Ancestry’s ThruLines Dissected: How to Use and Not Get Bit by the ‘Gators

Ancestry’s new tool, ThruLines has some good features and a lot of potential, but right now, there are a crop of ‘gators in the swimmin’ hole – just waiting for the unwary. Here’s help to safely navigate the waters and not get bit!

Gator

Let’s start with first things first.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking or a slip of the keyboard (or phone) but I see people referring to ThruLines as TrueLines, and that’s absolutely NOT true. ThruLines must be verified and proven, just like connections with trees must always be proven – especially when new ancestors are suggested.

ThruLines are not necessarily true lines.

Having said that, there’s lots to unpack here, so let’s get started looking at Ancestry’s latest discovery tool, ThruLines.

It took me a few days to wrap my head around this – meaning what ThruLines is attempting to do, with what information, and why. In other words:

  • How is ThruLines supposed to help us?
  • How can ThruLines actually help us?
  • What are the limitations and dangers?
  • How can we avoid the problems?

The difference in the answer depends on your goals. Let’s dissect ThruLines into pieces to see how it can help with genealogy, when and where – along with what to avoid. There are some useful features here alongside some very large neon-flashing danger signs right beside the ‘gator pond.

What is ThruLines?

Ancestry’s blog announcing ThruLines can be seen here.

ThruLines does two things:

  • ThruLines groups DNA matching descendants by ancestor. ThruLines shows you, by ancestor, which people match your DNA and claim to be descended from that same ancestor. Notice the words “claim to be.” As always, when other people’s trees are involved, there is a danger of conflated trees and other concerns. We’ll discuss that shortly.

Especially for more closely related relatives, this grouping of DNA matches by ancestor is a great feature because their trees and who they believe they are descended from are more likely to be accurate in the past 3 or 4 generations when the relationship with the ancestor is a result of direct knowledge as opposed to further back where the relationship to an ancestor is a result of genealogical research. This also means the relationship to your match is easier for you to confirm, if you don’t already have your match in your tree. These gathered matches allow you to add family members and cousins to your tree. You never know who might have photos or other information, so matching and discovering that you are connected makes it easy to reach out.

These match groupings use ancestors that you already have in your tree.

  • ThruLines provides “suggestions” for potential ancestors by extrapolating from other trees. These “suggestions” include replacing your researched ancestors with other ancestors from other people’s (often inaccurate) trees, many of whom are not DNA matches to you. This is Gatorland!

Ancestry has provided this product announcement but has not yet released a white paper about how ThruLines performs the following:

  • Utilizes DNA matches.
  • Utilizes trees, including how decisions are made about which trees to use and how to suggest potential ancestors.
  • How Ancestry determines when to ignore your existing ancestor in your tree in favor of a suggested replacement.
  • The weighting between DNA and tree evidence. In some cases, nonsensical ancestors are being suggested through people’s step-parent’s lines, or ancestors’ “other spouses” lines that the tester is not biologically connected to, so the Ancestry selection process cannot be solely based on DNA matching and in some cases, is clearly not based on DNA matching at all.

Hopefully, a white paper will be coming shortly.

Caveats

If you’re an experienced genealogist, I’m not worried about you. You already understand about ‘gators, meaning the caveats and concerns about the massive number of incorrect trees.

My primary concern is that ThruLines encourages people to believe that ancestors are being suggested because DNA has confirmed that a specific ancestor is theirs. In many cases, erroneous trees have propagated for years, and now all of those people are “wrong together” so their incorrect ancestor is being suggested as an ancestor for many more people. Worse yet, multiple wrong trees are being stitched together by Ancestry in ThruLines.

I wish Ancestry provided a visible warning someplace where users CAN’T MISS IT. MyHeritage does exactly that, even in the name of their similar feature, Theory of Family Relativity.

Buried in the Ancestry support document for ThruLines, I found this:

ThruLines accuracy

This should be a required clickthrough before anyone can use ThruLines.

Accessing ThruLines

Not everyone at Ancestry has ThruLines yet. Ancestry has been struggling the past few days and ThruLines have been coming and going. ThruLines is in beta and will be rolled out during the month of March.

For ThruLines to work, you must be sure:

  • Your tree is connected to your DNA.
  • Your tree is either public or a private searchable tree. Unsearchable trees won’t have ThruLines.
  • Your tree is at least 3 or 4 generations deep.
  • You only have one kit for any individual person connected to that person in the same tree. If you have multiple kits for the same person connected to one tree, only one kit will have ThruLines. If this is your situation, you can create a “twin” to yourself in your tree and attach the second kit to that person and both kits should get ThruLines. There aren’t many people like me who have tested twice with AncestryDNA, so this shouldn’t be a problem for most people.

You can have multiple kits attached to the same tree, but each kit must be connected to a different person in the tree

If you want to know if ThruLines is available on your account or you are having problems with ThruLines, I wrote about that in the article, “Ancestry’s Disappearing ThruLines – Now You See Them, Now You Don’t.”

Myths and Misconceptions

  • ThruLines is NOT telling you or confirming that a specific ancestor IS your ancestor.
  • ThruLines is NOT modifying or automatically doing anything to your tree. The ThruLines “trees” you are seeing are constructed for ThruLines.
  • You are NOT necessarily related to, nor have DNA matches with the people whose trees are used to suggest potential ancestors.

Warning

For individuals seeking unknown parents, if you see your name beneath a placard that shows a “private” individual in a hashed box above your name, this does NOT mean your parent has been discovered. This only means that Ancestry has “paired” you with a potential ancestor that happens, in your case, to be a parent based on some combination of name similarity (yours) and a person with a similar surname in someone else’s tree.

If you have a parent/child match, it will be the first match on your match list. Look there.

It’s heartbreaking to get excited only to learn that the ThruLines “potential parent” shown for you has nothing to do with genetics – so be prepared for this possibility and don’t get excited. Check your DNA match list.

Facts

  • According to Crista Cowan in her RootsTech video, ThruLines is a replacement for Circles. After working with both my ThruLines and Circles, it became obvious very quickly that Circles have not been updated for some time, probably months. If you have Circles or New Ancestor Discoveries (which have been dormant for the past couple years), please archive them so you don’t lose any information you might have. I wrote about how to do that here.
  • New Ancestor Discoveries were discontinued roughly two years ago, so you may not have any.
  • Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) is no longer working. Neither is Filter By Common ancestors. I sure hope they fix both of these (probably related) bugs.
  • Any ThruLine card in a dotted edge box is a POTENTIAL ANCESTOR and is very likely incorrect.ThruLines hashed line.png
  • Any ThruLine card in a solid line box when you mouse over the card is an ancestor currently found in your tree. It’s as correct as your tree.ThruLines solid line.png
  • Just because you have an ancestor in your tree does NOT mean that Ancestry will use that ancestor. Ancestry may provide another potential ancestor from someone else’s tree. Watch for the hashed lines and be cognizant of who is already in your tree, and why!
  • On the ThruLine trees, any person, meaning ancestor OR other person in a grey hashed line box is only a suggestion based on someone else’s tree or multiple trees.
  • ThruLines shows you which tree that ancestor was “suggested” from, allowing you to click through to that tree and view their documentation.
  • On the ThruLine trees, any person in a solid edge box is from your own tree, shown with red arrows below, while any suggested individual is shown with hashed edges, shown with green arrows.

Thrulines tree.png

  • The summary below the ancestor’s name may indicate that you’re related to XYZ ancestor in <some number> of ways, but review the people you match very closely because you may be related to them, but not through the ancestor or in the way shown.

ThruLines number of matches.png

  • If there was a second marriage, ThruLines may be attributing your relationship to the un-related spouse. The descendants shown may be from the “other” marriage and that person’s ancestors. If you’re thinking the unrelated spouse’s ancestors can’t be genetic, you’re right – at least not through that line. Be very careful. You’re in ‘gator territory.
  • Furthermore, Ancestry may be suggesting ancestors of the “step-spouse” or other tangential line as well. More ‘gators.
  • Just because you match 5 descendants of XYZ ancestor, that does not mean any of these people match each other. In fact, you may match some of these people through another line entirely.
  • You can still click through to view the DNA comparison feature at Ancestry. However, since the Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) is not working at all, you will not be able to see the side-by-side tree comparison feature☹

ThruLines common ancestors.png

  • Using Shared Matches on the comparison page, you may be able to determine if some of these individuals do in fact match each other which helps to increase the likelihood of common ancestry in a specific line.

ThruLines shared matches 1.png

  • ThruLines does not replace Shared Ancestor Hints (green leaves) although ThruLines organizes the Shared Ancestor Hints by ancestor. Currently Shared Ancestor Hints is not working and says you have no matches with shared ancestors which is clearly incorrect if you previously had any Shared Ancestor Hints.
  • ThruLines may “add” projected ancestors to matches whose trees don’t reach far enough back in time, but who connect with another tree who connects with your tree. This occurs in ThruLines, not in your own tree unless you specifically add the information there. This additive “tree extension” effort is very similar to the WeRelate application which was infamously wrong – more like WeDontRelate.
  • You will still receive potential parent hints for ancestors on your actual tree, some of which will (or may) also be reflected in ThruLines. In some cases, the hint on your tree and the ThruLine suggested “potential ancestor” are different, so check both places.

Thrulines potential parent tree.png

  • ThruLines only reaches back 7 generations, so if you’re looking for a breakthrough or descendants from ancestors before that time, you won’t see them in ThruLines. Previously in this regard in relationship to Circles, Ancestry had said that there were too many unknown family lines and multiple relationship paths that far back in time.
  • Many of the ancestor ThruLines share exactly the same descendants. For example, my Dutch line only has a limited number of testers, so the same 10 people are listed for generation after generation going up in the pedigree (back in time.)
  • Once ThruLines offers a potential ancestor, they continue offering parents and grandparents of that potential ancestor until they run out of ancestors, reach the 8th generation or some other criteria for stopping. If this is a legitimate line, great – and if not, it’s a royal pain without an “off” button to reject known erroneous “potential ancestors.” “Gators having baby ‘gators!
  • There is no way to “ignore,” “reject” or tell Ancestry to “disconnect” or remove a potential ancestor. I hope they will add this feature soon. This could be useful if they suggest another ancestor, especially in lines where you are truly at a brick wall. New “potential ancestors” would provide you with ideas for who/where to search.
  • There is also no way to mark a ThruLines card as “seen” so you don’t review it again.
  • Having two kits connected to the same person in your tree will (at the time of this writing) prevent one of those kits from receiving ThruLines. In my case, I took a V1 and a V2 test and had them both connected to my own record. This can be solved by adding yourself as a sibling and connecting one kit to the sibling.
  • ThruLines is free for everyone for now but may require a subscription in the future. (Don’t forget about the Insight subscription to access DNA features only, assuming it still exists, but you must call support to obtain that limited subscription.)

