ThruLines Suggests Potential Ancestors – How Accurate Are They?

I wanted to evaluate the accuracy of Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested Potential Ancestors when compared with a tree I know is accurate. I conducted an experiment where I created a small tree on Ancestry for a DNA tester that included only the first two generations, meaning grandparents and great-grandparents.

Click to enlarge any image.

This gave Ancestry enough data to work with and means that for the upstream ancestors, Ancestry’s ThruLines suggested specific people as ancestors.

How well did Ancestry do? Are the Potential Ancestors suggested by Ancestry accurate? How do they make those suggestions anyway? Are they useful?

I do have a second, completely separate, full tree connected to my other DNA test, and I do know who those ancestors are, or, in some cases, I know who they aren’t. I’ve had the privilege of working intensively on my genealogy for decades, so I can easily compare what is known and proven, or what has been disproven, to Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors.

We’ll start with the great-grandparents’ generation, but first, let’s talk about how ThruLines works. I’ve previously written about ThruLines here and here.

How ThruLines Works

ThruLines is a tool for people who have taken an AncestryDNA test and who link themselves to their position on their tree. Linking is a critical step. If you don’t link the DNA test to the proper profile, the tester won’t have ThruLines. I provided step-by-step instructions, here.

I want to emphasize this again, ThruLines is a TOOL, not an answer. It may or may not be accurate and it’s entirely UP TO YOU to take that hint, run with it, and verify or disprove. Ancestry is providing you with a hint.

Essentially, the more ancestors that you provide to Ancestry, generally, the better they can do when suggesting additional Potential Ancestors. They do need something to work with. I wrote about that in the article Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines.

If you don’t provide at least your parents and at least your grandparents in a tree, it’s unlikely that Ancestry will be able to provide Potential Ancestors for you.

I added two generations above the parents in this experiment in order to provide Ancestry with a significant “hook” to latch onto to connect with:

  • Other DNA testers who match the tester AND
  • Other people’s trees, whether the tree-owners have tested their DNA or not

So yes, to be clear, Ancestry DOES:

  • Use the trees of other people whose DNA you match AND have the same ancestors in their tree
  • Along with the trees of people you don’t match (or who haven’t DNA tested,) to propose ancestors for you

ThruLines only reaches back to ancestors within 7 generations, meaning the ancestor is the tester’s 5th great-grandparent or closer.

Most suggested Potential Ancestors in ThruLines have descendants who have tested and are DNA matches to you, but not necessarily all.

On your tree itself, the ThruLines “3 people” icon shows on the ancestors that have Thrulines.

Click to enlarge

Looking at this graphic of my tree, you can see that ThruLines ends at the 7th generation, but Potential Ancestors continue to be suggested beyond 7 generations. Note generation 9, below, which is beyond ThruLines but has Potential Ancestors suggested based entirely on other people’s trees.

ThruLines stops at 7 generations, but Potential Ancestor suggestions do not.

In the above example, in generation 7, Michael McDowell (1720-1755) is a known ancestor and has a ThruLine, but his wife is unknown. Ancestry has suggested a Potential Mother for Michael McDowell (1747-1840) who is also the spouse of Michael McDowell (1720-1755).

Here’s the ThruLines suggestion for Michael McDowell’s wife.

Ironically, there are no DNA matches for either Michael or Eleanor. However, there are DNA matches for their child who clearly descends from Michael. This may be an example of a situation where the other testers are beyond the 7th generation, so they don’t show as matches for our tester in Michael’s generation. The other possibility, of course, is a glitch in ThruLines.

(For those familiar with the Michael McDowell (1720-1755) lineage, Eleanor is his mother, not his wife. His wife is unknown, so this Potential Ancestor is incorrect.)

Potential Ancestors Without DNA Matches

A person may still be suggested as a Potential Ancestor even without any DNA matches.

I have seen situations where a parent has DNA matches to several ThruLine ancestors, but their child has the same suggested ancestor with zero DNA matches listed because the child and the match are one generation too far removed to be listed as a DNA match on ThruLines.

Yet, if you search the child’s match list for the individual listed as a DNA match to their parent through that ancestor, that match is also on the child’s match list.

In the chart that follows, you can see that ancestors in the midrange of generations have many DNA matches, but as you approach the 7th generation, the number of matches drops significantly, and some even have zero. That’s because both people of a match pair have to be within the generational boundary for ThruLines to list them as matches.

In some cases, the ancestor is not suggested for the child in ThruLines because the ancestor is the 6th great-grandparent of the child. If you look directly at the child’s tree, the Potential Ancestor may be suggested there.

Points to Remember

  • The difference between ThruLines and Potential Ancestors is that Potential Ancestors are still suggested beyond the hard 7 generation or 5 GG boundary for ThruLines.
  • ThruLines may suggest Potential Ancestors with or without DNA matches.
  • Potential Ancestors, either within or beyond ThruLines must connect to someone in your tree, or another Potential Ancestor or ancestors who connect to someone in your tree.

Incorrect Ancestors and Discrepancies

An incorrect ancestor can be listed in multiple people’s trees, and Ancestry will suggest that incorrect ancestor for you based on the associated trees. At one point, I did a survey of the number of people who had the incorrect Virginia wife listed for my ancestor, Abraham Estes, and the first 150 trees I viewed had the wrong wife. We have church record proof of her death in England before his children were born by his colonial Virginia wife. Garbage in, garbage out.

That doesn’t mean those trees aren’t useful. In some cases, the information “saved” to that person in those incorrect trees shows you exactly what is out there and can’t be correct. For example, if there is a death record and burial for someone, they can’t also be alive 50 years later in another location. Or someone born in 1780 can’t have been a Revolutionary War veteran. Sometimes you’ll discover same name confusion, or multiple people who have been conflated into one. Other times, you may actually find valid hints for your own ancestor misplaced in someone else’s tree. Always evaluate.

You “should” have the same number of matches to the man and woman of a couple if neither of them had descendants with another partner, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I would presume that’s due to tree discrepancies among your matches or other trees on Ancestry.

If the same ancestor is listed with multiple name spellings or similar differences, I have no idea how Ancestry determines which version to present to you as a Potential Ancestor. That’s why ThruLines are hints. Ancestry does show you the various trees they utilized and allows you to peruse them for hints for that suggested ancestor.

Just click on the Evaluate button. Unfortunately, neither of these trees have any records for this ancestor.

If you click on the tree, you are then given the opportunity to add Eleanor (meaning the potential ancestor) to your tree from their tree.

I STRONGLY, STRONGLY suggest that you DO NOT do this. By adding information directly from other people’s trees, you’re introducing any errors from their tree into your tree as well.

If you click through to their tree, you’ll often find that they used someone else’s tree as their “source,” so misinformation propagates easily. Seeing “Ancestry Family Trees” as a source, especially in multiple records, provides you with an idea of the research style of that tree owner. This also conveys the message to less-experienced researchers that copy/pasting from other trees is a valid source.

Use this information provided as hints and do your own research and evaluation.

Where Do Potential Ancestors Come From?

Let’s view an example of an incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestion and proof-steps you can utilize to help validate or potentially disprove the suggestion.

We know that George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson is NOT the father of James Lee Clarkson based on Y-DNA testing where the descendants of the two men not only don’t match, they have a completely different haplogroup. They do not share a common paternal ancestor. Furthermore, proven descendant groups of both men do not have autosomal DNA matches.

However, George Middleton Clarkson is suggested as a Potential Ancestor in ThruLines as the father of James Lee Clarkson.

Mousing over the ThruLines placard shows 98 DNA matches to other people who claim descent from George Middleton Clarkson. How is it possible to have 98 matches with descendants of George Middleton Clarkson, yet he’s not my ancestor?

Many people just see that “98,” which is a high number and think, “well, of course he’s my ancestor, otherwise, I wouldn’t match all those descendants.” It’s not that simple or straightforward though. It’s certainly possible to all be wrong together, especially if you’re dealing with long-held assumptions in the genealogy community and trees copies from other people’s trees for decades.

To view the ThruLine detail for George Middleton Clarkson, just click on the placard.

The ThruLine for George Middleton Clarkson has three attributed children with DNA matches. Let’s evaluate.

