Posted by Anna Swayne on June 24, 2015 in AncestryDNA, Australia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom

You have taken the AncestryDNA test, your results are online, and now you want to do something with them? We can help.

The first thing we recommend is that you link your DNA results to your family to a tree
AncestryDNA will reveal cousin matches whether you have attached your test results to a tree or not. However, in order to understand more about those cousin matches and encourage them to work with you to uncover your common ancestors, it’s important to have a tree on Ancestry with your AncestryDNA results attached to it. 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 homepage. For step-by-step instructions on how to do that, click here.

Have multiple trees?
I strongly encourage you to have a tree that starts with you. If you have two trees, one that starts with Dad and one with Mom, you will have to choose which tree you want to link to. When you do that, you miss out on the opportunities for connections on the other side of the family. Considering merging the trees and creating one that starts with you. To get step-by-step instruction on how to do this, click here.  (Note that you’ll need Family Tree Maker or another software program to do this.)

You can always build a basic tree from scratch that starts at you, then add your direct-line ancestors (your biological parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents to get started).

Have a private tree?
Consider making it public. If you aren’t comfortable with that, an alternative would be to create a version of your tree that includes names and birth places, but leaves out information you aren’t confident about. If you don’t want to include pictures, that’s not an issue. Call this your DNA tree and link your DNA results to it. That way, if I am one of your DNA matches, I can see some information and know where to start the conversation about how we could potentially be related. If you don’t have a tree linked to your test, or it’s private, your cousin matches won’t know where to start and we’ve found people will often skip those matches.

Adoption in the family?
Put that in your tree. Include any info you have and note that it is an adoption.

Next Steps
Now that your results are linked to a tree, we will do the searching for you to discover:

  • DNA Circles
  • Shared Ancestor Hints
  • Shared Surnames and Birth Locations

DNA CirclesTM

circle and known ancestor


DNA Circles re-imagines what DNA matching can do. Circles goes beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches to link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor, thus creating a “circle” of people who are all related.

Each DNA Circle is based on a shared ancestor. Built around each shared ancestor is a network of people who (1) share this same common ancestor and (2) share DNA with multiple people in the Circle. This tool makes it easier to share information and do more with your new-found cousins.

Plus, having a DNA Circle for a common ancestor gives you more confidence that you and others share DNA because you inherited it from this ancestor. Dive deeper into your DNA Circles with this guide.




Shared Ancestor Hintssearch by hint filter

Use the Hint feature to see cousins with whom you have an identified shared ancestor. This is a powerful tool for finding a connection. Review your tree and theirs to ensure that the research is solid. I have found these hints extremely helpful for sharing family pictures and stories.


Shared Surnames and Birth Locations  

When the shared ancestor between you and your matches isn’t super obvious, or perhaps you don’t have the ancestor in your tree, what can you do? Use the search by surname or locations functions and look for patterns. Once you’ve identified a match or two with the same common ancestor, spend a little time researching that family. Use the location filter when a possible surname has changed.

search by surname

Remember that all these tools are only available within the AncestryDNA experience if you have linked your DNA results to a family tree. Link your tree and get started today. 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. toni

    The first thing I do with matches is delete every one with a private tree. They don’t really want to collaborate. Next I delete everyone without a tree for the same reason. And last I delete every match with a tree of less than 100 people; especially those with 6 or 8. They want you to make their tree for them. I want to collaborate, not spend my time convincing someone to share information or making their connections for them. It’s a two way street.

  2. LynnFDR

    I too am miffed at people with private trees, especially as I do not have mine privatized and they get my info and some won’t even share an email chat. Or am I just that off-putting. But I have a suggestion for Ancestry that might help. I’ll take my terminology from mineralogy when a crystal shows up areas that are dissolved along in from the specimen. How about Ancestry creating an “app” that creates a “Skeletonized Pedigree Tree” of the person to which any DNA kit is attached. By “skeletonized” I am suggesting that only those persons in the direct pedigree are included in the tree. Further only birth years and places and marriage years and places would be included. And the option to privatize living person names (but perhaps not their birth locations) could be allowed. Also the person might be allowed to limit the number of generations back from the person attached to the kit. I’d suggest that number be at least 12 generations (I have had DNA matches go to 10 generations). This might modify many persons’ fears on the issue. I’m sure that such an app would be easy for Ancestry to produce. It could even perhaps be given an automatic name such as that of the user appended by PedTree or SkelPedTree to indicate its purpose. It seems to me that if Ancestry were to provide such a service via an app that this would decrease the number of privatized trees associated with DNA kits.

