Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

Do you ever have one of those days where you say, “If one more thing goes wrong….”?

Well, I was and I did and it did.

One of the things I do daily as a reward and a fun thing is to sign in to Ancestry to check my DNA matches – in particular shakey leaf matches because it means we also share a common, identified, ancestor.

I keep a spreadsheet of my shakey leaf matches.  I know exactly how many I have, and if my “shared ancestor hint” match number has changed, I then go and look for my new match.

Ancestry shakey leaf matches

I check to see the identity of our common ancestor, and then I put them on my spreadsheet, tracking them, the common ancestor and if we have other common ancestors or surnames.

Sometimes my number goes down by 1 or so which always makes me go “hmmmm.”  Sometimes my number increases by one or two but there are no “blue dots” for new matches.  I just chalked it up to, well, Ancestry being Ancestry.

Today, I signed in and my match number had increased, but no new blue dot match.  I noticed a relatively close match that I didn’t recognize, so I checked my spreadsheet to see if they were there – and they weren’t.

So, I checked the next 10 or 20 and guess what – more were missing.

My day went from bad to worse.

I had 175 prior shakey leaf matches, 176 with my newest one today.

I went back and checked all of my shakey leaf matches.

There were 30 “new” matches that have never shown up with a new “blue” button – so I have never put them on my spreadsheet.  And no, in case you’re wondering, no one but me has access to my account.

However, there were 44 previous matches that are missing entirely.  Where the devil did they go?  That’s 25%.  Poof.  Gone.  Just gone.  And these are people I DNA match with AND share a common ancestor.  What’s going on????

These weren’t all distant matches either.  Six were 3rd or 4th cousins, some of which I know are legitimate because we have also tested at Family Tree DNA and/or are at GedMatch and triangulate.

Altogether, that’s a total 74 “changes” that happened.  So, the truth is, I actually had a total (after Ancestry’s phasing purge) of 220 shakey leaf matches but since the 44 disappeared gradually as the 30 arrived, the shift was very subtle and went unnoticed.

If we can’t depend on Ancestry’s match numbers nor the “new match” blue dot indication, then we’re going to have to go through and reconcile our shakey matches one by one, by hand, from time to time.  You can’t download this information.  This wasn’t fun.  It shouldn’t be necessary.  It’s ridiculous that we have to do this.

I hate to say this, but trying to deal with substandard software in the form of bad NADs,  unannounced matches and disappearing matches in combination with no chromosome browser to verify anything is making this more and more like work and less and less like fun.  Yet, we don’t need a chromosome browser because we are supposed to trust Ancestry.  Yea, right….when pigs fly.

I’m becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated.  This is not some cute parlor game – for Heaven’s sake – this is my ancestors, my flesh and blood, my DNA.  This is sacred to me.  This matching shell game is not amusing in the least.

I don’t know whether to beat my head against the wall, cry, throw in the towel with Ancestry or just keep plugging with the hope that maybe, someday, Ancestry will get their act together.  How many years does it take???  Given that every iteration so far has been supposed to be “right,” how will we ever know when things really are accurate – especially without any tools to verify?  Maybe this is why we don’t have those tools?

Twenty five percent lost matches of people with both DNA and tree matches and we’re supposed to have any modicum of confidence?  This isn’t exactly a minor adjustment.  And it’s not like this is the first problem we’ve seen with Ancestry’s DNA product, or an anomaly.  There has been issue after issue.

So, if you’re not tracking your Ancestry shakey leaf matches independently, you need to start.  If you are already tracking them, check to see if you have unannounced new matches and matches that have disappeared.  You probably have a few surprises waiting.

As for me, I’m taking two aspirin and going to bed.  It’s so late it’s early and tomorrow just HAS to be a better day!