Suspicions

  • That trees with “more” sources are weighted more heavily than trees without “more” sources. Case in point is my own tree for an ancestor who little is known about, so I only had an estimated birth and death year. However, Ancestry suggested a replacement with a very robust but nonsensical tree that incorporates “lots” of documentation. In fact, this amazing woman has birth records from Washington DC 1830-1955 (which didn’t exist in the 1700s when this woman lived), New Hampshire 1714-1904, PA 1669-2013 and who died in TN but is buried in PA. Any modicum of logic would have immediately down-weighted this tree’s veracity.
  • That not all relationships are genetically based. For example, I have 15 ancestors for whom I’m the only DNA tester listed, legitimately, so why are those ancestors shown as a ThruLine for me? No DNA is involved.
  • That Ancestry created, updated or still has a version of that “One World Tree” someplace, because some of this information is drawn from old trees with information removed long (as in years) ago. Does Ancestry know where this information was obtained from customer trees, and how they selected the specific tree to use? Do they update it? How often and what logic decides what is incorporated into that tree? I notice that in some cases, suggested ancestors’ spouses came from different users’ trees, even when the same spouse was in the same tree.
  • That projected ancestors are entirely tree based only, not genetically based.
  • Although Ancestry has not yet told us how they weight tree matches, it stands to reason that the most complete records are the most likely to be matched successfully – so be sure your ancestor’s records are as complete as possible.
  • Having said that, some of the suggested potential ancestors replacing my existing ancestors have much LESS documentation than my own tree, including some with the only “source” being Ancestry trees. I have no idea what Ancestry is actually doing, when, or why.

Accessing ThruLines

Sign on to your account and click on DNA and then “Your DNA Results Summary.”

Click on “Extras” and then “Ancestry Lab.”

ThruLines Ancestrylab

Once there, enable the beta functions. I’m not positive you need to do this for ThruLines, but there have been so many issues that I’d recommend doing this, just in case.

ThruLines Ancestrylab enable

If you have ThruLines available on your account, you’ll see this on your DNA Summary page.

ThruLines explore.png

Click on the green box to access ThruLines.

Please note that as of this writing, ThruLines is not stable, meaning that ThruLines and ancestors, as well as matches are tending to come and go. Some features are working sporadically and some not at all. The Shared Ancestor Hints and Common Ancestors filter is not working at all, even when ThruLines is functioning.

Sorting ThruLines

After working with ThruLines, I discovered, for me, working the different types of records together was easiest, because what I do with those records differs.

Records fall into the following categories:

  • Existing ancestors in your tree
  • Potential (suggested) ancestors

In fact, Ancestry provides the ability to filter in exactly that fashion, at the top of the ThruLines page on the left side.

ThruLines filter.png

Let’s look at these two types of records individually, because I use them differently.

In case you’re wondering how I track my ThruLines, I created a spreadsheet that includes columns for:

  • Number – numbered so that I know I’ve accounted for all 254 ancestors through 7 generations
  • Generation in which that ancestor is found – for example my 4 grandparents are generation 2
  • Surname of Ancestor
  • First name of Ancestor with birth year if multiple people by that same surname
  • “Should Be” column for when Ancestry suggests a replacement ancestor for a correct Ancestor I have in my tree. “Should be” is the correct ancestor’s name.
  • Existing – meaning does the ancestor exist in my tree already and is the ThruLines card provided by Ancestry for this existing ancestor from my tree
  • Potential – meaning is this a “potential ancestor” as indicated by a hashed line. Believe it or not, I have several cases where I have an ancestor by a specific name in my tree and Ancestry has suggested a different ancestor by the same name that is a conflated version of my ancestor and another person by that same name, so the answer can be yes for both “existing” and “potential.”
  • Members – how many people match in this ancestor’s group. The number of matching people is easy to see at the top of the ThruLine card when you click on the Ancestor card to open.

ThruLines may be related.png

  • Comments – anything that comes to mind such as why the suggested ancestor is wrong, something to look at, if they are a Y or mtDNA candidate, etc.

ThruLines spreadshet.png

Here’s an example of my spreadsheet.

I also color coded the ThruLines ancestors according to the groups identified later in this article so that I could filter by color. In the example above, the grey entry is an example of a correctly gathered ancestor and the red entry is a hypothetical example of an incorrect entry. If an incorrect person was listed, I would enter the correct ancestor in the “should be” column.

I had to create this spreadsheet to wrap my head around what Ancestry was doing with ThruLines, and to some extent, perhaps determine why.

I would suggest that you read through this entire article before deciding how to handle your ThruLines, then come back and create this spreadsheet if you want to. I had to create a spreadsheet to wrap my head around what was going on with ThruLines so I could write this article.

Existing Ancestors

ThruLines only “sees” ancestors on your linked tree. That means the tree linked to your DNA results.

If you switch trees, you’ll have to give Ancestry some amount of time to switch your results to the new tree. No, I don’t know how long that is in actuality. Hours to days. Ancestry suggests two days. Many people are reporting much longer waits.

What you’ll see when the process is complete is a very nicely organized set of “ancestor cards” that begins with the closest ancestors you have in your linked tree.

ThruLines cards.png

Linking Your Tree

If your tree is not linked, PLEASE LINK IT. You will not have ThruLines if your tree is not linked correctly.

To link your tree, click on “DNA” at the top of the page, and then on DNA Summary.

ThruLines settings.png

Click on the Settings gear in the upper right corner of the page.

Be sure you are participating in matching and then link your tree in this section:

ThruLines link tree.png

Exploring ThruLines

I have 161 individual ancestors listed on cards at Ancestry, along with 49 potential ancestors, although this number varies from hour to hour and day to day.

Existing ancestors in your tree have a solid line around their card when your cursor is above the ancestor.

ThruLines existing ancestor.png

Potential ancestors have a hashed line around their card.

ThruLines potential ancestor.png

This might be a good time to mention that Ancestry includes information from searchable but private trees. This means that information from many of those private trees that so frustrate genealogists is included. It may also mean that trees people are using as “quick and dirty trees” and they forgot to make unsearchable are included too.

However, if you have a private searchable tree, this now means that you too will have ThruLines.

As frustrating as these “private” cards appear at first glance, they actually aren’t useless. I clicked on this private placard and look what I see.

ThruLines private.png

This potential ancestor happens to be inaccurate, but at least I can see something.

ThruLines contact.png

Sometimes you’ll see this instead (even if the person lived so long ago that they can’t possibly be living), or if you’re lucky, the following which at least provides the name of the suggested ancestor so you can search elsewhere.

ThruLines private ancestor identified.png

I’m very grateful for this change to provide the ability to at least identify the ancestor being referenced.

Looking at my Ancestry tree, to the 8th generation (meaning 7 generations, inclusive, counting from my mother, means that if you expand your tree once, every ancestor other than the last column should be shown on a ThruLines card as illustrated below.

ThruLines 7 generations.png

In 7 generations, there are a total of 254 ancestors, counting our parents as generation 1.

Let’s break my 254 ancestors down into categories based on the Ancestry ThruLines.

Group 1 – Ancestors with No DNA Matches

Based on the fact that I’m the only child that has tested as a descendant of my mother, and she has a card, Ancestry appears to have taken every one of those 254 individuals and processed them in some fashion. I say this because I have a total of 20 ancestors in my tree with whom there are no DNA matches attributable to that ancestor.

ThruLines no matches.png

In fact, it’s this line of relatively recent German immigrants, the parents having arrived in the mid-1850s. Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel (Drexler) didn’t have a lot of children and many of those children didn’t marry and have children, which leaves a small descendant pool to test.

Clearly, based on this, the ThruLines, meaning the cards shown, aren’t generated based on a DNA match. That’s fine, except that I understood that a ThruLines card meant that you HAD a DNA match first, then secondarily a matching tree as well.

Obviously, that’s a misconception.

I’ll be keeping a running scorecard of my 254 ancestors and how they break down in ThruLines.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Remainder 234

Group 2 – Missing Ancestors Altogether

This next group is probably the easiest to account for, because they are missing in the Ancestry ThruLines cards altogether. They are clearly in my tree, but they have no ThruLines card showing that they exist. If they were only in the 7th generation, I could understand that they are missing AND don’t have hints about ancestors in earlier generations – because Ancestry (unfortunately) doesn’t provide anything in the 8th generation, but that’s not the case here. Two full generations are missing entirely.

ThruLines missing branch.png

This entire branch of my mother’s tree is missing altogether – both parents and all 4 grandparentts of Angenietje Houtsma.

It’s clearly NOT because there aren’t any DNA matches, because the Kirsch branch in the last example has no matches and still has ThruLines cards for ancestors.

It’s not because there aren’t parents, because Angenietje Houtsma has grandparents who should have cards as well, AND, those grandparents have record hints. So, it’s not like these people are unknown to the system, because they aren’t. In this one line alone, 6 ancestors are missing.

In the 6th generation, I have a total of 4 missing ancestors who are in my tree but have no cards, and in the 7th generation, 10, for a total of 14 missing ancestors. Where are these ancestors and why don’t they have a ThruLines card?

I have no idea.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14
Remainder 220

Group 3 – Ancestors in My Tree with Gathered Descendants

This next group is the largest group of matches after eliminating the missing ancestors and those with no DNA matches.

This group consists of ancestors who have cards from my tree shown by Ancestry AND with whom I have DNA matches attributed to that line.

Keep in mind that many more people may have DNA tested and are descended from these ancestors, but their DNA doesn’t match my DNA. The only resource available to see that those people match others descended from that ancestor is if you have a Circle for that ancestor, you can check for people NOT shown in this ThruLine grouping.

Ancestry has stated that they are not going to continue to add to the Circles, so if you want that information, archive it now. I wrote about how to do that here.

I will be doing that for every ancestor with a Circle.

Let’s look at Lazarus Estes. He’s my great-grandfather and I know of most of his descendants, or at least I think I do. I have 6 DNA matches that descend from Lazarus.

Thrulines ancestor gathered descendants.png

Ok, maybe I don’t know most of his descendants. I know most of his descendants a generation ago. One of these names I’ve never heard of. The good news is that they might have information that I don’t. Pictures, stories, something.

If your goal is to connect with LIVING people, you’ll love this ThruLines feature.

In recent or relatively close generations, people are likely to know their genealogy which means their parents and grandparents. For example, I don’t question for a minute that the three descendants of Gracie Estes Long know that she’s their grandmother. I would hope that Tyler knows that my half-sister is his great-grandmother, but I suspect he has no idea who I am. His mother and grandfather are still living, which is why they are marked as private and have hashed lines, so he could ask them and I’m sure they know both who Edna was and who I am.

