Understanding Shared Ancestor Hints + Video

Shared Ancestor Hints

Understanding Shared Ancestors & Shared Ancestor Hints

In order for you to really take advantage of genealogical DNA testing – especially at Ancestry, you need to understand what shared ancestors and shared ancestor hints are, how they can help in your family search, and a few key things to remember when working on Ancestry.com

First of all, Shared ancestors are ancestors that are in your family tree and in someone else’s family tree.  Sometimes, you’ll see the acronym, MRCA, which stands for Most Recent Common Ancestor when talking about family trees and DNA.  The reason finding shared ancestors among your DNA matches is important is because 1. they confirm your paper family tree and 2. they can help you build out your unknown branches.

Shared Ancestor HintsShared Ancestor Hints

Ancestry DNA has an amazing setup so that when you test with them, you’ll get a list of DNA relatives or matches.  These are your biological relatives that will not change (unless more people match or Ancestry changes their algorithm).  These are your close family, 1st and 2nd cousins, aunts and uncles, distant relatives.

Next, when you test with Ancestry,  you also have the option to link your DNA to a family tree.  Based on the people, dates, and locations listed in that family tree, Ancestry will find similarities between your tree and your DNA matches trees.  When they do find a similar person between trees, you’ll get a “shared ancestor hint”.

These shared ancestor hints will point you in the right direction when trying to find family.  If you don’t know your biological family tree, use one of your closest cousin’s trees.  You will recreate their tree, make it private and unsearchable, and then link your DNA to that cousin in your private “mirror tree” or copy of their tree.  By doing this, shared ancestor hints SHOULD pop up.  Look for a pattern.  If all the of the shared ancestor hints are on your cousin’s paternal grandfather’s side of the family, congrats! You are on your way to finding your family tree.  Their paternal grandfather’s family is probably ancestors of yours too.

Please reference Finding Shared Ancestors; A Walk Through or watch a video tutorial explaining mirror trees.  Video tutorial for beginners  |  For Regular Ancestry Users

Once you link your DNA to a mirror tree, you might get some new shared ancestor hints.   The shared ancestor hints you had previously will disappear.  Don’t worry! As soon as you link your past tree, they will pop back up.

Things to Remember:

  1. You WILL have a shared ancestor hint with the match you mirrored.  It may be confusing because Ancestry will tell you they are your brother or sister but just disregard that shared ancestor hint.  To Ancestry’s system, the trees you linked to your DNA look exactly the same so Ancestry WILL think you are siblings or close relatives.
  2. Your DNA match list will not change based on who or what tree you have your DNA linked to.
  3. You will not “lose” shared ancestor hints.  They will reappear when you re-link your DNA to that previous person.

Please visit my HOW TO page for more on mirror trees and such. 🙂  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Video on the topic…

Page with Comments

  1. Thank you for your Mirror tree info! I’ve been using it and have came a long way but now have hit a brick wall. Maybe I am not fully understanding how the mirror tree works. Anyways, I’m trying to find the name of my BF, I feel certain that I’ve found my paternal grandparents. I attached my DNA profile to one of their children and I have a shared ancestor hint to both of them, but not to any of the potential ‘grandmothers’ ancestors. The other thing I find strange, is that a 5-8 cousin (16 cM’s match) ‘Lori’ also matches to them as a granddaughter. Wouldn’t we be closer cousins if they were also my grandparents? Am I missing something? Any guidance will be so appreciated!

    1. I would rethink this. Red Flag #1. You don’t have matches to all the lines. Red Flag #2. A distant cousin is their granddaughter.
      If they were truly your grandparents, this 16cM match SHOULD pop up in the 1st cousin range. Even if you only shared 1 grandparent, the connection would be closer than 5th-8th cousins. Although, DNA doesn’t follow a set of rules like we would hope but I wouldn’t pursue this lead until you have better matches to back up your thoughts.

  2. I am confused. I have made a mirror tree for a friend. The closest match she has is a third cousin. I have attached her DNA to her third cousin in the mirror tree. She only has three shared matches. They are the third cousin, his son and a distant relative. When I look at the third cousin shared match it gives his name and under that it says SELF. Is that her DNA matching him and I should just disregard that it says SELF under his name? Hope that makes sense. I’ve only made one successful mirror tree but it was easy cause I had a second cousin match with a large family tree. I found the biological family in that one. I have watched your video and read the information above but still confused. Thank you.

    1. You always ignore the shared ancestor hint on the cousin you are mirroring. Since you have your friends DNA linked to the third cousin in the mirror tree, the shared ancestor hint will say self or brother / sister depending on how you have it set up.

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