New at Ancestry DNA: Shared Matches

AncestryDNA: The new Shared Matches tool is blowing my genetic genealogy mysteries wide open!

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I have been up since 5:30 with plenty of goals and ambitions. But I got distracted by a new tool at Ancestry DNA that is blowing my genealogy mysteries wide open. 

The new tool is called the Shared Matches tool—and it will help you solve more genetic genealogy mysteries than just about any other tool. It does this by helping you identify DNA matches who are related to you AND to another match you already know.

How AncestryDNA Shared Matches work

Let’s take a look at how this might work for you. 


Let’s say you have a second cousin, Denise, that you have already identified in the Ancestry database and you know your common ancestral couple is Joseph and Louise Mitchell.  You want to gather others who share DNA with both you and Denise. Those individuals then have a high likelihood of being related to Joseph and Louise in some way. 

So we click on the “Shared Matches” button on Denise’s page and find that Mike, Spencer, and Wendy all have DNA in common with you and Denise. After reviewing pedigree charts, you are able to determine that Mike is related through Louise’s sister and Wendy is related through Joseph’s brother. (Note that Wendy’s actual relationship to you is not 4th cousin, as it is shown, but she is actually your 3rd cousin once removed. Remember that the relationship given is not always the exact relationship of two people who have been tested. This article has an example on how to see your relationship possibilities at AncestryDNA.) 

But what about Spencer? Spencer, unfortunately has not yet linked his family tree to his Ancestry account or answered any of your queries about his family tree. I am sure he has just been busy. Or he doesn’t know his family tree. Or his computer was captured by aliens or smashed by his two-year-old grandson just as he was about to click “send” and reveal how the two of you were connected. Whatever the case may be, up until this point you haven’t heard a peep from Spencer and therefore had absolutely no way to figure out how Spencer was related to you.

But now you know that he is somehow associated with the Joseph and Louise Mitchell family because he came up as In Common With (ICW) you and Denise. 


Apply Shared Matches to a DNA match without a tree


We can take this one step further and ask Ancestry to show us who has DNA ICW you and Spencer.  You can see here that while Mike still remains, Wendy has dropped off the list.  Now there are two possible explanations for this: The first is that Spencer is related through Louise’s parents, John and Sarah, and that is why he is not sharing DNA with Wendy. 


The other, less likely, possibility is that Spencer is related through Joseph’s parents Louis and Mary, but doesn’t share enough DNA with Wendy to be detected on this test.  

While this information is helpful, it still hasn’t completely solved the case. Look first to see whether Spencer has an Ancestry tree that’s not linked to his DNA results.

If an unlinked tree doesn’t answer your questions, start sending more pointed questions to your matches. Here is an example message you might send to Spencer: 

“Dear Spencer,  

I was just playing around with the new Shared Matches tool at Ancestry and I see that you are related to a few of my other matches that connect through Joseph and Louise Mitchell. Louise’s parents, John and Sarah Marsh, were both born in Mississippi in the 1840’s and Joseph’s parents Joseph and Mary Mitchell, were born in Tennessee in 1856 and 1863 respectively. 

Do any of these names or places sound familiar to you? 

I am looking forward to working with you on this connection. 

Your DNA Cousin,  


Assuming this garners a response, you can then work together to find your connection. I suggest you read this article about reaching out to your DNA matches.

By the way, if you never hear from Spencer, the key to figuring out how he is related to you may be in the new match, Beth, who is ICW you and Spencer. If you can figure out how Beth is related to you, you will know Spencer is related in a similar way.


Let your AncestryDNA discoveries begin! Purchasing my Understanding AncestryDNA Quick Reference Guide is an inexpensive and effective way to get the most out of your testing experience there. You’ll learn what the various tools and options can tell you—and perhaps who that mystery DNA match may be!

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