  3. John

    First, Anna this post was needed since I still have a lot of DNA matches that do not have their DNA linked to their tree. Thank You. Second, I share Toni’s frustration about members with private trees and DNA results. It is time to allow members with public trees to block members with private trees. Third, Anna, Why are DNA Circles not searchable? It would be nice to know what DNA Circles are available for the surnames in our families. Also, a DNA Circle should be part of a person’s profile page if a DNA Circle exists for that person. The Profile Page should have links for Lifestory, Facts, Gallery, DNA Circle, and Hints. If an ancestry member was researching an ancestor and was able to verify that his ancestor had a DNA Circle of descendants, that member would be more likely to take the DNA test.

  4. Michelle

    If you have a DNA test you should be required to have some sort of public tree. The point of DNA and genealogy is collaboration.

    And for the love of God, give us a chromosome viewer. I shouldn’t have to use a third party website to do this. Honestly, if I had it to do over at this point, I’d have done 23andMe DNA instead of Ancestry. I should have listened to the reviews I read before testing.

  5. Jackie

    Hi, Can I just say that some people have a ‘Private’ tree for a reason – I had too many people taking info from my tree and attaching the info to people who were not related in anyway whatsoever – photographs especially – and then refused to remove said photographs from their tree when asked where the connection was. In my profile I state please do make contact as I am interested in collaborating – just not comfortable with a public tree anymore. I have now created a DNA tree after using ZoomPast which enabled me to merge my Dad’s family, My Mother’s family and my Husbands family trees with little effort required – I’m happy with what is now available as my DNA tree and have made it public on AncestryDNA, whilst my working tree remains Private – read the profiles as people might explain why they are not public.

  6. Tarah

    Can anyone point me in the direction of an app that would allow me to easily make a skeleton tree? Or a website? Or is there such a thing. I, too, have had problems with people copying photos from my tree and then uploading them to the incorrect people in their tree. Not even attaching them, but actually downloading and reuploading. I have my tree public for now, but I go back and forth and I would love an easy way to make a skeleton tree, since the French Catholic half of my tree goes back to the 1500s. That’s a lot of people to manually add into a skeleton tree.

  7. Jason Lee

    This is a good explanation of the first basic steps in using AncestryDNA. After taking those first steps, you’ll want to do much more if you want to make the most of your DNA testing.

    AncestryDNA provides Shared Ancestor HINTS and DNA Circle HINTS. These are called “hints” for good reason. In many cases these hints are based on weak DNA connections, including tiny segments of DNA as small as 5-6 cM in size. Segments of that size can come from ancestors who lived several hundred years ago, far beyond the reach of genealogical research.

    Keep in mind that all of your “moderate” confidence matches are in the 5-6 cM range. Although AncestryDNA uses a sophisticated computer algorithm for “phasing” your matches to eliminate false positives, even a true positive match based on 5-6 cM of DNA will often come from very distant ancestry. Even your “good” confidence matches will be in the 6-12 cM range. That’s significantly better than 5-6 cM, but it’s still a relatively small piece of DNA on which to try to build a case for identifiable shared ancestry.

    If you want to sort the bad hints from the good evidence, you’ll want to use some tools that AncestryDNA does not provide. You’ll need tools that tell you just how much DNA you share with your matches and where on your chromosomes that DNA is located. You’ll want these details for the same reason that you want to know the details of your ancestors’ lives. You don’t stop with an ancestor’s name and move on to the next — you also want to know when your ancestor was born and where he/she died along with other details. The details add richness, clarity and certainty to your family history.

    Likewise with the details about the DNA that you share with your matches at AncestryDNA. Knowing the size of the DNA segments you share and the location of the DNA on your chromosomes can add surprising richness, clarity and certainty to your family history.

    Having said all that, I would recommend downloading your raw data file from AncestryDNA and uploading it to GEDmatch. GEDmatch will provide the detailed information about your DNA matches that you need to make the most of your DNA results. Please recruit your top AncestryDNA matches to do the same. GEDmatch is free of charge and has earned an outstanding reputation among genetic genealogists.

  8. Gaye Tannenbaum

    Not everybody with a small tree or no tree is lazy or expects other people to build a tree for them. I know quite a few people who are prohibited by state law from knowing who their parents are. DNA is their only hope. The current technique is to build a “mirror tree” based on the trees of one’s closest matches. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate someone using your tree to fish for Shared Ancestor Hints – but that’s how it’s done until the person’s actual tree starts taking shape. It takes advantage of the tools Ancestry does give us instead of other tools like a downloadable/searchable match list or matches in common or chromosome segment data.

