Revisiting AncestryDNA Matches – Methods and Hints

I think all too often we make the presumption about businesses like Ancestry that “our” information that is on their site, in our account, will always be there. That’s not necessarily true – for Ancestry or any other business. Additionally, at Ancestry, being a subscription site, the information may be there, but inaccessible if your subscription lapses.

For a long time, I didn’t keep a spreadsheet of my matches at Ancestry, and when I began, not all of the information available today was available then – so my records are incomplete. Conversely, some of the matches that were there then are gone now. A spreadsheet or other type of record that you keep separately from Ancestry preserves all of your match information.

I was recently working on a particular line, and I couldn’t find some of the DNA Shared Ancestor Hints (aka green leaves) that were previously shown as matches. That’s because they aren’t there anymore. They’ve disappeared.

Granted, Ancestry has been through a few generations of their software and has made changes more than once, but these matches remained through those. However, they are unquestionably gone now. I would never have noticed if I hadn’t been keeping a spreadsheet.

Now, I have a confession to make. At Ancestry, the ONLY matches that I really work with are the DNA matches where I ALSO have a leaf hint – the Shared Ancestor Hint Matches.


That’s not to say that this approach is right or wrong, but it’s what works best for me.  The only real exception is close matches, 3rd cousins or closer.  Those I “should” be able to unravel.

I’m not interested in trying to unravel the rest. About 50% of my matches have trees, and those trees do the work for me, telling me the common ancestor we match if one can be identified. For me, those 367 green Ancestor Hints DNA+tree-matches are the most productive.

So I’m not interested in utilizing the third party tools that download all of my Ancestry matches. I also don’t really want all of that information either – just certain fields.

Adding the match to my spreadsheet gives me the opportunity to review the match information and assures that I don’t get in a hurry and skim over or skip something.

So, when some of my matches came up missing, I knew it because I HAVE the spreadsheet, and I still have their information because I entered it on the spreadsheet.

Here’s an example. In a chart where I worked with the descendants of George Dodson, I realized that three of my sixteen matches (19%) to descendants of George Dodson are gone. That’s really not trivial.


If you’re wondering how I could not notice that my matches dropped, I asked the same question. After all, Ancestry clearly shows how many Shared Ancestor hints I have.

Ancestry matches periodically have a habit of coming and going, so I’ve never been too concerned about a drop of 1 in the total matches – especially given adoptee shadow trees and such. Generally, my match numbers increase, slowly. What I think has actually been happening is that while I have 3 new matches, what really happened is that I lost two and gained 5 – so the net looks like 3 and I never realized what was happening.


Because I’m only interested in the Shared Ancestor Hint matches, that’s also the only number I monitor – and it’s easy because it’s dead center in the middle of my page.

When I realized I have missing matches, I also realized that I had better go back and enter the information that is missing in my spreadsheet for my early matches– such as the total segment match size, the number of matching segments and the confidence level. That’s the best we can do without a chromosome browser. It would be so nice if Ancestry provided a match download, like the other vendors do, so we don’t have to create this spreadsheet manually.

The silk purse in this sow’s ear is that in the process of reviewing my Ancestry matches, I learned some things I didn’t know.

Why Revisit Your Matches?

So, let’s take a look a why it’s a good idea to go back and revisit your Ancestry Shared Ancestor Hints from time to time.

  • People change their user name.
  • People change their ancestors.
  • You may now share more than one ancestral line, where you didn’t originally. I’ve had this happen several times.
  • People change their tree from public to private.
  • People change their tree from private to public.
  • Your matches may not be there later.
  • Circles come, and Circles go, and come, and go, and come and go…
  • If you contacted someone in the past about a private tree, requesting access, they may have never replied to you (or you didn’t receive their correspondence,) but they may have granted you access to their tree. Who knew!!!
  • Check, and recheck Shared Surnames, because trees change. You can see the Shared Surnames in the box directly below the pedigree lineage to the common ancestor for you and your match.


  • Ancestry sometimes changes relationship ranges. For example, all of the range formerly titled “Distant Cousin” appears to be 5th – 8th cousins now.
  • When people have private trees, you’re not entirely out of luck. You can utilize the Shared Matches function to see which matches you and they both match that have leaf hints. Originally, there were seldom enough people in the data base to make this worthwhile, but now I can tell which family line they match for about half of my Shared Ancestor Hint matches (leaf matches) that are private.

This is also my first step if I do happen to be working with someone who doesn’t have a tree posted or linked to their DNA.

Click on the “View Match” link on your main match page for the match you want to see, then on the “Shared Matches” in the middle of the gray bar.


The hint that you are looking for in the shared matches are those leaf hints, because you can look at that person’s tree and see your common ancestor with them, which should (might, may) provide a hint as to why the person you match is also matching them. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a hint.


Of course, if you find 3 or 4 of those leaf hints, all pointing to the same ancestral couple, that’s a mega-hint.

Unfortunately, that’s the best sleuthing we can we can do for private matches with no tree to view and no chromosome browser.

  • You may have forgotten to record a match, or made an error.
  • Take the opportunity to make a note on your Ancestry match. The “Add Note” button is just above the “Pedigree and Surnames” button and just below the DNA Circle Connection.


