Posted by Anna Swayne on November 20, 2014 in AncestryDNA


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.



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. Vickie

    This Circles feature doesn’t have anything to do with science and won’t tell a match whether they are actually sharing the Gray lineage or which side of their family a match is sharing on. If a match shares a similar surname but they compare which segment they share and if they have tested their father, mother, paternal grandparent, or maternal grandparent and for example Gray is on their father’s side but the segment they share matches on their mother’s side this CIRCLE’s feature will not show them that and all of the data would be wrong! AncestryDNA needs a CHROMOSOME browser feature that matches can compare which DNA segments they share on and be able to triangulate with other matches who share the same segment of DNA. All else is misleading unscientific and discriminatory.

  2. Jason Lee

    Swayne: “The good news is that we’ve trained the computer to do the hard stuff like DNA matching, tree comparisons, and triangulation for you.”

    LOL. Your computer might be good at making circles, but I’m not convinced that you’ve trained them to do proper triangulation.

    Triangulation is a process in which at least three DNA cousins trace a shared segment of DNA to a common ancestor.

    You don’t show matching segment information to confirm that the people within the circle have been triangulated, so we don’t really know what’s going on with most of these matches unless we’re lucky enough to have information from 3rd party sources. But if the cousins within a circle are not linked to their common ancestor by a common segment of DNA, that’s not triangulation.

    For all practical purposes, it looks like Ancestry is doing little more than simply automating a process that many of us were already doing for ourselves. Ancestry took my immediate family’s shaky leaf hints and organized them with little folders called “circles”. It’s a nice touch, but it’s no major step forward.

  3. JW

    Having so many ‘private trees” in my matches, has been very disappointing. It’s also made much of the previous DNA matches useless because most won’t share or won’t respond. They could see hints and your tree but you couldn’t see theirs. I’m very thankful that Ancestry has finally added a tool that might entice those with private family trees to finally share them and help make the research ground a little more even.

  4. Christine Fritz

    Why does a tree have to be public in order for the circles to work? Or will they also work if the tree is private?

  5. Cynthia

    The tree has to be public so they can show the tree connection. I have a private tree, so today I made a skeleton tree with just names, birth/death dates and locations. I then attached my kit to this new tree, which I made public so I could get matches. Did the same with my dad’s kit, and am working on another skeleton tree for my husband’s kit. I am keeping my main tree private. And yes, with the skeleton tree, I am getting circles.

  6. Sandy

    These new “circles” are a huge disappointment, with far less accuracy and functionality than a chromosome browser and triangulation would provide. With old colonial ancestors, I was using my distant matches for clues to their ancestry, but those matches are gone now. I use Gedmatch and FTDNA to provide the utilities to analyze genetic relationships, since Ancestry is lagging so far behind.

  7. Jere_Becker

    I like this and it is wonderful to see that Ancestry is trying to do something to make DNA tests more useful. I especially like the triangulation aspect of this. I wish a chromosome browser was available, but maybe that’s next?

  8. Jere_Becker

    I forgot to mention that while logic and privacy concerns were Ancestry’s motivation in excluding private trees, selfishly I rather like the idea that only those connected to public trees will have access to circles. I understand that unique concerns prevent some individuals from making their trees public (in which case being shown in a circle would be a nightmare), but for the others – who merely want to take, but not give – I rather like that they are excluded. In my opinion it is better to exclude them entirely rather than to show them as a “private” circle member, since that information would be useless to the other members of the circle.

    What I don’t understand, though, is why you wouldn’t go ahead and include closer family members as a circle. Wouldn’t this be helpful to adoptees? Or is that satisfactorily covered in the main results?

  9. Jere_Becker

    Sadly, I thought of one more thing after I finished my last entry. It is my hope that in the future you will go back more than 7 generations, as I think you will be able to do with the circles information. I have tested my mother and 3 of my 4 siblings, but my father is deceased and so I cannot get a DNA test for him, which withholds a whole generation of results I could otherwise obtain. If there was a way of combining family results to project further back, that would be great.

  10. Craig T.

    Appreciate the helpful article explaining the new features. May I respectfully add my voice to the chorus calling for a chromosome browser (like the one offered at top-tier testing companies 23andMe and Family Tree DNA). Why must these results at Ancestry be uploaded to a third-party site (GEDmatch) in order to be of any use for serious analysis?

  11. Erin

    I had higher hopes for Ancestry circles when I logged in, I see its just a pretty diagram of what I had already figured out. When is AncestryDNA going to provide tools for actual problem solving? That is why everyone I know actually bothers to test their DNA.

