, so we can establish through triangulation with other matches just WHERE the DNA is coming from, people will continue to grow and nurture trees that are wrong, and think they’ve been verified by DNA matching when they have not. I do not recommend that anyone test at ancestry unless they understand that in order to get what they need from their test, they will have to transfer their raw data to Gedmatch, AND somehow convince their matches to do the same.

    As someone posted above – “there is no way to tie the actual shared DNA between two tested people to any individual ancestral source” – that is the bottom line about testing here at

  19. William Swanson

    Does ancestry plain to add a chromosome browser or something like it in the future? If so, what is the timeline.

    Also you need to add ability to do Triangulation.

    • Kristie Wells

      We are working on a product experience that takes into consideration chromosomal browser abilities at a higher level. Unfortunately, that is all we can say right now.

  20. Matt Casey

    Trust me there are plenty of reasons why this comes in handy..

    Just think about husbands leaving their wives, bigamists, con artists and oh how about unplanned pregnancies (not to be confused with an adoption) where the child is placed with another family member of another family altogether and you have no idea who the parents are.. even if you have a rough idea or a suspicion Ancestry DNA could potentially help you narrow down your search..

  21. Julie Azzaro

    My brother and I did your DNA tests at a not inconsiderable cost. The results were extremely vague and not at all helpful. I would expect 75% of people tested came out with the same route–from the near east, across North Africa, into Europe through Spain, and then toward Northern Europe. That’s it. Obviously, I was expecting something more definitive. I was contacted by two persons (as I recall), but we could find no commonality in our family lines. I am very disappointed in the results and it certainly does not reflect well on your DNA program. Have I missed something here?

  22. Lorelei J Kerr

    I was at Leland’s Christmas tour in SLC in Dec and purchased a DNA kit from you. I activated it and felt a bit smug when it went thru without the purchase # the others said they needed. Well, it seems I had a kit at home to be used for my uncle…it used that kit identifiers as mine. Now I have his sample in my fridge because one I need a purchase number..?????? Can I use the number you used for our batch? And if so what is it? I have called customer service several time and no one seems to know what to do. No one will call me back. Can you assist me.? Cell phone 2196891550. Ancestry.. Lorelei_Kerr

    Thank you

  23. Robin Kerwin

    Deanna: I have the same problems you are having with inaccurate other trees. One example is my 3rd great grandfather. His name was Mark Andrews from Essex County, VA. He died in 1812 period end of story intestate leaving a wife and kids but recently hints were showing up for him. I looked at these hints and another member attributed a second wife and death in 1815. Somehow Ancestry appears to have bought into this bogus theory which has been used to explain a child of Elizabeth Stiles.
    I guess it is the lemming effect. If one member says it everyone believes it as if it were written in stone. This also appears to be a problem with DNA results. I am hoping with time the database will be large enough that some of the riff raff gets weeded out.

  24. Well, I think when the author of the article said she ‘confirmed’ the ggg grandfather- she was meaning she verified her data. I’ve used to the ‘hints’ to my great advantage- I don’t automatically assume the match is in stone until I make sure the documentation I have already discovered confirms the new match. It is – VERY satisfying- to see a match which verifies a document trail I have been on!!!

    For my husband, the DNA test- both YDNA and the general DNA helped him figure out who is biological grandfather was!! What a great gift that was (as his father had been adopted).

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