On your main match page, you can then click on the little note icon and see what you’ve recorded – which is an easy way to view your common ancestor with a match without having to click through to their match page. When the person has a private tree, I enter the day that I sent a message, along with any common tree leaf hint shared matches that might indicate a common ancestor.


Tracked Information

Part of the information I track in my spreadsheet is provided directly by Ancestry, and some is not. However, the matching lines back to a common ancestor makes other information easy to retrieve.  The spreadsheet headings are shown below.  Click to enlarge.


I utilize the following columns, thus:

  • Name – Ancestry’s user name for the match. If their account is handled by someone else, I enter the information as “C. T. by johndoe.”
  • Est Relationship – ancestry’s estimated relationship range of the match.
  • Generation – how many generations from me through the common ancestor with my match. Hint – it’s always two more than the relationship under the common ancestor. So if the identification of the common ancestor says 5th great-grandfather, then the person (or couple) is 7 generations back from me.
  • Ancestor – the common ancestor or couple with the match.
  • Child – the child of that couple that the match descends from.
  • Relationship – my relationship to the match. This information is available in the box showing the match in the shared ancestor hint. In this case, EHVannoy (below) and I are third cousins.
  • Common Lines – meaning whether we have additional lines that are NOT shown in Ancestor Hints. You’ll need to look through the Shared Surnames below the Shared Ancestor Hint box. I often say things in this field like, “probably Campbell” or “possibly Anderson” when it seems likely because either I’ve hit a dead end, or the family is found in the same geographic location.


  • Shared cMs – available in the little “i” to the right of the Confidence bar, shown below.


Click on the “i” to show the amount of shared DNA, and the number of shared segments.

  • Confidence – the confidence level shown, above.
  • MtDNA – whether or not this person is a direct mitochondrial line descendant from the female of the ancestral couple. If so, or if their father is if they aren’t, I note it as such.
  • Y DNA – if this person, or if a female, their father or grandfather is a direct Y line descendant of this couple.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that if they are mtDNA or Y descendants, and I don’t already have that haplogroup information, I’m going to be contacting them and asking if they have taken that test at Family Tree DNA. If they have not, I’m going to ask if they would be willing. And yes, I’ll probably be offering to pay for it too. It’s worth it to me to obtain that information which can’t be otherwise obtained.

  • Comments – where I record anything else I might have to say – like their tree isn’t displaying correctly, or there is an error in their tree, or they contacted me via e-mail, etc. I may make these same types of notes in the notes field on the match at Ancestry.


It’s interesting that at least one of my matches that was removed when Ancestry introduced their Timber phasing is back now.

However, and this is the bad news, 82 previous leaf hint matches are now gone. Some disappeared in the adjustment done back in May 2016, but not all disappearances can be attributed to that house-cleaning. I noted the matches that disappeared at that time.

If you look at my current 367 matches and add 82, that means I’ve had a total of 449 Ancestor Hint matches since the Timber introduction – not counting the matches removed because of Timber. That means I’ve lost 18% of my matches since Timber, or said another way, if those 82 remained, I’d have 22% more Ancestor Hint matches than I have today.

Suffice it to say I wish I had more information about the matches that are gone now. I’d also like to know why I lost them. It’s not that they have private trees, they are simply gone.

As you may recall, I took the Ancestry V2 test when it became available to compare against the V1 version of the Ancestry test that I had taken originally.


It’s interesting that my own V2 second test doesn’t show as a shared match in several instances, example above and below.


It should show, since I’m my own “identical twin,” and the fact that it does not show on several individual’s shared matched with my V1 kit indicates that my match to that individual (E.B. in this case) was on the 300,000 or so SNPs that Ancestry replaced on their V2 chip with other locations that are more medically friendly. All or part of that V1 match was on the now obsolete portion of the V1 chip that my V2 test, on the newer chip, isn’t shown as a match. That’s 44% of the DNA that was available for matching on the V1 chip that isn’t now on the V2 chip.

My smallest match was 6cM. Based on the original white paper, Ancestry was utilizing 5cM for matches. Apparently that changed at some point. Frankly, without a chromosome browser, I’m fine with 6cM. There’s nothing I can do with that information, beyond tree matching without a chromosome browser anyway – and Ancestry already does tree matching for us.

Frustrations and Hints

Aside from the lack of a chromosome browser, which is a perpetual thorn in my side, I have two really big frustrations with Ancestry’s DNA implementation.

My first frustration is the search function, or lack thereof. If I turn up bald one day, this is why.

Here’s the search function for DNA matches.


I can’t search for a user ID that I’ve recorded in my notes that I know matches me.

I can’t narrow searches beyond just a surname. For example, I’d like to search for that surname ONLY in trees with Shared Ancestor Hints, or maybe only in trees without hints, or only people in my matches with that surname, or only people who have this surname in their direct line, not just someplace in their tree. Just try searching for the surname Smith and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Not to mention that Ancestry searches do not reliably return the correct or even the same information. Ancestry lives and dies on searching, so I know darned good and well they can do better. I don’t know of any way around this search issue, so if you do, PLEASE DO TELL!!!

My second frustration is the messaging system, but I do have a couple hints for you to circumvent this issue.