    It would be nice to have a chromosome browser and to be able to figure out among my matches who matches to each other even if I haven’t found the ancestor yet! I have exported my results to FamilytreeDNA and Gedmatch because my frustration with the lack of AncestryDNA tools increases every time I visit that section of the website. Ancestry has the real advantage over the other websites because it has all the tree’s connected to the tests, but highly disappointing that no tools are provided to actually do anything with the information. AncestryDNA could be a real powerhouse in the DNA world if it gave some basic tools to keep its genetic genealogy client base happy and stopped trying to over think it.

  12. “Them that’s got shall have, them’s that not shall lose.” That’s basically what Circles boil down to. I am an African-American with 40% European ancestry. However, my most recent white ancestor is 4 generations back. The admixture in my family occurred 1619-1891. Though my grandmothers were able to provide some clues about certain paternities, much of that info was either never known or was lost. And I certainly don’t have relationships with cousins from those lines that I can importune to test. Happily, v1 provided matches with distant relatives in some of the lines I suspected, and thus confirmed that I was on the right track. V2, however, has wiped out most of those matches. All but 2, in fact. V2 is devastating to anyone — and disproportionately non-whites — who does not enjoy an orderly descent from happily married ancestors (like, say, my enslaved GGGgrandmother and her master) or needs to go back into the ranks of 5th+ cousins to find matches that back up a paper lineage. I’ve read so many “yes, but the greater good …” and “there were few ‘false negatives’ eliminated” reassurances in the last 24 hours that I want to puke. Why not at least use whatever Super Secret triangulating tool you have to create Circles based on science, rather than error-riddled or impossible-to-build trees? If I can at least get in the door with whatever matches I have left, maybe I can figure out the rest.

  13. Karen

    I am afraid I fail to see the point of the circles. I have three – all 4th great grandparents. Two for them are each half of a couple, Daniel Sherwood & Mary Ann Thompson. In Daniel’s circle there are 16 circle members, 6 of which are different members of the same family, administered by the same person. There are Sherwoods in the tree, who may or may not be part of the same family (different time frame & location), but Daniel is not there.

    Then in Daniel’s wife’s circle, I have a similar situation. There are 11 circle members included. Again the above referenced 6 family matches are included. There are actually 2 Mary Ann Thompsons in their tree, but both of these are entirely different individuals – not married to a Sherwood – Daniel or otherwise. Again this is a well documented ancestor for me. I don’t need a circle for either of these ancestors. I already have the info I need for them. Then, the fact the circles are full of errors………………..

    My 3rd circle has 11 circle members. One is an old match who is also a new DNA match with an awful tree – one of those that have the parents living & dying 200 years after their children. There are 2 former AncestryDNA matches who I know to have been good matches – through FTDNA & GEDmatch. They are listed as a tree match only. There are 7 more tree only circle members. So I am assuming all 9 tree matches are matches of the single current DNA match. Again this ancestor is well documented & I could care less about the circle. I do wonder why his wife was not given her own circle.

    I don’t understand how these circles are supposed to help. In order to have one, you need to already have the information. How will this help with breaking through those brick walls? Am I missing something here? It wouldn’t be the 1st time! 🙂

    I lost 93% of my matches with the new system. There were many matches lost that I know to have been good matches. They had segment sizes larger that 10 cM & were triangulated at FTDNA & GEDmatch. At least I do have my records.

    I really can’t say I’m impressed with Ancestry’s better mousetrap.

  14. Denise Furlong

    I haven’t seen a change as of yet. I had hoped that I would have less people. I was raised in foster homes so there’s no relatives to have DNA Testing, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

  15. Lois

    Thanks for the info. I just don’t think I want my tree public again to have my documents and photos pirated. I wish they would only allow your tree to be seen by your DNA matches and not everyone. This might drive more people to FTDNA where you can post a tree without all the documents and photos attached to them.

  16. Carol Atkinson

    When I computerized my families’ trees in 1980, I was using D-Base II. I could combine all.of the families into one huge database and sort that data base — to find ancestors with the same dates of birth — places of birth and death — parents information, etc. But I used it mostly to track common ancestors between the different families. When I had identified the common ancestors I would note that this person (by PID#) is the same person as person (by PID#) in the ABCD family tree for both ancestors. I was also able to find discrepancies in DOB, DOM, DOD, etc. It was not a frequent task, mostly after I added a new family. It was a very useful tool.

  17. Pat

    This change is a huge loss for me. My matches have gone from 187 pages to 28 pages, a loss of about 7900 cousin matches. Among those were cousins with shaky leaf hints to ancestors in my tree – good hints that I was able to confirm. But more important were the ancestors who didn’t match anyone in my tree. I know nothing about my father’s side and I was starting to see patterns that could potentially identify them, common surnames, common locations, and ancestors common to multiple cousin matches that did not jibe with my mother’s side of the tree. Going back to the 17th and 18th centuries was critical to what I was trying to do since the pool of common names was more limited and the chance of finding ancestors in common greater. Now that’s all gone.