  • ThruLines Child 1 is my own James Lee Clarkson that has been erroneously attached to George Middleton Clarkson. However, the Y-DNA of the three various lines, above, does not match. That erroneous connection alone counts for 80 of those 98 matches. If all of those people who match me do descend from our common ancestor, James, those matches all make sense.

According to early histories, James Lee Clarkson was believed to be George’s son based on geographic proximity between the state of Franklin in eastern Tennessee and Russell County, Virginia, but then came DNA testing which said otherwise.

This DNA grouping from the Clarkson/Claxton DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows that the men, above, which includes descendants of James Lee Claxton/Clarkson, all match each other.

  • ThruLines Child 2 is Thomas Clarkston who has 17 DNA matches through 7 of his children.

By clicking on the green evaluate button for Thomas, we see that two of the DNA related trees have records, but three do not.

The first tree is quite interesting for a number of reasons.

  1. Thomas Clarkson is found in Lee County, VA, in relatively close proximity to where James Lee Clarkson is first found in Russell County, VA as an adult in 1795.
  2. There is no actual documentation to connect Thomas Clarkson with George Middleton Clarkson who was hung in 1787 in the lost State of Franklin, Tennessee, now Washington and Greene Counties in Tennessee. It has been “accepted” for years that Thomas descends from George Middleton based on information reportedly passed down within that family long before the internet.

The Claxton/Clarkson DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA shows the Thomas lineage. This lineage reaches back into England based on Y-DNA matches – a huge and important hint for the Thomas descendants that they won’t be able to obtain anyplace else.

Note that Thomas’s Y-DNA does not match that of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton which means these people must match me through a different line. That’s not surprising given that many of the families of this region intermarried for generations.

  • ThruLines Child 3 is David Claxton, who has one DNA match, so let’s look at that by clicking on the green evaluate button.

You’ll see that this ancestor through David Claxton was recommended based on:

  • One DNA match with a tree with 0 source records, and
  • Zero Ancestry member trees of people whose DNA I don’t match, or that haven’t DNA tested

Checking this tree shows no sources for the following generations either, so I have no way to evaluate the accurace of the tree.

However, I did track his descendants for a generation or so and found them in Wilson County, TN, which allowed me to find them in the Clarkson/Claxton Y DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA.

In the Clarkson/Claxton DNA project, we see that this David Claxton of Wilson County, TN is in a third DNA group that does not match either the James Lee Claxton or the Thomas Claxton line.

Furthermore, look at the hints for the descendants of David Claxton based on the Y-DNA matches. This link appears to reach back to a Clayton in Kirkington, Yorkshire.

ThruLines Conflation

In this case, three men of similar or the same surnames were cobbled together as sons of George Middleton Clarkson where clearly, based on Y-DNA testing, those three men are not related to each other paternally and do not share a common paternal ancestor. They cannot all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkson.

It’s amazing how much is missed and erroneously inferred by NOT testing Y-DNA. In very short order, we just proved that the ThruLine that connected all three of these men to George Middleton Clarkson as their ancestor is inaccurate.

In defense of Ancestry, they simply used user-submitted erroneous trees – but you have it within YOUR power to search further, and to utilize Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing for additional clarification. This Clarkson/Claxton information was freely available, publicly, by just checking.

You can find surname or other projects at FamilyTreeDNA, by scrolling down, here, or simply google “<surname you seek> DNA Project.”

How Can These People All Match the Tester?

If we know that the male Claxton/Clarkson line is not the link between these matches, then why and how do these people all DNA match the tester? That’s a great question.

It’s possible that:

  • They match the tester through a different ancestor
  • There has been a genetic disconnect in the Claxton/Clarkson line and the match is through the mother, not the Claxton/Clarkson male
  • Some of the other testers’ genealogy is in error by including George Middleton Clarkson in their trees
  • People accept the George Middleton Clarkson suggestion, adding him to their tree, propagating erroneous information
  • The descendants of James Lee Clarkson/Claxton match because he is their common ancestor, but connecting him to George Middleton Clarkson is erroneous
  • The 15 cM match (and potentially others) is identical by chance
  • The Y-DNA disproved this possibility in this case. In other cases, the matches could have been from the same biological Clarkson/Claxton line, but the testers have their ancestor incorrectly attached to George Middleton Clarkson/Claxton. In this case, we can’t say which of David Claxton, James Lee Claxton and/or Thomas Claxton are or are not individually erroneously connected to George Middleton Clarkson, but we know for a fact that David’s, James’ and Thomas’s descendant’s Y-DNA does not match each other, so they can’t all three be descendants of George Middleton Clarkston. Furthermore, there is no solid evidence that ANY of these three men are his descendant. We know that these three men do not share a common direct paternal ancestor.

I recommend for every male line that you check the relevant Y-DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA and see if the information there confirms or conflicts with a suggested ancestor, or if a descendant hasn’t yet tested. I also STRONGLY recommend that a male in the relevant surname line that carries that surname be asked to test in order to verify the lineage.

ThruLine Ranking

I’m going to rank Ancestry’s suggested Potential Ancestors by awarding points for accuracy on their Potential Ancestor ThruLines suggestions and subtracting points for incorrect Potential Ancestor suggestions. This chart is at the end with links to my 52 Ancestor’s articles for those ancestors.

OK, let’s take a look, beginning with the great-grandparent generation.


I entered all of these ancestors and they are connected to their children, the tester’s grandparents. They are not connected to their parents for purposes of this article, although I do know who the parents are, so let’s see how Ancestry does making Potential Ancestor suggestions through ThruLines.

Ancestors (above example) that are NOT framed by a dotted line and who are NOT labeled as a “Potential Ancestor” have been connected in their tree by the DNA tester, meaning you.

The next generations, below, are all framed by dotted lines, meaning they are Potential Ancestor suggestions provided by Ancestry. Potential Ancestors are always clearly marked with the green bar.

Eight 2nd Great Grandparents

In this generation, because I have not connected them, Ancestry has suggested Potential Ancestors for all sixteen 2X Great-Grandparents.

I’ve provided gold stars for the correct ancestor information meaning both the name and the birth and death date within a year or a decade when they died between census years.

Of these 16, three are completely accurate and the rest were at least partially accurate.

I repeated this process for each one of the suggested Potential Ancestors in the 3rd, 4th and 5th great grandparent categories as well, completing a ranking chart as I went.

Ranking Chart

I’ve ranked Ancestry’s accuracy in their Potential Ancestor recommendations.

  • +2 points means the name AND birth and death years are accurate within a year or decade if they died within a census boundary
  • +1 point means that EITHER the name OR the birth and death dates are (mostly) accurate, but not both
  • 0 means uncertain, so neither positive or negative
  • -1 point means that NEITHER the name NOR birth and death dates are accurate but it’s clear that this is meant to be the correct person. In other words, with some work, this hint could point you in the right direction, but in and of itself, it is inaccurate.
  • -2 means that the person suggested is the wrong person

I’ve been generous where there was some question. I’ve linked these ancestors where I’ve written their 52 Ancestors stories. [LNU] means last name unknown. It’s worth noting that one of the trees Ancestry has available to utilize for Potential Ancestors is my own accurate tree with many source documents for my ancestors.