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78 thoughts on “Ancestry Shakey Leaf Disappearing Matches: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

  1. Last night I finished entering all 300 shakes leaf Matches into my spreadsheet… Your post scares me! About every 3 months, I validate my spreadsheet with a fresh review at each of the 4 sites – I always find new info at each one: undocumented Matches; disappearing Matches; shifts in start/end locations, cMs and SNPs. I still have a few FTDNA Affametric Matches in my spreadsheet, thinking they may come back some day. I know AncestryDNA checks Matches, Hints, Circles, NADs regularly. If someone changes their Tree, it may change AncestryDNA’s reports. I’ve actually rallied some Matches to get us all on the same page for some Common Ancestors – so we can get a Circle for them. This whole process is time consuming and frustrating. And 12 months from now, we’ll have twice as many Matches….

    • Look into AncestryDNA helper, add-on for Chrome. This way you can download your matches and also download their ancestors matches, nice handy spreadsheet. A bit of a lengthy process, as you have to have your computer up and running for hours to get the info, but worth it, plus there is an extra search thing that is at the top, when using to make searching a bit easier/more specific.

  2. Even though I have the name of the matching account, I have found that if you search for it, it ‘doesn’t exist’. It is no longer a DNA match to their way of thinking, so you can’t have contact with it again. I have downloaded the ancestors of each of my direct matches and have them on file. I work every ‘new’ match as they appear…. this week so far over 50—with or without trees. I leave a status note on every one. I like that the field is searchable in notes.

  3. I’m so sorry for your frustrations. Your ongoing comments about DNA results from ancestry are EXACTLY why I chose FtDNA for an all important DNA test of a person who is either my adopted cousin or my birth cousin. Many ppl on DNA Detectives urged me to use but I feel FtDNA provide more realistic tools. Thanks much for your honest (and frustrated) views and experiences.

  4. Since I have a very narrow sliver of American ancestry, I only have 11 leaf matches. This sorry number at least makes it a little easier to manage and keep track of the matches. I have a note next to each one listing the common ancestor, so if I ever see one without a note, and I still only have 11 matches, I would know that there is a problem. This has never happened though. I haven’t had any mystery gains or losses.

  5. It may not be a problem with the Ancestry program. It may be people adjusting their trees, or attaching and detaching them.

    • That’s true for some. However, in several cases, I know the cousin who manages these trees and nothing has changed – so that is not a factor in most of the closer matches that disappeared.

  6. If Ancestry was involved in Palaeoanthropological research into the genetic origins of modern humanity, they would be directing us to have a look out around the orbit of Pluto and its companion Charon for fossils from which to extract ancient DNA.

  7. I lose shakey leaves frequently, but the individuals still show up on my list of matches. I had ascribed that to the people changing which family tree they pointed the Ancestry DNA feature toward. I have multiple trees on Ancestry. Some have, for instance, Robert Coe on them and some don’t. They are on different trees because some come from a genealogy and some come mostly from information that I found on Ancestry; my standards of proof are different on the different trees. So a person who matches me on only one line will find and lose my shakey leaf off and on as I change from tree to tree. There is not much that Ancestry can do about that unless they change the DNA feature to point to all a person’s trees at once.

  8. I have a relative Ann that’s had her results since April and still has no shared ancestry hints, zero. Her tree is a subset of my tree so it should be clear to Ancestry how we’re related, ditto for our mutual relative Maureen who has another subset of my tree. She shares a huge amount of DNA with both Maureen and me (over 100cM) and is a top match yet has no SAH to either of us. I’ve called Ancestry, posted on their FB site and so has Ann’s profile admin. We have “problem report” numbers assigned, we are told we’ll get email updates on the issue yet we never get any updates nor resolution. Every time I call, the customer service rep acts surprised. And then I had a relative’s kit show up as “received” when I still had it here at home! The kit was activated and relative had just given it back to me to put in the mail. They couldn’t explain that one either.

  9. At 23and me, I match a woman on several chromosomes. Gedmatch shows the same matches. We share 72 cM’s, largest segment is 27.7 cM. Her son recently had his mother tested at Ancestry He can find me as a match at Ancestry but I can not find a match for her at Ancestry. He used his mother’s real name, not an alias. The son tells me I show as a 4th cousin to his mother at Ancestry. Very frustrating.