As you move further back in time where people are depending on historical research, that’s when the trees become more problematic, entering ‘gator territory, because they adopt and incorporate other people’s trees, believing them to be accurate.

One point that this graphic illustrates quite well is the difference in inherited DNA in the green boxes. Note that with my three 2C1R (second cousins once removed), I share 170cM, 161 cM and a paltry 25cM of DNA with them. That’s a very large difference. Then note that I share LESS with my half 2nd great-nephew, with whom I’m more closely related than with two of my 2C1R. Roll of the genetic dice.

You might notice that I can’t drop down the middle box because there’s not enough space for all 6 matches to show simultaneously. Sometimes you have to scroll back and forth to see the entire graphic, including all the siblings, so you can click at the top on the “List” link to see the people you match who descend from this ancestor in a list format.

ThruLines list.png

There are three additional pieces of information available from this “List” screen.

If you click on “View Relationship,” it takes you back to the tree where you will see only your relationship with that person.

ThruLines relationship.png

Notice that the solid lines mean these people are in my tree, but there’s another hint too. You can see that Becky’s father was taken from her own tree, but her grandmother, Lucy was taken from someone else’s tree. Is that accurate information? Don’t ever assume that it is. The trees are all hotlinks. Verify, verify, verify!!!

If you click on the person’s initial box or name, you’ll be taken to the DNA comparison screen that we’re all familiar with. Be sure to note how you’re related so you can check easily.

ThruLines match info.png

This confirms that Becky didn’t provide any more information than her parents in her tree.

If you click on the segment information in the middle of the “List” screen, you will see the following:

ThruLines relationship percents.png

Please note that these percentages do not correlate with the DNAPainter tool here which I use extensively. Ancestry does remove segments that they feel are “too matchy.”

ThruLines DNAPainter percents.png

There’s a pretty large difference between 40% and almost 52%. I wonder if Ancestry is a victim of their own incorrect trees where relationships are reported inaccurately. If that’s how they are calculating these statistics, it could well explain the discrepancy.

I would think that genealogists who care enough to make the effort to enter their DNA information into Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project, from which the DNAPainter tool is derived would care enough to make sure the relationships reported are accurate. You can contribute to this crowd-sourced effort here.

I have a total of 148 “Ancestor Gathered Descendant Trees.” I know for a fact that not all of them are accurate for any number of reasons, but what I do know is:

  • That my path to the ancestor is accurate because it’s my tree and I’ve spent 40 years performing original research and documenting those ancestors.
  • That I’m somehow related to these people, assuming that the segment is not identical by chance.
  • The identical by chance scenario can be lessened for each match by looking at the Shared Matches for hints based on other people that also descend from the same ancestor.

ThruLines shared matches.png

Checking my match with cousin Beverly to help eliminate the identical by chance scenario, I discover that I do have shared matches with her, and that two of the closest common matches are people I recognize. Becky from my example above and another cousin I know well – both who descend from the same lines and help confirm the legitimacy of Beverly’s match.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate.
Remainder 71

Group 4 – Ancestors with Unknown Parents But No ThruLine

These are the individuals I was truly hoping would have a potential ancestor.

With one exception, all of these 9 ancestors are females with no surnames. In the one case where the ancestor is a male, the potential father is incorrect and no mother is offered. Based on the other mothers offered connected to incorrect fathers, the mother would be the wife of the incorrect father.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate.
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Remainder 62

Group 5 – Ancestors Shown as Potential Ancestors are Already in Tree

In 3 cases, I have Potential Ancestor cards for the same exact person that is listed in my tree already, with much the same information, making me wonder why mine was ignored and the other offered as a replacement.

The good news is that the other person’s tree from where these suggestions arose looks to be quite well documented, so I look forward to contacting them and researching what they have attached.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Remainder 57

Group 6 – Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors

Only two Potential Ancestors are possibly accurate. Both of these individuals are the parents of a known and proven ancestor. A cousin has done some research on this line and eliminated a number of candidates, but I need to work with her to research further to determine if the suggested couple has been researched or eliminated.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors 2
Remainder 55

Group 7 – Inaccurate Potential Ancestors (‘Gator City)

I saved this group for last because it’s just painful. As a genealogist, I have to say that truthfully, the fact that Ancestry has suggested 55 ancestors that I know positively are inaccurate terrifies me for the sheer fact that less experienced genealogists will grab gleefully onto these “new ancestors” and perpetuate the Ancestry-provided incorrect trees like kudzu vines. The perception is that these trees are now “proven” by DNA – a statement I’ve seen repeatedly the past several days.

THESE ANCESTORS AND TREES ARE **NOT** PROVEN BY DNA!!!

These trees are predicated upon other people’s inaccurate trees with suggestions being made to replace your ancestors, currently in your trees, with other ancestors from other people’s trees. There seems to be no consistent logic that applies in ‘Gatorland.

The end result will be that even more people will receive inaccurate “Potential Ancestors” because there are yet more of those incorrect trees skewing the algorithm. I don’t know if the criteria for ancestor suggestion is “most numerous” tree or something else. This scenario is the very definition of a vicious ‘gator circle.

The incredibly frustrating aspect of ThruLines for me is when Ancestry ignores the ancestor in my tree that I’ve spent years (if not decades) researching and documenting, and instead suggests a “Potential Ancestor” that defies logic. LHM!

In some cases, such as with Lydia Brown, wife of William Crumley III, the widely disseminated Elizabeth Johnson is shown as the mother of my ancestor, Phoebe Crumley, instead of Lydia Brown. Not only is Elizabeth Johnson incorrect, it’s been proven incorrect for several years now via mitochondrial DNA, AND, I’ve written and published about this case.

Imagine my frustration, to put it mildly, to discover that Ancestry is now ignoring my carefully proven ancestor and suggesting that I replace her with the unproven, erroneous ‘gator. Not only that, but I fully suspect that my tree is NEVER going to be suggested to others, because it’s a (nearly) lone voice lost in the forest of incorrect ancestors.

Truthfully, this makes my blood boil – 55 separate painful times. Once for each incorrect ‘gator masquerading as an ancestor. Why would Ancestry think that replacing my ancestors in my tree with ones from other people’s trees is even remotely a good idea?

To suggest that I “consider” a different ancestor or information in another tree is vastly different than simply ignoring the ancestor I have in my tree and providing a “Potential Ancestor” replacement, like the one in my tree doesn’t even exist. (Not to mention that this attitude in and of itself is both arrogant and condescending.)

If I should consider a different ancestor, I’d at least like for that ancestor to have lived in remotely the right place and time. People did not have children at age 5 nor after they died (except occasionally for men within 9 months), nor did they have 30 children, nor were they married, having children and living in multiple places at the same time. Well, at least not most ancestors😊

The Quality of a potential tree should be part of the recommendation factor, especially if Ancestry is blithely ignoring my existing ancestor in favor of another potential ancestor from someone else’s tree.

Simply telling you how wrong these suggested Potential Ancestors are would not do the situation justice. I’ve documented the circumstances, briefly, with the hope that you will use my experience trying to sort through this ‘gator swamp as a warning for what to look for and consider in your own ThruLines, and how.

What’s worse, when Ancestry ignores your existing ancestor and suggests others, they don’t stop with that one ancestor, but then continue to suggest and propagate ancestors on up your tree for the erroneously suggested ancestors. These recommendations are not based on DNA or your existing ancestor in your tree but on “those other” trees alone.

Let’s look at an example of what Ancestry “suggested” for my Crumley branch. The red Xs document where Ancestry replaced a known ancestor with suggested incorrect ancestors – including on up the tree. (I should have used little ‘gators instead of Xs.)

Thrulines bad tree.png

Unknown H2a1 is an unknown wife of William Crumley II with the H2a1 mitochondrial haplogroup. Ancestry did not assign a potential ancestor for her, but obviously Ancestry “believes” that she was a Johnson, because her father is suggested as Andrew Johnson. Of course, this means that H2a1’s mother is incorrectly “suggested” as well as Andrew Johnson’s wife.

I know this is wrong, because Elizabeth Johnson was a second wife who married William Crumley in 1817, long after his son, my ancestor, William Crumley III was born in 1785. Therefore, it’s impossible that Elizabeth was William III’s mother. Not only that, she was 12 years YOUNGER than William Crumley III. Twelve years younger than her step-son.

Furthermore, Lydia Brown, the proven mother of Phebe Crumley through William Crumley III in the next generation, was ignored as well, and his wife was also given as Elizabeth Johnson through a different tree. This Elizabeth Johnson’s parents were assigned as different parents than the Elizabeth Johnson who married William Crumley II in 1817. Are you confused yet? Believe me, so was I and obviously, so are other people as well as Ancestry.

The end result of this is that not only were my existing ancestors ignored and replaced, but the erroneous trees that are themselves full of impossibilities for the person they are documenting are then suggested to replace mine. Those trees are then cobbled together by Ancestry in a Frankenstein mosaic of patched together ancestors that are blatantly wrong and very difficult to unravel.

And this in only one branch of my extended tree. This scenario happened on multiple branches. If you’re thinking to yourself, “How bad can this really be?”, here’s the graphic of every branch affected, and how.

That old “picture is worth 1000 words” thing.

If you think I’m overreacting, take a look at these graphics which do NOT include missing ancestors or the two that that might potentially be accurate – only the “Potential Ancestors” provided by Ancestry that I know positively are inaccurate.

ThruLines bad tree 2.png

The red Xs show where my ancestors have been ignored and alternative incorrect ancestors suggested as “potential ancestors.”

ThruLines bad tree 3.png

ThruLines bad tree 4.png

ThruLines bad tree 5.png

ThruLines bad tree 6.png

ThruLines bad tree 7.png

ThruLines bad tree 8.png

Thrulines bad tree 9.png

ThruLines bad tree 10.png

ThruLines bad tree 11.png

ThruLines bad tree 12.png

My tree is literally bleeding red Xs. And I just realized while proofing that there are now more than there were initially, and I missed one X. Sigh. The ‘gators are “propagatoring.”

If your jaw just dropped looking at those red Xs, let this serve as a warning for your own tree.

Below, brief descriptions of what is wrong, and how. Think of this as the ‘gator trap.

