The Ancestry 200

Sounds like a race doesn’t it, but it isn’t. It’s a milestone checkpoint of sorts, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and take a look at where my Ancestry DNA shakey leaf tree matches are, and how they are performing.

On January 13th, 2016 I reached 200 shakey leaf DNA matches at Ancestry.  In case you don’t know, a shakey left hint with someone means that our DNA matches AND our trees indicate that we have a common ancestor.  As far as I’m concerned this is the low hanging fruit at Ancestry, and pretty much all I bother with except in rare circumstances.  But those shakey leaf matches are just plain fun.  It’s like getting a bite of genealogist-crack-candy when I get a new shakey leaf.

200 leaf

Where Are We Today?

I have a total of 150 pages at 50 matches each for a total of 7500 matches today at Ancestry. That’s roughly half of the number of matches I had pre-Timber phasing introduced in November of 2014 and double the number I had after Timber.  I wrote about the introductory Timber/phasing rollout here.

Pre-Timber After Timber Intro Nov 2014 January 2016
Total Matches 13,100 3,350 7,500
Shakey Leaf Matches 36 18 200

Today, my 200 shakey leaf matches represent 2.67% of my total matches. Not a terribly good return, but again, the tree matching makes seeing the (potential) connection with these matches much easier.  The other 97%…not so easy.

New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs)

Let’s look at the first thing you see on your page. New Ancestor Discoveries, or what I (not so) affectionately call Bad NADs, because these are not my ancestors.

200 NAD

And since April 2015, Ancestry, bless their hearts, has given be 6 bad NADs, New Ancestor Discoveries that aren’t. In one case, Robert Shiflet is the husband of my ancestor’s sister.

Shiflet NAD chart

So, while I share DNA with Robert’s children, it’s not Robert’s DNA that I share, but his wife’s. Actually, Ancestry has given me 8 bad NADS, but they also take them away from time to time. But then, some come back again! Kind of like a light bulb flickering off and on, trying to burn out.

In all fairness, there is some DNA connection somehow, but not necessarily through the individual portrayed. Unfortunately, this leads many, MANY people far astray as they take these projections as gospel, and they are far from gospel.  They are much more like a leap of ill-placed faith.  I wish NADs had been labeled “hints” with the explanation that you share some DNA with people who descend from this individual.  And I wish they were someplace at the bottom of the page, hidden away – not the first thing you see.  It’s deceiving – and just plain wrong to say that I’m a “Descendant of Robert Shiflet.”  I’m not.  He was married to my ancestor’s sister.  I’m not only not his descendant, I don’t share ANY blood connection with Robert Shiflet.

200 shiflet

Today, these NADs are labeled such that it flat out says you are a “descendant of” this person, which is in my case, unequivocally untrue for all of these NADs.

On to more useful topics.

DNA Circles

Ancestry has also put me into 19 DNA Circles. Actually, they have put me into 21 DNA Circles, but two of those circles have disappeared as well.  I suspect this is due to a change in Ancestry’s ranking algorithm because they disappeared at the same time.

A DNA Circle means that you have DNA matches with at least two other people who share a common ancestor with you in their tree. That’s the claim.  However, I have two cases where I only match one other person and I’m in a Circle, and many cases where I match many people and I’m not in the circle.

A match or being included in a Circle does NOT mean you match on the same segment, or that anyone in the tree matches on the same segments – only that you match and show a common ancestor in your trees. In other words, you could be matching as a result of a different ancestor entirely on entirely different segments, and there are no tools available (like a chromosome browser or triangulation tools) to verify this connection.

200 circle 1

However, DNA Circles are useful. For example, it’s unlikely, if you are matching an ancestor through different children, and there are many matches, that your connection isn’t through this ancestral couple, or someone who contributed to the DNA of this ancestral couple.  Yes, the language here gets wishy washy.

200 circle 2

I view Circles as a way to generally confirm that my genealogy is most likely accurate. Yea, I know, more wishy washy words – but that’s because the tools we have don’t provide us with a path to clarity.

200 circle 3

Shakey Leaf Matches

I have 200 shakey leaf matches with people, meaning that we share DNA and a common ancestor in our trees. We may or may not be in a Circle together, because Circles aren’t created unless you match at least two(?) other individuals from this common ancestor, plus some other proprietary weighting factors.

I particularly like that we can see how the other people we match descend from this same ancestor. This suggests that the match really can’t be due to a NPE (nonparental event, also known as an undocumented adoption) downstream of this ancestor. If that were the case, you would only match people through the same child.

200 shakey match

Non-Shakey Leaf Matches

Let’s take a look at my best, meaning my closest, matches. Unfortunately, my highest matches don’t have trees with a common ancestor with me – so no shakey leaves.  The second closest match has no tree at all.  This lack of trees or private trees is one of the most frustrating aspects of genetic genealogy – and particularly at Ancestry because their usefulness depends so heavily on the trees.  Regardless, given that these are my closest matches, let’s see if we can’t determine our common ancestor.

200 closest

So, using deductive reasoning, let’s see what we can discover about my three highest matches. In August, Ancestry introduced the feature called “Shared Matches” meaning Ancestry shows you who you both match in common for any match that is 4th cousin or closer, meaning 6 generations or closer.  So keep in mind, you both will have matches further back in time or predicted to be more distant matches, but they won’t show in the shared matches.