I have discovered that there are two ways to contact your matches, and those two methodologies are by far NOT equal.

On your DNA match page, there is a green “Send Message” button in the upper right. Don’t use this button.


The problem with using this button is that Ancestry does NOT send the recipient an e-mail telling them they received a message. Users have to both know and remember to look for the little grey envelope at the top of their task bar by their user name. Most don’t. It’s tiny and many people have no idea it’s there, especially if they are receiving e-mails when other people contact them through Ancestry. They assume that they’ll receive an e-mail anytime anyone wants to contact them. Reasonable, but not true.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that by the time I realized that envelope was there, I had over 100 messages waiting for me, all from people who thought I was willfully disregarding them, and I wasn’t.

So, if you use the green button, you’ve sent the message, but they have no idea they received a message. And you’re waiting, with your hopes dropping every day, or every hour if it’s an important match.

If you click on your little gray envelope, you’ll see any messages you’ve sent or received through the green contact button on the DNA page.

You can remedy this notification problem by utilizing the regular Ancestry contact button. Click on the user name beside their member profile on this same DNA page. In this case, EHVannoy.

You’ll then see their profile page, with a tan “Contact EHVannoy” button, EHVannoy being the user name.


Use this tan contact button to contact your matches, because it generates an e-mail. However, the tan button does NOT add the message to your gray envelope, and I don’t know of any way to track messages sent through the tan button. I note in my spreadsheet the date I send messages and a summary of the content. I also put this information in the Ancestry note field.

What’s Next?

Now, I know what you’re going to be doing next. You’re going to be going to look at your grey envelope and resend all of those messages using the tan button. There is an easy way to do this.

First, click on the grey envelope, then on the “Sent” box on the left hand side. You will then see all the messages you’ve sent.


Then, just click on the user name of any of your matches and that will take you to their profile page with the tan button!!! You can even copy/paste your original message to them. Do be sure to check your inbox to be sure they didn’t answer before you send them a new message.


Hopefully some of the people who didn’t answer when you sent green button messages will answer with tan button messages. Fingers crossed!!!



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96 thoughts on “Revisiting AncestryDNA Matches – Methods and Hints

  1. I think all too often we make the presumption about businesses like Ancestry that “our” information that is on their site, in our account, will always be there. That’s not necessarily true

    This is why I use web sites only for research. Trees which I’ve uploaded are nothing but a courtesy to other people.

  2. I am so jealous. I’m trying to find my husband’s birth parents and he only has 52 matches marked 4th cousins or closer and no shared ancestor hints.

  3. Regarding the resending of email (your last point) — it can be useful to open a second browser window and sign into normal Ancestry (not AncestrDNA) in that window. Then you don’t have to be jumping back and forth in a single session – just open the the old sent-but-not-acknowledged message in the first window, copy, and paste into the email system in the other window. Note that you can also do this using two tabs in the same browser window – whichever turns your crank is fine.

  4. Great article Roberta,
    Do I understand you correctly that you have gone one by one through your 367 shaky leaf matches and copied each bit of info to your spreadsheet? Are there any shortcuts to the process that you have found helpful?

    Do you keep a copy of the diagram of the match in some format in your records?

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I did. I took time with each one as I did so and evaluated the information there. There are no shortcuts, or I would have used them. You need to evaluate the surname matches and other information as well. I did not keep an image, but you can link images to spreadsheet cells.

  5. sold the Family Tree Maker software to Makiec Corp. They have managed to totally mess up the system. If your data base was large as mine is it takes forever to make a change. Their answer to my inquiry was my family was too large.

    • Your comments reminded me that I need to shop for software to back up my Ancestry research. All suggestions are welcomed. Roberta, do you have an article in the archives about programs compatible with Ancestry?

      • No, I don’t. It probably depends vastly on what you mean by compatible. I never use Ancestry as my primary tool, and never have, so I’m probably not a good person to work on this. I do know that the media is lost if you have anything attached, and the only program I have ever known that syncs, although I’m not sure if that includes media, was FTM which was sold and is now working to remain compatible. So, I don’t know. Others may have comments.

      • Family Tree Maker does not sync media. It says it does but the media is simply liked back to ancestry and cannot be viewed. Media loaded directly to my tree at ancestry becomes unviewable if I allow FTM to sync. I’ve moved to Roots Magic 7 and down load all media to an external hard drive under the pertinent ancestors name. That way, I can include it in my Roots Magic software.

  6. Hello Roberta: Thanks for sharing this – great info!

    I certainly agree with your recommendation to record your matches external to ancestry.

    However, in general, your shared ancestor hints are not being deleted by Ancestry DNA software, but by the other kit owner making a change to their tree – the exception is noted later.

    I have ~1600 shared ancestor hints for the 4 kits that I manage for my family (versus what I manage for my wife’s family). I have found it necessary to always check the other kit owner’s line, because, based on my experience, the other kit owner has a fatal flaw in their line ~30% of the time. Also, in a very small percentage of occurrences, Ancestry DNA identifies a common ancestor that is bogus.

    If the other kit owner finds the mistake in their line and corrects the problem such that the two of you no longer have a common ancestor, the SHA will disappear. You still have the DNA match with the other kit owner, but Ancestry DNA does not find a common ancestor – so, no green leaf hint.