  10. Not exactly on topic, but I’d like to take my swing at the Ancestry pinata. When I first became a participant in Ancestry’s DNA program, the limited search tools gave me reason to store selected matches in the “deleted matches” option. One example I’ll share, is I would almost always delete locked-out private profiles with the displayed pad lock symbol.

    On several occasions, and by different methods, I have pleaded with Ancestry to make all their filters and search tools available also in the “deleted matches” section. Filter by hint leaf or search by surname, geographic location, etc. They’re inviting us to try their “new” and enhanced format. A quick review shows that they still refuse to make the filters and search tools available in the “deleted matches” section.

    I can’t get Ancestry to replicate existing filter and search tools in the “deleted matches” section, good luck with your requests for a chromosome browser.

  11. With all the people swapping trees constantly, I’m surprised the number of leaf hints haven’t been more volatile.

    And, you wrote: “… in particular shakey leaf matches because it means we also share a common, identified, ancestor.”

    But shakey leaves do not mean the identification of the common ancestor is correct, or that the DNA in common came from that node in your tree.

    • That’s true, but in this case, because there is a particular group that has tested at all of the companies, I know that we do match and I know that our common ancestor is correct. These are triangulated matches. I obviously can’t say for all of them. And that doesn’t explain the 30 that didn’t get flagged when they appeared either. My issue here is with the inconsistency and it’s not all attributable to people changing trees.

  12. Hello, I noticed, a while back that my half brother suddenly had almost a whole page less of shakey leaf matches, but I just shrugged and went on, not being a computer expert nor a dna expert. So I guess I’ll have to try to make a spread sheet and track them daily. May not test anyone else in Ancestry.

    Joan Brune Gray Fuson

  13. I’ve always thought of this as a gimmick. As I’m adopted and have no family tree yet, it doesn’t inconvenience me, but I see plenty of people get their feathers ruffled about it on the Yahoo groups.

    Ancestry DNA is nearly worthless as a searching tool for an adoptee, you get very little useful information about a match that has not also uploaded to GEDmatch.

      • That may be true. However, as a person interested in my Family Tree and Ancestry, it has been a valuable tool. I have been able to increase the size of my tree using info on Ancestry. They have also recently added a “relative you have in common” feature. That is helpful. They are not perfect, but it has some uses.

  14. I’m a little unclear as to whether it’s just the shakey leaf hint or the actual match that’s now missing. Changes in trees might account for the loss of a shakey leaf, and additions to trees could certainly make new leaves pop up on previously viewed matches, but these changes shouldn’t make the match itself disappear, right?

    I have downloads from the Snavely app that would help figure out if I’ve lost any, if I can think that hard.

  15. (1) My shaky leaf number is steady and they haven’t disappeared. But I went and searched on surnames/geographies and I was surprised how many common ancestors do not show up as shaky leaf hints. My number shows 71 shaky leafs, but I think the number is closer to 85.

    (2) I have seen SHARED MATCHES disappear on Ancestry. I can explain this, but I have two or three matches who do not have that tab. I know for sure that one of them used to have it. I looked to see if people could disable it, and I didn’t see how, but it’s one more thing that could vanish it seems.

    (3) The prior post mentioned how useless Ancestry is for adoptees. It’s become even worse, as “tree mirroring” no longer seems to work. Or maybe it’s just down (for the past month). For those who haven’t tried this, tree mirroring means building a second full family tree, using a close-but-unsolved match’s family. The goal is to see which of *their* ancestors show up as hints with *your* DNA results. It can provide meaningful clues – when it works. Which it doesn’t.

    (4) I complain about Ancestry as much as anyone, but it’s indispensable. Please don’t tell them that…

    • Columns I include are their name, who it’s managed by, the estimated relationship, the actual number of generations removed from me counting my parent as generation 1, the ancestral link as described by ancestry, the child it’s through on the matches side, any other common lines as determined by looking at the common surnames and then any comments. I have recently begun putting common matches in the comments field. Other people may add something else. Also, if they disappear, I don’t remove them. I have “old matches” not currently present color coded differently.