So let’s look at my closest match, PR, estimated to be a second to third cousin.

Clicking on Shared Matches with PR, I have a total of 13. That’s hopeful.  Of those 13:

  • 3 have no tree
  • 1 tree is unavailable
  • 1 shakey leaf match that’s private – who never answered the inquiry message I sent them and hasn’t signed in since February 2015

200 closest shared matches

Ugh, this isn’t hopeful anymore, it’s frustrating. I was very much hoping to be able to deduce the common ancestor by seeing who else I matched – and hoping that there were some shakey leaf people with common ancestor’s already identified in the match list, but that is not to be.

Let’s move to my second closest match and try to find my common ancestor with MH who has no family tree. I can’t imagine how they are using this tool without a family tree.  However, judging from the fact that they haven’t signed in since September 3rd, maybe they aren’t doing anything with these results.  With MH, I have 12 matches, of which:

  • 3 have no tree
  • 4 have shakey leaf hints

Now those shakey leaf hints are very hopeful, so let’s see if they all point to the same ancestor!

  • 2 point to Andrew McKee
  • 1 points to Samuel Claxton and Elizabeth Speaks
  • 1 points to Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy, but not through son Samuel

Uh, that would be a no, they don’t all point to the same ancestor. But three of these people are in the same line, and the fourth, well, not really.

Andrew McKee is the father of Ann McKee who married Charles Speaks who had Elizabeth Speaks who married Samuel Claxton. So the three people who descend from these ancestors are legitimately from the same line.

200 McKee

However, there is no DNA pathway from Andrew McKee to Fairwick Claxton and his wife, Agnes Muncy, but Fairwick is in both people’s trees. In this case, MH must be matching the last person through a different line, and not through Andrew McKee.  The only way Fairwick could even be insinuated is if the person descends through Samuel Claxton, Fairwick’s son who married Agnes Muncy, but that isn’t shown in their tree.  Their descend from Fairwick is through a different child.

200 Claxton

So, this trip into deductive reasoning should have worked, but didn’t exactly work quite as planned due to what I’ll call “inferential tree assumptions.” That assumption would be that if your DNA matches, and you have a common ancestor in a tree, that your DNA link is THROUGH that common ancestor.  Sometimes, in fact many times, that’s true, but there are cases where the link is through a different common ancestor. In this case, it’s likely that one way I match MH is through Andrew McKee, but I may well have a second line through Fairwick Claxton and Agnes Muncy.  These people do live in the same geography.

200 multiple leafs

I see secondary and multiple lineages far more than I would have expected. When Ancestry can see that there are multiple ancestors in your trees that match, they show that you have “Shared Ancestor Hint 1 of X”, but they can only note what’s recorded and matches in both your trees.

Moving on to my third closest match, that’s a lost cause too because it’s the same line as the first match.

Indeed, working with shakey leaf matches are indeed your best bet at Ancestry.

However, let’s take a look at this matching data in a different way.

Matches and Circles by Ancestor

There may be 200 shakey leaf matches today, but there have been a total of 263 shakey leaf matches, of which 63 have either disappeared through the magic of Timber or for some other, unknown reason. A few were adoptees trying to work with various experimental trees, so I’ve eliminated them from the totals.  I’ve kept track of my matches by ancestor though, so let’s see how many of my matches are in circles and how many of my ancestral lines are represented.

The generations column is the number removed from me to that ancestor counting my parent as generation 1.  Remember, Ancestry does not report shakey leaf matches beyond 9 generations. Total matches is how many people whose DNA match mine also show this ancestor in their tree. Circle is yes or no, there is a Circle or there isn’t for one or both of the ancestral couple.  How many of my matches are in the circle and how many total individuals are in that circle.  Note that the Total Matches (to me) should be one less than the Matches in the Circle which includes me.

Ancestor Generations Total Matches Circle Matches in Circle incl Me Total in Circle incl Me
Abraham Estes & Barbara 9 8
Andrew McKee & Elizabeth 5 5 Andrew Andrew 6 Andrew 15
Antoine Lore & Rachel Levina Hill 4 1
Catherine Heath 8 1
Charles Hickerson & Mary Lytle 7 1
Charles Speak & Ann McKee 5 1
Charlotte Ann Girouard 8 1
Claude Dugas & Francoise Bourgeois 9 3
Cornelius Anderson & Annetje Opdyke 9 4
Daniel Garceau and Anne Doucet 7 1
Daniel Miller & Elizabeth Ulrich 6 8
David Miller & Catherine Schaeffer 5 3 David David 4 David 6
Edward Mercer 8 2
Elisha Eldredge and Doras Mulford 8 1
Elizabeth Greib (m Stephen Ulrich) 7 1
Elizabeth Mary Algenica Daye 8 1
Elizabeth Shepherd (m William McNiel) 6 6
Fairwick Claxton & Agnes Muncy 5 2 Fairwick


Fairwick 4

Agnes 4

Fairwick 7

Agnes 7

Frances Carpenter 5 1
Francois Broussard & Catherine Richard 9 3
Francoise Dugas 8 3
Francois Lafaille 6 2
George Dodson & Margaret Dagord 8 12
George Estes & Mary Younger 6 2
George McNiel & Sarah 7 7
George Shepherd & Elizabeth Angelica Daye 8 3
Gershom Hall 7 3
Gershom Hall & Dorcas Richardson 6 1
Gideon Faires & Sarah McSpadden 7 2
Henry Bolton & Nancy Mann (Henry had 2 wives) 5 12 Nancy