# Generation Ancestry Name & Birth/Death Years Correct Name & Birth/Death Years # Matches Points Awarded Y or mtDNA Confirmed
1 2nd GGP John R. Estes 1788-1885 John. R. Estes 1787-1885 110 2 Yes
2 2nd GGP Nancy Ann Moore 1789-1865 Ann Moore or Nancy Ann Moore c1785-1860/1870 112 1 Need mtDNA through all females
3 2nd GGP Lazarus Dotson 1785-1861 Lazarus Dodson 1795-1861 46 -1 Yes
4 2nd GGP Elizabeth Campbell 1802-1842 Elizabeth Campbell c 1802-1827/1830 46 1 Yes
5 2nd GGP Elijah R. Vannoy 1782-1850 Elijah Vannoy 1784-1850s 82 -1 Yes
6 2nd GGP Rebecca Lois McNeil 1781-1839 Lois McNiel c1786-c1830s 81 -1 Yes
7 2nd GGP William Crumley ?-1859 William Crumley 1788-1859 97 1 Yes
8 2nd GGP Lydia Brown Crumley 1796-1847 Lydia Brown c1781-1830/1840 112 -1 Yes
9 2nd GGP Henry Bolton 1741-1846 Henry Frederick Bolton 1762-1846 152 -1 Yes
10 2nd GGP Nancy Mann 1777-1841 Nancy Mann c1780-1841 134 1 Yes
11 2nd GGP William Herrel 1803-1859 William Harrell/Herrell c1790-1859 31 1 Yes
12 2nd GGP Mary McDowell 1785-1871 Mary McDowell 1785-after 1872 45 2 Yes
13 2nd GGP Fairwick Clarkson 1800-1874 Fairwix/Fairwick Clarkson/Claxton 1799/1800-1874 82 2 Yes
14 2nd GGP Agnes Sander Muncy 1803-1880 Agnes Muncy 1803-after 1880 106 1 Yes
15 2nd GGP Thomas Charles Speak 1805-1843 Charles Speak 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
16 2nd GGP Ann McKee 1805-1860 Ann McKee 1804/1805-1840/1850 60 1 Yes
17 3rd GGP George M. Estes 1763-1859 George Estes 1763-1859 76 1 Yes
18 3rd GGP Mary C. Younger 1766-1850 Mary Younger c1766-1820/1830 75 -1 Yes
19 3rd GGP William Moore 1756-1810 William Moore 1750-1826 72 1 Yes
20 3rd GGP Susannah Harwell 1748-1795 Lucy [LNU] 1754-1832 69 -2 Need Lucy’s mtDNA through all females
21 3rd GGP Lazarous Dotson 1760-1826 Lazarus Dodson 1760-1826 42 1 Yes
22 3rd GGP Janet Jane Campbell 1762-1826 Jane [LNU] c1760-1830/1840 38 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
23 3rd GGP John Campbell 1772-1836 John Campbell c1772-1838 65 1 Yes
24 3rd GGP Jane Dobkins 1780-1860 Jane Dobkins c1780-c1860 22 2 Yes
25 3rd GGP Francis Vanoy/Vannoy 1746-1822 Daniel Vannoy 1752-after 1794 76 -2 Yes
26 3rd GGP Millicent “Millie” Henderson 1755-1822 Sarah Hickerson 1752/1760-before 1820 76 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
27 3rd GGP William McNeil/McNeal 1760-1830 William McNiel c1760-c1817 116 1 Yes
28 3rd GGP Elizabeth Shepherd McNeil 1766-1820 Elizabeth Shepherd 1766-1830/1840 115 -1 Yes
29 3rd GGP William Crumley 1767-1837 William Crumley c1767-c1839 59 1 Yes
30 3rd GGP Hannah Hanner “Hammer” 1770-1814 unknown 60 -2 Have her mtDNA
31 3rd GGP Jotham Sylvanis Brown 1765-1859 Jotham Brown c1740-c1799 100 -2 Yes
32 3rd GGP Ruth Johnston Brown Phoebe Cole 1747-1802 97 -2 Incorrect person but have correct mtDNA
33 3rd GGP Henry Bolton 1720-1757 Henry Bolton 1729-1765 88 1 Yes
34 3rd GGP Sarah Corry 1729-1797 Sarah Corry 1729-1797 80 2 Need mtDNA through all females
35 3rd GGP Robert James Mann 1753-1801 James Mann 1745-? 77 -1 Need Y-DNA
36 3rd GGP Mary Jane Wilson 1760-1801 Mary Brittain Cantrell c1755-? 80 -2 Incorrect but have correct mtDNA
37 3rd GGP John Herrell 1761-1829 John Harrold c1750-1825 19 -1 Yes
38 3rd GGP Hallie Mary [LNU] c1750-1826 18 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
39 3rd GGP Michael McDowell-McDaniel 1737-1834 Michael McDowell c17471840 25 -2 Yes
40 3rd GGP Sarah Isabel “Liza” Hall Isabel [LNU] c1753-1840/1850 27 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
41 3rd GGP James Lee Clarkson 1775-1815 James Lee Clarkson c1775-1815 170 2 Yes
42 3rd GGP Sarah Helloms Cook 1775-1863 Sarah Cook 1775-1863 188 1 Yes
43 3rd GGP Samuel Munsey-Muncy 1767-1830 Samuel Muncy after 1755-before 1820 108 1 Yes
44 3rd GGP Anne W. Workman 1768-1830 Anne Nancy Workman 1760/1761-after 1860 107 -1 Yes
45 3rd GGP Rev. Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 Nicholas Speak/Speaks 1782-1852 93 2 Yes
46 3rd GGP Sarah Faires Speak 1782-1865 Sarah Faires 1786-1865 93 -1 Yes
47 3rd GGP Andrew McKee 1760-1814 Andrew McKee c1760-1814 86 2 Yes
48 3rd GGP Elizabeth 1765-1839 Elizabeth [LNU] c1767-1838 88 2 Yes
49 4th GGP Moses Estes 1742-1815 Moses Estes c1742-1813 27 1 Yes
50 4th GGP Luremia Susannah Combes 1747-1815 Luremia Combs c1740-c1820 33 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
51 4th GGP Marcus Younger 1735-1816 Marcus Younger 1730/1740-1816 30 2 Yes
52 4th GGP Susanna Hart* 1725-1806 Susanna [possibly] Hart c1740-before 1805 26 -1 Yes
53 4th GGP William Moore 1725-1757 James Moore c1718-c1798 25 -2 Yes
54 4th GGP Margaret Hudspeth 1725-1808 Mary Rice c1723-c1778/1781 26 -2 Need Mary Rice mtDNA through all females
55 4th GGP Samuel “Little Sam” Harwell 1716-1793 Incorrect 36 -2
56 4th GGP Abigail Anne Jackson 1712-1793 Incorrect 33 -2
57 4th GGP Rawleigh “Rolly” Dodson 1730-1793 Raleigh Dodson 1730-c1794 19 2 Yes
58 4th GGP Elizabeth Mary Booth 1728-1793 Mary [LNU] c1730-1807/1808 27 -2 Need Mary’s mtDNA through all females
59 4th GGP Nancy Ann Steele 1728-1836 Unknown mother of Jane [LNU], wife of Lazarus Dodson 16 -2 Need Jane’s mtDNA through all females
60 4th GGP James Campbell 1742-1931 Charles Campbell c1750-c1825 28 -2 Y DNA confirmed NOT this line
61 4th GGP Letitia Allison 1759-1844 Incorrect 31 -2
62 4th GGP Jacob Dobkins 1750-1833 Jacob Dobkins 1751-1835 91 1 Yes
63 4th GGP Dorcas (Darcas) Johnson 1750-1831 Darcus Johnson c1750-c1835 92 2 Yes
64 4th GGP John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 John Francis Vannoy 1719-1778 47 2 Yes
65 4th GGP Susannah Baker Anderson 1720-1816 Susannah Anderson c1721-c1816 59 2 Need mtDNA through all females
66 4th GGP Thomas Hildreth Henderson 1736-1806 Charles Hickerson c1725-before 1793 37 -2 Have Hickerson Y-DNA
67 4th GGP Mary Frances “Frankie” McIntire 1735-1811 Mary Lytle c1730-before 1794 37 -2 Need mtDNA from all females
68 4th GGP Rev. George W. McNeil 1720-1805 George McNiel c1720-1805 143 1 Yes
69 4th GGP Mary Sarah Coates 1732-1782 Sarah/Sallie or Mary [maybe] Coates c1740-1782/1787 139 1 Need mtDNA through all females
70 4th GGP John James Sheppard Shepherd 1734-1810 Robert Shepherd 1739-1817 136 -2 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
71 4th GGP Sarah Ann Rash 1732-1810 Sarah Rash 1748-1829 178 -1 Yes
72 4th GGP John Crumbley 1737-1794 William Crumley 1736-1793 77 -2 Have Crumley Y-DNA
73 4th GGP Hannah Mercer 1742-1774 Hannah Mercer c1740-c1773 73 2 Yes
74 4th GGP John Hanner (Hainer) Incorrect 19 -2
75 4th GGP Jotham Brown 1740-1799 Incorrect 183 -2 Have Brown Y-DNA
76 4th GGP Phoebe Ellen Johnston 1742-1810 Incorrect 182 -2
77 4th GGP Moses Johnston 1746-1828 Incorrect 45 -2
78 4th GGP Eleanor Havis 1753-1837 Incorrect 47 -2
79 4th GGP Henry Boulton 1693-1737 John Bolton before 1693-after 1729 23 -2 Have Bolton Y-DNA
80 4th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Elizabeth Goaring 1795-1729 22 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
81 4th GGP Thomas Curry (Corry) 1705-1729 Thomas Curry 1705-1729 25 2 Need Curry Y-DNA
82 4th GGP Monique “Moniky” Curry 1704-1729 Monique Demazares 1705-1729 25 1 Need mtDNA through all females
83 4th GGP Robert James Mann 1740-1787 John Mann 1725-1774 26 -2 Need Mann Y-DNA
84 4th GGP Sarah Susannah McCloskey 1716-1797 Frances Carpenter 1728-1833 28 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
85 4th GGP Benjamin “Col. Ben” Colonel Wilson 1733-1814 Incorrect 28 -2
86 4th GGP Mary Ann Seay 1735-1814 Incorrect 29 -2
87 4th GGP John Hugh McDowell 1695-1742 Michael McDowell c1720-after 1755 7 -2 Incorrect but have correct Y-DNA McDowell Y-DNA
88 4th GGP Mary Magdalena Woods 1705-1800 Incorrect 8 -2
89 4th GGP Ebenezer Hall 1721-1801 Incorrect 6 -2
90 4th GGP Dorcas Abbott Hall 1728-1797 Incorrect 6 -2
91 4th GGP George Middleton Clarkston/Clarkson 1745-1787 Incorrect 98 -2 Incorrect but have correct Clarkson Y-DNA
92 4th GGP Catherine Middleton 1764-1855 Incorrect 94 -2
93 4th GGP William Henry Cook 1750-1920 Joel Cook before 1755 – ? 83 -2 Need Cook Y-DNA
94 4th GGP Elizabeth Wall 1747-1826 Alcy [LNU] c 1755-? 91 -2 Yes
95 4th GGP Obediah Samuel Muncy 1735-1806 Samuel Muncy 1740-1799 33 -1 Yes
96 4th GGP UFN Obediah Muncy wife Unknowen (sic) 1728-1843 Agnes Craven 1745-1811 27 -2 Need Agnes Craven Need mtDNA through all females
97 4th GGP Joseph Workman 1732-1813 Joseph Workman c1736-c1813 64 2 Yes
98 4th GGP Phoebe McRay McMahon 1745-1826 Phoebe McMahon c1741-after 1815 64 1 Yes
99 4th GGP Charles Beckworth Speake/Speaks 1741-1794 Charles Speake c1731-1794 47 1 Yes
100 4th GGP Jane Connor 1742-1789 Incorrect, unknown first wife 40 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
101 4th GGP Gideon Farris 1748-1818 Gideon Faires before 1749-1821 54 -1 Yes
102 4th GGP Sarah Elizabeth McSpadden 1745-1821 Sarah McSpadden c1745-c1820 55 1 Yes
103 4th GGP Hugh McKee 1720-1795 Unknown 34 -2
104 4th GGP Mary Nesbit 1732-1795 Unknown 35 -2
105 4th GGP Private (sic) Unknown father of Elizabeth, wife of Andrew McKee 35 -2
106 4th GGP Anna Elizabeth Carney [wife of “private”] Incorrect 35 -2
107 5th GGP Moses Estes 1711-1788 Moses Estes 1711-1787 13 2 Yes
108 5th GGP Elizabeth Jones “Betty” Webb 1718-1782 Elizabeth [LNU] 1715/1720-1772/1782 5 -2 No known daughters
109 5th GGP George W. Combs 1714-1798 John Combs 1705-1762 6 -2 Need Combs Y-DNA
110 5th GGP Phebe Wade ?-1830 Incorrect 6 -2 Need mtDNA of John Combs first wife through all females
111 5th GGP Sarah Ferguson 1700-1781 Incorrect 3 -2
112 5th GGP Anthony Hart 1700-? Possibly Anthony Hart but no evidence 3 0
113 5th GGP Charles Rev. Moore 1685-1734 Incorrect 4 -2
114 5th GGP Mary Margaret Barry Moore 1690-1748 Incorrect 4 -2
115 5th GGP Ralph Hudspeth II* 1690-1776 Incorrect 9 -2
116 5th GGP Mary Carter 1699-1737 Incorrect 3 -2
117 5th GGP Samuel Harwell 1674-1767 Incorrect 3 -2
118 5th GGP Mary Ann Coleman*8th Ggm (sic) 1678-1723 incorrect 6 -2
119 5th GGP Ambrose (Sar) Jackson 1695-1745 Incorrect 6 -2
120 5th GGP Anne Amy Wyche 1692-1765 Incorrect 6 -2
121 5th GGP George E Dodson (DNA) (sic) 1702-1770 George Dodson 1702-after 1756 23 -1 Yes
122 5th GGP Margaret Dogett Dagord 1708-1770 Margaret Dagord 1708-? 24 1 Need mtDNA through all females
123 5th GGP James Booth 1700-1741 Incorrect 4 -2
124 5th GGP Frances Dale Booth (15great aunt) (sic) 1688-1777 Incorrect 3 -2
125 5th GGP Samuel Scurlock Steele 1709-1790 Incorrect 2 -2
126 5th GGP Robert R. Campbell 1718-1810 Incorrect 34 -2
127 5th GGP Lady: Letitia Crockett 1719-1760 Incorrect 8 -2
128 5th GGP John A. Dobkins 1717-1783 John Dobkins c1710-c1788 20 1 Yes
129 5th GGP Mary Elizabeth Betty Moore 1739-1815 Elizabeth [LNU] c1711-? 20 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
130 5th GGP Peter Johnson 1715-1796 Peter Johnson/Johnston c1720-c1794 0 1 Yes
131 5th GGP Mary Polly Phillips 1729-1790 Mary Polly Phillips c1726-? 1 2 Need mtDNA through all females
132 5th GGP Francis Janzen Vannoy Van Noy 1688-1774 Francis Vannoy 1688-1774 8 1 Yes
133 5th GGP Rebecca Anna Catherine Anderson 1698-1785 Rebecca Annahh Andriesen/ Anderson 1697-1727 13 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
134 5th GGP Cornelius Anderson (Andriessen) 1670-1724 Kornelis Andriesen 1670-1724 5 2 Yes
135 5th GGP Annetje Annah Opdyck 1670-1746 Annetje Opdyck c1675-after 1746 5 2 Need mtDNA through all females
136 5th GGP Thomas Hildret Henderson 1715-1794 Incorrect


