Posted by Crista Cowan on May 28, 2014 in AncestryDNA

I’ve been working with my AncestryDNA results for a couple of years now with great success.  Here are six steps you can use to find success with your AncestryDNA matches as well.

1.  Make sure your test is attached to a tree.

SettingsAncestryDNA reveals cousin matches whether you have a family tree attached or not.  However, in order to understand more about those cousin matches and encourage them to work with you to uncover your common ancestors, you need to have a public tree on and that tree needs to be attached to your AncestryDNA test. Check to make sure your test is attached to the correct person in your family tree by clicking on the SETTINGS button on “Your DNA Home Page.”

Are you looking for biological family members?  Create a tree with a “Biological Father” and “Biological Mother” listed as such so that others know that you are looking for biological family and not just that you don’t have a family tree online.

2.  Use the Hint feature to see those cousins with whom you have an identified shared ancestor.

HintsOnce your tree is attached to your AncestryDNA test, goes to work trying to identify common ancestors in your tree and the trees of your matches.  Use the Hints filter to discover where a shared ancestor has been identified in your trees. Review your tree and theirs to ensure that the research is solid. If you notice any discrepancies, contact your new-found cousin and invite them to work together to figure it out.

3.  Make notes so you can review later.


When viewing a match page, use the Notes feature to make note of actual relationships, common ancestors or suspected connections.  Once you save these notes, you can view them from the Member Matches page without having to click through to each individual match’s page. After I make a note I then click on the star so I can quickly filter to a list of matches I’ve reviewed and made notations about.

4.  Search by surname and look for patterns.


Once you’ve identified a match or two with the same common ancestor, spend a little time researching that family. Have you identified all of their children? Who did their daughters and granddaughters marry?  Now, use the Surname Search to identify your AncestryDNA matches who have those same surnames in their family trees.

5.  Check back regularly and sort by date to see newest matches.

SortByDateEvery time someone else takes the AncestryDNA test, we compare their DNA to yours to see if you are related.  If they are, we add them to your list of cousin matches.  (I have 196 new matches in just the last seven days.)  As each of these new people build out their family trees, the possibilities of shared ancestor hints showing up increases. Check back regularly and sort your list by date to see the new matches at the top of the list. Be sure to go back to the Hints filter regularly to see what new hints have turned up as well.

6.  Collaborate!  Collaborate!  Collaborate!


On the profile page for every one of your matches you will find a big green “Send Message” button. Use this to communicate with your matches. Introduce yourself. Ask questions about their research. Offer to share what you know. Establish a relationship. Once those lines of communication are open, you can begin working together to share additional information about your matches, looking for overlapping matches, surnames and locations that will help you triangulate connections on your family trees.

Crista Cowan

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


  1. When you have a cousin match that shows a high confidence percentage and shows where you match in your tree does that give more validity to your family tree along that line?

  2. Adriana

    Debra – that’s difficult to say.

    A cousin match with a high degree of confidence just means that you share enough DNA for to determine that you are genetically related. Based off the amount of DNA in common, AncestryDNA makes an estimate about your degree of relatedness (third cousin, for example) and how confidence they are about that estimate.

    A tree hint means something else – that scanned your tree and your match’s and noticed that you have a common ancestor or common ancestors.

    That common ancestor very well could be how you’re related, but you might be related through another line, which is more common than you might think, especially if your ancestors lived in certain areas for multiple generations.

    But I’d look at the tree hint optimistically and say that if you know you are a genetic match and you both arrived at a common ancestor through separate research, especially through different children of this couple, that’s reassuring. Certainly not “proof,” but it’s a step in the right direction toward establishing whether you are a descendant.

  3. Rick Waggener

    I wish there was some way to compare “matches” for two different persons’ tests. This would not only be tests that I have given or administer, but with mutual permission, tests by other persons.

    For example, I have a test for myself and my father’s brother. Any test from another person, that matches to both of us, further adds to the validation of the connection between that person and both of us. Right now I can manually go through matches and manually keep track of them, but it is very time consuming.

    If I could also get such a comparison between say my test and the test of another person, like a close cousin or a distant cousin whose connection to me is well documented, this would also help validate the connections between us and others. This would be a good way to work connections of a particular surname, similar to the male line connections in the Y-chromosome tests. This would be very useful to researchers.