Nancy 7

Henry 8

Nancy 20, Henry 22
Henry Bowen & Jane Carter 9 2
Honore Lore & Marie Lafaille 5 1
Jacob Dobkins 7 1
Jacob Lentz & Frederica Moselman 5 2 Frederica Jacob Frederica 3 Jacob 3 Frederica 12, Jacob 12
Jacque Bonnevie & Francoise Mius 8 1
James Crumley & Catherine 8 1
James Hall & Mehitable Wood 7 2
James Lee Claxton 6 2
Jan Derik Woertman & Anna Marie Andries 9 1
Jeanne Aucoin 9 1
Joel Vannoy & Phoebe Crumley 4 8 Joel


Joel 8

Phoebe 8

Joel 8

Phoebe 8

Johann Michael Miller & Suzanna Berchtol 8 11
Johann Nicholas Schaeffer & Mary Catherine Suder 8 2
John Campbell & Jane Dobkins* 6 5 Jane


Jane 6

John 3

Jane 10 John 5
John Cantrell & Hannah Britton 7 7
John Francis Vannoy & Susannah Anderson 7 7
John Hill & Catherine Mitchell 6 1 John John 2 John 3
John R. Estes & Nancy Moore* 5 5 John


John 2

Nancy 3

John 6

Nancy 6

Joseph Cantrell & Catherine Heath 8 4
Joseph Carpenter & Frances Dames 8 4
Joseph Preston Bolton (multiple wives) 4 3 Joseph Joseph 5 Joseph 9
Joseph Rash & Mary Warren 9 3
Joseph Workman & Phoebe McMahon 7 2
Jotham Brown & Phoebe 7 11
Lazarus Estes & Elizabeth Vannoy 3 1
Michael DeForet & Marie Hebert 9 2
Moses Estes Jr 7 1
Moses Estes Sr 8 1
Nicholas Speaks & Sarah Faires 6 3 Nicholas Sarah Nicholas 5 Sarah 5 Nicholas 25, Sarah 24
Peter Johnson 8 2
Philip Jacob Miller & Magdalena 7 8
Pierre Doucet & Henriette Pelletret 9 1
Rachel Levina Hill (husband Anthony Lore not shown) 4 4 Rachel Rachel 4 Rachel 4
Raleigh Dodson & Elizabeth 7 1
Robert Shepherd & Sarah Rash 7 6
Rudolph Hoch 9 1
Samuel Claxton & Elizabeth Speaks 4 1
Stephen Ulrich 7 6
Thomas Dodson & Dorothy Durham 9 6
William Crumley (2nd) 5 1
William Crumley (1st) 7 1
William Hall & Hester Matthews 9 1
William Herrell & Mary McDowell 5 1

This chart is actually very interesting. Two couples have different tallies for the mother and father.  In these cases, bolded* above, the couple was not married more than once, so the matches should equal.  This has to be a tree matching issue. Remember, these tree matches are based on the information in the trees of the people who DNA test – and we all know about tree quality at Ancestry.  GIGO

Initially tree matches were going to be restricted to 7 generations or below, but have now been extended to 9 generations. Circles are apparently still restricted to 7 generations.

I also noticed that when counting the matches by looking at them individually, the count does not always equal the Matches in the Circle, even after allowing for one difference in the Matches in Circles. So, apparently not all matches are “strong enough” to be shown in Circles.

Relationships and Matches

This is all very nice, but what does it really mean on my pedigree chart?

I’ve divided my pedigree into half, one for each parent.

On the chart below, my father’s ancestor tree matches are blue, and the circles are green. You can click on the image to see a larger version.

200 father pedigree blue

Please note that the first 6 generations (beginning with my parent) are complete, but generations 7-9, I’ve only listed ancestors that are matches to someone through a shakey leaf.

On the chart below, the same information for my mother’s side of the house.

200 mother pedigree blue

This visual demonstration is actually quite interesting in that the circles all fall in the 4th, 5th and 6th generations, meaning we’ve had enough time in the US to have enough children to produce enough descendants for there to be some who are interested enough in genealogy to test today.

Remember, Ancestry does not create circles further back in the tree, so this clustering in these generations is to be expected. In my case, some of the matches in earlier generations are every bit as significant as the ones that created Circles.

Proven Connections

In the charts below, all of the proven connections and ancestors are in red. Yes, I said red, as in RED.

200 father inferred blue

What, you don’t see any red?  That’s because there isn’t any.  That’s right, not one single one of these matches is proven.

Why not?  How can that be?

Because Ancestry doesn’t give us a chromosome browser or equivalent tools to be able to show that we indeed match other testers from the same lineage on the same segments, proving the match to that ancestor. That, of course, is called triangulation and is the backbone of autosomal genetic genealogy.

If you’re lucky, you can get the people you need most to download to GedMatch, but most people don’t, and furthermore don’t understand (or don’t care) that these matches are all inferred. Yes, I said inferred.  Fuzzy.  As in might not be accurate.

Granted, a great number of them will be legitimate, but we have hundreds of examples where the matches are NOT from the same line as the Circle indicates. Or much worse, the NADs.  NADs are almost always bad.

And you can’t prove that a match is or isn’t legitimate unless you either download to GedMatch or transfer your results to Family Tree DNA, or preferably both.

