20
Mar

What Does It Mean if I Don’t Have Any Shared Ancestor Hints?

I always recommend to my readers that they do a DNA test with Ancestry and build their tree there, too.  There is no better place to combine access to documents and records, public family trees, and more than six million (as of February 2018) DNA test takers.  One of the coolest features of Ancestry DNA is Shared Ancestor Hints.  We all want them, and it’s exciting when we see a new hint pop up.  But what does it mean if you don’t have any Shared Ancestor Hints show up on your account?

There are three main reasons that you don’t have any Shared Ancestor Hints, or as many Shared Ancestor Hints as you think you should, or would like to have.  In this post, I will explain these reasons to you, and give you some tips on what to do to get more hints, or get your first hints, and address a few other situations.

Before we get started, you should make sure that your DNA is attached to your family tree, and that you have chosen yourself in the tree – not having your tree attached to your DNA is the most common reason to have no Shared Ancestor Hints.

What does it mean if you don’t have any Shared Ancestor Hints?

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Explanation #1: Your tree is not complete enough

You can only get Shared Ancestor Hints if you have a tree that has people in it that match the same people in other trees belonging to your DNA matches.  I know that that explanation might sound a little confusing.  Shared Ancestor Hints depend on comparing your tree with the family trees of your DNA matches.  If you have only added a few generations to your tree, then your tree isn’t big enough to have enough people in it to be able to find a match among the ancestors of your DNA matches.  This is especially important when you only have a handful of cousins who match you at closer than a 4th cousin level.  4th cousins share 3rd great-grandparents with you, so if your tree doesn’t go back that far, you won’t get many hints.

Solution

The solution to this problem is to go ahead and start building your family tree back a few more generations.  I would aim to have all of your 4th great-grandparents added to your tree, ideally so that some of your 4th cousin matches start showing up under your Shared Ancestor Hints and you can make sure your research is correct, and maybe even learn a little bit from their family trees about the lines of your family where you match them.

Explanation #2:  Your tree does not include enough details about your ancestors

Ancestry DNA compares your tree with the trees of your DNA matches to get Shared Ancestor Hints, and in order to really know that the ancestor in your tree is the same ancestor in your match’s tree, Ancestry needs to compare details about the people in the tree.  Yes, maybe they had the same name, but were they born in the same state and/or country, on about the same date?  Did you include some of their other children, if you know that information?

Solution

Try to go back through your tree and add as much vital information about your ancestors as you can.  You can use the “tree hints”, which are different from the Shared Ancestor Hints, to see if you can find more specific details about the ancestors in your tree.

Explanation #3: You don’t have enough DNA matches with family trees

This is a really common problem on Ancestry DNA.  Many people do the Ancestry DNA test only to get their ethnicity results.  Sometimes, they don’t even know that they have access to a DNA match list, or that they can use their results to build a family tree and learn more about their family history than their ethnicity estimate can tell them.  The result of this is page after page of DNA matches with no family tree attached.

Solution

If there are a few matches that you especially interested in learning more about, why not contact them and see if you can use your super-genealogy skills to help them build their tree? Or maybe they already have a tree, but it’s not on Ancestry, or maybe it’s on Ancestry, but it just isn’t connected to their DNA results.   Or maybe their tree is on Ancestry, and it’s connected to their results, but it just isn’t complete enough and they are stumped.  A kind and helpful e-mail might be all it takes to start moving in the right direction to get more Shared Ancestor Hints.

Explanation #4:  Your family tree contains an incorrect person

No one likes to hear this, but it’s definitely something you should think about.  If you have a really well-researched tree that you are sure about, and your have attached your tree to your DNA, and you have lots of DNA matches, ranging from 1st-4th cousin, and there are many large trees among those matches, and you have waited and waited for days, weeks, or months, and you have no Shared Ancestor Hints, it might be time to consider that there is a close ancestor in your tree that is not your actual ancestor.

More commonly, there would be a line of your tree that is not getting Shared Ancestor Hints.  For example, you might have tons of hints on your mom’s side of the tree, and maybe some hints on your paternal grandmother’s side of the family, but no hints on your paternal grandfather’s ancestors.  Depending on how far back the hints go, or don’t go, on your paternal grandfather’s line, it could imply that there was a non-paternity event somewhere in that line – meaning that someone in your paternal grandfather’s line is not really your biological ancestor.  Please don’t jump to conclusions, however, and assume that there was an affair.  Adoptions were more common previously than we sometimes think.  If you decide to pursue this line of thought, there is a lot of research to do before you can be sure (assuming that you have access to enough data to be sure).