  16. Would it be possible for you to write an article on making and using spreadsheets as you described here. It would be helpful for us to keep track of our Ancestry results as they come and go.

  17. I have read your bad nad, disappearing leaf and other articles about Ancestry’s DNA issues and (sometimes) laughed and (always) concurred. You can keep looking at Ancestry’s matches and keep/try to keep up with the changes via a spreadsheet, but I don’t trust Ancestry, no longer use it for much and routinely tell people not to test through Ancestry. Wouldn’t we be better off if people migrated to a trusted tester which allows us to SEE the data and search via a chromosome browser?

    Regards, M’Lou

    Sent from my iPhone


    • My largest frustration with FTDNA and 23andMe is the tree feature is terrible. I have been able to really grow my tree on Ancestry. If you are trying to figure out how you are related to someone on the other sites, yes you can see what chromosomes you match, but little else. Unless they have a good tree elsewhere, we can rarely figure out where the match is. I know that the trees on Ancestry are not always accurate, but it is better for this feature than most of the others.

  18. My work pattern has been to copy the suggested MRCA that Ancestry offers for a Shaky Leaf Hint into the comments box along with my thoughts about the match and whether I’ve sent a message to that person and the date that I did. And I always click the gold star to flag matches that I have examined and thought about. I don’t really use the blue dots for anything (other than to note that I must not have ever looked at this one before). So the presence of a comment and a gold star tells me I have previously “processed” a match. My wife has 83 (sometimes 82) shaky leaves right now. They all still have gold stars on them. If Ancestry had removed a lot of them and replaced them with others, I would expect to not see gold stars on some of them – and some wouldn’t have comment notes – but they all do. I wonder if there was some abnormal database event for your matches at some point that could have caused this?

    • I’ve just started that process today. The blue dot goes away after you look at the new match, so you really can’t use it for anything else, BUT, it was how I was determining that I had not looked at the match yet. Obviously 30 of them never had blue dots. So that methodology is not reliable.

      • You can mark the blue dot again. I use the star similar to the way Don has described, and keep the “new match” blue dot on for a match in case it shows up later with a tree, for example. Stars are for the matches that I’ve “processed,” and with whom I know or suspect a common ancestor. I use the notes field as Don describes, too. Great minds? As for disappearing leaves? Gotta check now. You have me curious.

      • Maybe some people are not paying their membership dues….. hmmmmm

        I have had changes (losses) to my shared ancestry hints when I adjusted my single family tree (I use only one). Many of my shaky leaves have as many as 5 lines attached.

        I have 345 shared ancestor hints (shaky leaves), many with multiple lines attached…. 563 4th cousins or closer …AND 208 pages with almost half rated good matches (by Each page has 50 people, so that is about 10400 matches. My crucial close matches often show up on other databses. Many are are on Gedmatch ( I finally transferred 3 databases to Gedmatch). I have not gotten around to about 8000 matches because they come so fast.

        FTDNA has given me about 1580 matches, for which I am grateful. 23andme about 1000.

        Overall, I am pleased with the Ancestry product. Communication is not good with the other participants, however.

        I am appreciative of your experience reporting, Roberta…

        Steve in Oro Valley

  19. I have been tracking this issue with AncestryDNA since the reboot from v1 to v2 after the purge. You are 100% correct. This isn’t a myth, it is the real deal. One match I had “Honolulu Pam” disappeared and reappeared on my dad’s DNA page dozens of times (sometimes as a leaf match and sometimes not) and sometimes this would happen one or two times a day. One trick I use in correlation with my DNA match database is to use the “$” character at the start of my notes in the note field for that match to indicate it is in my database. I can quickly go down the list on the match pages using the pop up tool tip to see if the first character in that matches note field has the dollar sign character. That is what I use to keep the conveyor belt moving so to speak. As far as the blue dot, if I sneak a peak, but didn’t do anything in my database or note field, it is easy to just hit that blue dot again to turn it on before hitting the backspace and going back to the main page. Ditto on the gold star which I also use for leaf matches and those matches which I am studying closer. I teach these techniques to my genetic genealogy and genealogy internet classes that I am conduct at the local community college. Basic rule of genealogy – “Patience is the name of the game in genealogy and using AncestryDNA.”