3 -2
137 5th GGP Mary Frisby 1709-1794 Incorrect 3 -2
138 5th GGP Alexander (Alex) McEntire 1707-1802 Incorrect 12 -2
139 5th GGP Hannah Janet McPherson 1711-1792 Incorrect 15 -2
140 5th GGP Thomas James McNeil 1699-1803 Incorrect 25 -2
141 5th GGP Mary Hannah Parsons 1697-1784 Incorrect 27 -2
142 5th GGP John Coates 1699-1732 Incorrect 21 -2
143 5th GGP Sarah Ann Titcombe 1710-1732 Incorrect 22 -2
144 5th GGP George Sheppard, Shepherd 1716-1751 George Shepherd c1700-1751 42 1 Have Shepherd Y-DNA
145 5th GGP Elizabeth Mary Angelicke Day (Daye) 1699-? Elizabeth Mary Angelica Daye 1699-after 1750 41 1 Need mtDNA through all females
146 5th GGP Joseph Rash 1722-1776 Joseph Rash before 1728-c1767 36 1 Yes
147 5th GGP Mary Warren 1726-1792 Mary Warren 1726-? 36 1 Yes
148 5th GGP James L Crumley/Cromley 1712-1784 James Crumley c1711-1764 11 -1 Yes
149 5th GGP Catherine Bowen Gilkey 1712-1784 Catherine [LNU] c1712-c1790 11 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
150 5th GGP Edward Willis Mercer 1704-1763 Edward Mercer 1704-1763 5 1 Yes
151 5th GGP Ann Lueretias Coats 1710-1763 Ann [LNU] 1699/1705-c1786/1790 5 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
152 5th GGP Daniel Brown 1710-1798 Incorrect 39 -2
153 5th GGP Mary Brown 1717-1777 Incorrect 40 -2
154 5th GGP Zopher “Elder” Johnson/Johnston* 1700-1804 Incorrect 51 -2
155 5th GGP Elizabeth Williamson Cooper 1703-1794 Incorrect 49 -2
156 5th GGP Joseph Benjamin Johnson (6th ggf) (sic) 1709-1795 Incorrect 3 -2
157 5th GGP Elizabeth Shepard 1709-1786 Incorrect 3 -2
158 5th GGP John (Boulware) Havis (Rev/war) (sic) 1728-1807 Incorrect 4 -2
159 5th GGP Susannah Gentile Boullier (Boulware) 1733-1817 Incorrect 3 -2
160 5th GGP Henry Boulton Jr. 1652-1720 Incorrect 22 -2
161 5th GGP Elizabeth Bryan 1658-1742 Incorrect, linked in two generations Duplicate not processing -2
162 5th GGP Norton Bryan 1634-1672 Incorrect 2 -2
163 5th GGP Elizabeth Middlemore 1640-1658 Incorrect 2 -2
164 5th GGP Guillam Demazure 1685-1706 Guillam Demazares before 1685-after 1705 2 2 Need Y-DNA
165 5th GGP Marie Demazure 1686-1705 Marie [LNU] before 1686-after 1705 2 1 Need mtDNA through all females
166 5th GGP John Robert Mann {Minnis} 1711-1772 Incorrect 3 -2
167 5th GGP Anne Vincent 1711-1747 Incorrect 3 -2
168 5th GGP Joseph David McCluskey 1693-1756 Incorrect 3 -2
169 5th GGP Barbara S Rohlflag 1695-1755 Incorrect 3 -2
170 5th GGP Willis Wilson, Jr. 1710-1794 Incorrect 4 -2
171 5th GGP Elizabeth Goodrich ?-1789 Incorrect 4 -2
172 5th GGP Reverend James Matthew Seay 1696-1757 Incorrect 7 -2
173 5th GGP Elizabeth (James M Seay) Wilson or Lewis 1696-1752 Incorrect 6 -2
174 5th GGP Ephriam Samuel McDowell 1673-1774 Murtough McDowell before 1700-1752 0 -2 Yes
175 5th GGP Margaret Elizabeth Irvine 1674-1728 Eleanor [LNU] before 1700-after 1730 1 -2 Need mtDNA through all females
176 5th GGP Michael Marion Woods 1684-1782 Incorrect 9 -2
177 5th GGP Mary Catherine Woods 1690-1742 Incorrect 9 -2
178 5th GGP Joseph Hall 1680-1750 Incorrect 0 -2
179 5th GGP Sarah Kimball Hall Haley 1686-1752 Incorrect 0 -2
180 5th GGP Edward Abbott 1702-759 Incorrect 0 -2
181 5th GGP Dorcas Mehitable Chandler 1704-1748 Incorrect 0 -2
182 5th GGP James Anderson Clarkston 1717-1816 Incorrect 17 -2
183 5th GGP Thomasina Elizabeth Middleton 1720-1796 Incorrect 17 -2
184 5th GGP Harlace Middleton Incorrect 5 -2
185 5th GGP Capt. Vallentine Felty Kuke Cook 1730-1797 Incorrect 25 -2
186 5th GGP Michael Wall 1728-1749 Incorrect 11 -2
187 5th GGP Rebecca Chapman 1725-1791 Incorrect 11 -2
188 5th GGP Samuel Scott Muncy 1712-1786 Samuel Muncy 1712-after 1798 50 -1 Yes
189 5th GGP Mary Daughtery Skidmore 1710-1797 Mary Skidmore c1710-1811 51 -1 Need mtDNA through all females
190 5th GGP Abraham Woertman Workman 1709-1749 Abraham Workman 1709-1813 26 1 Yes
191 5th GGP Hannah Annetje (Smith) Workman 1706-1747 Annetie Smith 1714-? 26 1 Need mtDNA through all females
192 5th GGP Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 Hugh McMahon 1699-1749 17 2 Need Y-DNA
193 5th GGP Agnas Norton 1699-1747 Agnas Norton after 1700-? 17 2 Need mtDNA through all females
194 5th GGP Thomas Bowling Speake V 1698-1765 Thomas Speak c1634-1681 11 -2 Yes
195 5th GGP Jane Barton/Brisco Smoote 1714-1760 Elizabeth Bowling 1641-before 1692 12 -2 No known daughters
196 5th GGP William Farris 1714-1776 William Faires/Farris before 1728-1776 11 1 Yes
197 5th GGP Deborah Johnson Faries 1734-1812 Deborah [LNU] 1734-1812 11 1 Need mtDNA through all females
198 5th GGP Thomas of Borden’s Grant McSpadden 1720-1765 Thomas McSpadden c1721-1785 19 1 Yes
199 5th GGP Mary Dorothy Edmondson (Edmundson, Edmiston, Edmisten) 1721-1786 Dorothy [possibly Edmiston] 1721-? 28 1 Yes
200 5th GGP Thomas Alexander McKee, Sr 1693-1769 Incorrect 7 -2
201 5th GGP Tecumseh Margaret Opessa Pekowi 1695-1780 Incorrect 6 -2
202 5th GGP Thomas F Nesbit 1707-1783 Incorrect 7 -2
203 5th GGP Jean McKee 1707-1790 Incorrect 7 -2
Total -163