Ok, so there’s no red, but let’s look at the inferred lineage confirmations.

If, and that’s a very BIG IF, all of these matches and Circles pan out to be accurate, the chart above, on my father’s side shows ancestors with Circles in green. Yellow infers the lineages that could potentially be proven if we had a chromosome browser to triangulate the matches both within and outside of the circles.  Remember, a match and a name does not an ancestor make. It’s a hint, nothing more.

This next chart is my mother’s side of the tree.

200 mother inferred blue

I have far fewer inferred lineage confirmations in mother’s tree because two of her grandparents were recent immigrants, in the mid-1800s, and there aren’t enough descendants who have tested. Neither are there people in the old country who have tested, so mother’s inferred confirmed lineages are confined to two grandparents’ lines.

I have confirmed some of these lines at GedMatch and at Family Tree DNA, but not all. The ones I’m desperate for, of course, haven’t even answered an inquiry.  That’s how Murphy’s Law works in genetic genealogy.

We really do need that chromosome browser at Ancestry so we can begin to confirm these instead of having to infer these connections. Infer, in this case is another way of saying assume, and you all know about assume I’m sure.

As I evaluate these matches and try to figure out which ones might be more reliable than others, I refer back to two documents. First, the chart I showed earlier in the article which is derived from a spreadsheet I maintain of all of my Ancestry matches that shows me which child of the identified common ancestor my match descends from.  Ancestors with a high number of matches through different children of a common ancestor stand a better chance of being legitimate lineage matches.

Secondly, I refer to an article I wrote last fall, Autosomal DNA Matching Confidence Spectrum, in which I discuss the various type of matches and how much weight to give each type of match. Let’s face it, Ancestry is likely to provide a chromosome browser about the time that we inhabit the moon and most of your matches are unlikely to be willing to go to the time and effort to transfer anyplace, and that’s assuming that they answer a contact request, and that’s assuming that contact request gets delivered to them in the first place.  So, you will likely have to do the best you can with the situation at hand.

In my own case, because I was heavily involved in testing before Ancestry entered the autosomal testing market, I had recruited heavily, often utilizing Y DNA projects, and have had many cousins test at Family Tree DNA. Those who tested at 23andMe have transferred their tests, or in the case of V2 tests, retested at Family Tree DNA.

Because of this very fortunate grouping outside of Ancestry, I know that most of the lines above do triangulate on my personal triangulation spreadsheet. Therefore, many, but not all, of these matches on these two pedigree charts are indeed proven and triangulated at Family Tree DNA and GedMatch. But until and unless Ancestry gives us a chromosome browser type tool, they will never, ever be proven at or through Ancestry.  Come on Ancestry, where’s the meat?

In Summary

I know that the holiday season brings in a lot of sales for Ancestry and we should start seeing the results of that testing shortly. I wonder how long it will be until I have 500 shakey leaf matches, if we will have a chromosome browser by then so I can turn some of those ancestors red (stop snorting), and if any more of my missing lines will have tested.



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52 thoughts on “The Ancestry 200

  1. And those are some of the reasons I pulled my DNA from ancestry. No doubt they kept enough of my test results to resell to someone unknown to me.

  2. I have a DNA tree with three connections. However, I know of a 4th one out there who is considered distant match though when I do a ‘shared match’ search nothing comes up. I just happened across this tree by doing a name search. I was surprised that this person did not show up in my circle so I called Ancestry DNA and learned that unless we all have the same distant ancestor showing in our tree they won’t put that person into the circle. She stops one generation short of that person.
    This is crazy! I have tried to contact the person to let her know that if she carried her tree out one more generation she could be listed in the circle. I have had no response and it has been six months since my first note to her.
    I am so frustrated with Ancestry that I have decided to no longer recommend their testing to those who inquire and refer them, instead, to FTDNA.
    I am off to have a look at my shaky leaf’s . Thanks for all that you do.

    • You have had no response from her in 6 months. Was this a message through Ancestry’s message system. I do not get many responses either. I read on the Ancestry blog recently that those who no longer keep up their subscription can receive messages through Ancestry, but cannot respond to messages. So, if this is true, she just does not have the ability to respond.

  3. Tom Simmons (Thomas Warner Simmons - name after maternal grandfather Thomas Raines Estes, the son Martine Van Buren Estes). on said:

    How do we delete bad NADs from our Anestry Accounts?

  4. You are great! I really appreciate the useful information that you provide. I hope that someday will provide a chromosome browser, and a triangulation tool.

    Also, I wish that I could transfer my father’s DNA to 23andme and I did have my father’s DNA tested with FamilytreeDNA before he passed away as we were trying to find some clues as to who his father was. I’ve continued that search, and I’ve pinned a few things down with FTDNA (a great site), but I could always use a few more matches. I have transferred my Dad’s DNA to Gedmatch and that has been useful.

    Keep up the good work,

    • Since you already have it at FamilytreeDNA and Gedmatch, that’s as good as you’re going to get. Ancestry is not likely to be of any value and will probably cause more frustration than you already have.

    • If I understand your post you would like to have had your father’s raw dna at 23andme because of the health information? There are sites like where for $5.00 they will interpret your raw dna from FTDNA

  5. I wish you were my cousin, but I checked at Gedmatch and we’re not. Thanks for the article. I am constantly looking for my numbers at Ancestry to increase. Thank you for speaking (writing) about some of the same aggravations that I have (NADs and disappearing circles). I have done as you suggested and use Gedmatch and Ftdna also. I am a dna novice so this info is a help.

