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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Your DNA match list will not change based on who or what tree you have your DNA linked to.
- 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!