Ancestor Suggestion to Replace Accurate with Inaccurate Ancestor
Joseph Bolton My ancestor ignored and suggested similar Joseph Bolton from tree with significantly less information than mine.
Lydia Brown Proven incorrect ancestor based on widely spread speculative misinformation.
Elisabeth Mehlheimer’s mother I already have her mother, Elisabetha Mehlheimer, in my tree. Why suggest a “private” person instead? (This has since disappeared.)
William Moore Replaced my William with another William Moore proven via Y DNA not to be from the same line. The William they suggest has 30 children from 3 “wives” who are obviously the same woman by different variations of a common surname, with many “children” by the same name. This tree has obviously been constructed by indiscriminately “gathering” from other trees. Yet, that tree, according to Ancestry, trumped my own carefully curated tree.
Lucy, wife of William Moore Suggested wife of yet a different wrong William Moore, above, ignoring Lucy in my tree. Birth shown in Giles County, VA but also with an attached England birth document. Shows marriage to two different William Moores, at the same time, neither one where mine lived.
Daniel Vannoy Suggested his brother, Francis, ignoring Daniel in my tree. The Francis tree has many spurious references to IGI records, Family Data Collection and Ancestry trees, but does NOT include my Elijah as his child, so how Ancestry decided to make this connection is baffling.
Sarah Hickerson Suggested Daniel’s wife from a different tree than above where Elijah is included as a child. Which Vannoy brother fathered Elijah Vannoy was proven through DNA matches to the Hickerson family, not Millicent Henderson, wife of Francis Vannoy.
Jotham Brown Because the right wife, Lydia Brown, was ignored, the wrong line continued to be suggested upwards in the tree instead of Jotham Brown, Lydia’s proven father. This “private” tree is for Zopher Johnson, as shown by his connected children even though “Zopher” himself is private. Another Potential Ancestor shows Zopher as a card a generation earlier, along with wife Elizabeth Williamson Cooper, perpetuating this wrong information up the tree another generation.
Phoebe Cole Because the right wife, Lydia Brown, ignored, the wrong line continued to be suggested upwards in the tree instead of Phebe Cole, the wife of Jotham Brown, Lydia’s proven father in my tree. This “private” ancestor is for Catherine Harrison, wife of Zopher Johnson.
James Mann Substituted James Robert Mann, the wrong person, ignoring the accurate person. This continues upstream for 2 more generations.
Mary Cantrell Substituted Mary Jane Wilson, wife of James Robert Mann. The wrong line continued up the tree for 2 more generations.
Michael McDowell Suggested replacing my Michael with a different, less correct, possibly conflated, Michael McDowell.
Samuel Muncy Suggested Samuel Munsey-Muncy, ignoring my Samuel, from a tree that shows a Civil War service record for a man who died in the early 1800s and would have been about 100 during the Civil War. Miraculous! Lots of Family Data Collection and Ancestry Trees sources.
Andrew McKee Suggested replacing my Andrew with a different, incorrect “private” Andrew McKee. The original tree for Andrew has now been made completely private.
Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested replacing with another Elizabeth. The matches look to be correct, so the other tree has the two Elizabeths conflated. The only source for the replacement tree is “Ancestry Family Trees.” Sheesh, Ancestry.
James Moore Ignored my proven ancestor and suggested replacing him with a William Moore proven via Y DNA not to be of the same line. This William in the person’s tree was said to be born in Henrico Co., VA, but has an attached birth record from England. Can’t be both.
Mary Rice Ignored Mary Rice and suggested Margaret Hudspeth, wife of the incorrect William Moore, above. Again, shown to be born in Henrico County, with English birth record attached along with IGI record as only sources.
Charles Hickerson Since Sarah Hickerson was ignored, the incorrect family line was perpetuated up the tree with a wrong ancestor for the second generation instead of Charles Hickerson.
Mary Lytle Since Sarah Hickerson was ignored, the incorrect family line was perpetuated up the tree with a wrong ancestor instead of Mary Lytle.
Sarah Rash Ignored mine and suggested replacing with a Sarah Rash that appears to be more fleshed out, but the dates are all based on records not belonging to the correct Sarah, including a birth in England despite a shown birth date in 1732 in Spotsylvania Co., VA. We have our Sarah’s birth from the family Bible.
William Moore’s wife, Lucy’s father Nancy Moore’s erroneously given mother’s supposed father, Samuel Little Harwell. This erroneous tree now perpetuated to the second generation.
William Moore’s wife, Lucy’s mother Nancy Moore’s erroneously given mother’s supposed mother, Anne Jackson. Woman who died in 1765 has a SSDA claim record and an 1800s immigration record, even though she was supposedly born in Brunswick Co, VA in 1712. Married Samuel Harwell 5 different times – clearly has simply collected and attached data to their tree without evaluation, but Ancestry thought it was “better” than my tree.
Jotham Brown’s father Because Lydia Brown was misidentified, so was Jotham Brown, and now his father as well, perpetuating garbage up the tree for two more generations
Jotham Brown’s mother Because Lydia Brown was misidentified, so was Jotham Brown, and now his mother as well, perpetuating garbage up the tree for two more generations
John Cole Since Phebe Cole was misidentified, so was her father.
Mary Mercy Kent Since Phebe Cole was misidentified, so was her mother
Michael McDowell Sr. Since the wrong Michael was identified earlier, a wrong father, John McDowell, was also identified, proven by Y DNA not to be related. The son of this John McDowell is yet a different John McDowell than the one Ancestry substituted for my John McDowell.
Wife of Michael McDowell Sr. We don’t know who she was, but we know she wasn’t Magdalena Woods, married to John McDowell. The Magdalena Woods tree they recommended includes 13 Ancestry Family Tree, Family Data Collection and IGI records as sources, plus a German birth record for a person born (supposedly) in 1705 in Ireland, according to the tree itself. Pretty tricky!
Isabel, wife of Michael McDowell Jr. Suggested private father, Ebenezer Hall, and erroneous mother, Dorcas Abbott who lived her entire life in New Hampshire, not Virginia.
James Claxton’s parents Suggested erroneous private father and mother, widely distributed but proven via Y DNA testing not to be of the same line. Ironically, there are other trees for this person that are not private. How and why Ancestry selected the private one is a mystery. Ancestry also suggested his mother, from another tree as Catherine Kathryn Caty Middleton which is incorrect as well.
Joel Cook Ignored Joel, proven ancestor via military records to suggest Henry Cook. Henry’s only daughter, Sarah, in the suggested tree would have been 5 years old when she married and 6 when her first child was born. Another miracle!
Alice, wife of Joel Cook Ignored Alice to suggest wife of Henry Cook from a different tree with the only source being Ancestry Family Trees.
Samuel Muncy Ignored Samuel to suggest Obediah Muncy.
Agnes Craven Ignored, Agnes, wife of Samuel Muncy to suggest “private” person who was the wife of Obediah listed as “Mrs. Obediah.”
Andrew McKee Ignored Andrew McKee who is proven to suggest Hugh McKee who did not live in the correct state to have his child. The next generation up the tree is also incorrect, suggesting a George McKee who had Elizabeth Barnes, mother of Ann McKee, according to Ancestry. Ann McKee’s mother was actually Martha (probably) McCamm. Another potential ancestor card suggests George McKee’s wife is Anna Elizabeth Carney with no sources at all.
Martha possibly McCamm Ignored Martha and suggested wife of Hugh McKee, Mary Nesbit, perpetuating erroneous information for another generation up the tree. Some very convoluted trees in this mess with only source being “Ancestry trees.” This has now been made entirely private.
Elizabeth, wife of Steven Ulrich. Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested Elizabeth Cripe, a surname/person that has been disproven but rampant in trees.
Marie LePrince Ignored proven genealogy that Marie LePrince is the mother of Marguerite de Forest and replaced with Marie Claire Rivet. Shown marrying both in France and in Nova Scotia.
Hannah Drew Ignored my Hannah Drew and replaced with wrong Hannah Drew from another tree with less information, showing only an Ancestry Family Tree and a record showing the birth of her son in England, while the rest of the tree shows his birth in the colonies.
Samuel Mitchell Ignored my Samuel Mitchell and replaced with an erroneous Samuel Mitchell who was supposed to have died in 1756 in Maine, but has a Michigan death record from after 1867. I had no idea people lived to be almost 200 years old. Wow!
Elizabeth, wife of Samuel Mitchell Ignored my Elizabeth and suggested Elizabeth Penglase as the mother of Catherine Mitchell. Elizabeth Penglase was born in 1698 in Kittery Maine, but with at London England birth/baptism attached to the record. Also shows her father as Christopher Mitchell and two marriages to her husband. Tree is very confused and conflated.
Susanna Koob Ignored Susanna who is proven and suggested replacement with Anna Margaretha Kirsch with only source being “Ancestry Family Trees.” No DNA matches, so how was this done, exactly?
John Herrell Ignored my John and substituted John Isaac Herrell, incorrectly from a different location, with no documentation.
John Herrell’s father Because John Herrell was incorrectly substituted, so is his father, shown as Davie Harrell.
Francois LaFaille’s father Suggested Jean Francois LaBelle who did not live in the right location to be the parent of Francoise LaFaille, nor is the surname correct.
Francois LaFaille’s mother Suggested Marie Genevieve Auger Baron who as the mother of Francois LaFaille, who was the wife of Jean Francois LaBelle.
Jacques De Foret Ignored proven ancestor, Jacques de Foret and replaced with Bonaventure Foret who did not live where my ancestor lived.

Evaluation

If you are looking for close cousins and know your tree well, you may well find some individuals with whom to collaborate based on the grouping of DNA matching descendants by ancestor. Perhaps you’ll be fortunate and discover previously unknown family photos, history or stories.

The further back in time ThruLines reaches, the more problematic the frankentrees that are unrelated to DNA become.

The suggested “replacements” of known, proven, ancestors with incorrect ancestors are found in my tree as follows:

  • 1 individual at generation 4
  • 2 individuals at generation 5
  • 12 individuals at generation 6
  • 40 individuals at generation 7

Here’s the final scorekeeping chart.

Ancestors Number Comments
Total ancestors in 7 generations 254
Ancestors with no DNA matches 20 German immigrant line
Missing Ancestors 14 No ancestor cards at all
Ancestors from my Tree with Gathered Descendants 149 My ancestor is accurate. Ancestor of matches may or may not be accurate
Ancestors with Unknown Parents 9 Generally, missing parents of females with no surnames and no potential parents offered.
Potential Ancestors Already in Tree 5
Possibly Accurate Potential Ancestors 2
Correct Ancestors Replaced by Incorrect Potential Ancestors 55

By any measure, this is an abysmal report card relative to “Potential Ancestors,” with only 2 potential new ancestors that could be accurate and 55 wildfires that can never be extinguished – with gasoline thrown on, encouraged and propagated by Ancestry themselves. What a terrible example of stewardship. This is not just a disservice to me, but to the entire genealogy community. We should be striving for accuracy, not feeding the ‘gators and fertilizing Kudzu vines frankentrees.