  6. I usually feel as though I am spinning my wheels at Ancestry DNA. Until very recently I had no NADs at all. Now I have 2 or 3 that are descendants of a man I have never heard of and who is not in any of my trees. I have been researching for more than 25 years so I am fairly certain that if that man were an ancestor I most likely would have found him. I looked at the trees of the descendants, nothing in them that related to me. It is a mystery. Furthermore, the same NADs recently reappeared as though thery were “New”. These are the only NADs I have ever had and I had my Test during Beta. Also, all of a sudden my cousin Roy has shown up as a “New” match. He is the grandson of my grandfather’s brother. We knew we were related before any genealogy trees or tests. Roy, whose DNA I matched 2 or 3 years ago has also recently shown up as a “New” match. I guess the “New Ancestry” has stated over with their DNA Match Games.

    • I do have 9 DNA Circles and all seem valid. Everyone is probably within 4 generations or less. Some of the people in the Circles were already known to me but some are fairly new. The Circles are more reliable than the NADs so far. I worked a long time today trying to verify the recent nAD but had no luck though there is one common surname that may, in fact, be the connection.

      • The Circles may or may not have any relevance to your actual shared DNA. It only means everyone shares some – not necessarily overlapping – DNA and has a person on their tree. Without a chromosome browser and triangulation, you have no clue as to whether you share DNA from this individual. So is it actually useful in any way? Nope. .

        I have a Circle to a 4th great grandmother. Several of the individuals included in her Circle are also on GEDmatch. We all match on her husband’s line. We share on average 20 cMs with a total of about 25 cMs. For her husband. Triangulated with 3 people. I have a totally different string triangulated with 4 other people for her. So what does her DNA Circle mean? Absolutely nothing.

  7. Thanks for the always informative articles. I just had two examples of the failure of shaky leaves to give the correct DNA match. One match and I shared 4 sets of ancestors- and on gedmatch, we only shared 1 chromosome. Another match and I only shared 1 set of ancestors; but on gedmatch, we had 4 chromosomes in common! As you say, a hint- nothing definitive.

  8. Roberta, I love your stuff:

    I joined, Autosomal program in January 2015. I have 255 pages, 411 shared ancestry hints (shaky leafs) and 684 4th cousins or closer. I went one generation back on my Virginia Hutcheson (Caroline County) line and a 2nd wife of Charles Hutcheson b. 1737 was a Sarah Estes b. 1736 and descended from the Elisha Estes and Abraham Estes whose ancestors originated in Deal, Kent, England. Sarah Estes b. 1736 is part of a step cousin line of Hutchesons, not related directly to me. I descend from the other wife (Frances Collier, my 4th great grandmother) of Hutcheson … I think (not proven).

    Also, when the shaky leaf shows only one parent at the top, does that me I am likely related to only that parent and not the other ??

    Steve in Oro Valley

    • No, it typically, but not always, means there is some kind of issue. Probably that the other parent isn’t listed consistently with the same name of info in trees, or that multiple “other parents” are listed and not enough match you. If the person had multiple spouses, then it may mean that you do only match through the one person, according to the other people’s trees.

    • When I match only one parent, I usually find it’s a matter of spelling. The algorithm seems to demand exact spelling. It can’t figure out that my Daniel St.Clair (no space) is the same person as Daniel St. Clair (space), even though dates, relationships, and sources are all the same. The same holds true with Circles.

  9. My Ancestry icon reads “need chromosome browser NOW”. I have dozens of similar examples. I tested early while Ancestry still used base pairs rather than cMs. Ancestry said when they upgraded that the old data would not be updated. That’s between 1/4 and 1/3 of their customers. I am convinced they haven’t a clue who genetically matches me.

    The people I feel sorriest for are the adoptees who naively assume they have found their birth family with no actual proof or help from Ancestry. They are going around making unwarranted assumptions (and possibly accusations). They MAY have found a parent but more likely a distant cousin who they assume to be more closely related than they are. And without the tools, they have no matches and no proof.

  10. If your new matches come from Genographic Next Gen transfers, beware! They have totally messed up even the haplogroups of the transfers. But then, they probably are not transfers because NOTHING WORKS even after unlocking the transfer resulots.

    MJ Bailey

  11. Can the legitimate members of the DNA Circle see the NAD members? My sister has NADs for a couple of ancestors who are plausible candidates for direct ancestry. When I contact the other members of the Circles, the people seem bewildered. The “View the match” link at the bottom of our correspondence takes us to an error message: “Sorry, this match doesn’t exist. As AncestryDNA makes advancements in identifying relationships, we’ll periodically update your DNA matches. This means that you may not have a DNA match with someone because our latest tools didn’t detect enough evidence to make you a match…” I’ve seen this several times.

    Ancestry needs to do more to facilitate communication and collaboration between Circle members. A section for comments/discussion on each DNA Circle page would be great. I’ve sent this suggestion to Ancestry many times, but I don’t know if they’ve ever considered it.

    As they are currently configured, DNA Circles seem to be pretty good at telling me what I already know and the NADs seem to be useless. Since Ancestry believes that triangulation is pseudoscience, I suppose they can only go so far with our DNA match results.

