Tracing Ancestry DNA Matches by Ancestor: Utilizing ThruLines for Genealogical Insights

Did you know that with Ancestry DNA matches, you can view them by the ancestor they share? This feature, known as ThruLines, makes this possible; learn how to utilize it here.

As you may already be aware, your DNA match list is one of the most insightful aspects of Ancestry DNA results. By discovering how closely related you are with as many DNA matches as possible, it allows you to solve family mysteries, build your family tree, connect with new family members and even identify unknown ancestors.

But it can often be challenging to identify exactly where our DNA matches fit within what we know of our family tree. Perhaps only knowing some ancestors two, three and more generations back can make it challenging to trace which of their descendants share an ancestor with second, third and more distant cousins.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an intuitive tool that automatically identified our relationships to our DNA matches? Ancestry offers such a feature.

What Does DNA Matches By Ancestor Mean on Ancestry? On Ancestry, DNA matches sorted “By Ancestor” show all your relatives who share one common ancestor together in diagram format; alternatively you may view them in list form.

This is another way of accessing Ancestry ThruLines, or DNA matches organized according to ancestral lines that you may or may not already have listed in your family tree.

To view your DNA matches grouped by their shared ancestor, first select an ancestor that you are curious about and then visually display all those who descend from him/her on a diagram.

If your DNA matches are descended from other children of your shared ancestor (i.e. collateral lines), you will see their names listed, with an optional drop-down arrow to display their descendancy and an estimated relationship estimate; if multiple matches estimate to share one lineage, clickable arrows can expand this list further.

Discover DNA matches descended from your ancestors and extended relatives who might not yet be included in your family tree.

Where Can I Locate Ancestry DNA Matches Arranged By Ancestor
You can quickly and easily identify DNA matches grouped by ancestor on your main match list. Simply navigate directly to any groupings descended from each of your ancestors by selecting “By Ancestor” beside “By Parent”.

The red arrow points to your Ancestry ThruLines “By Ancestor” tab.

This image represents my ThruLines of DNA matches organized by grandparent.
As an example, I scrolled down my grandparent’s ThruLines to the 5th great-grandparent section and discovered some unfamiliar names such as Comfort Round, Silent Brown, John Butler and Mary Brown that I hadn’t previously explored – there might even be 17 DNA matches from Silent Brown!

As previously discussed in this article, Ancestry allows you to view ThruLines or DNA matches organized by ancestor for individuals not currently included in your family tree. They’re able to calculate what are called potential ancestors – individuals that could potentially become your relatives through someone already included in your tree.

Potential Ancestors (ThruLines) can be identified using dotted lines around their names on your list of Ancestors or ThruLines, while existing Ancestors are indicated with solid lines around their names.

Silent Brown does not belong to my family tree, which is why she has an interlocked dot around her name in my diagram. Furthermore, none of her children reside within my tree either and thus feature with dotted rectangles next to their names in my diagram.

By looking at this diagram, it is clear to me that I have DNA matches who may have come from five of her offspring.

As with all information we gather from DNA matches and/or ThruLines, it’s wise to independently evaluate them. While they might not always be 100% accurate, taking the time to explore these ThruLines can often pay dividends.

Ideal, I would dedicate some time and effort to verify this potential ancestor’s link with my known ancestor, adding them along with any children they might have and their descendants (known as building a wide family tree) into my family tree. Doing this will aid further DNA match research efforts.

What happens if there are no DNA matches or an error page when viewing your By Ancestor Match List?
If your By Ancestor tab page displays no DNA matches or displays an error message asking you to try back later, don’t be alarmed; chances are this means there is either no family tree attached to your Ancestry DNA results, or they are inaccessible and private.

However, this problem can be easily rectified. Simply knowing who your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are should be enough for you to start building your family tree on Ancestry in order to obtain ThruLines.

If you already have a tree, make sure it is searchable and linked correctly with your results. Otherwise, the software won’t search it to find any connections with DNA matches.

Why Are Some Ancestry Matches Missing From My Ancestor or ThruLines List? Due to various reasons, some of your Ancestry matches may not appear under By Ancestor or ThruLines lists. This could be for any number of reasons.

The most likely explanation is that many individuals do not link their DNA results with an ancestral tree, or have none at all. Without family tree information for Ancestry to use in making the calculation of ThruLines, their calculation becomes invalidated.

One of the more frequent reasons that some matches don’t appear on ThruLines is having very small family trees (i.e. only parents listed), or non-searchable private ones linked with results. To assign DNA matches to an Ancestor Grouping category successfully, software needs to estimate who may be their common ancestor.

Sometimes DNA matches do not show up as expected in ThruLines or groups by specific ancestor if someone’s family tree contains non-biological ancestors for various reasons; such could include biological relatives listed as non-biological relatives in your pedigree tree.

Other Ways to Group DNA Matches on Ancestry There are other methods available to you on Ancestry for organizing DNA matches on your list. Grouping your matches together allows you to approach research into how closely related they may be to you.

Ancestry will automatically arrange DNA matches by parent.

Alternately, you could manually assign your DNA matches into color-coded groups using Ancestry’s filtering and sorting features. My post on filtering and sorting your DNA match list provides basic instructions about creating custom groups.

Hopefully this post has provided you with all of the knowledge necessary to use Ancestry DNA’s By Ancestor feature (i.e. ThruLines). This feature provides an extremely effective way of exploring where matches fit into your family tree as well as visualizing what that information means for future research efforts.

If you have any inquiries or would like to discuss something specifically about By Ancestor Groups, I welcome hearing from you in the discussion thread below.

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