Goals and Benefits

My goal with genetic genealogy, and genealogy as a whole, is fourfold, as shown in the following chart. The questions is, how does ThruLines help me achieve these goals?

Goal ThruLines
To confirm known ancestors through DNA

 

This is best achieved by segment matching which Ancestry does not provide, but less conclusive evidence can certainly be obtained through close matches and shared matches that match both me and close family members. Unfortunately, Circles which is a form of genetic networks would provide additional confirmation but is being discontinued.
To document the lives of my ancestors accurately for future generations

 

ThruLines encourages the propagation of erroneous trees by suggesting them, by linking to them, and by failing to use any discernible quality measure. A quality tree is NOT a tree with conflicting sources about the same event, the same timeframe or unreliable sources such as “Ancestry Family Trees.” We, as individuals, can’t put these fires out as fast as Ancestry flames them, especially if quality trees are discounted for larger “scavenged” trees. Size does not = accuracy.
To break through brick walls

 

The two individuals that I have yet to research, as well as perhaps viewing trees for others whose DNA I match and share a common ancestor may be illuminating. It would be difficult to sift through the chaff for a newer genealogist.
To reconstruct and paint the DNA of my ancestors For this, I need at least segment data, if not a chromosome browser. I hope that Ancestry customers will transfer their DNA files to FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage and GedMatch to reap the added advantages of the tools at those sites – including the availability of segment information and the resulting confirmation ability.

ThruLines Recommendations

The “Potential Ancestor” feature could have been, and still can be presented in an entirely different way, facilitating responsible genealogy, including the following:

  1. Extremely visible and repeated warnings cautioning that ThruLines are not definitive, only hints and MUST BE VERIFIED with research.
  2. Do not ignore the ancestor in the customer’s tree.
  3. Providing “suggestions” to look at alternate ancestors or trees for additional information for ancestors, not doling out “potential ancestors” to replace your existing ancestors.
  4. Implementing artificial intelligence (machine learning) for accuracy including factors such as looking for multiple births in various locations (a person can only be born once), cobbled together frankentrees, multiple marriages at the same time in different places, births too late or early in the lives of potential parents, and more red flag factors that should down-weight trees as being “recommendation worthy.”
  5. Sharing with the customer why these trees were considered as recommendation worthy, similar to the MyHeritage confidence factor and side-by-side comparisons.
  6. Eliminating “Ancestry Trees,” IGI records and other similar “word of mouth” types of sources as being “recommendation worthy.”
  7. The ability to “dismiss” a “Potential Ancestor” suggestion and for that dismissal to be part of the AI learning process relative to future recommendations.
  8. Ability to group ThruLines, such as by categories: Dismiss (inaccurate), Accurate and processed, Reviewed but unknown accuracy, In Process, New and not yet reviewed, etc.
  9. Restoration of shared ancestor hints.
  10. Fix bug in common ancestors causing no matches with common ancestors to be found, which I would presume is supposed to replace Shared Ancestor Hints.
  11. Permanently archiving Circles and NADs.
  12. If the Circles must be replaced, find another way to provide a genetic network that includes people who descend from the same ancestor, have DNA tested and match some of the people in the Circle or NAD but not everyone.
  13. The ability to know when looking at a tree of a descendant of an ancestor if they have tested, and if so, if they match you.
  14. Much more adequate product testing before release. By any measure, this release has been miserable and was not adequately tested in advance. No one expects new code to be bug-free, but this is unacceptable.

Ancestry, I hope you’re listening, cause the ‘gators are circling and you need to help us escape from this mess you created.

Gator

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Disclosure

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Thank you so much.

80 thoughts on “Ancestry’s ThruLines Dissected: How to Use and Not Get Bit by the ‘Gators

  1. The sad part is that I was able to reconcile the participants that appeared in Circles – I could verify who they were and their connection and the pedigrees that were being shown were well documented. ThruLines has none of the above. The trees that are brought in and used to “build my pedigree” beyond what I have been able to document are pure fiction – no citation. I will be putting ThruLines in the same category as member trees when I do a search — IGNORE!

    • And I do agree totally with you Pat. I only have a pedigree tree attached to my DNA. I don’t have all the siblings of anyone or their other children, etc. as they are in my main private database. I am disgusted by what Ancestry is doing and allowing all the garbage by others to dictate what I have spent years documenting and proving with DNA. A quick review of their newly suggested ancestors, especially private ones, turn my stomach. For instance, one of my 2nd great-grandmothers was born in Ireland, well proven and documented, and now they want to make a man born in South Carolina her father ~ and it is based on a private tree. So like I spend many days contacting people and giving them correcting information, I will also have to do the same with this one.

  2. It’s always a good idea not to get bit. Especially by cute cartoon alligators. Aww. So cute. And yet really deadly.

    I don’t know why people call them “Truelines”, either. It makes me think of Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” when they say it like that. And even then it’s a parody of “Blurred Lines”. People are weird.

    In my case, the Thrulines have been accurate up to a certain point. You can literally pinpoint it in time. It’s generally at the 5th great-grandparent level where things start to get a little hazy. Everything from my grandparents up to that generation has been accurate with a few exceptions. Sometimes the application shows me an ancestor for my 3x great-grandfather and the whole thing seems to be fluctuating. Yesterday, a confirmed 4th cousin didn’t show up. Now she is and my 2x great-grandmother is replaced by her husband. Weird.

    With everything in flux, it’s probably a good idea to look into things before committing it to your tree like you said. Some of them are accurate and great. Some are so wrong. So very wrong. The potential ancestors bit throws me for a loop, though. That’s why I am digging into it. I think I mentioned the guy from Jacurso here. I’m still looking into it. Hopefully I find out soon.

    Here’s how I found out about him to begin with. I was checking out my great-aunt’s Thrulines and as she doesn’t have a large tree she has a lot of dotted edged potential ancestors. These all come from my tree. No surprise there. And they’re all confirmed thanks to talking to commune offices or digging through the family center files. So the guy shows up and he’s on a random tree with no DNA match as far as I can tell. I posted about it in the Italian genealogy group and the guy who has the ancestor was there and we decided that contacting the commune office is the wisest course.

    I do wonder if it’s correct. What do you think? Here are the facts:

    1. My Guiseppe Suverato was born around 1814. So was this guy’s. Only the name was spelled Soverati. And he has the exact date.

    2. His tree doesn’t have a marriage for Giuseppe. In my tree, he married Concetta Nestico. No marriage date.

    3. My friend’s Giuseppe was born in Jacurso, Italy. Jacurso is a mere 30 mins east of San Pietro a Maida, birthplace of my grandfather. Always need to keep courting distance into account because Giuseppe’s daughter, Rosa was born in that town in the 1840s. And the rest as they say is history.

    So, is it a good idea to look into this one case? Probably.

    Great FAQ as always!

      • That’s an option I’m willing to look into. I should probably suggest that my friend take a DNA test. It doesn’t look like he has. If he matches a combination of my dad, my great-aunt or myself or even just my great-aunt it would “seal the deal” a bit more.

  3. I see being able to view Shared Ancestor Hints with “searchable” only trees as a problem when using mirror trees of a DNA match(s) and having to move DNA link around. I see this as a problem and risks being “outed” using the mirror tree method for unknown parentage. Ancestry allowing one’s tree to be private and not show up in searches but allow for SAH worked perfectly before the big change. I see this as a problem.

  4. I once had 40 circles and then I had 40 circles and many more thrulines. Now I have zero circles and 0 thrulines. I tried your recommendations in your previous article, but that didn’t help.

    • Unfortunately you can try incognito mode, call Ancestry or wait. It’s just kind of a mess right now.

  5. Yesterday things were looking up with ThruLines. Today it has removed some of my known great grandparents and labeled boxes as Private…. frustrating since I don’t need or want suggestions for known ancestors and especially don’t want them removed 🙂

  6. Excellent article! Thank you for taking the time to spell out the good, the bad and the ugly of ThruLines. I agree with your suspicion: “I notice that in some cases, suggested ancestors’ spouses came from different users’ trees, even when the same spouse was in the same tree.” Yes!! That seems to be the case — the same thing happens when building, say, a Quick and Dirty tree for a DNA match, and the Potential Mother and Potential Father hints pop up. 99% of the time those hints come from different user trees, even when both users have both the father and the mother in their tree as the parents of the child. Makes no sense!

  7. It wasn’t until I read your article where you showed the line above ThruLines where it mentions connected by DNA matches, that I actually found that on any of mine. I have several that actually say ‘ThruLines suggests that you may not be related to any DNA matches through Private’. I know they said all along it was based on DNA but that part of it wasn’t showing up on mine. I never had any circles, so this is a nice new feature. I can trace the DNA matches to my tree and command ancestor. But so far I can’t tell if the additional suggested great grandparents, that are in trees by other people, who are not DNA matches to me, are correct or not. Have to dig more in German records to try and confirm or disprove.

  8. For me Thrulines are definitely coming up with potential ancestors based on trees and not DNA as there are potential ancestors and no DNA matches for some Thrulines cards 🙁 . I find the cards a bit too large for my taste.
    I prefer the new list view of matches where I can filter on “Common ancestors”, review and annotate the match and tag as appropriate with the coloured dots (groups). The common matches seem to correspond to DNA matches identified in Thrulines. Thanks again for sharing a thorough review of this new resource.

  9. I share your pain, although my ThruLines are not nearly as messed up as yours. The ones that really bug me are the ones where a person in my tree has been replaced with exactly the same person from someone else’s tree as a potential ancestor. I have a case where my 3rd great grandmother has been replaced by herself from someone else’s tree, and that person likely copied her from my tree (the reason I know is there are some pictures in the tree that were obviously copied from me).

    As you stated, probably my biggest negative concerning ThruLines is not that I have to sort through all the junk to get the few legitimate potential ancestors that might help me (I’m used to that), but that there will be a lot of people who won’t sort through the junk and will just accept it as is. Like most experienced genealogists, I know how to (and am willing to) do original research and get it right to the best of my ability, but there are a lot of people who won’t do that and the junk will continue to propagate all over the place.

  10. I have posted this elsewhere but it needs repeating. Apparently, a tree with 46,000 people has linked my grandfather, surname Schollard, born in Pennsylvania , to a man named Bryant in Kentucky. This is completely wrong. This has been copied by at least 6 other trees so they all appear as matches through ThruLines. I have taken the time to email every tree owner and asked them to remove this information. Only one replied and his tree actually didn’t include my grandfather, just the Bryant family. I did find the source they used, a census in England with the name Hugh Schiller born in England. The copying of trees without verifying the documentation has always been a sore spot for me. My tree has about 2,500 people and I have been working on it for over 30 years. If I don’t have documentation,I always add a note explaining why that person has been added to my tree. Many of the linked trees do show as a DNA match to me, some 7 cM’s. Yes, they are probably a match but not in the way ThruLines is showing. Very frustrating. Kathy

  11. Wow, just wow! You have just presented an incredible amount of collated research in such a short period of time on ThruLines your conclusions match a few of my thoughts.