  12. I have the amazing grand total of 4 Shared Ancestor Hints (they’re immediate family, all but one I paid to test) (far short of the 200 Roberta has)
    29 4th cousins or closer. (29 —- far short of the 348 Roberta has. Like 319 short)
    No circles.
    I have 42 pages of mostly horrible matches that probably 1/2 have private, no trees with less than 10 persons.
    But no matter – 98 % of these matches are hopeless. So- I guess that’s about 2000 matches.
    (Far short of the 150 pages at 50 matches each for a total of 7500 matches Roberta has)
    Oh by the way – not ONE has ever contacted me from out of the blue. Ever. Although I tested well over a year ago.
    I have about 3000 persons in my PUBLIC family tree. Warts and all – buyer beware.
    (Many I’ve eradicated or corrected as 9 years into dedicated Ancestry research has brought some skill level at this)
    If you think Roberta is somewhat underwhelmed, where do I stand?
    I think I need to wait until 2027 to be happy with Ancestry DNA.

    • Just as a comparison, I have 9,300 total matches, with 155 shared hints and 56 4th Cousin. In the past about 50% of the trees were private or locked; but since the latest upheaval at Ancestry, about 65-70% are private or locked. Apparently, the cut-off is 5cMs, because the last ones on my list are 5cMs. I have been through every tree and log every match back to 1600. Why, I do not know. Just curiosity. Those are only tree matches, not segment matches. Even though I did not sometimes find a shaky leaf in some of the trees, there was a close match in time usually caused by the variance of spelling. Some of the trees marked private, you can get into, so be sure to explore that.

  13. I’m very grateful this morning for a discovery made last night in my research. It’s one of those discoveries that will most likely lead to removing a concrete road block in my pedigree. This would not have been possible without my Ancestry account and participation in their atDNA program.

    I have gripes and battles of my own with Ancestry, but for an amateur genealogist, I’m very pleased with the services they have provided in exchange for the fees they’ve charged me. We’ve been taught to pay at the register or window, and drive away with our purchases, research results are a time consuming shopping experience.

    I often warn people not to pursue this hobby unless they’re prepared to deal with their family’s skeletons. I’m going to add that it’s not a hobby for those unwilling to spend the hours at the research table. Also, this is a team sport that requires many documented players. Those of us with colonial roots have bigger family rosters recorded than teams that have come to America in recent generations.

    I’ll close by admitting that I gasp in disbelief each time a microfilm machine appears in an episode of the PBS series, “Finding Your Roots”. Been there, done that, and prefer the viral tools at my disposal.

    Back to the lab to see who lies on the slab. 🙂

    • Just remember that until you have matched chromosome strings and triangulated, you have NO match and no verified information. Twice I thought I had found the clues for two brick wall grandmothers, and twice I have checked the chromosomes on GEDmatch and found we match on a different line. Too often Ancestry leads you down some very wrong garden paths. When $$$ not accuracy or quality are the bottom line, the customer suffers.

  14. My brother had NADs with a couple who I believe are probably related on my NPE line. Today they have disappeared as NADs! Both my brother and I match several descendants of this couple everywhere I’ve tested and on Gedmatch. He also matches 66/67 on his Y test (the NPE line) with a descendant. Now they are gone as NADs. What’s with that?

    I have 196 shakey leaves.

  15. Interesting post! I have a NAD, some fellow named Richard Heavin who was born in 1770 in Virginia. I have a very well leafed out and well documented tree, so this fellow is a surprise and a mystery. I explored the trees of the documented descendants and found one family group who IS descended from another family that IS related to my line. Their Easary line married a descendant of Richard Heavin. This sub- group is descended from the same James Easary/Ussery/Essery, etc….my family is descended from. The family name Easary is spelled so many different ways! I’m not poo-pooing the NAD, but I think my connection to James Heavin is through a sister or sister of his father whose name got lost. I have several female line brick walls….

  16. Another mystery on AncestryDNA has a fellow with a totally unknown surname matched up to me and three of my fourth cousins. “Sparkie” also comes in at a fourth cousin level to all of us. These cousins and I share a common 3rd g-grandfather. So when “Sparkie” turned up as a shared match we got very curious. His tree is very “stumpy,” short on names, places and dates. Both “Sparkie’s” family and my father’s family are descended from 19th century German immigrants who settled in Illinois. What is fascinating is that I found compelling evidence that the two half-brothers had sisters who survived to adulthood, married and had families of their own. “Sparkie” suggests this is indeed true. There are some names in common. Perhaps the off-spring of these sisters emigrated to Illinois a generation later than the families of their brothers not knowing they had somewhat close kin already living downstate.

    I am in touch with “Sparkie’s” college age nephew and we will continue this search.

  17. OK Roberta I have looked at the two pedigree charts you created for your parents. They look like they were created in Excel or spreadsheet program. How can one create the same style chart so we can chart the same type of DNA info on our families? Inquiring minds want to know. Did I mess something elsewhere on your blog? I’m impressed!

    • I did create them in Excel because I was totally frustrated that I couldn’t find anything like that to use. What I did was to begin with the highest generation I wanted to have completely. I think it’s generation 6 in this example. Each generation doubles the number of rows, so I wanted to have something useful and not too large for the blog. If I were just doing this for my own use, I would take it out to generation 9 with the entire pedigree chart. Then for each generation closer, I just merged and centered the cells so that the ancestor is centered between their parents. Then I colorized them as appropriate.