  9. Kate Stout

    In response to those who are angry about the private trees and empty trees – If you don’t want to deal with those don’t bother. But there are all sorts of valid reasons for private trees.

    I have one friend who is a meticulous researcher, and never quite feels she’s got it “right yet”. So she doesn’t want to share what she sees as possible errors. Yet if you contact her, she is very generous with her work. There are families with complex or controversial lineages who don’t want to share. And then there are those who are tired of helping out newbies who are convinced they are a direct descendent of George Washington, or some other famous figure, even though George Washington had no children.

    Ancestry has convince everyone through advertising that you’ll miraculously have a tree in no time just by typing a few names. Genealogists know that’s not true, and we’ll just continue to use the clues we can find.

  10. Jenny

    My tree is private for some of the above reasons. My tree is constantly in progress and has been for over 10 years now. If people make the effort to contact me, I am only too happy to share me tree- if clearly related, either through family knowledge/research, or, now, through dna. Public trees are all too easy to just copy without thought. I like the idea of a skeleton tree however; just distilling enough essential information. My username is jennyterras and if I come as a match for you, I will ALWAYS respond to a request for further information.

  11. John

    I for one am not angry with members who have private trees and I am not saying there are not legitimate reasons for having a tree private. What I am saying is that members with public trees should be able to block access to those who have private trees. Better Still, private tree owners should not have access to other member’s public trees. Over half of the members who attach the genealogical research papers and images from my tree own private trees. I wish more members were like Jenny, but we all know she is the exception to the rule. Over eighty percent of my emails to other members go unanswered. Ancestry, it is time to give us the option to block people with private trees. Since I know that ancestry will not do this, I suggest every member with a public tree download their tree as a gedcom file and then upload it back to ancestry. Make that tree public and privatize your tree with all your images and research that you have uploaded to ancestry. If enough of us follow this route, maybe ancestry will finally listen to us!

  12. Jim

    Great shared thoughts by everyone here. Suggestions need to be taken seriously by and they must initiate additional effort to answer the challenges.

    One minor improvement in communications would be to remove the archaic feature restriction to contact through Ancestry messaging. This method is fine as an option, but also give Members the “option” to add a POC email address that will pop-up as an alternate method of communication. This associated email address, given as a choice, displays when member select any “Contact Username” buttons. The email address should also be a display “option” on the Members Profile page.

  13. When I first got started some years ago I put my name on the ancestors as my married name not my maiden name and I have everything messed up together. So, if you are a woman, put your maiden name on your tree,so you want have the trouble I have.

  14. I had my results attached to my sister’s tree, but when you changed your format for the “new” DNA pages, the link was lost. Since I am not the owner of the tree, I cannot link to it.
    It seems ridiculous for me to put up an identical tree.
    Is there any way that I can say on my profile–“see xxx Family Tree?”

  15. Dawn

    Could someone offer advice on the best way to indicate an adoption on my tree so that possible DNA matches will see that? Thank you.

  16. netzband

    I would really appreciate it if we could download the matches into some kind of a chart–or even it you would display them in a chart for (maybe alternate view). I have spent hours trying to rearrange them, grouping them in possible matches, etc., and a chart form would make it much easier.
    I think that’s something of what you are doing with DNA Circles, but I want more. Also, if we could make comments on the DNA Circle page, it could be very helpful too.

  17. netzband

    PLEASE, will you please add the ability to search matches by the name of the match, or the administrator of the tree. For example, I might remember I saw something on REW939’s tree (made it up). I want to be able to search by REW939 as well as by surname and place. Pretty please, with sugar on it?!!

  18. Chris

    Re: Adoption. Never could get any DNA results to match to the birth family when both parents in Tree (and correctly tagged). Individual results, yes, but never the Shared Ancestors and DNA Circles. Had to split the Tree, using GEDCOM download + upload, then tediously delete all adoptive family. Then the full DNA results arrived, matching to the Tree. Seems to be a matching problem if you have a birth/adoption overlay within the same Tree.

    • Kristie Wells

      @Annette: Unfortunately, we do not offer the option to upload a non-Ancestry DNA test to your account.

  19. Daphne Maddox

    I find it frustrating that so many DNA test takers don’t publish their trees to gedmatch…. a gedmatch with any id that starts with “A” seems to be a dead end for research — or am I doing it “wrong”?

  20. Linda

    My tree is private as a result of an adoption and my biological siblings are not aware of me, and I am being respectful of their family. I do collaborate with my DNA matches and just this week helped an adopted adult identify his birth parents. Ancestry should not change their policy concerning private and public trees in my opinion.

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