    Another reason for re-checking your shared ancestor hints is that , if you are reviewing by date, the most recent SHA’s are not always listed first. Consider the situation, where you and a specific kit owner had a DNA match (not a SHA) reported in 2016. Then this week you or the other kit owner completes their line to the common ancestor. The DNA match will be flagged as a SHA, but it will be displayed on the basis of the date on which the DNA match (not the SHA) was first reported.

    Yet another reason that you may already have a SHA with a specific kit owner, but one of you extends a line, where another common ancestor is identified. It is not uncommon to have multiple SHAs with the same kit owner, if both trees are primarily colonial VA and/or NC.

    The only time that Ancestry DNA deletes a match is when a new version of software is made available, where the algorithm and/or criteria for a match has been updated, e.g. the threshold for an acceptable match has been increased. In this case, Ancestry DNA creates a spreadsheet with the DNA matches that are being deleted, where the matches meet a certain criteria. As I remember, the criteria includes any SHA, any starred match, or any match with notes.

    I record notes in ancestry for each SHA to indicate that the other kit owner’s line was validated, or, if not, what the problem was. If I did find a problem, I PM the other kit owner with what appears to be wrong and a source for the conclusion.

    I also save snapshots for each SHA on my computer with the name of my kit and the other kit owner.

    Something else that I would recommend for any surname that you consider to be significant is to query your DNA matches by surname. I have found numerous matches, where the other kit owner’s line is valid, but incomplete. The criteria that Ancestry DNA uses to identify a common ancestor is not clear (at least, not to me). I have found cases, where the other kit owner has the common ancestor in their tree, but no dates or locations. A SHA will not be reported in this case. Even more common is that the other kit owner may be missing a generator or two to get to the common ancestor.

    Are you certain that the green button does not trigger an email notification to the other kit owner? The reason I am asking is that the advantage of the green button is that it automatically includes a hyperlink to the DNA match, which is useful considering that you cannot find a match by username. The messages from the green button end up in the same sent folder as those messages sent by any other means. I am reasonably certain that I have received email notifications from the green button, because the hyperlink was included. I’ve thought the problem was that messages were being lost, even though they are in your sent folder. In either case, ancestry needs to fix the problem, because a reliable messaging system is essential to collaboration.

    Since you mentioned DNA Circles…. something I wasn’t aware of until last year is that you can belong to a DNA circle, where the common ancestor is not in your direct line, i.e. the common ancestor is a cousin.

    • Many matches were deleted in the May 2016 “adjustment.” I wrote about that. I am sure the green button does not trigger an e-mail. You are not supposed to belong to a DNA Circle where the common ancestor is not a common ancestor of all of the people in the DNA Circle. I know that does rarely occur, but it’s a glitch, not intentional.

      • May 2016 was the transition from v1 to v2. Ancestry provided a spreadsheet of what was deleted.

        There are people at ancestry, who will disagree that a DNA circle is not intended to also include cousins. I actually asked about this.

        • The Circle itself is supposed to be the ancestor of everyone in the circle. You can see the white paper if you click on the information icon on your page. I’m not talking about NADs – just Circles.

      • Another great article! I must have clicked on some setting in my Ancestry profile because I do get notified via email when a match sends me a message through the green button. I checked the envelope and I see my messages in the inbox and sent items and I also have their message in my email. I’m definitely lucky!

        • That’s interesting, because some people report that they do, and others report that they don’t. I don’t. I wonder if you are receiving e-mails from everyone who sends you a green-button contact request. I just reviewed my options, and I didn’t see anything that looked like it would affect that. I wonder if the messages you send are receiving e-mails. I assumed all along they did, and come to find out, they weren’t.

      • I have two DNA Circles that are not Direct Ancestors.

        One is to “wife of 1st cousin 3x removed”. She is not even my relative. Her husband, a distant relative is a Bad NAD.

        I also have one to a “2nd great-uncle”. Seems pretty random since I have tons of 2nd great-uncles and not sure why this one is special.

        My other 27 DNA Circles are based upon direct ancestors.

      • I have 27 circles … 23 of them are direct ancestors. The rest are: 2C 4xR, husband of 2nd great aunt, wife of 3C 5xR, 3C 5xR. I also have nine NADS, but they do not include the not direct ancestors listed above.

  7. My count is: 68 Shared Ancestor Hints, 662 Starred Matches, and 93 4th cousins.
    If one is only looking at DNA matches with a leaf hint, MANY are being missed because their computer software is not accurate in picking up matches unless the spelling and naming of the two matches is close to exact. Their computer usually will not give you a leaf match if you spell the name Philip and your match spells Phillip, for example. I have looked at all of my 20,000 trees because I am desperate to break down 4 brick walls. I then move the trees to the back of the file and keep the ones with a shared ancestor that goes back no further than 1675, and make the notation. So, I have definitely more than 500 tree matches I have personally found, and not their software.

    And you have 810 fourth cousins, and I have only 93. ??

    But our DNA matches at Ancestry are just trees matches, and not dna matches, until we have done Triangulation at Gedmatch, and a one-to-one to confirm each person matches each other person in the TG. The one-to-one separates those who match on the patra vs matra side. Since, a one-to-one can only be done at Gedmatch, it is on my go-to list. Last week I messaged 3 of my matches and asked if they would upload to Gedmatch. One did so, and the other two ignored me.