  18. I have similar results to Roberta (although we are not a match ourselves)
    180 Leaves, 337 4th cousins, 6500 matches total. Similar data pre-Timber as well.

    In general when I look at my Leaf hints and trees they look very reasonable. So my tendency is to think that DNA matches do point to the correct trees.

    However…that did not happen at FTDNA, where the matching is corroborated by data.

    At one point I had identified 30 MRCAs by using the trees at FTDNA. I was in self-congratulatory mode until I realized the many conflicts. People who matched an ancestor on my father’s side but the matching DNA segment corresponded to my mother. Or the opposite, people who had an MRCA with my mother but did not match my mother’s DNA. This happened 25% of the time. So not a rare occurrence at all.

    I don’t know how to explain this other than perhaps my parents were related. (I got a zero on the GedMatch tool). They did share similar geography many times. So maybe back in the 1600s, they were related. I doubt much sooner because I have a pretty solid tree going back to 1750.

    So now when I look at my 180 Leafs at AncestryDNA, I take them with a big grain of salt. Fingers crossed because they do look reasonable, but so did the matches at FTDNA.

  19. Another suggestion that you should not directly tie Leafs to DNA segments.

    I have one distant (4th to 5th) cousin, with whom I share 3 leafs.

    But there is a total 9.5 cM, so if I divide that equally, I get 3.5 cM per match which is pretty skimpy.

    The 9.5 cM is comprised of two segments. So two segments for 3 leafs or three sets of common ancestors……I don’t see a simple explanation for that. I suppose if we had a chromosome browser, or data, I could look at some of the more challenging possibilities….

    Without data corroboration, Leafs should be considered points of interest, but not facts.

  20. I found the summary of your DNA matches very interesting and informative. You are quite fortunate to have 200 shared shaky leaf matches and 348 4th cousins or closer and 19 circles. Perhaps you can share some insight in how you have come to have so many matches.

    In contrast, I have 37 shaky leaf matches, 22 4th cousins or closer, and zero circles.

    Like you, I have found the shaky leaves to be the most helpful and fun aspects of Ancestry DNA. Each new shaky leaf is like a gift to be opened. I have discovered two 2nd cousins, whom I had no clue even existed. One turned out to be a descendant of a first cousin, put up for adoption. She was able to discover her family through my tree. The other one, a daughter of an uncle, who died young. Because of his death, her family did most of their activities around the mother’s family. Her mother was a first cousin I never met or even knew about.

    I really wish that I had at least one Ancestry Circle. I feel like I am missing out on that experience.

    I have nearly 10,000 people on my tree. I have not gotten other family members to test, although I have asked several of them to test. I paid for quite a few Y-DNA tests, but I don’t feel like I want to pay for everyone’s autosomal testing, especially when the price is reasonable. I took a fairly lean approach to some of the more distant ancestors, not adding all the wives and children. Perhaps this explains why I don’t have a circle.

    Anyway, good job. You’ve given me ideas. I am now documenting my shaky leaf matches. I’ve sent out a bulk messages to my solved brick wall people to get other people to add him to their trees and get a DNA test done. Hopefully, I can boost the number of my matches up.

    In the meantime, I am planning to take about a year-long hiatus from Ancestry to finish a book, which took a back seat to my efforts to break-through a brick wall. I’m hoping that when I check back in about a year I will have lots of exciting new matches waiting for me.

    • I wrote about optimizing your chances for matches in this article. But I’m betting you’ve already done most of this.

      You’ll notice on my lines with recent immigrants – meaning as in the mid 1800s, I have no matches at all, so much of this is when the ancestor immigrated and luck of the draw in terms of who has tested – so long as your direct ancestors in your tree are in good order.

    • In case, it has not been mentioned, those of the Colonial America ancestry and those of Ashkenazi (sp?) Jewish ancestry, especially the later, tend to have more matches than some others.

  21. Roberta,

    Unless I am missing something, there is a scenario that explains your situation with Match M.H. and the four shared matches with shaky leaves. Match M.H. is projected to be a 2nd to 3rd cousin, meaning that you and M.H. would share great grandparents or great great grandparents. That would also mean that you and M.H. likely also share multiple segments of DNA. Ancestry’s estimate of matching DNA is shown by clicking on the lower case “i” within the black circle on the page for the match.

    Let’s assume that your common ancestor(s) with M.H. is either Margaret Claxton or Samuel Claxton/Elizabeth Speaks. And let’s assume that you share two segments of DNA with M.H. Segment A could have come from Andrew McKee through Ann McKee and Elizabeth Speaks to you and to M.H., and also creating the shaky leaf with the other matches that have Andrew McKee as the common ancestor with you. Segment B could have come from Fairwick Claxton through Samuel Claxton to you and to M.H., and also creating the shaky leaf with the other match that has Fairwick Claxton as the common ancestor with you.

    Of course, we’ll never know if this scenario is the answer without access to a chromosome browser to be able to see the actual shared segments among you, M.H., and the shaky leaf matches.

    • The 4th shakey leaf shows no connection to Samuel, so it has to be through a different route, assuming, and that’s the key word here, assuming all of this is accurate. But you said it very well, we’ll never know without a chromosome browser and the fact that we have to sit out here and speculate and draw maybe trees and paths when a perfectly valid proof system is available irritates me to no end.