    Most of all you have kept punching me in the nose. My face is red as heck.

    I have to get the gumption to carefully start my tree over. Include all the Y DNA and MtDNA that I’ve found.

    Thanks Roberta!!!

    Harold Locke

  12. I was prepared to hate it for many of the reason mentioned in your excellent and exhaustive post. Instead I found myself liking it primarily for the reason that it picked up many of those distant matches that I would never have bothered trying to identify and follow up on. Yes their trees (and maybe mine) could be incorrect but it is possible, as always, to take the clues offered and do one’s own research.

    My primary dna goal at this point is to identify a likely NPE a couple generations back. Many very strong matches pointing to one or two specific but intermarried “alien” family lines (with trees), mixed with dozens of matches on known lines clearly suggest an unknown illegitimate birth or an adoption within the family. In that effort I created a hypothetical tree connecting a female ancestor to a likely male in the other family. It took two days for the link to that fake tree to be recognized but there have been absolutely no associated Thruline trees – just a big blank space where the button normally is located. If that approach comes up with anything useful in identifying the NPE, the wait will be worth every minute.

  13. There really are two different things here. It’s unfortunate that Ancestry has lumped them both as ‘Thrulines”. When I first looked at the potential ancestors, they looked like NADs to me. Several were the parents of second spouses, siblings of ancestors, the parents of the spouse of a sibling and on and on. Similar to my NADs and mostly useless, since they aren’t actually ancestors. When I go into Thurlines, I just turn off the potential ancestors. I do like the descendants of an ancestor, though. I’ve found lots of DNA matches that I probably never would have found as they would be too far down my DNA list. If I have their parents (or even their grandparents, if their tree looks good) in my tree, I add them … giving them the benefit of doubt that they know who their parents are.

        • Thank you! But unfortunately that didn’t put back the real ancestor from my tree that was there awhile ago before the “potential ancestor” replaced it.

          • Unfortunately, that’s the way of ThruLines. Maybe eventually.

          • Got it. I thought you just wanted all the potential ancestors to go away. I have a couple where they replaced my ancestor from my tree, with the same person from someone else’s tree and called them a potential ancestor. I don’t know how to fix that. Hopefully, it will sort itself out.

  14. I seem to go into the survey every day to offer suggestions – from the useful like ‘ tell me if anything has changed since I last looked’ to the flippant ‘The Queen and I would prefer UK users have ThroughLines’.

  15. Proactively messaging the matches named in provably wrong ThruLines with simple explanations and links to correct details is one way to help correct ThruLines before bad trees emerge to reify mistakes — assuming you can persuade your matches to update their trees.

    Many years autosomal and Ydna work was done on an NPE ancestor of mine so I’m reaching out to the matches naming the wrong paternal line as a case in point. Sadly a few of name proud descendants named specifically after the NPE progenitor are not on board whether they DNA tested or only have trees.

  16. Roberta, I CAN permanently dismiss a Potential Ancestor. (Using Chrome)

    >Potential Ancestor,
    >Review details,
    Do you think this is the father/mother of X? >No
    Then, Ignore this hint? >Yes.

  17. Nicely explained! There is potential, but there are plenty of problems for Ancestry to address. I agree that less experienced researchers would have great difficulty sorting the chaff from the wheat and this makes it more likely that bad information will be spread
    much faster. Just because the same information is found on multiple Ancestry trees without any sources other than an Ancestry tree doesn’t make it more correct than a well documented tree with attached accurate sources.

  18. Thank you for your warning and your very specific information. Now that you have shared all of this, I will look at ThruLines in a very different way: only SUGGESTIONS or POSSIBILITIES- nothing more! I, too, have been very frustrated. My brother has a different biological Dad. However, my biological Dad not only adopted him, but also gave him his full name, with “Junior” attached at the end. So, although we share the same biological mother and same surname, he is only a half brother. However, Ancestry and Thrulines contine to match him up to my paternal side of the family, not his biological paternal side of the family. It gets very confusing. They are obviously using the surname to make matches, and not paternal DNA. Yes, there should be DNA matches on our maternal side- and there are. But, we should not be seeing all the surname matches as DNA matches. Ugh! Very frustrating. Hope this makes sense. And again, thank you for the important ‘gator warning along with the caution about the potential propagation of erroneous trees!!!

  19. thrulines needs a delete or ignore button. Don’t need families of 2nd spouses parents. I haven’t been back since I had so many of those I had to scroll until I got dizzy.

  20. Regarding keeping track of ThruLines ancestors that have been worked on, this method works.

    In Firefox (for example) right click a blank area of the ThruLines page. Click “Save Page As …”. The default is to save as a .html file, so do that.

    Open that saved .html file. Click the File menu in the browser, click Print… . Select a pdf printer that has already been installed on the PC, for example the free “Bullzip PDF Printer”. Print.

    That will create a pdf version of the ThruLines page. Open the pdf in a pdf viewer that includes some editing/marking facilities such as the free “PDF-XChange Viewer”. Mark the ThruLines ancestors that have been worked on.

  21. Thank you so much for all your hard work documenting this. I am spreading the link to your article far and wide to hopefully get the word out. My tree was bad – yours is much worse.

  22. Imagine the frustration of an adoptee whose entire biological tree is replaced starting at her adoptive parents from someone else’s tree. Ancestry really should accept what is in the tree that is attached to the DNA and then extrapolate or interpolate or whatever for anything missing farther up the tree. As a programmer, it almost seems to me as if they have reversed the sign on some of their comparisons and selecting the exact opposite of what they should.

  23. This is a useful articles on the cautions involved with a hint system. I would add the caution that the ThruLines are not as correct as your tree. The child who died at one day old in 1928 was the son of my grandfather’s brother and appears in my tree with Ancestry’s designation, based on his position in the tree, as 1C1R. But on ThruLines he appears as my grandfather with the solid line mouseover. His father (my grandfather’s brother) appears as my great grandfather on ThruLines. The wife of my grandfather’s brother appears as my great-grandmother, with the solid box mouseover, and many potential ancestors are based on this woman who has no biological relationship to me. Thru Lines has, of course, not found any DNA matches to me through all the potential ancestors on her line. I have tried disconnecting these people from my tree since the first day Thru Lines appeared, but it did not change the Thru Lines. I have no seen any trees with this portion of the family represented incorrectly. The error really began with the child who who was born and died in 1928 being assigned as my grandfather. The child was named after my grandfather, who was born 26 years earlier and has a similar, but not identical, name. So, the solid boxes may be people from your tree, but are not necessarily ancestors or biological relatives, and may have the incorrect relationship designation. I should add, however, that I like this feature, and have found a couple of good hints. I am eager to see these glitches remedied as I welcome any tool that provides hints to explore. I am especially pleased that genealogy companies are working hard in a complex field to bring more tools and tips to their customers.

  24. I can see the potential of ThruLines and have found some connections to DNA matches that I probably wouldn’t have figured out or gotten to otherwise. However, I’m having two big problems with the feature.

    First, like for most folks, “Potential Ancestors” are problematic. I have fairly recent NPEs that many others’ trees (not surprisingly) don’t represent correctly. However, that makes the “Potential Ancestors” wrong, useless and just in the way. So, like Nancy D Crane above, “When I go into Thrulines, I just turn off the potential ancestors.”

    Second, and more frustrating, is the fact that only part of my maternal tree is being included in ThruLines and none of my paternal lines at all. There’s nothing obvious in the tree that would cause this problem; it is straightforward. The tree is at least several generations deep on all lines, and, over time, I have manually found the common ancestor connections to more than 500 DNA matches. So, the tree is well supported via both documentation and DNA at this point. I’d love to see the ThruLines for rest of the 80% or so of the tree. Anyone else with this problem? I’m not sure what’s going on.

    Keep up the good fight.

  25. Truly wonderful blog post. Thank you so much.
    Three observations.

    Your post is the first time I have seen “frankentree” used for what we are seeing, but it is most appropriate. I already seem to have a reputation for seeing the problems in a situation, so have avoided using it. I still fail to see how Pollyanna ever gets things fixed by pretending everything is fine. Must revisit that text to check.

    “3-4 generations” required in your own tree before ThruLines operates.
    There have been 2 posts in online forums by people who have no online tree, and never had a tree, and yet they are getting ThruLines. Others with only 3 or 4 names.
    I was hoping the need for some detail in the tree might encourage some of my matches who have been active for years but never updated their tree to add a few more names. Not if they don’t even need a tree!

    Most of my ThruLines people lines are just taken from my own tree.
    With nothing from any other person, and no connections.
    OK, they don’t say “Potential Ancestor”, but I really don’t need the clutter, particularly as that person often also appears more than once in ThruLines.
    These would be easy to remove. And are currently useless.
    Unless people find their Ancestry trees so confusing that they need to be told what is in them. In case of which kludge, maybe something can be done about the original problem of tree display.

    In the parish record in the old country of one of my ancestors is the following annotation about one of her daughters, “married a Schreck and went to America”. I wish a descendant would turn up somewhere. Maybe they just like a quiet life. Maybe Timber cut their match to smithereens. Maybe those ‘gators ate the postman carrying their DNA sample!
    (The likely thing is that the DNA just wasn’t handed down, but that’s just too boring.)

    • Update.
      Half a day later, that problem with my own tree being quoted back to me ad nauseam in ThruLines has been fixed.
      Thanks AncestryDNA for listening and fixing.
      Good luck with the rest.

  26. Ancestry seems to be targeting ancestors in my tree based upon some snapshot of my tree taken months or even years ago. For example, some time ago I replaced my grandfather’s adoptive parents with his biological parents in my tree yet Ancestry is still targeting the adoptive parents and that couple’s ancestral lines rather than the ancestral lines of the biological parents. Other people who were once listed as ancestors based upon theories that I have since abandoned are still being targeted while people that have subsequently been added to my tree are ignored. Finally, there are several people targeted who are not my direct ancestors but rather siblings of my direct ancestors.

  27. Nice article!! You can use the ThruLines without using the other Beta grouping and tagging features from the Extra menu. That is the way I’m using them as the new groups and tags interfere with the AncestryDNA Helper, which I use every day. I am seeing some of the big Gators that you mentioned in my tree also – especially those suggesting ancestors that are wrong in other trees where I know mine are correct because I have documentation and DNA to prove them. For some other isolated lines, I have seen a lot of small matches that I likely would not have found without the ThruLines so those are good. i agree that if this is done properly, it will be much better than the circles which didn’t give me a whole lot, even for tests I manage who had a lot of them.