Please note that I will provide a free Y-DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for any male descending through all men from the male ancestor where it’s noted that Y-DNA is needed. Y-DNA is typically the surname line in most western countries.

I will also provide a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship at FamilyTreeDNA for anyone who descends from the women where it’s noted that mitochondrial DNA is needed. Mitochondrial DNA passes through all females to the current generation, which can be male or female.

If this is you or a family member, please reach out to me.

The Scores

Of the 203 ancestors for which Ancestry provided a Potential Ancestor, they could have amassed a total of 406 points if each one provided an accurate name and accurate birth and death dates within a reasonable margin. If they were completely wrong on every one, they could have earned a negative score of -406.

Ancestry’s ThruLine accuracy score was -163, meaning they were wrong more than right. Zero was the break-even point where there was equally as much accurate information as inaccurate.

In fairness though, the older ancestors are more likely to be wrong than the more recent ones, and there are more older ancestors given that ancestors double in each generation. Once Ancestry provided a wrong ancestor, they continued down that wrong path on up the tree, so once the path was incorrect, it never recovered.

Regardless of why, Ancestry suggested incorrect information, and as we know, many people take that information to heart as gospel. In fact, many people even call these *TrueLines* instead of *ThruLines*.

Ok, how did Ancestry do?

Category Total Percent
+2 – Both Name and Date Accurate or Within Range 24 11.82%
+1 – Name and/or Date Partly Accurate 41 20.2%
0 – Uncertain 1 0.49%
-1 – Neither Name nor Date Accurate, but Enough Context to Figure Out With Research 22 10.84%
-2 – Inaccurate, the wrong person 115 56.65%

 Take Aways – Lessons Learned

This leads us to the lessons learned portion.