  18. Ann

    I had the same experience as Pat, losing over 200 pages of matches. I lost 4 matches with the “Hint” logo; this change is devastating to my research. I’m not sure the folks at Ancestry truly understand what was lost. Who was this change made for anyway? Not for folks like me who are advanced researchers. I, too, look for patterns, and in my case, it was ancestor names. I transferred these patterns to an Excel spreadsheet to do more intensive tracking and was making headway. This change makes that kind of research impossible. Granted most were probably in the low confidence range; but those “low confidence matches” turned out to be my best matches for identifying (then documenting) ancestors beyond the 5th cousin range.

  19. John S.

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

    How long do you expect the rollout to take? I am not yet in any circles although I have met all of the criteria for getting into one/some and have previously verified connections to other individuals.

  20. P. A. Miller

    Agree 100% with all the negative descriptions already given. I paid for one thing and now have something so much weaker. The loss of proved matches, distant matches, etc. is unjustifiable. There were so many other improvements/features that could have been made. I would really like my matches back, I’ll judge and handle the false and stacking-caused matches myself. Do what you want with this new system that will only give people easily researchable, fairly close relations, but PLEASE GIVE US THE OPTION TO RETURN/TOGGLE TO THE OLD SYSTEM AS WELL.

  21. Irma

    Can anyone tell me what the 8 photos under “DNA matches” are for? Some have really peaked my curiosity, but they are not links and it’s not easy to go thru all my DNA matches to identify who these folks are.

  22. Jim C

    I really appreciate that Ancestry is working to extend and improve the software surrounding the DNA database. There is certainly a great deal of improvement possible. I am concerned, however, about the accuracy of the new DNA circles. To me, the biggest shortfall of Ancestry now is the massive amount of perpetuated errors on members trees. I expected the DNA matches to help eliminate these errors. Won’t the new circles exasperate this problem?

  23. Peggy Rifleman

    I have been a member of practically since it started. What you advertise seems pretty exciting–however, you have not answered my questions with the results. The border Scottland people in England in the 1750s harbored Scotch Irish Catholics. I was hoping that you would separate the Caledonians and Galatians from the English. In your history you say the Vikings are Norwegian and Swedish–yet could they be Belgian. West and East Europe cover a lot of territory. There must be some way to be more specific. You have defined Finland as a separate entity. Were there Vikings from Finland? I don’t understand the separation of Scotland and Ireland. There must be some closeness between Northern Ireland and Scottland and how about the Channel Islands? 1 match and 41 supposedly 4th generation hits–the 41 would have to be hits from before 1700s although three have Allen’s that might be 5th or above cousins through marriage.
    I guess it is great for those that happen to be in the circles, but not for those who are from specific countries and want to connect before 1790 in Scotland on the border. The circles depend on those who do the DNA testing that you don’t know and that are related. I guess all the cousins I have found on have not had this unique experience.
    I guess from your advertising, I had “Great Expectations.”

  24. Candy Stair

    I love this Beta test for the Cornell side of my family, as there are several very famous Cornell’s. Its nice to confirm via blood line and family tree to others. I’ve shared with my family, and they are all excited to see more.

  25. TheRileys_e2001

    I agree with Lisa Y. Henderson; this change was awful for me and other African Americans. On average, we are 15% European with our European relatives being 4th – 6th cousins. One of the best ways past the 1870 census (brickwall for AA’s) is to find those European cousins. This change basically wiped all of those cousins away. I had found my connection to two European colonial families that lead to the discovery of plantation records that confirmed that my g4-gm was the child of a slave and her master. Those 4th-6th cousins are leads that should be up to us if we want to pursue or not. And one that I lost was a 4th cousin 96% confidence match that I presume I lost bc we are linked by a HUGE colonial family who had abundant DNA in your database…so you called it too common and ignored it.

  26. Anita

    I’m confused about the “strong” versus “emerging” matches on the beta circle results. Does a strong circle match mean I have more of that genetic material to match, and the emerging one is a low genetic connection, or is the beta testing merely waiting for more people to test in to the circle?

  27. Leslie

    You appreciate our comments but have not did one thing to rectify the issue! Most AA lost their European relatives and would like an explanation as to why??

  28. Karen Brickey

    I am not at all impressed with the circles I have already found a mistake on one of mine. We need a chromosome browser to make sure that we are all headed in the right direction!!!!

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