  28. I long for the good old days, when Beta testing was done on a product BEFORE it was released to the customer base, instead of releasing it as a Beta in the expectation that the entire customer base will help the company figure out all of the flaws. For me, Ancestry’s releasing a Beta on us that has this many flaws is not making me like them very much right now. They might have the largest DNA database, but I don’t feel that they’re doing much to help us utilize our DNA results in productive ways. I also don’t like the advice from Ancestry that we should contact ALL of the tree owners with the bad data/trees that are turning up courtesy of ThruLines. Yes, it’s nice that it’s easier to find these bad trees, but I don’t have enough time in the day to track them all down, take the time to explain to the owners why they’re wrong and then hope that they’ll make the changes to the bad trees. In one case, the tree for my potential ancestor (which had 1 source – an Ancestry tree, versus me having numerous documentation), to a tree which used 2 Ancestry trees as the source, and each of them had just as many Ancestry trees as their ONLY source!

    I’m also more than a bit irked about being told over and over again that I should give them a break because it’s a Beta, and our feedback will make it better. Which again, goes back to where a Beta shouldn’t be released to everyone before the kinks are worked out.

    On the positive side, I’ve now seen cousins of varying degrees that are DNA matches and match with the trees, so that’s been good. I don’t care for the way that our matches are now displayed to us when we’re viewing all of our matches, but I can learn to live with that IF Ancestry would get some of the rest “right”. Thank you for your blog on this, and your suggestions to Ancestry on what they should do to make ThruLines work better.

  29. Thank you for emphasizing that a suggested parent does not necessarily mean they are your parent. I had left my parents information with only last name in my public tree. Thru lines created a whole new line for my father’s side with an entirely different father and very few matches several generations down the line. I put his information in and now it is corrected. It could be quite concerning for an adopted person.

    As for the dna matches in Beta, I quickly tried it and disabled it. I like to the chrome extension. Thru Lines is still working fine with the correct and incorrect ancestors.

    I don’t know if you have tried it, but if you start a tree on pedigree and just add a few ancestors, Ancestry will now suggest the next set of ancestors. I assume this is the same information that Thru Lines is using.

  30. Roberta, thank you so very, very much for this article! The only thing I like about ThruLines right now is the new grouping and tagging. I haven’t even set up the first one yet, but have looked at the setup and excited to start it. Sickened and saddened by some of the new ancestors they are trying to link my pedigree tree to right now as they are so very wrong ~ well proven and documented and some by you as we share Speak lines. But what I really get disgusted about is when the new potential ancestor is private and the person cannot even be contacted. There is no way to contact the person so I truly feel helpless on this one now and getting that one removed from ThruLines as an ancestor. Any suggestions? Also, any idea of why a public tree is not searchable? Or why trees that are public and linked to the person’s DNA cannot be found when viewing the person’s profile?

    • I feel like we are all left to attempt to try to clean up this mess they created. But it’s like the boy with his finger in the dike.

  31. ThruLines is far from perfect. It is making machine assumptions just as Google does. So should we stop using Google? But it is helping me to find matches that I didn’t know about.
    I have thousands of matches in Ancestries without trees and they almost never respond if I try to contact them.

    Ancestry made an assumption about my my Native American ancestry that really floored me. It says that they came from South America and my sister’s ancestors came from North America. We both have Cherokee ancestors and know quite well who they were.

  32. At first I thought that “hints” in my tree were broken, because I had no new ones showing on new additions to my tree even after several days, but I found that if I go to profile mode, and click on hints , they magically appear even when there are none showing in tree mode.
    Also last night I was trying to attach obits to my tree from Newspaper.com, it wouldn’t save them…. another glitch, so I had to save them manually.
    I find that I am falling back to my usual mode with Ancestry, to just use them as a data base of documents and ignore their new gimmicks to sell memberships. When possible I cross reference Ancestry members I match with other companies I have tested with ie, 23 & me, FTDNA, and those who have added their DNA raw data to Gedmatch where I can compare and use the actual chromosome info to triangulate. I’ve been working on my tree for decades… so I have so much of it memorized and that helps…but I can imagine how different it would be if I was just beginning my tree and dealing with false info and same/similar names and dates of probable ancestors. But that’s what I am dealing with now that I have migrated over the pond for the rest of my ancestors.
    Good luck to those new to genealogy, it’s a lovely puzzle that you can enjoy.
    Rosemary

  33. This is an incredibly useful article. I came across it right after I decided that needed a way to track Thrulines for all of the trees I work on, so your spreadsheet is a good template. I have been bitten by one of the ‘gators you warn about. A couple of days ago the Thruline for my Paternal great grandmother was replaced by a “Potential ancestor” – “Private is the great-grandmother of Barbara Allen.” When I click on Private, it goes to a tree with a Mary Woosley married to Dudly Scott. The actual people are Mary Ann Woolsey and Alexander Dudley Scott. In that tree, Dudly Scott is also married to Mary Ann Woolsey. In the erroneous tree, my grandfather, William Walter Scott, is shown as a child of both mothers. From William Walter Scott down the tree is completely correct and, I think, copied from my tree. The only DNA matches in that tree are below William Walter Scott and are in my tree. in the erroneous tree, neither Mary Woosley or Mary Ann Woolsey have ancestors, so I have no Woolsey Thurlines even though I have lots of Woolsey ancestors in my tree and lots of Woolsey DNA matches. The owner of bad tree apparently either stays logged in or is not ever checking messages. I’ve tried messages and putting comments on the various people without any response. How many other people’s Thrulines are going to pick this bad connection and propagate it?

  34. Great info. Thanks. I like best finding cousins with projected trees. Has “confirmed” some guesses as to what was behind brick walls by finding enough cousins. I wish they would give us the specific chromosome information so we could truly triangulate.

    Question: Any guess as to way my whole male line is not included starting with my great grandfather? His wife is there and not him, and no one behind him. They were solidly included back to 5th GG in the DNA circles. I guess there is nothing I can do but wait. There are a couple lines there that would be worth seeing what they come up with.

  35. Oh, Roberta, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to work on this and share it! I am having many of the same problems and frustrations with my ThruLines, and can’t wrap my mind around them replacing lots of my true, known, documented ancestors with completely nonsensical people from other trees which are clearly wrong, having no sources for, or aren’t even the same person.
    Like you, many wrong people, ignoring my own proven family in my own tree!

    I really felt the sting of this when I had ThruLines for parents of a proven 2G-grandfather. The ThruLines were for the correct 3G-grandparents, one of which I was excited to check all the 66 DNA matches shown for her (almost triple the number showing as DNA match to me in her DNA Circle), because I’m trying to find her parents (4G). I barely started to look through her ThruLine — lots of potential new matches to look for evidence, but as it was very late, I planned to continue the next day. I was thrilled with the new feature!
    You know where I’m going with this….
    Next day, her son, the proven 2G-grandfather, was completely replaced with a nonexistent man from another unproven tree, along with his ancestors. He was NOWHERE to be found. Gone. And his mother gone…All 66 matches.
    I know about the other tree… it was a very quick unproven tree done by someone several years ago trying to help another family with their ancestry. Later, the family was in contact with me, who said the father was related to my father; he was a 2nd cousin to me. A few months ago I bought a DNA test for him, to help further our research on that line, and quickly realized something was wrong… he is not a match to me AT ALL or to others he should have been. (I then spent a lot of time finding his real bio birth family using his DNA matches — to their surprise, then certainty, and gratitude.)
    BUT we know that that old quick tree done for him is absolutely wrong, unsubstantiated.
    And his DNA is not linked to it anyway. Or to me.

    Like you, I have many similar ‘bad’ ThruLines (minus the DNA testing story) — where incorrect people from completely unknown, incorrect, bad trees are shown where my known proven ancestors should be.

    How crazy, and very frustrating, to have leads for our known ancestors be taken away, especially as it seems they are also taking away some of the previous features which helped by showing us DNA matches (and/or related descendants), such as Circles, etc.
    I like that they are including <20 cM, as I am working mostly a bit further back! BUT if they are going to appear, disappear, change, for no good reason (valid ancestor) …
    We do need some ways to keep the valid ones, to reject the bad ones and get valid replacements, and maybe even add valid DNA matches to a ThruLine which they for some reason missed.

    I've given some on-site feedback, and I tried calling Ancestry a couple of times, getting people who kept me on the phone a long time, but it became apparent they themselves didn't really understand completely how they work (and sometimes incorrect info), even when I asked to speak with someone who was very knowledgeable about ThruLines. They did say they were taking notes, and the 'supervisor' would give to engineers.

    Last count, some time ago, I had over 90,000 matches and so was excited at first for this new tool to find more with MRCA further back. So, I would like it to work, without removing my ancestors, or taking away features in the other previous tools.

    Reading your article really helped to see that I was not the only one, and the same issues. If you find any solutions, I hope you will be able update us.

    What can we do to help?
    Grateful!

    • Exactly…I also had the misfortune to look at ThruLines early on, before the body-snatcher-gators had their way with several ancestors and all their DNA matches, but did not think to screen-shot the results. If I had checked in later, I would just have thought the random nonsense was Ancestry being Ancestry. Perhaps they will fix whatever the problem is; I rather feel sorry for their IT people at this point.

      MyHeritage has done far better. I see relatively few “Theories” but all are correct and they have in all cases “shown their work.”

  36. I’m seeing results changing. It’s mixing up identities like brothers and showing them as incorrect parents.

    When it first debuted it displayed a 5th great grandfather (Fortune) we consider potential but my brother don’t show on our tree. This is great and shows us 12 new matches we weren’t sure about. It also reminds me not to give up on this person (potential 5GGF) as they might be a someone I need to know more about.

    Now thrulines doesnt even show this one branch beyond the 2nd GGF and ignores or doesn’t display our proven 3rd GGF and his wife. ( which are clearly recorded on my tree). As a result it no longer shows the 16 dna matches it detects led from those 3x GGparents. Btw, there are 38 dna matches (confirmed with paper trail and correspondence) but it never showed more than 16. Now it shows zero for this one group. I suspect it’s because their algorithm locked on to a variant spelling. McFortune instead of Fortune. That’s cool to know that someone else picked up on the variant too.

    So there are problems with this. We haven’t altered our trees.

    It did help confirm a recent discovery which is good. And it’s picking up the 130+ dna matches linked through a 5thGGF.

    I’m seeing weird results that are not consistent.