  • Never, ever, take ThruLines or Potential Ancestors at face value. They are hints and nothing more. Ancestry states that “ThruLines uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors.” (Bolding is mine.)
  • Verify everything.
  • Never simply copy something from another tree or accept a hint of any kind without a thorough evaluation. No, your ancestor probably did not zigzag back and forth across the country every other year in the 1800s. If you think they did, then you’ll need lots of information to prove that unusual circumstance. Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary proof.
  • Never add extraneous “things” to names like “DNA match” or name someone “Private,” unless, of course, that was actually their name. Extraneous “pieces” in names confuses Ancestry’s search routines too, so you’re hurting your own chances of finding relevant information about your ancestor, not to mention ThruLines for others.
  • Naming someone “Private” isn’t useful if they are attached to other non-private people as ancestors, siblings and descendants. Just sayin…
  • Once the first incorrect ancestor is suggested, ThruLines continues to go up the incorrect tree.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches for a particular ancestor may simply mean that lots of people are beyond the ThruLines match reporting thresholds. Unfortunately, Ancestry does NOT have a function where you can hunt for matches by ancestor.
  • In the the older or oldest generations, a small number of DNA matches may also mean it’s either the wrong ancestor, or they have few descendants, or few have tested.
  • The number of matches, in either direction, is not directly predictive of the accuracy of the suggested ancestor.
  • One of the best ways to validate ancestor accuracy is to match other descendants through multiple children of the ancestor, assuming that the children have been assigned to that ancestor properly. Recall George Middleton Clarkson where the three male children assigned to him do not have the same Y-DNA.
  • Another validation technique is to also match descendants of both parents of the ancestor(s) in question, through multiple children.
  • Remember that paper trail documentation is an extremely important aspect of genealogy.
  • Do not rely on trees without sources, or on trees with sources without verifying that every source is actually referencing this specific person.
  • Same name confusion is a very real issue.
  • For male ancestors, always check the Y-DNA projects at FamilyTreeDNA to verify that males attached as children have descendants with matching Y-DNA.
  • Always test males for their surname line. You never know when you’ll either prove or disprove a long-held belief, or discover that someplace, there has been a biological break in that line.
  • Y-DNA matches can provide extremely valuable information on earlier ancestral lines which may lead to breaking through your brick wall.
  • Mitochondrial DNA testing and matching of descendants is sometimes the only way of proving maternity or discovering matches to earlier ancestors.
  • Both Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, via haplogroups, can provide origins information for that one specific line, meaning you don’t have to try to figure out which ancestor contributed some percentage of ethnicity or population-based DNA.
  • Everyone can test their mitochondrial DNA, inherited from their direct matrilineal line, and men can test their Y-DNA, which is their surname line.
  • Remember that ThruLines can only be as good as the trees upon which it relies.
  • Review the source trees for each Potential Ancestor provided, evaluating each source carefully, including notes, images and web links. You just never know where that diamond is hiding.

How Can Ancestry Improve ThruLines, Potential Ancestors and Provide Customers with Better Tools?

To improve ThruLines and/or Potential Ancestors, Ancestry could:

  • My #1 request would be to implement a “search by ancestor” feature for DNA matches. This would be especially beneficial for situations where matches are beyond the 5GG threshold, or if someone is testing a hypothesis to see if they match descendants of a particular person.
  • Provide a “dismiss” function, or even a function where a customer could provide a reason why they don’t believe a connection or suggestion is accurate. This could travel with that link for other users as well so people can benefit from commentary from and collaboration with others.
  • Provide all DNA matches to people who share a specific ancestor, even if one person is beyond the 5 GG level. Currently, if both people are beyond that threshold, the match won’t show for either, so that’s no problem. The hybrid way it works today is both confusing and misleading and the hard cutoff obfuscates matches that have the potential to be extremely useful. Often this is further exacerbated by the 20 cM thresold limit on shared matches.
  • Add a feature similar to the now defunct NADs (New Ancestor Discoveries) where Ancestry shows you a group of your matches that descend from common ancestors, but those ancestors are NOT connected to anyone in your tree. However, DO NOT name the tool New Ancestor Discoveries because these people may not be, and often are not, your ancestors. If you’re related to a group of people who all have these people in THEIR tree as ancestors, that alone is a powerful hint. You might be descended from their ancestors, from the spouse of one of their children – something. But it’s information to work with when you have brick walls where Ancestry cannot connect someone as a potential ancestor directly to someone in your tree. Even locations of those brick-wall-breaker possible ancestors would be a clue. In fact, it’s not terribly different than the Potential Ancestors today, except today’s Potential Ancestors are entirely tree based (beyond ThruLines) and dependent upon connecting with someone in your tree. These new Brick-Wall-Breaker Potential Ancestors are (1.) NOT connected to your tree, and (2.) are all a result of DNA matches with people who have these ancestors in their tree.
  • If you already map your segment information at DNAPainter, the Brick-Wall-Breaker ancestral lineage connection would be immediately evident if Ancestry provided DNA segment location information. In other words, there are answers and significant hints that could be available to Ancestry’s customers.
  • Extend ThruLines for (at least) another two generations. Today ThruLines ends at the point that many people begin running into brick walls about the time the US census began. Using a 25-year generation, the current algorithm gives you 175 years (about 1825 starting with the year 2000), and a 30-year generation gives you 210 years (about 1790). Extending that two additional generations would give testers two more generations, several more Potential Ancestors, and 50-60 more years, approaching or reaching across the US colonial threshold.
  • Extending ThruLines and adding that Brick-Wall-Breaker functionality wouldn’t be nearly as important if customers could search by ancestor and download their match with direct ancestor information, similar to the other vendors, but since we can’t, we’re completely reliant on ThruLines and Potential Ancestors for automated connections by ancestor. Downloading your match list including a list of each person’s direct ancestors and matching segments would provide resources for many of these customer needs, without Ancestry having to do significant major development. If nothing else, it could be an interim stepping-stone.


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40 thoughts on “ThruLines Suggests Potential Ancestors – How Accurate Are They?

  1. I’m honestly of two minds when it comes to Thrulines and potential ancestors. It really depends in my case. For example, on my dad’s maternal side, a woman (who is a distant cousin) named Mary researched the town of Gesualdo, Italy to the point where her tree has over 50,000 people on it. But, here’s the thing. She doesn’t use sources on Ancestry for her tree. Her sources tend to come from the Italian database known as Antenati. She also has scanned birth, marriage and death documents on her tree. I am inclined to trust her research because she has those scans and if they pop up for a potential ancestor, I’ll likely add them. She’s been researching for over twenty years and like you she is a professional genealogist. A lot of people tend to use her documentation without really digging into it like she does. She will use the scans and link to Antenati. In turn, I’ve used Antenati as well on Wikitree.

    The other side of the coin is that sometimes people aren’t as well researched as Mary clearly is. Some people have correct ancestors. Some don’t. In fact, I’m a bit iffy on a couple potential ancestors I keep getting for 5th great-grandparents who came from Jacurso. Jacurso is a town very close to where my 4th great-grandparents are from and that is San Pietro a Maida. The couple have a son who shares the same name as my 4th great-grandfather, Giuseppe Suverato. Do I add them or look into it? I look into it as there is a Giuseppe Suverato born in San Pietro who has different parents. The proof, Roberta, is probably in the marriage of the daughter, Rosa Suverato. Grandparents would be listed. But, this IS likely. So, I dunno what to do in this case.

    Anyway, I like your ideas. =D Very well thought out! Just wondering what to do about this Giuseppe Suverato thing. The one born in San Pietro was born in 1810 and the other was born in 1814. They both could easily be Rosa’s father.

    • I have some German families with very similar situations. Sometimes I add them to “fish” but I hate to because people hock it up as fact even though I clearly put a “bait” profile up for them.

      • Hmm. Perhaps I should do the same thing. Thanks. =D I’ve talked to the guy who created the Jacurso tree and he suggested the same thing because it is still a possibility. The Thrulines can be iffy depending on research. Thankfully, most of mine have been great.

        I have noticed that a lot on the San Pietro side don’t have Thrulines but that’s more because some descendants haven’t tested or are in Italy. Confirmation on that side has come from DNA matches on Myheritage. =D

  2. Great post.
    I generally find that the further back things go, the more likely ThruLines will make inaccurate suggestions. But this is really about the amount of useful evidence upon which to base a suggestion of connection.
    The more generations away the harder that becomes. The smaller the match, ditto: beyond 20cM I take more care with verification, below 10 cM and many generations back tends to be very buggy in my matches.
    (I have had a totally accurate 6cM match, but that was only 3C.)
    People also accept a suggestion into their tree if the names look similar.
    “Mayor” and “archer” are quite different in English, but look similar in German.
    There will be other typical tree errors for your family lines.
    Verifying ThruLines becomes quicker with a list of those.