  4. Judy

    I have a private tree and have received my ancestry kit. Not ready to go public with the tree.
    Ancestry states “you need to have a public tree on and that tree needs to be attached to your Ancestry test.” Do I need to start a new tree?

  5. Judy – I have a public tree, but I see a lot of matches that have private trees. Having a private tree linked to your AncestryDNA results just means people can see you as a match, but not see any information as to how they are matched to you. Hope that makes sense. You could take the test and link it to your private tree, then when you are ready to take it public change the settings.

  6. Adriana

    Judy – To add to what Julie said, some people create very bare-bones public trees without any collateral relatives or documentation or pictures that contain just their direct-line descent. So if you aren’t ready to make your main tree public, but want a public tree to encourage others to contact you and connect with you based on tree hinting, then you could create a very basic, stripped-down version and then link your DNA to that.

    You can have success even with a private tree, but that privacy setting is another barrier to communication, if that makes sense.

  7. Su Lynn Hanson

    Great post. Several videos ago, I heard Crista talk briefly about creating a DNA tree…which is what I believe Adriana is referring to. Is that something that can be created from my FTM 2014? I started a bare bones one, and after about 10 hours had not touched the surface…and was flooded with hints I of course had in my other tree…even with the hints for the new tree turned off. I really want to participate more with the DNA project. Thanks all.

  8. Marcia

    I had a great match on my DNA results. It was on my mother’s paternal side. I did locate several other matches that were on my father’s side. I have a 3rd cousin that has submitted her DNA sample and we’re waiting on her results. She is on my mother’s maternal side – should I move my DNA results to the tree she and I are on to see the match easily?
    On another thought, I also had a match that has real potential to be a match with an individual that I matched but I can’t get this individual to sort through his DNA results to look for her name. I’ve asked this individual nicely several times but no help.

  9. Kay Haden

    There is one thing to be aware of. The automatic Matching complete with the shaking leaf hint is not always correct on AncestryDNA. I am blessed to have a number of very common names – both the given name and the surname. I have had several of these matches that show the matching ancestor – only that ancestor is really two different men of the same name often living a generation or two apart and in different parts of the country. The only thing that matches is the name and the fact that somewhere i have matching DNA – but it’s certainly not through the “matched” ancestor.

  10. Kim

    I have a DNA match that is 98% sure but the “relation” and I cannot figure out how we are related as he has minimal family tree info. Where do we go from here?

  11. Barbara Boyle

    I tested my mtDNA. I expected results/matches only from my mother’s maternal side of the family. I have matches from my mother’s paternal side of the family. Her paternal grandparents have a common ancestor 3 generations back so the match could be female on her paternal side…..I also have matches on my father’s mother’s maternal side of the family. My mother and father have a common ancestor 5 generations back. So is that how the female dna was picked up on my father’s side of the family? The one I don’t understand at all is a 4th cousin match on my father’s father’s mother’s side of the family. His grandmother had a brother, I matched to a descendant of the brother’s daughter. To make a long story short, I don’t understand how my DNA had any matches on the paternal side of my mother and father.
    Thank you

  12. jackie folsom

    When we get the list of relatives with trees attached, does it mean we are connected by DNA or did they just match some by our trees?

  13. ErnestPFournier

    Not so much of a comment but a question. Just read “6 Steps for Success Working with Your AncestryDNA Matches”.

    Before joining I had several DNA tests done through Am I able to attach my results on my tree on, and how would I do it?

    Thank you.
    Ernie Fournier

  14. Julia

    Is it possible to be 4th cousins with someone and not show a dna match? I found a documented 4th cousin. We have the same cousins in common also but I do not see her in my matches. How is this possible?

  15. Denise

    My matches are almost all linked to “no tree” or “private” trees. Some people I contacted have not answered.Others have answered, but they tested unrelated people’s DNA, and know nothing about the person’s ancestry. the only close matches I have are with second cousins I had already discovered on Ancestry. Disappointing to say the least! There is a lot of ranting on the discussion boards on how this or that one would “never again” have a public tree, because of others’ incompetence in genealogy research. It’s really a shame. I have a very large tree that will always remain public. It’s how one generates interest in ancestor hunting in the next generations!

  16. Mary

    I’ve had 2 different tests done by Ancestry, the first was when Ancestry first started doing DNA testing and the other was with the current test. It would be WONDERFUL if the results of those 2 tests could be combined so I would only have to go through one set of results.

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