If you just got your Ancestry DNA results back, you might be wondering what you should do now. In this post, I’ll talk about some of the easiest and most common things you can do next. Everyone does a DNA test for different reasons, so whether you are looking for new family members, or just want help with your genealogy, this post will help you.
If you want help understanding your DNA results, you might be interested in reading my post about how to read your Ancestry DNA results.
Below are the steps you should complete in order to get the most from your results, find new family, and build a great family tree. In this article, I have links to many other articles that I have written. To get a very through understanding, I recommend reading the related articles if you have the time!
Explore your ethnicity results- but don’t stress about them
One of the most popular reasons to do the Ancestry DNA test is to see your ethnicity results. People can be very surprised, disappointed, and shocked about what their ethnicity estimates can show, especially if they are very different than what they expected to find.
It’s common to have ancestors from a particular geographic region, yet show DNA from a region that is close by. For example, you could have many ancestors from Germany, which typically falls into the “Western Europe” category, yet show a good amount of Eastern European DNA. This is very normal and doesn’t necessarily mean that you have discovered a family secret, or that your ancestors weren’t really from Germany.
I would stress that ethnicity estimates should not be used as a primary reason to doubt any line of your family tree. They are most useful as guides to where we should consider searching for records, and of course, can help us figure out where some of our more distant ancestors might have come from.
If you want to read more about the accuracy of ethnicity estimates, you might be interested in my post, “Ethnicity Estimates Accuracy: The Truth”.
Start your family tree
Luckily, Ancestry has a really easy interface for building a family tree. It’s pretty quick and easy to just get a basic tree set up, and their system will automatically provide you with “hints” about documents and other family trees that contain your ancestors – really great resources for building your tree further back.
While it’s not required to have a subscription to build a tree (you can make a free one as large as you want!), it is much easier, at least starting off, to have a subscription. I recommend taking advantage of the two-week free trial that they offer in order to get your tree started, and then keeping a subscription if you find it helpful. For my readers, you can click on this link to get the free trial (I do get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you end up sticking with it): Start Your Free Family Tree! 14 Day Free Trial Thanks for your support, it helps me keep this site going.
If you need help walking through the steps to build your family tree, I have a post about how to build your tree that might help you.
You should build a tree, even if you are the only one in it. You will want a place to put all of the information that you will definitely learn using your DNA results.
If you already know who your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (or even further back) are, make sure to put as much information about them as you can in your tree. All of the stuff you put in your tree will help you get the most from your DNA test. Build your tree as far and wide as you can right now.
Attach your DNA results to your tree
Once you’ve built your tree, even if it is just a tiny one with a few branches, you should attach your DNA results to your tree and tell Ancestry who you are in your tree.
This might sound like a weird thing to do, but it’s actually one of the coolest reasons to test with Ancestry. They have a great system for building family trees, millions of family trees already built on the site, tons of great records and documents, and the largest DNA test database in the country, and you can take advantage of all of that information to help you reach your goals.
You can find the option to choose a family tree in your DNA test settings. I have instructions on how to do it here.
Check your DNA results for Shared Ancestor Hints
Once you build a tree, attach it to your DNA, and wait a few days, you could possibly see Shared Ancestor Hints (SAHs for short) pop up on your DNA results. Check the image below to see where you should look to see if you have any.
SAHs are simply a way of Ancestry DNA letting you know that one of your DNA matches has the same ancestor in their tree. Your DNA match is definitely related to you, and a SAH is a great way of potentially finding out how you are related.
If you see a SAH on your results, you can check it out in order to see if you can learn something from the DNA match who has that person in their tree. Maybe they have researched the tree further back than you have, and you can use some of that information to build your tree, too. You could also consider contacting them!
If you want to learn more about Shared Ancestor Hints, you might be interested in this post where I go into more detail about how they work.
Check out your DNA Matches
Once you’ve built your tree, attached your DNA to it, you should consider exploring your DNA matches. Just click on the “VIEW ALL DNA MATCHES” button from your main DNA results page. A list will come up that is populated with all of the people who have tested with Ancestry DNA and match your DNA. These people are all your relatives, some distant and some closer.
The DNA matches will be organized into groups based on how close they are to you. The closest matches will be a parent/child, and it goes all the way down to distant cousin, which Ancestry DNA defines as a 5th-8th cousin. It’s important to note that for relationships other than parent/child, there is no way for Ancestry DNA to know exactly how you are related. Your DNA doesn’t have a family tree imprinted in it, sadly. The way that Ancestry estimates your relationship with your matches is based on the amount of DNA that you share, and fortunately, there are ranges for each relationship type.