  3. What I would really like to see is when you say no to a potential parent it removes them from the Thrulines list too. It’s so frustrating to keep getting hints for the same incorrect parents. It also keeps yourself/others from getting hints for the correct parents. I have the correct parents for a person (based on actual sources), but Thrulines keeps throwing up the incorrect parents because that’s who “everyone” has in their trees (lots of copy and paste). Very few people are going to get the correct info as a result.

    I like your idea of providing a reason why a potential parent/Thruline person is incorrect. Maybe we’d get less copy an paste that way.

  4. I have most of my 3rd great grandparents in my tree attached to my DNA results. ThruLines suggest 47 4th great grandparents and 87 5th great grandparents. There are 100’s of trees on Ancestry suggesting Arthur William Barrett is my 5th great grandfather. I have not found one that had any documentation for his son (my suggested 4th great grandfather) nor his son (my known 3rd great grandfather). Thanks to My Barrett Surname Project at FTDNA I have several documented Barrett descendants of the above Arthur William Barrett and several documented Barrett descendants of my 3rd great grandfather. The men from these two groups and on different branches of the Y-DNA Haplotree. Enough proof for me to say my 3rd great grandfather does not descend from the above Arthur William Barrett.

    My rule of thumb – If the suggested tree doesn’t have verifiable documentation don’t accept it.

  5. Thank you. ThruLines has some uses, but, in the main, using others’ poorly (if at all) researched, copied, unverified trees is its downfall. So many more people need to know this fact.

    Worse still, is if someone’s erroneous tree has been used in the *prediction*, even correcting that error doesn’t see ThruLines amend the error in *prediction*. It’s stuck.

    There’s also some oddities in regards to ignoring one half of a couple, and delegating the descendants as “half-siblings”. I can’t get my head around how/why that happens. It’s certainly not because of misinformation in my own trees.

    This week ancestry has added a tweak (that should be beneficial when it’s working properly) in disallowing “this is not a new person”. Time after time I’m having to add a “new person” then having to merge them with the pre-existing person… even though all details are perfectly aligned!

    Still… there are more benefits, in the breadth of their source documents, to ancestry than pitfalls… but still… I tear my hair out regularly at the illogics of so many of their users!

  6. do you have some documentation about abraham estes and his wives? i would love to find a reference/references i can read. (i’m assuming that barbara brock is incorrect)

  7.; like someone I know, you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them. Like people, one just learns to enjoy the good and either ignore or cope with the bad. With ThruLines I’ve had some good and some bad; I use it as I would someone else’s tree, with a grain of salt. I’ve even redone some people’s lines completely to see how accurate they were. It paid off in one situation, but usually not. Like your Ranking Chart, which is excellent, thank you.

  8. My experience has led me to be increasingly skeptical of thruline assumptions. In fact, when they write EVALUATE, It is absolutely necessary to check the genealogical links with acts. Thank you very much for your analysis of Thrulines,

  9. Roberta, an excellent read, as always with your blogs.

    I do not use other people’s trees as a source, and anyone who does is obviously not serious about genealogy. I understand that Thrulines is based on other trees, so take that into account when evaluating Thrulines suggestions.

    Your analysis of Ancestry’s Thrulines is impressive, but it applies to the particular circumstances of your analysis.

    My own pedigree is largely British, with some Irish, and although I have not done such a comprehensive analysis of my Thrulines suggestions as you have done, my gut feeling is that 95% are correct. And of the 5% that are not correct, the great majority of them are on the right track. The very few Thrulines suggestions that are completely wrong always concern very distant ancestors.

    The ones that are “wrong but on the right track” mostly relate to my Irish-Palatine ancestors, where there are no surviving parish records from the time of their first settlement in Ireland in 1709, until 1742. Hence, unless there are other clues, it is difficult to be definitive about the first generation or two of Irish-Palatines. Many people have taken a best-guess approach, leading to different interpretations of the pedigrees. The difference is, they always end up with the same immigrant German ancestor, rather than going off in a completely wrong direction.

    I suspect that many American trees with early American ancestors take a similar approach, ie grabbing any likely candidate (preferably American, even when there may be no evidence that the particular ancestor was actually born in America). This is likely due to a lack of sources, combined with an eagerness to extend their American pedigree. I see this as being similar to the situation for Irish-Palatines 1709-1742, except that American assumptions are likely to be fatal to the rest of their pedigree.

    I manage DNA tests for over a dozen people who have British and Irish ancestry, and my experience is similar for all tests.

    My analysis suggests that my links are with people who must have better than average trees! 😉 Alternatively, and more likely, Ancestry gives priority to my extensive tree when making Thrulines suggestions, hence resulting in better quality suggestions.

    It would be interesting to repeat your analysis, using a much bigger tree as your basis. I suspect the outcomes would be much better.

    What your analysis shows very clearly is that anyone who is beginning their family tree, and who relies wholly on Thrulines to help build their tree, is heading for potential disaster. DNA supplements traditional research, and very rarely replaces it.

    • I intentionally only supplied the first three generations because I wanted to see how Ancestry did with the people who only know a couple of generations. Why don’t you create a tree with the same number of generations as I did, then connect your test to that tree? See how ThruLines did for you. I was surprised how many were in error since I know that accurate data exists for many – including in my own large tree.

  10. Thank you for this informative article. I’ve recently been looking at Thru-Lines more, due to more of my cousins doing DNA there and at 23&Me, for comparisons. It has helped me DNA connections, and also helped with tracking down wrong dates, especially when their records were lost in Battle, fires, floods. You are the best at picking topics!

  11. “Private” people.
    There are lots at the tips of trees. Often because there is no “deceased” status – even though the person is 200 years old, the Ancestry tree genie thinks they are still alive and makes that person “Private”.
    People who add to their tree online need to adjust that as they add.
    I upload revised trees and normally that’s fine, but one time my most distant ancestors had lost their “deceased” status in the upload and I had to fix things manually. So if you also upload, just check after uploading.

  12. Not long after ThruLines began in 2019 I stop using it when I realised the ThruLine suggestions were not progressing my research but mostly generating a lot of work disproving hints.
    As I was really only interested hints combined with shared DNA, since then the ‘Unviewed + Common Ancestor’ filters on the All Matches DNA tab have provided the best hints for researching and adding to my tree. For matches sharing 20-200cM 100% of the 42 Common Ancestors hints have been correct, and for the 120 Common Ancestor matches sharing 8-19cM, 86% proved correct. Ironically, I now kind of appreciate Ancestry’s ‘loose’ Thru Line parameters as it increases the chances of receiving a new Common Ancestor hint!
    So far I had to label only 17 with ‘NOT’ and that has been much less confusing and frustrating than trying to figure-out that 56.65% of ThruLines hints are wrong. So thanks Roberta for quantifying the accuracy of ThruLines.

  13. David Claxton (kit #30286) b Wilson Co, TN married Rosannah Moore is almost certainly a brother to James Claxton b. 1798, lived Bedford Co, TN, died Wright Co, MO. David was interviewed at the TN State Penitentiary about 1831 and said his parents and six brothers lived in Bedford Co. Someone must have traced back to David incorrectly.

  14. I was even suggested by ThruLines to add someone to my tree as an common ancestor with the wrong last name.

    The algorithm suggested someone was my Elizabeth Goad when the her last name was Good. It suggested her mother was my Dalton.

    In addition, the common ancestors and DNA matches I had with the person who had Good on her tree were all paternal matches to me (I had color coded even prior to ancestry dividing maternal and paternal matches).

    In contrast, Goad is on my maternal side. Thus, adding Good to my Goad branch would have made a mess there as well. Plus the suggestion was obviously nonsense by even a causal analysis.

    The person with the name Elizabeth Good was also married to someone completely different than my Elisabeth Goad and lived in a different location.

    All they shared was the same first name and birth year and one letter different in the last name, there was nothing else tying Good to Goad- nothing at all, and yet it suggested they shared the same parent!