  8. I have to think about some of what you wrote today a bit more for it to sink in, but some good information. One some of the pet-peeves, you really need to try AncestryDNA Helper someday. Others have mentioned it. On the main AncestryDNA page you can download a list of your matches. It takes a bit since the addin actually reads all of your matching pages to create the list that you can save to a CSV file. The family tree info can also be obtained if you continuue, reading every family tree and collecting info. The process is very time-consuming and I have never gotten the full family tree info because of an apparent bug and time out. However, the list is nice. The other tool that is great is the search tool Users, Surnames, and Notes. These are some of the issues you have mentioned that are gotten around using the Helper app in Chrome.

    • That’s Jeff Snavely’s app. That’s what I was referring to when I mentioned that I don’t want all that info. I just want certain information about my Ancestor Hint matches only. I also despise Chrome plugins because of what Chrome tries to do to your system and defaults every time you try to install a plugin.

  9. You’ve asked Ancestry to increase their search tool choices. I’ve asked them to make their existing search tool choices available in the “deleted matches” area of my DNA page. Apparently both of our requests have fallen on deaf ears.

  10. You can do a username search in the regular member directory and then get to their dna profile page from there.

      • Go to Search > Member Directory. You can type the username or name of the person. It is not perfect. Sometimes I know the username but the search won’t work. So I would the name of the person which works even though they go by their username.

  11. I actually prefer the green “Send Message” method for two main reasons:
    1. There is a link at the bottom of those messages that takes you back to the Match. This makes it convenient.
    2. When the Match responds, a hyperlink is formed under the green button that takes you directly to the message thread – this is very handy when working with lots of Matches (to be able to quickly review the conversation).
    3. It more convenient.
    4. There are a few cases of Ancestry kits with the same user name – the green button helps insure you are talking to the real Match.
    5. The regular Ancestry grey button system has all of the messages in a long string – very difficult to find an old one.

    Like you, I put a little “diary entry” in the note filed – it really helps me get back up to speed on each Match.

    Also like you, I found a lot of unanswered message once – it woke me up, and I check it every day now. And somehow I thought I did get an email with the green button messages, too – I’ll have to check that. Jim

    • I checked and I have never received an e-mail from the green messages, but I do receive messages from people who message me, but not about DNA. It’s when I discovered the little grey envelope that I realized something was amiss and then found others saying the same thing.

    • You know Jim, if you were getting e-mails with your green button requests, you wouldn’t have found a bunch of them unanswered. I know you, and you’d NEVER let a DNA request go unanswered:)

      • Thanks, Roberta – I try to respond to everyone;>j Early on I learned what the Fuller Brush salesmen knew – you have to knock on a lot of doors, and be persistent, to sell the product. I actually think our success is directly proportional to the number of folks we earnestly contact.

  12. I also recommend both notes in the note field and in my stand-alone Master atDNA spreadsheet. I have one column where I copy the hyperlink to each message thread. From my spreadsheet, I can just click and call up that message/thread.

  13. About your ‘First Frustration’, this is not a complete solution but it sometimes helps to search for both the ‘Surname’ and the ‘Birth location’.That can really limit the responses in some situations. You may be frustrated but perhaps you can sympathize with me, because of my lack of immigrants to the US I only have 5 Ancestor Hints and they are all my immediate family whose kits I administer. I only wish that I could have your level of frustration.

  14. If you go to the Search in the ribbon at the top (Home, Trees, Search, DNA, etc.), the last option in the dropdown menu is Member Directory. Type in the username of any member. If you are a DNA match, it will indicate it when you reach their page. “You share DNA with “username.” It also shows Relationship, Confidence Level, cM’s and segments, and gives you a button to View Match.

    • This is a good tip however it will work only work on the .com pages. For anyone at or, they need to take out the .au or and make it just .com. Not delete anything else and the shared DNA link should work. HTHs.

      • The “You share DNA with” message has completely disappeared for me. Used to have it, now it’s gone! Tried .com instead of, no luck. Anyone else have this problem, and anyone found a fix?

        • Mine seemed to come and go too. Not sure why that is. With mine though, I have to click on the word YOUR where is says “XX is not on your DNA Match list” as it is my brother’s DNA so I’m not in the list to even get a match. Not sure if that makes sense.

      • Oh, It’s appeared again. Now if only there was a way to tell if you do not match because you don’t share dna or because the other person has not tested.

  15. Checking a little: it seems all my message (green or grey) start with the same hyperlink: then some continue with: folder/inbox and some with: search/withuser. I do note that my hyperlink under the green send message box pulls up all the threads – some with the “View the match” link and some not – some were messages with a match which really goes to the Admin – so the Admin of several kits gets all the messages, and somehow, all the kit’s I match have the messages lumped together. My head is starting to hurt…

  16. Paid members of DNAgedcom can use their client tool to download their ancestry match list to a spreadsheet. It includes the notes you put in the pad

    • Is there an easy way to strip out all of the matches that don’t have ancestor hints? Those are the only ones I wanted in my spreadsheet, those with both DNA and a matching ancestor in a tree, along with the name of the shared ancestor and the name of the child that that person descends froms? Plus, of course if they are a mtDNA match or a Y match, which I ancestry doesn’t have in their data, so that has to be added from the person’s tree.