Ancestry uses the amount of centimorgans (a way to measure DNA segment lengths) to determine your relationship. This information is available to you, but it’s kind of hidden. You can see how many centimorgans you share with a match by clicking on the match profile, and clicking the little “i” near their relationship estimate. To see detailed instructions on how to find this information, click here.
In order to really, truly know how you are related to a match, you will have to combine your DNA test knowledge with your family tree and their family tree, documents, and basic common sense. I will also say that DNA does not lie! So if you have a close match and you can’t figure out the relationship, it’s likely that you have stumbled upon a family mystery.
To learn a little more about your DNA match list, you can read my post about the anatomy of your DNA match list on Ancestry. I also have a list in that post of the amount of DNA shared between specific relationship types.
Things to look for in your DNA matches
If you are looking for a relatively close ancestor, like a parent, grandparent, or a great-grandparent, you might be able to easily spot some patterns in your DNA matches that can help you figure out your mystery relatively easily. A close friend of mine was trying to help her husband find his biological grandfather, and we were able to figure it out within an hour or so of getting his DNA results back.
In order to learn from your DNA matches, you will need a subscription to view their family trees. I put this link above, but here it is again so you don’t have to search for it. You can Ancestry through the link at the end of this paragraph to get a two-week free trial, a great way to view the trees of your DNA matches to see if there is anything you can learn. It’s a sponsored link where I do get a small commission, which doesn’t cost you extra, if you end up getting a paid subscription: Start Your Free Family Tree! 14 Day Free Trial
Common surnames and/or ancestors
The relatives that you are most interested in for looking for patterns are your 3rd cousin matches and closer. You are going to want to find common ancestors shared among your matches. I recommend using a notebook to write down any people who you find in more than one tree. It’s possible that the people who you write down are your ancestors, too. Keep in mind that it’s also common for multiple family members (like siblings) to all do a DNA test, so if you see a situation like this where it looks like multiple siblings do a test, try to figure out which names they all have in common with someone else (not each other).
Common geographic areas
If you don’t see any common surnames or ancestors, you might check to see if your matches have ancestors located in a geographic area that is of interest to you in your research (like where you were born, for example) or locations that they have in common with each other.
For example, my friend who helped her husband noticed that some lines of her husband’s DNA matches had ancestors born in Michigan, which is where her husband was told his grandfather was from. Little clues like this can go a long way.
Do a little research yourself on their trees
If you find a common surname in a common geographic location among your closer DNA matches (3rd cousins or closer), you might consider using your newly forming detective skills to try to research their surnames back a generation or two to see if you can find the common ancestor yourself. I have done this on numerous occasions, and it actually ends up saving me time. No more going back and forth with a match trying to figure out how you are related!
Notebooks are also good for this project, since you’ll be writing down names, dates, and matches and it’s easy to get mixed up and turned around with all of those names.
What to do if you find the close DNA match you have been searching for
If you find a very close match, no matter if you are looking for close matches or not, and they have a public family tree, I would recommend that you take some screenshots for your own information. I have heard of instances where an adoptee, or a person searching for a biological parent, has reached out to a close DNA match, and found that the family tree has suddenly been taken down, or made private. Sometimes, people even delete their DNA results if they think that they have unknowingly exposed a secret that someone has been trying to keep, especially if they are closely related to the secret-keeper. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s good to make sure that you don’t lose access to information that is valuable to you.
If you are interested, you could make contact with your DNA match. You need to have a subscription to use the Ancestry messaging system – a recent change, but it’s still worth it, really, since the possibility of a brand-new close family relationship is priceless.
Consider uploading your DNA to other sites
If you are really dedicated to either finding more family, or genealogical research, and you want to make sure to get the most from the investment that you’ve already made, you should consider uploading your DNA to the following websites completely for free to get more matches and more information about your DNA:
I listed the sites in the order which my experience has shown is best. Family Tree DNA has a very large database (yet smaller than Ancestry DNA), and you could have very good luck finding close matches on the site. Gedmatch and Gedmatch Genesis can help you find new matches, since they accept uploads from several different testing companies. My Heritage DNA has a small, yet growing, database, so it’s something to look into.
If you do all of the things in this post, you should feel pretty confident researching your tree and using the Ancestry site. I hope that you discover all of the things that you are wanting to learn, and if you need any help, please feel free to leave a question in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by!