  20. Rich Capen,
    Tree mirroring did work for me and helped me to find some important connections while administering another adoptee’s DNA. I am one of the folks who links and unlinks trees and could be a cause of disappearing and reappearing shaky leaves for some people.

    • I was just going to say the same. Tree mirroring is an increasingly common tool for unknown parentage/paternity cases, so that probably accounts for at least some of this.

  21. I have gone through every tree I have had at Ancestry, 10,000+ because sometimes if the spelling of our ancestor and our match’s ancestor is not exactly the same, we will not get a shaky leaf. Also, there is a date cut-off for Ancestry reporting the matches, and there are plenty of other tree matches in common before 1600 with many of my matches. I have a notebook and write down every match before 1600 out of curiosity. E.g., I have tree-matched Augustine Warner b1642 with 58 of my dna matches. Obviously, some of these that far back are just “population matches” from Colonial America. None of this means anything without segment matching. After looking at each tree, I then delete them to “delete matches”; and then gold star, and keep those matches closer in time.

    I am still adding to my tree, and it is apparent that if I delete a tree with no match, and a match is later found, then a shaky leaf will appear after I have deleted the tree.

    Also, one of my Moderate matches at Ancestry, I found at Gedmatch; and we only shared 4.3 cMs.

    Some of the locked trees, you CAN get into. And some of the trees that say no tree, there really is a tree there. Just play with how to get there, and you will figure it out.

  22. If you use the Ancestra DNA Helper Google Chrome extension, it turns the blue dot on or off as it scans a profile. Since I’ve scanned multiple times as I get the hang of things, using the blue dot is no longer an accurate way for me to determine if I’ve seen a profile or not.

  23. Roberta Dear One… could you tell us what the headings are on the spreadsheet that you use? That would be very helpful as I do not want to miss any information! Much thanks….

    • Here is what I do. Columns I include are their name, who it’s managed by, the estimated relationship, the actual number of generations removed from me counting my parent as generation 1, the ancestral link as described by ancestry, the child it’s through on the matches side, any other common lines as determined by looking at the common surnames and then any comments. I have recently begun putting common matches in the comments field. Other people may add something else. Also, if they disappear, I don’t remove them. I have “old matches” not currently present color coded differently.

  24. My apologies I am not as adept in terms of DNA testing as a lot of people but why doesn’t ancestry allowed us to attach our DNA results to more than one tree. Then we wouldn’t have to keep switching trees?

  25. The disappearing leaves may not be from people canceling memberships or changing their trees, as people have also reported losing the shaky leaves from their trees on Ancestry – seems to be another “Ancestry glitch.”

  26. The disappearing leaves may not be from people canceling memberships or changing their trees, as people have also reported losing the shaky leaves from their trees on Ancestry – seems to be another “Ancestry glitch.”

  27. I’ve yet to do the autosomal testing with Ancestry because after doing doing the yDNA and mtDNA with them eons ago (not even sure if they still do those these days) and seeing them totally misinterpret the haplogroups, I’ve just never trusted their DNA testing. That being said, I recently decided that I would go ahead and give them another try. But after reading your post, I’m back to thinking, do I really want to deal with the their DNA testing, again.

    I’ll probably go ahead and do it but will definitely keep what you said in mind.

  28. After reading this, I did a little experiment: I have 3 trees syncing on Ancestry, one tree on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family (my aunt syncs my paternal grandmother’s side). I also sync a tree for my maternal grandfather’s tree, and another tree for my maternal grandmother. This may seem unwieldy, but my trees are so large, this works for me. However, this doesn’t seem to be a good way to do it when it comes to Ancestry DNA matches.