    • is an effective means of downloading your Ancestry match list to a spreadsheet. There are three possible downloads: Matches, ICWs, and Ancestors of Matches. With sorting functions on Excel, you can sort your matches’ ancestors by surname and first name. By doing this sort, I found that I have a lot of McReynolds matches, many with the same ancestor, and found a triangulation on Gedmatch that also matches my own DNA test. McReynolds must be behind one of my brick walls! By sorting, you can extract information the you want to keep/discard.

  17. Hello Roberta

    1. I had 325 Green Leafs in early Dec. Then one day it dropped to 242. 🙁 I have no idea why. I did not drop anybody from my tree. Since I Gold Star them, I assume they are still there, sans Green Leaf since my Gold Stars seem constant. My Green Leafs have crept back up to 249 but I dont know which ones have come back to life. I am still frustrated by the drop from 325 to 242.

    2. Thanks for the note about using the Orange Contact bar vs the Green Send Message. I have heard that before but wasnt sure

    3. On No Family Trees, it is really worth the effort to see if they have a tree but it is just unattached. Almost half of my No Family Trees actually have a tree, it was just not connected.

    4. I became bald pre AncestryDNA, so I cant blame their lousy lousy search box. Fortunately I do have my health and have DNAHelper for the Searches.

  18. Great blog. Will have to read a few times to fully “get it.” I can be slow on the uptake. I am still struggling to learn Excel so I can do downloads. I have not noticed “losing” matches. I am a little ocd on some things and when I get a leaf match, I add them to my tree (my sister’s tree) at ancestry. I do make notes including cM’s, actual range based on leaf hint, and common ancestor(s). I use these notes to send messages to people who don’t have tress posted or leaf matches. I basically tell them, “I see through shared matches we appear to share (name of common ancestor and dates), I see we share (cM’s) would love to hear back.” I do this so any adoptee will have a starting place for building a mirror tree. I appear to be related to many and am glad to help, even with names of gggg grandparents. I also look at trees without matches to see common surnames we share, study their trees to see if a match shows up. Sometimes their common surnames show a shared relative with a different spelling of a given name or missing birth dates and locations.

  19. Roberta, you are a darling! Thank you for very vital info yet again! Who knew about the strange subtleties of the Ancestry message system? I’ve been an Ancestry member since the ’90s and I had no earthly clue that the tan & green buttons function differently. With this article, you’ve probably just single-handedly overloaded Ancestry’s message system as thousands of your readers are now frantically resending many old messages. 😉

    Also a question… how do you use the gold star attachments? I really wish they would add more colors and/or shapes – it would make the feature MUCH more versatile.

    • I used the gold start when I was trying to preserve my matches during the May 2016 adjustment. If you recall, any with stars or notes, if they were removed, were provided in a download file. Other than that, I don’t. How do you use them?

      • First, when I was looking for the parents of my “brick wall” greatgrandfather named “James Smith” (yeah, try researching someone with a name like that who left almost no paper trail!) I would gold star each match that looked promising. When I had enough of them, I created a spreadsheet of all of them, and each of their common matches, and then did a whole lot of triangulations. After about 2 years of work, I finally found James’ parents.

        Right now, I’m gold staring any match that looks like it may be from my father’s side of the family, as ancestors on his side are more sparse. Also, his father was an 1830’s Irish immigrant who lived in Massachusetts – James Smith was from Georgia. Based just on my matches, I find Southerners tend to DNA test more than folks from New England. Just my observation – other’s mileage may vary. I was not able to test either of my parents before they passed, but I have recently convinced a cousin on my father’s side to test, so that will be doubly helpful.

        If Ancestry had other colors available for the stars, I would not have had to re-purpose my stars for another task.

        I’d be interested to hear how others use their gold stars.

      • I use the gold stars to represent matches that I’ve identified on gedmatch. I use the “Note” to enter their gedmatch kit numbers. That let’s me know which of my matches I need to encourage to upload to gedmatch!

  20. Regarding the “Add Note” feature: might that also disappear with that Match the next time Ancestry revises their program? So I might add that Note to my database and/or to a spreadsheet like you suggested.
    When I find a Shaky Leaf Match that traces the other person’s lineage, I record that in my personal database beginning with the MRCA > name 1 > name 2 > name 3 > … etc. Then I copy / paste that entry into my database Notes for each individual down the line as an aide for me to do the research to fill in the information and Sources to verify the other person’s tree to my satisfaction. I may keep that Match’s Ancestry ID and contact info in case I have a question.

  21. Roberta, one of my matches and I share great-grandparents. My grandfather and her grandmother are siblings. Would that be 3 generations back to the common ancestor or is it 5? I don’t think I understand the Generations part of the spreadsheet. Guess I’m having a senior moment. Thanks.

  22. Re gold stars, I mainly use them to mark the most recent match in the kits I manage after I sort them by date. That way I can go through new matches once every few days and not miss anyone.