  22. I forgot to mention that in addition to the 412 shared ancestry hints and 684 4th cousins or closer, and the 255 pages of cousins, I have 32 family circles, which all appear to be valid…

    Steve in Oro Valley

  23. “I particularly like that we can see how the other people we match descend from this same ancestor. This suggests that the match really can’t be due to a NPE (nonparental event, also known as an undocumented adoption) downstream of this ancestor. If that were the case, you would only match people through the same child.”

    I don’t think I understand the last sentence above. Would you please explain? Thank you.

    • If I matches only other people who descended from just the same child of the couple I descend from, that might call into question why I didn’t match with anyone who descended from other children of the same couple. If I match with people who descend from multiple children of the same couple, it strengthens the chances that the match is valid. It’s not foolproof of course, but it’s just one of the things I look at when considering matches and is why on my spreadsheet I keep track of which child my matches descend through.

  24. I have been working on genealogy for over 30 years – inbetween my fulltime job. My husband and I and various relatives have now tested with on the autosomal and FamilyTreeDNA – for the yDNA and mtDNA (being processed) – and transferred the autosomal from also to FamilyTreeDNA.

    Since I don’t have the time at this point to educate myself on interpreting the results – esp. on FamilyTreeDna – where can I find qualified persons that I could pay to at least do my husband’s YDNA results so I can learn? (I am a member of APG also)

    Thanks so much

    Cheryl Cook Singleton, Legal Specialist
    Green Bryant & French, LLP
    1230 Columbia Street, Suite 1120
    San Diego, California 92101-8502
    Telephone: 619-239-7900 x 111
    Fax: 619-239-7800

  25. Great article. Thanks. One source for disappearing shakey leafs you didn’t mention.
    That’s people like me. I have 251 pages of matches and have 197 leaf matches and am in 27 dna circles. After contacting several members of a dna circle and sharing information, we realized each of us had incorrect information in our trees (copied from other ancestry members). After correcting the errors in my tree (which affected the 4 kits I manage), I lost 20 leaf matches and two dna circles disappeared because there were not enough remaining members.

    I agree with your comments on NADS. I wish they weren’t there. However, one NAD did provide useful information as the person’s wife and I descend from a common ancestor.

  26. Hi Roberta,

    First of all, thank you for a wonderfully informative website which has been a huge help to me as I negotiate the very steep learning curve required to understand my dna results.

    I believe that there is something wrong with the way that Ancestry process dna test results before displaying matches.

    My wife, her sister and their mother tested at Ancestry early last year when the test became available in the UK. We have been researching our family tree for over 30 years and had a good paper trail to a 4th cousin of my wife except that it was dependant on a family story of an illegitimacy. So, we persuaded the 4th cousin to take the Ancestry dna test to ‘prove’ the connection, which it seemed to have done. However, after Ancestry made the change that allowed us to see the size of the matches I noticed something odd. Ancestry claimed that my wife and her sister were matching with 11.2 centimorgans shared across one dna segment but that their mother was only sharing 5.8 centimorgans, also shared across one dna segment. Suspecting that perhaps my wife and her sister were sharing a different match than their mother, which could only be a paternal match and not the maternal match we expected, I persuaded the cousin to let me upload her dna to Gedmatch where I had already uploaded our dna. I got the following result:

    Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs Ancestry Match
    19 52,907,445 57,580,432 15.5 1,500 5.8 Mother in Law
    19 52,907,445 57,807,872 15.8 1,556 11.2 Wife
    19 52,907,445 57,807,872 15.8 1,563 11.2 Sister-in-law

    Why has Ancestry processed, what amounts to the same piece of dna, differently for my mother-in-law than for her daughters?

    I have another example. I have a distant match with someone on Ancestry which is showing 5.1 centimorgans shared across one dna segment. On Gedmatch, I have the same match but I also match that person’s two daughters:

    Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs Ancestry Match
    14 58,904,756 72,017,968 11.3 2,915 5.1 Mother
    14 60,683,259 72,017,968 10.8 2,691 No match Daughter 1
    14 60,693,823 72,014,765 10.7 2,684 No match Daughter 2

    Again, why has Ancestry processed, what amounts to the same piece of dna, differently for each test causing it to show a match with the mother but no match with either daughter?

    Finally, I have a much worse example. On Ancestry I have another distant match with someone which is showing 7.0 centimorgans shared across one dna segment. On Gedmatch, I have the same match but I also match that person’s mother:

    Chr Start Location End Location Centimorgans (cM) SNPs Ancestry Match
    2 221,363,169 227,675,349 8.2 1,419 7.0 Son
    2 221,363,169 227,675,349 8.2 1,415 No Match Mother

    This last example is the worst because both Mother and Son have tested at Ancestry, but relying only on my Ancestry matches, I would conclude that because I do not match his mother then the connection must on his paternal side whereas, given the Gedmatch result, the opposite seems to be the truth.

    Can I trust any of my Ancestry matches without a chromosome browser?

    Fortunately, I only have 97 pages of dubious matches which has only generated 17 shaky leaf hints (and one of these is clearly wrong, naming the common ancestor as someone who is not even in the match’s tree) despite my having attached a tree to my results with over 10,000 of my relatives in it.

    A somewhat disappointed,


    • And the answer is that no, you need the chromosome browser. And you’ve proven why. But even with a chromosome browser at Ancestry, that doesn’t do anything about the segments stripped out by Timber.

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