Using Ancestry DNA hints to prove and disprove ancestors

With over 4 million DNA tests, the Ancestry database has reached a tipping point where any tester with American ancestry will get some good cousin matches. How do these help prove an ancestral line? Well when your DNA matches multiple people descended from the same ancestral line, you can have some confidence in that part of your tree. Conversely, if you have no matches on a line, there may be a problem.

On your DNA home page, the center panel summarizes your match count. It shows the number of predicted 4th cousins or closer as well as the number of starred and green leaf ancestors. You can add stars to matches for whatever reason you wish. Only you and anyone you share your DNA results with can see them. Ancestry will indicate each DNA match that also has a tree match with you by using a green leaf.

Ancestry DNA Home Page Center Panels (words in red are mine)

Notice the big difference in the number of cousins between those with 19th and 20th century immigrant ancestors like my family and those with deep American ancestry. Also foreigners like my Norwegian cousin will have very few, while Jewish testers will have incredibly high numbers due to endogamy.

DNA Matches Page

Click on the green View All DNA Matches button to get to your DNA matches page. Or click on the starred or green leaf matches to see just those matches. On your match list page, every DNA match who also has a matching ancestor to you in their tree is marked with a green leaf indicating a hint.

When there is a green leaf, clicking on the View Match button will take you to a page that will show you a picture of the expected relationship pathway (images of that on page 2 of this article).

Many times matches with no tree will actually have a tree that is just not connected to their DNA. You can see that on the view match page. There you can select it in the dropdown menu, as shown below, to get the usual sideways display with a surname list. Sometimes you can even figure out where they fit in from it.

I like to make Ancestry do the work of checking my assumptions by adding the tentative line to the tree connected to the DNA test. I put a “??” as the suffix when I am trying out a set of ancestors so that anyone copying my tree is warned that it is a test. Strange characters in the suffix box do not seem to affect the matching. Another perhaps better solution is to make your tree private while you experiment. Or to use a second small private tree that you connect your results to when trying out a possible ancestral line. You can change what tree and who your DNA is connected to on the DNA settings page. Get there from the button with a gear on the top right of your DNA home page.

Here are some examples of my experiments.
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Getting a Simple Text Pedigree from

Did you know that you can get a nice text pedigree tree at to send to your relatives? Recently a new cousin, who had tested her DNA elsewhere, sent me a screenshot of her tree at Ancestry. That really wasn’t very useful because it showed just names and years, no places or exact dates.

For many, exporting a GEDCOM and sending that is best, but if you do not have the software to privatize or export just a section of your GEDCOM, try sending a text pedigree. Your closer DNA relatives might prefer that anyway as it is easy to scan for common surnames.

Here is how to do this.

First go to your tree at on your computer, not your tablet or phone.

Find the person whose ancestors you wish to share with your new cousin. Click on the name or photo in the tree and a box will appear with more about them that includes several buttons along the bottom.

Click the button with the tools icon. That gets a little menu which includes the item “View her family tree.” Click that.  The example above shows the box and the menu. Note that you will not get this menu item if you are already viewing the tree from the person of interest, in that case just continue with the next step.

If you are not already using the pedigree view, click the pedigree icon at top of the icon strip on the left side of your tree to get it.

Next click the print icon at the bottom of that icon strip. Now you will be on a page with a nice simple looking text pedigree that has all the information a relative would want, as in the example below. Continue reading

Exploring the new DNA feature: total cMs has a new feature which shows you the total number of centimorgans (cMs) and segments for your DNA matches. You have to go and look at at specific match to find it. Once there, you click on the little “i” in a circle next to the confidence level description and a dark box will appear with the information.

Here is what that looks like for my brother and our first cousin from her account.


Ancestry has its own algorithm for removing matching DNA that it thinks is not recent. This means that these numbers will not match what you see at GEDmatch. Perhaps some of the excluded data will appear as “Ancient” over at but not all these kits are uploaded there yet so that report will have to wait.

Here are a few examples of the numbers for my brother’s family matches at Ancestry, as compared to those same matches at GEDmatch or ftDNA:

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So much to report, teach me to take a vacation! has a new database: Social security applications and claims index, and DNAgedcom has a new tool to report your ancestry DNA total cMs, and I missed mentioning the Ancestry DNA sale at $79 instead of the usual $99 because it ends tonight. Hopefully there will be another one soon.

SocSecAppIndxI tried looking for my uncle in the index and it found him quickly. It listed his birthplace and parents names, useful information.

To learn more about the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index read this post from Randy Seaver: – I recommend following his blog for news about databases added to familysearch and ancestry plus many good genealogy articles.

I hope to review the DNAgedcom ancestry client soon. It requires a subscription which seems fair as increased usage is bound to be costing them money and it is hard for these free sites to exist on donations alone. I like this trend whereby you can subscribe to a site like DNAgedcom or GEDmatch and get extra functionality but there is still plenty of good stuff available for free.

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of and profit slightly when you click my links, see my footer here for all my affiliations.

British Censuses, Probates, and BMD Records at

Sometime in the last year a whole slew of British records from the 1800s, at least for the London area, came online at – I think it has been that long since I last looked for my UK relatives.


Regina Gundelfinger Gugenheimer

Last night, around midnight, I followed a green leaf for my 3rd-great-aunt Fanny Gugenheimer Mandelbaum, who had moved from Germany to London, fully expecting it to be yet another person who had copied my tree. Instead I found her and her husband David in the 1851 and 1861 London censuses. I had thought that they had no children but there were suddenly two daughters, and one of them married a fellow named Anton Benda and had many descendants in more censuses, 1871, 1881 and 1891 and other records. When I next looked up it was 3:30 a.m… oops.

I have to admire ancestry’s matching algorithm. Most of the hints were spot on and kept me clicking away until the wee hours. After a while some of the Benda descendants started appearing in other trees so I shot off messages to three new people and all three of them answered (very unusual on ancestry)! So far they are all just related by marriage.

Also now I have a surname to look for in our DNA results and in modern London – Benda. It seems to be East European, perhaps Latvian or Hungarian in origin. Not sure if it is Jewish. The Benda descendants seem to have marriage banns published so perhaps they did not stay Jewish.

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