    Since Ancestry will only let me link one of my trees to my DNA results, my matches and my shaky leaf matches change when I change my DNA link. This morning I was linked to my maternal grandfather’s tree and had 70 shaky leaf matches. When I changed it to my paternal grandfather’s tree, the number of shaky leaf matches dropped to 38! And all my matches were different of course.

    I suspect this is why you are getting different shaky leaf matches, Roberta – because of people like me who change their DNA tree links. Is it beyond Ancestry’s ability to figure out how to make multiple trees link to our DNA?

    • Another thing – awhile back, Ancestry gave me some bad NAD’s, Elijah Williams & Catherine Box. This couple finally got bored with me and wandered off from my Ancestry DNA page. This morning they are back! Just like bad pennies, I can’t get rid of them.

      Ancestry also helpfully told me about all these possible DNA circles of people who I remotely match that also descend from Elijah Williams & Catherine Box – except that there is no reason to think that this couple is our common link, nor to suspect they are my ancestors. These bad NAD’s were in Laurel, KY for some time. I have numerous ancestors that come from eastern Kentucky and these families were prolific, widespread and multi-branched (as well as intermarried with each other – it’s a nightmare). I suspect any common ancestry comes from these huge families. This is not helpful for Ancestry to be trotting these “possible” connections out there with no basis for thinking it is true!

    • If you have DNA tested at Ancestry, sign into your account. Then click on DNA, then DNA Results summary. Look a the right side of the page by DNA matches. It will show a green shakey leaf and it says a number and shared ancestor hints. Click on that. The shakey leaf at Ancestry means a hint and the hint to these is that your DNA matches and so does an ancestor in both your pedigree charts.

  29. I’m surprised that Roberta hasn’t mentioned the FtDNA Family Finder Matrix tool. Unless I’m misunderstanding its significance, isn’t this a method of establishing possible triangulation of matches?

  30. Roberta, I’ve been wondering how I can have 98 pages of total matches and 211 4th cousin or closer and not have ANY Shared Ancestor hints. I didn’t even know they existed until one of my “cousin” matches pointed it out to me. Just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think I’m one of your missing matches in a DNA circle for Michael Miller. You were there and then POOF you weren’t but we still match on familytreedna. Do they have any DNA scientists working for them at Ancestry?

  31. I admit I pay very little attention to my Ancestry “matches” unless they also test at FTDNA or upload to GedMatch. Then I use Jeff’s tool to help match them to a tree.and possibly a common ancestor. I have just been burned too many times thinking a possible brick wall ancestor had been found, only to discover we matched on a different line when we actually compared chromosomes. I suspect many who are happy with their Ancestry results would be sorely disappointed if they actually were to try and triangulate many of their so-called matches and break throughs..

    I have about the same number of shaky leaves but do seem to have a few new ones, so I guess I probably lost some as well.

  32. When I first got my DNA results I had a direct blood line relative, whom I already know to be related to me. She disappeared from my DNA matches a couple of weeks later. Very frustrating.

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  35. Oh my gosh do I understand your frustration! Today my DAD is no longer a shaky leaf! I have found there were some changes he had made to his tree that he didn’t tell me about. I have updated them on mine in hopes that he comes back as a shaky leaf. Let me rewind a bit as well I had at one point over 100 shaky leaf matches. One day I log in and all but 10 were GONE! Just gone. They have not come back! I’m so frustrated and was helping some with similar stories to mine research their biological families! I cried. I gave up for awhile. I have some spreadsheet that I pulled but I just can’t seem to get back into those to try to reconcile anything.

  36. Within one hour I went from 324 green leaf matches to 0. Then within the next hour I lost 18 DNA circles. My sister is connected to the same tree and she lost none of hers. What is going on? I called ancestry and they had so many complaints they weren’t taking anymore complaints to pursue.

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