    I have fewer than ten DNA shaky leaves in any kit because my family only arrived in the USA in the 1860s-1920s. So I have to look at matches’ birth locations and pedigree names to clue in on likely MRCAs. Unfortunately many US trees will simply say “Scotland” or “Germany” etc. That’s pretty useless in terms of narrowing down likely connections unless an unusual surname is involved. Which is never the case in Scotland! I understand that may be as much info as the match has about where an ancestor was born, though, and that many do not have World Explorer memberships.

    The thing I dislike most about Ancestry’s primitive messaging system is that it fails to retain the addressee’s name if you sort the messages you send into folders as I like to do (naming the folders after major family lines). So entering the date of contact in the matches’ note field is imperative. But we aren’t given much space there — kind of like Twitter.

    Now that 23andMe has a triangulation tool, I wonder if Ancestry is feeling more pressure to provide matching segment info? I sure hope so!

  23. If ancestry don’t want to do a chromosome browser perhaps a compromise could be a simple text based chromosome number and start and end position for each match.

  24. Roberta I don’t have anything like the number of ‘hint’ matches that you do but I am already having problems with the amount of spreadsheet recording across multiple testers and multiple testing companies. Doing a spreadsheet based on my own results is still easy but having now tested 11 close family members at FTDNA and 4 at ancestry it’s getting hard as each person really needs their own spreadsheet. Then there are those 2nd, 3rd and 4th wonderful cousins who tested independently and loaded their data to gedmatch. It’s great as they then match their own close cousins some of whom are common to yourself so you start trying to track some of that data and suddenly you can’t even track how many spreadsheets we have never mind the detailed information recorded on them. I am impressed how some people can stay on top of this.

    • Genome Mate Pro will help with organizing your data when you have a lot of close family members who have tested. It’s available on the web.

  25. Over at the DNA Adoption Yahoo group they recommend putting your email address in the subject line of an Ancestry message, that way, even if the person has let a subscription lapse, they can still find a way to contact you about your request.

    Unfortunately, AncestryDNA is the place where I have the least amount of success. Even when I see an Ancestry kit on GEDmatch, I cannot locate the match in AncestryDNA, but at least I have an email to contact the match to request help.

    It’s too bad that Ancestry is more focused on bogus ethnicity in its marketing, and on silly gimmicks like leaves, circles, and such to be really useful to adoptees.

  26. I get requests every now and then on specific people on my “tree.” However, I have many trees and they are all private. They are private because most of my trees are just started hoping a line may link to my main tree and the data is suspect even to me! If a request is made about someone not on my main tree, and a requester cannot give me the name of the tree they think their ancestor may be on, I probably cannot help as much as I would love to do so.

    By the way, the quality of the data on any of my trees goes down the further I get from my direct lines, and this is particularly true of the fact-finding trees. I am sorry to admit I am not nearly as organized or rigorous as Roberta about this stuff, so when I get serious about certain of my direct folks, I hire a professional genealogist to help make me feel legitimate!

  27. Re DNA matches search function…I have long wondered why the search is limited to surname and location. I would give my … to be able to search through all my DNA matches using a surname, FIRST NAME and location and have displayed a list of all usernames that contain the requested surname, first name and location in their tree. Wouldn’t that be great? I picture it being similar to the search capabilities in “List of All People”. What would really be awesome is to include LOCATION in the “List of All People” search as well.

  28. I also make a note of the tree number. This is in the URL and is a quick way to get back to that tree.

    For example, when I’m looking at my public tree pedigree view, the URL is
    I simply replace my tree number with another number, such as:
    Then I’m looking at Roberta Estes’ tree!

    This also works on Ancestry Library Edition, which is helpful when I’m at a library and want to look at my own tree.

    I also keep the tree number for people whose DNA doesn’t match (like you!), but who have common ancestors.

    I am your 6th cousin, through the Vannoy, McNeil, and Sheppard lines in Wilkes County, NC.


    • people whose DNA doesn’t match (like you!), but who have common ancestors.

      Would it be more accurate in this circumstance to say that the matching DNA strand lengths are too short to distinguish from noise?

  29. Missing Ancestry Hints (with the green shaky leaves) can be caused by exchanging one tree for another. I recently had to recreate my tree due to some errors in synchronisation with Family Tree Maker and my new tree has a different version number. No hints for that tree. Maybe they will eventually return.
    I’d marked them with a star so nothing so I still know who they are, thank heavens.

    • Be sure your tree is actually attached. Wait at least three days. Sometimes unattaching and then reattaching it kick starts the process. Otherwise wait a week and then contact Ancestry support.

    • If you relocate your tree to a new folder (creating a new path), will not recognize it even though the file name has not changed. I am sure there could also be a lot of other potential reasons for the link to fail.

  30. I use AncestryDNAHelper to grab all the info on my matches. For those that don’t know, it is an extension for the Chrome browser; found at the Google

    I use a free program called SQLiteStudio available at to open the database stored in Google’s folder in the AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\databases\ in a subfolder named with a lot of letters and numbers which varies on every computer. It’s very fast, it makes you wonder why the extension can’t export the ancestors table without overheating your CPU and failing to create the ancestors.csv file. Don’t try it, use SQLiteStudio and it’ll have it done in a minute or less unless you have more than 3 millions lines in that csv file; then maybe a few seconds longer. I am not kidding, it is fast.