Additionally, there is always the chance that you made an error in a particular line when you built your tree.  Maybe your aren’t getting Shared Ancestor Hints on your great-great grandfather’s colonial line, and perhaps it is because you mistakenly added someone with a similar name that sent you off in the wrong research direction.  This kind of thing can happen all of the time, even to a careful and seasoned researcher.

There are many other reasons to not get Shared Ancestor Hints on a certain line, too.  For example, if your paternal grandfather was born in another country where DNA testing is not as common, you will have less DNA matches on that line, and of course, fewer DNA matches with trees.

Solution

It’s never fun to have to go back and check my work, but sometimes I just have to do it.  In fact, I’m facing a situation like this right now.  I have a mystery DNA match on my paternal grandmother’s side of the family.  I’m still trying to decide if my tree or the DNA match’s tree is wrong, but I am 100% sure that there was some “funny business” back in the early 1900’s in our family lines.  In order to see which direction I should be leaning towards, these are some of the steps I have been taking:

  • Talking to older family members (carefully, since I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or insinuate wrong-doing) to see if there is anything that I should know
  • Double-checking my research, and independently verifying information that I have received from someone else, or from sources online
  • Checking Shared Matches that my grandmother shares in common with this mystery match.  While it is not a foolproof method, I can get a better idea as to the quality of my tree by checking through the family trees of our Shared Matches and looking for familiar family lines
  • Sometimes, I try to assume that my tree is wrong, and look at the family trees of my grandmother’s DNA matches as if I didn’t know anything about her family.  Starting from “scratch” can sometimes be a good strategy.  When I do this, I am looking for patterns that show up again and again (like a particular surname in a location) that could give me some clues as to what to do next.

Explanation #5: Your DNA matches’ family trees are wrong

This is similar to the explanation above.  You probably won’t face a situation where you have all of your DNA matches with incorrect trees.  Instead, you might have a mystery 2nd-3rd cousin or two that don’t seem to fit anywhere on your tree, and you don’t have any Shared Ancestor Hints.

Solution

You can consider reaching out to them and making contact, but I would not recommend suggesting anything about their tree possibly not being correct.  This is because we don’t have access to all of the “facts” about our DNA matches, and because of this, we can’t really be sure, and furthermore, it isn’t our place to tell people that someone who they believe is their ancestor might not really be their ancestor.

If their tree is really wrong, they have all of the tools available to them to eventually figure it out for themselves someday.  I love genealogy and DNA research, but at the end of the day, it’s all history and all of these people way back in my tree are no longer living.  My DNA matches ARE alive, though, and I would not want to cause them any displeasure or discomfort in my quest for accuracy.

Explanation #6:  You don’t have enough DNA matches

There are all sorts of reasons that you might not have enough DNA matches and/or DNA matches with family trees to get a substantial number of Shared Ancestor Hints.  Maybe all of your grandparents were born to immigrants, and people in their native countries don’t do DNA testing.  On my Dutch lines, I have absolutely no Shared Ancestor Hints.  I’ve read that DNA testing is not very popular in the Netherlands, and I know that many of the cousins who did come to America never had children (and thus, don’t have descendants available to do one of these autosomal DNA tests).

On my mom’s Polish great-grandmother’s line, there are no Shared Ancestor Hints, either.  She was from the Austria partition of Poland, and I suspect that her extended family and their descendants might have been hit hard by losses in World War I and II.

There are all sorts of reasons to not have enough DNA matches with trees to get hints.

Solution

Unfortunately, the only way to solve the no DNA matches problem is to just wait patiently.  Check back with your Ancestry DNA results occasionally, just to see if anyone new has tested.  If you know any of your more extended relatives (like 2nd-3rd cousins), you can consider asking them if they would take a DNA test to help with family research.

Conclusion

I hope that this post has helped you get some ideas as to why you don’t have any Shared Ancestor Hints or don’t have many Shared Ancestor Hints.  Did you know that it is easiest to build your tree and view your Shared Ancestor Hints if you have an Ancestry subscription? 

If you use the following link, you can get a two-week free trial (if you end up subscribing at the end of your free trial, I may receive a very small commission at no extra cost you, which helps me support this website): Ancestry Free Trial

If you have any questions about something that you have read here, or would like to share your experience with Shared Ancestor Hints, please leave me a comment below.

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What Does It Mean if I Don't Have Any Shared Ancestor Hints?
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What Does It Mean if I Don't Have Any Shared Ancestor Hints?
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One of the coolest features of Ancestry DNA is Shared Ancestor Hints. We all want them, and it's exciting when we see a new hint pop up. But what does it mean if you don't have any Shared Ancestor Hints show up on your account?
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Who Are You Made Of
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