    What I really hoped was to find a dna match to a male Fortune that traced to the 5GGF it suggested and then I could reach and start collaborating and start talking ydna…

    I was very enthusiastic at first but now just enthusiastic. It’s beta. They want to make it better. Just don’t let results change and not show people I have in my tree.

    – John

    • Their products never come out of beta. At some point that’s nothing more than an excuse. Circles is still in beta, for example.

      • Wow. And ouch. And sad. I didn’t screen shot but I did document the matches and usernames because it deserves more investigation. I’m glad did.

        So I have a hopeful question: about the Virginia Library archives in Richmond, VA. Have you been there and have they indexed things like deeds, court records, government records, etc.? How easy is it for me to go in and look for a person’s name on certain types of documents (like deeds, land tax, court stuff, etc)? This ancestor was a lawyer and carried out deed transfers, trusts, etc.

        I know I’m off topic a little but getting back to the paper trail is always critical. Thought this might brighten things up.

  37. Hi Roberta – Thank you for your excellent analysis of ThruLines. I am an adoptee and, after many years of searching, and through the miracle of DNA and the efforts of his family, I finally found the identity of my birth father about two years ago. He is now deceased, but there is no doubt as to his identity.

    I have 2nd Cousin DNA matches on Ancestry to:
    the granddaughter of his maternal aunt (277 cM / 11 segments) and
    the granddaughter of his maternal uncle (218 cM / 8 segments),
    a “half niece” match to his granddaughter (978 cM / 36 segments) and, on
    23&me, a 2nd Cousin match to his brother’s granddaughter (212 cM / 9 segments).
    In addition, I have scads of 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins on both his paternal and maternal lines, all confirmed by the cousins listed above and other members of his family.

    Up until 2 years ago, the only family I knew was my adopted family, so when my son needed to draw a “family tree” for a school assignment, I helped him build one of my adopted family on Ancestry (so we could use Family Tree Maker to print out a pretty tree), and I never deleted it. I’m sure you can guess what’s coming.

    ThruLines completely ignored my birth father’s line and, instead, replaced him and my paternal grandparents and GGparents, with my adopted father and his parents and grandparents BUT they left my birth mother, for whom I have not a shred of DNA evidence (only non-ID from NY state and the adoption agency), as my mother.

    So my ThruLines tree shows my paternal line as that of my adopted father and my maternal line as that of my putative birth mother. There is absolutely no chance that my adopted father is my birth father (or that my now identified birth father is not). My adopted father’s biological daughter did a DNA test and we match on (7.8 cM / 1 segment). So, we are related, which we always suspected, but not that close!

    So much for “ThruLines” (smh) – I think I’m thru.

  38. I’m trying to solve a mystery about the way Thrulines works. My tree has Thrulines for at least 3 generations of my family, with the exception of my paternal great grandmother, Mary Ann Woolsey. She is in my tree with her parents, her brother and sisters, her first husband, my great grandfather, their children, her second husband and their children. She is omitted from the Thrulines if favor of a Mary Woosley from another tree. That Mary Woosley has no parents, only the one husband, one child. The husband in that tree is also married to a Mary Ann Woolsey, with no parents, and 2 children, one of which is also the child of Mary Woosley. I’ve been trying to tweak my tree so it will pick up the right Mary Woolsey from my tree and link the appropriate DNA matches, which are there and I’ve identified some of them. So I decided to try searching for that Mary Woosley and see if there were other trees with the same error. Imagine my surprise when I can’t find that tree with a search. The tree that Thrulines uses has Mary Woosley married to Dudly Scott (both names are the wrong spelling for these people but could be the right spelling of other people) I tried an exact search and get no results. If I open up the spelling for Dudly Scott, I get tons of Mary Woosleys, but none in the tree Thrulines is using. If I put in 2 people from the tree Thrulines is using, copying them from the tree and using exact, Ancestry does not find the tree. What is in that tree that says to Thrulines “Pick me, pick me!” and says to the search “This is not the tree you want.”? I have found a couple of suggested workarounds for people have trouble with Thrulines using a bad tree, but they don’t seem to apply in this case. I’m at a loss here.

  39. Thank you for your excellent article delving into this thing! Right away I see a big problem concerning my Hubbard tree (which is linked to Ancestry). I not only have my correct ancestral tree therein, I have several other Hubbard families in my tree, that are unrelated and not attached in any way to MY Hubbard line. I had to do this as there were so many Hubbards in 1700’s Virginia, I had to research almost all of these other family lines to find out which family I descended from and if there was any connection to mine or not. I leave these other lines in my tree as I occasionally have to refer to them, and I don’t want to lose all that research.

    When I looked at ThruLines at who should have been my John Hubbard Sr born 1764, whose father was named Benjamin, ThruLines confused him with a different John Hubbard born 1754 whose father was a George. So it picked up the wrong John Hubbard and thus his father George. Yes, I do have a George Hubbard in my tree with a son named John, but they are in one of these other unrelated trees! Yikes! I can see how this could really confuse a lot of people who are new at this or not as steeped in the details of their family.

    As I look further down through my “ThruLines” I am seeing a lot of “potential ancestors” who are not my ancestors and are not the people I have in my direct line tree. Names I don’t know and have no idea where they got them from. Lots of alligators! They definitely need to add a button to get rid of these “gators”!
    Diane

  40. WOW, I can`t believe you have the time to research, compile and write all this, and your other posts – incredible. Thank you.

    I can see ThruLines is much worse than even I believed. A gargantuan MESS. But much, if not most of the issues, goes back to the creation of trees by people that cite as the only source for information another completely unsourced family tree. This creates bogus trees with misleading information.

    Just this week I was helping a cousin who pointed out an alleged nth-great uncle on some trees that I had never heard of nor seen elsewhere. I agreed to look into it, and spent hours going from Ancestry tree to Ancestry tree. Over 40 public trees listed this person, actually this ghost, as he never really existed, as far as I can tell. Not one of those trees showed an original source for any information; every one cited as the ONLY source another Ancestry tree. One, however, did cite OneWorldTree. One cited 9 trees, another 21 trees. I went through every one, compiling a list of every tree cited anywhere. Tree leading to tree leading to tree… looking in vain for that one little original source that might show that the ghost was real.

    Phantom of the Tree; now they’re on ThruLines

  41. Using your spreadsheet idea, I went through Thrulines for all 254 of my ancestors and it was very instructive. I found in several I would have a different number of matches for a husband than a wife. This seemed to be due to half relationships. I assume this meant one of the tree used didn’t have both the husband and wife. However, I found another reason. If one of trees has fewer children of a husband and wife than I have, on my Thrulines, the children they have will show has half relations.

  42. Pingback: Ancestry.com: a new beef - Digging Up Dead Relatives:

  43. Phew, thank you so much for clearing this up for me. I thought, at first, that all the suggested ancestors were via DNA and was floored cuz I have worked hard to find the correct ancestors via paper. Thank goodness for your efforts, now I can just ignore all this nonsense and get on with trying to figure out who my unknown ancestors really are and not panic when I see connections I was pretty sure were not correct.

    I am beginning to get very irritated with all these companies trying to make genealogy so easy, those who are unwilling to make any logical deductions are filling their trees with absolute nonsense and it is being thrust upon us.

  44. Thanks for such a detailed article on ThruLines! I can’t wait to try several of the things that you suggest and detail for us. Fortunately, I didn’t have quite as many “non-relatives” inserted into my tree, but there are quite a few. Your article has motivated me to go through and take the time to document who should/shouldn’t be there!

    I have found ThruLines to have a LOT of value….but, it definitely can’t be taken at “face” value. And, oddly, I have one entire line that doesn’t show up in my ancestor cards for TL…..it begins with a 3rd great-grandmother. The strangest part of this is that this is a part of my tree that has a MASSIVE amount of relatives/family members that have tested and show up. Definitely a huge amount of endogamy (which is woven into the the other family that my 3GGmother was married into. So, that’s a surprise (and disappointment) to me that they can all be missing—-which has taken away a huge number of relatives and connections that I should be able to see!

    Thanks for all of your clear examples and instruction—-now I have a “few more hours” of genealogy that I need to work on this week! Seriously, sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in little areas to work on, but this type of article really fleshes out my to-do list and helps me be more productive.

    • I’ve yet to figure out why some lives that exist in our own trees are missing. Let’s hope they appear at some time in the future.

  45. Thanks for a great review. I’m glad some people are getting at least some value with ThruLines. In my case, Ancestry is showing a completely wrong paternal line starting with my ‘father’. The paternal line is that of my half-siblings, not mine. I have unconnected and reconnected the correct family tree to my DNA results, but it never shows my correct paternal lines. I have verified all relationships are correct in the tree, to no avail. It seems the information Ancestry is collecting for ThruLines is from an old tree that was prior to my discovering my genetic father. That tree is no longer on Ancestry, but it seems the data persists somewhere.

    Just another caution for those struggling to use this tools.

  46. Well it takes me some time to use your information. I finally looked at TruLines. They should be called False Lines/or Misinformation. I have been working on my 2nd Great Grandfather’s family for 10 years. I know what I have on my tree is correct (with documents and Bible records) only to find that Ancestry used about 20 other family trees with erroneous information.
    Interesting that there is not one place to leave a comment concerning the errors. I did take the survey regarding this site and my ancestor. Not sure what good it will do. Another way to keep perpetuating generations of more errors.
    Sorry to complain had to vent.
    Just very glad that you do what you do Roberta. TKU.

  47. I’m trying to figure out who wrote the well-written article about the latest Ancestry disaster if accuracy is important to you. I’d like to thank him/her. I write a newsletter and intend to put a link to this in it, this week. I’d suspected what the problem is, from reading complaints on FB, but this summarizes it nicely. Until Ancestry does a much better job of sorting out well-documented trees that use actual primary and secondary sources–and not IGI garbage, etc.from the inadequately documented or not-documented at all (such as copying wholesale someone else’s undocumented tree), then anything that uses the trees to help determine ancestry is worthless. This also continues to bolster the complaint that they are STILL replacing documented ancestors in people’s trees with undocumented myths. I’m about to come out with a book on “family history research, beyond the basics,” and this just helped me confirm a chapter I wrote last year. I’ll also be speaking about this all at a major Celtic festival at the end of April. Again, THANK YOU!

    • I wrote that article and all articles on this blog unless attributed otherwise to a guest author. Thank you and you can attribute to Roberta Estes along with the link.

  48. @Roberta How many of the last group of 55 do you have DNA evidence for?

    I am far from trusting AncestryDNA static global tree. There is definitely not enough DNA segment data taken into account.

    Yet we cannot oppose it with only paper evidence.

    You can use DNA evidence to support your paper research.

    You can also posit AncestryDNA Thruline hypotheses and falsify them using DNA data…

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