    These are the column titles that can be exported from the database’s matches table. That’s all matches you scanned in that database, not just one person. The extension itself can save single person matches csv files easily.


    Just about everything you need to know except who is in their linked or unlinked trees and your MRCA. (don’t I wish!)

    I can’t open my nearly 3 million line ancestors.csv files in anything except a simple text editor or Beyond Compare 4 which I use to compare the previous ancestors.csv file with the current to get a “new ancestors” csv file. Even notepad in Windows 8.1 can handle the monster file though. Not OpenOffice; can’t handle that many lines and chokes on the truncated version it creates opening the csv even though it has far fewer lines.

    Here’s the column titles in the ancestors table:

    I am wordy, but I hope it helps someone. I use AncestryDNAHelper every couple days or so or when I have 150 new matches or more myself and the rest of my family have nearly that each so I don’t have to fiddle with a huge file.

    • Diana, I also use SQLiteStudio. I followed your directions and got the results you mentioned. I am so pleased that you posted this. I encourage you to also post these instructions to (this is the new website by Tom Holden to replace the dead one at the now defunct wikispaces.) There are a number of RootsMagic users there that will never see this post of yours that will be as delighted as I that you also posted there. Ron Hager

      • Ron, feel free to pass it on over there, I don’t want to join just to post a single message. I’ve posted this info several places on the web already so feel free to spread the word if you like. I even posted a similar message on the Chrome web store site for the extension AncestryDNA Helper in the support message base.

  31. I have no shared ancestor hints. I have a full public tree on Ancestry going back 5 generations and more on most lines. I think it’s because I’m in the UK where not many people have done an Ancestry DNA test, which is also why I have very few matches for 4th cousins or closer. Really disappointing. I don’t think that an Ancestry DNA test will help people in the UK who have UK/Irish ancestry because most users are from and have trees that are all in the USA.

    • I have a similar ancestry to you. My tree goes back more than 5 generations with all UK ancestry, and initially I did not have any ancestor hints, but now I have 8 of them and 105 4th cousins or closer. I also recently found an hitherto unknown 2nd cousin with whom I am corresponding. Be patient – your luck may change.

  32. I realize this post was months ago but just recently got my Ancestry DNA results back and have been working on them the last few weeks. Most of the matches I got were from my Parental grandfather’s side – I have a lot of info on them. Interested in the Acadian side (my paternal grandmother). I had been finding and matching a number of people on that side over the last few weeks – probably up to SUnday. Yesterday I go into surname search and every acadian name I have in my tree came up with a “No match” What? Any other name comes up fine. I searched on the one name I remembered who was a match and her name said no match. Went into her tree and all the names are there. It’s driving me nuts trying to figure out why it is only those names. I did notice that I can’t get a match on any name in the trees of my acadian ancestors….Am I going crazy or what?

  33. I’m glad of this post Roberta. I got my Ancestry results this morning. I gave up on them when they discontinued the Y-chromosome test and blocked access to the results, despite lots of us having paid large sums of dosh.

    So, I’ve been with FTDNA since 2008, I think, and 23andMe for quite some time. I have to say that the Ancestry tools are risible for the most part. No browser as you say; no opportunity, so far as I can see, to do anything terribly useful with the data (except download it and put it in GedMatch and FTDNA); the only thing I can see going for it is the leaf hints. These have been useful, and I have found a few identifiable matches, although being from the UK, there aren’t many. Got quite a few identifiable ones in FTDNA plus the tools there are so much better.

    Anyway, your post certainly helped make a bit of a silk purse out of the Ancestry pig’s ear, for which I am grateful.

  34. Has anyone else noticed this? Ancestry is less accurate than FTDNA in estimating relationship ranges of matches. In the 8 matches I have on Ancestry (where I know the actual relationship), only one falls within the range suggested by Ancestry. In that single case the suggested range is 1st-2nd cousin and the match is actually 1C1R. In all seven other cases the actual relationship is closer than the suggested range.

    In the eight FTDNA cases for whom I know the actual relationship, all bar one fall within the suggested range. The exception was due to some known hanky-panky a couple of generations ago that led to me and my match each having a double helping of DNA from one of our lines. This led FTDNA to suggest that we are half-siblings rather than first cousins, but we can’t blame them for that.

    Any idea why FTDNA’s ability to predict relationships seems better than Ancestry’s? Or are my examples just unusual?

  35. I can personally say that Ancestry. Com has made me one of the happiest people in the world after 59 years of looking for answers on my life Ancestry reunited me with my family and I will never forget it thank you so much much love to this service.

  36. While I have been happy with my results on ancestry, I’ve found some oddities in my DNA test and my children’s. Maybe I just don’t understand it all yet or it’s an error… for example shouldn’t my ancestors also be listed as ancestors or my children as well?
    Or why is my father’s father (confirmed by dna) listed as my possible uncle or great grandfather? Listed close family…
    It doesnt make much sense but it got me to finding my biological family which was the goal.
    My ethnicity ‘updates’ changed drastically as well. More than 40%.

  37. Also have you used your raw DNA to generate a health report ?
    It’s super fascinating and worth it.
    I used promethease

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