    This has been happening a lot. I have paternal Snyders, but have some maternal DNA matches with other branches of unrelated Snyders on their trees who also do not seem to be related to me at all (I have checked extensively for crossover matches there), yet I am now getting these suggestions, on occasion, as well. Maybe because I had simply look into them at one time and had placed them on my tree as I was checking and then I unattached them when they did not pan out. Now the algorithm may get confused by the old placement perhaps.

    The problems with these tree Thruline suggestions is that although you can ignore them you can’t remove them. They need to have a way for people to be able to reject bad suggestions and do some pruning.

    You can choose to ignore unrelated records and duplicates, why not Thruline suggestions?

    I also have strong evidence that my Lehmon is also spelled Lymon and Lemon, but since people have simply added older ancestors without proof, it is hard to tell which of us has the wrong ancestors making it even harder to see who the common ancestor might have really been. Adding ancestor suspects without clear proof seems to lead us all astray since the algorithm on the website will then suggest record hits from these errors to others who go looking. Maybe we all need to do some pruning.

    That said, ancestry’s algorithm is awesome if you always look very carefully to see if the records it sends you and other suggestions make sense,

  15. The best place to put notes like DNA Match is in the section for Jr, Sr, etc. Then it does not seem to disrupt the search algorithm that certainly “seems” to completely ignore this aspect. The record and suggestions I get on ancestry do not seem to be at all influenced by anything in that separate space, like Jr, Sr, or IV, etc. Thus, I also put my star symbol * for people my direct line in that space as well as other notes and I have had no problem.

    • Everyone has the ability to add notes in the notes section. Plus you can also use the color group tags to indicate a DNA match.

  16. Thanks for a great read. I must admit to suggesting your dismiss function to Ancestry. It’s so annoying to continually have suggestions you know are wrong popping up with no way to correct them if you are up against a brick wall. Sue

  17. Thank you so much for your in-depth discussion of this issue. I am so frustrated with the inability to remove misinformation! Let me give you a quick example from my own tree:

    There were two Jesse Montgomerys who lived at approximately the same time. One Jesse (mine) is a brick wall. People just “grab a Jesse – any Jesse” like I grab the last loaf of bread before a storm. As a result, so many trees have confused the two that DNA results are so skewed as to be almost useless.

    JESSE #1 – my brick wall
    JESSE J. MONTGOMERY was born between 1806-7 in Tennessee or Alabama, according to every census in which he was listed. He married JULIA A. BISHOP March 1, 1834 in Lawrence County, Alabama.
    Daughter Frances (Rains) was born in 1836, John K. in 1838, and James Wylie in 1839. In August of 1839, JESSE J. bought land in Lawrence County, Alabama. The 1840 census shows the family living there. William Fannin was born in 1841, and Eliza Jane (Terrell) was born December 1841, both in Alabama.
    By 1844, Land records found in Caddo Parish, Louisiana and census records found in Harrison County, Texas show that JESSE’s land straddled the line between Texas and Louisiana. Mary Adeline (Brandenburg) was born in 1846 near Albany, in Caddo Parish on the Louisiana end of the property. Sarah Amelia (Anderson) was born in 1848 near Springville in Wood County, Texas, where the family farmed cotton near Black Jack Grove. My great grandmother, ALICE VERNON LEDBETTER) was born back on the Harrison County-Caddo Parish land on December 19, 1850, but by 1852, the family was living on their land near Springville, in Wood, Texas. In 1866, the little town of Point, Texas was established, and the northwest corner of Wood County became Rains County, where Point is today. JESSE was listed as a farmer, where he joined a militia, serving as a Captain in the “Rough and Readies.” After the war, JESSE and JULIA were living in Precinct 5, Dallas but by 1880 Jthey were living in Montague County near a daughter. JESSE died in 1887 at the age of 79. JULIA lived until June 15, 1896 (aged 89). Both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Section 2, in Jacksboro, Texas.

    Jesse #2 “The Imposter”
    Jesse H. Montgomery was also born between 1807-8. Extremely rare, but not impossible. He married Nancy Harrison. In 1840, Jesse and Nancy were living in Pulaski County, Missouri their ages are listed in the 20-29 bracket indicating birth years between 1811 and 1820. In 1850, Jesse and Nancy were living in Dist 102, Wright County, Missouri, where they homesteaded 40 acres in 1858 along Beaver Creek. Nancy Harrison’s parents lived a short distance from the Montgomery Homestead in Van Buren Township. In 1860, Nancy’s brother, James Harrison, homesteaded land in Montgomery Township north of what later became Manes, Missouri. Jesse Montgomery’s older brothers, Robert and Jefferson also homesteaded land in Montgomery Township of Wright County. Jesse’s older sister, Nancy, and her husband, Wilson Hillhouse, homesteaded land near Beaver Creek and the Gasconade River in 1841 and 1845.
    In 1860, Jesse and Nancy were living in Wright County, surrounded by their children. In 1861 Jesse H. Montgomery died at home from pneumonia. Jesse and Nancy’s son, John Wesley Montgomery, homesteaded land on Beaver Creek. Daughter, Susan and husband, homesteaded land in Montgomery Township. Another daughter, Melinda Montgomery with husband, Samuel Shropshire, homesteaded land next to Susan and Peter’s land in 1892.
    In 1870, and 1880, Nancy is still living in Wright County, where she died in 1880. Nancy Harrison and Jesse H. Montgomery with their grandson, Robert H. Brill, are buried in a family cemetery near their homestead.

    Their graves are marked and there are photos on Ancestry! In spite of this, Ancestry continues to point me to the wrong tree. My favorite is a tree that says he died in Missouri in 1861 and was buried in Texas in 1887, beside a lady who was not his wife.

    I READ all your blogs and I DO check sources, but many many people don’t, and Ancestry compounds the problem by encouraging beginners to “find your family using Thrulines.” All my folks came through the south, and records are scarce at times in our history, so I have used autosomal DNA and did finally find a direct Y descendant who could test for me. I am very much hoping that FTDNA or GEDMatch will help, but it will be in spite of, not because of Ancestry.

    Thank you for listening to my woes. I read every blog, and I have learned so much from you!

  18. If I match a child with higher cM than I match their parent, is it a safe assumption that I’m related to both parents?

  19. ThruLines drives me crazy. There are many compilers perpetuating information in their trees which I have proved to be incorrect using primary record research and there is no way in ThruLines to comment on these fictional connections. It would be nice if Ancestry would make it easy to add comments and send group messages to owners of these trees via Thrulines.

  20. Ancestry thru lines- will not start up with 2 generations. You have to put in 4 generation for it to start up- Maybe back in day used 2 generation but not in 2023 – you need 4 generation to start up thuline ladypatricia

  21. I am noticing there is a change with sending a message to a dna match. I click on the button for message. it gives me a new message with no history. I can no longer see the conversation or messages thread. For me this makes it difficult to know what we were discussing in the past. Are you also seeing this change ?

    • I haven’t checked. I guess this is probably a good reason to keep a spreadsheet. You just never know when something is going to change.

      • The trouble with allowing us to mark a Thrulines suggestion as false, is that YOU might be wrong! None of us has perfect knowledge. You might think a Thrulines suggestion is wrong, but you may not have enough knowledge of the wider picture to make that decision correctly.

        I would rather leave it to Ancestry’s robots. It is up to us to make our own decisions. Simply make a note on your own match that you disagree with the Common Ancestor Hint, and maybe tag it with its own “wrong hint” colour code. Then move on.

        • How about an opportunity to leave a reason? “This is wrong because this Noah Garrett appears in the 1860 census of Alabama with his wife, married in Lauderdale County in 1855. He cannot be the Noah Garrett who lives with his parents in Loundes County in 1860.”

  22. Roberta,
    Thanks for another very helpful article. As usual, you put a lot of thought and effort into it.

    With ThruLines and Potential Ancestors, Ancestry has demonstrated they can provide helpful advanced genealogical tools to their customers. It’s time they now provide a tool that highlights potential errors in the family trees they host. Perhaps with flags on our trees indicating potential problems we could start the long, slow process of cleaning up the on-line trees.

    • A flag would be wonderful. Anything! Even a * mark could be a standard that we are awaiting to verify info. I tried using a “?” mark but that doesn’t work. Maybe someone can bring it to the attention of everyone during Roots – Tech???

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