Understanding Ancestry DNA Circles

What is a DNA Circle? A DNA Circle can help you confirm that the research you’ve done is correct and even help you go further back in your tree. 

In this post, I will discuss how to get into a DNA Circle, as well as:

  • The basics of DNA Circles
  • Why you might not have as many DNA Circles as someone else
  • What it means if a DNA Circle disappears suddenly
  • DNA Circle example
  • What to do with the information learned from DNA Circles

To many, to be included in an Ancestry DNA Circle is confirmation of a job well done and well, it’s just exciting!  Being placed in a group of relatives, all descended from a particular individual is an amazing feeling.

How to Understand Ancestry DNA Circles

IMPORTANT: Ancestry DNA has replaced DNA Circles with their new ThruLines feature. This is an exciting new feature that is a huge improvement on DNA Circles and you can learn about it in these posts:

DNA Circle basics

The image to the left is an actual screenshot of my DNA Circle results.  I’m only in eight circles right now.  I’ve seen people who are in dozens, believe it or not.  More commonly, I see people who would be happy with just one!

Example of DNA Circles

  If you fall into the category of someone with no DNA Circles, there are two things you must do:

  • Build a family tree on Ancestry
  • Make sure that your tree is set to public
  • Attach your DNA to your family tree

Issac Ellsworth is my 5th Great-grandfather, and it looks like there are at least 12 other people who are descended from him on Ancestry who have also tested their DNA.

Isaac likely has lots more descendants, but only the people who have also tested their DNA with Ancestry would show up in this case.  

There is a chance that I don’t share DNA with all 12, but I share DNA with most of those descendants, and those descendants also match each other.  Ancestry’s algorithm feels confident that I am legitimately a 5th great-granddaughter of this man.

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How to get into a DNA Circle

In order to get into a DNA Circle, several things have to happen:

  • You need a public family tree that goes back several generations on a few lines
  • Your public family tree needs to have relatively complete details on the ancestors (such as dates of birth, spouse names, and places of birth)
  • You have to attach your DNA to your public family tree


  • You need several DNA matches that have public family trees
  • And those public family trees of your DNA matches need to have the same ancestor as you
  • And those public family trees of your DNA matches need to have complete details about each ancestor so the software can be sure that you both (or really, all of you) have the same ancestor.  There are lots of people with similar names and even dates and places of birth.
  • And those public family trees are attached to their DNA results


  • Your DNA matches have to have other DNA matches (that don’t share DNA with you, but are still genealogically related)
  • And those DNA matches have to have public family trees that are extensive and complete enough to show the same ancestor
  • And those public family trees are attached to their DNA results

That list is pretty long!  The reason that most of us don’t have many DNA Circles is because it’s hard for all of those things to come together at once.  In my case, I feel like it is a miracle to get into a DNA Circle.

Unfortunately, Ancestry DNA doesn’t have the technological ability (no one does) to look at our DNA and figure out who our ancestors were.  It would be absolutely amazing if this could happen, but fortunately for us family history hobbyists, we get to still continue to research and sift through documents. 

Ancestry DNA’s software uses our DNA tests results, plus our family trees to make comparisons and educated estimates about who we are (or might be) related to.

Why don’t I have more DNA Circles?

There is a long list of reasons why you might not have any DNA Circles, or don’t have as many as you would like to have:

  • Many people on Ancestry have not built family trees, and many that have built them have not attached them to their DNA results.
  • It’s possible that you have relatively few DNA relatives that have done a DNA test (especially common with those people who have relatively recent immigrant ancestors – this means that many of your DNA relatives still live in those countries)
  • Just based on pure chance, your DNA matches might have more private family trees on Ancestry, and as such, their trees won’t be analyzed for the purposes of DNA Circles
  • It’s possible that you have a mistake in your family tree.  It’s easy to make a mistake in genealogy – I know that I’ve made mistakes before.  If you have the wrong person in your tree, you won’t show up as a DNA match to their descendants because you are not actually related to them.
  • You might have a correct tree, but there might be a family secret a few generations back, like an adoption, or a case of misattributed parentage (i.e. the father was not the father).  According to statistics, as high as 10% of births were historically attributed to the wrong father.  The actual occurrence of this probably depends on culture, historical events, and individual families.

These are the most common reasons that people are not in more DNA Circles, written in the order of how common they are (according to my experience).  People wonder how to get into a DNA Circle, and don’t realize that it’s actually very simple – but all of the pieces have to come together in order to make it happen.

Why do I have less DNA Circles than I did before?

Even if all of the above conditions are present, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make it into a circle – so don’t feel bad if that is the case with you.  Sometimes, it just takes lots of patience.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong in your tree.

The most common reason that a DNA Circle would “disappear” is that someone, or a few someones, made their family tree private.  That’s all – it’s as simple as that.  People have all sorts of reasons for making their trees private, and sometimes they will make it public a few days later and the circle will pop back up.

What should I do with my DNA Circle?

Apart from it being nice and reassuring to be placed in a DNA Circle, you might be wondering what you should do when you get into one:

  • Take screenshots, just in case something happens and it disappears.  You will want to know who else is in the circle, and check our their trees, etc.
  • Use the information that you learn from the other members of the DNA Circle in order to learn more about your ancestors and maybe even build your tree a little further back.
  • Some of the people in the DNA Circle might not be very distantly related to you, so you can consider contacting them and seeing if you can share family stories and information.

In order to take full advantage of your DNA Circles, you will need to have an Ancestry subscription.  You can get a two-week free trial using the link below, and it’s a great way to see if it helps you learn more about your DNA Circles and family tree.

If you use the following sponsored link, you can get a two-week free trial on Ancestry – perfect for adding records and documents to your tree:  Ancestry Free Trial

DNA Circle example

If you have a subscription, when you click on your DNA Circle ancestor, you will be able to see a screen similar to the following:

DNA Circle Example

All of the individuals in the circle are divided into “family groups”, which means that they are all descended from a descendant of that ancestor.  It might sound confusing, but think of it this way:  Everyone in the DNA Circle is descended from the DNA Circle ancestor. 

Each family group is made up of relatives who are descended from another person, like a great-granddaughter, who is also descended from that ancestor.

On the right hand side, you can see all of the DNA matches that are in your family group, and then down further you can see additional family groups, and the number of matches that are in that group.  If you can see in the image the person who is stuck outside by herself on the left? 

She isn’t in a family group, but matches most of the members via DNA.  The reason that she isn’t in a family group is probably because she is the only person in her close immediate and extended family that has done a DNA test and built a tree (and attached it to their DNA test results).

There is an additional feature that allows you to view the members of a circle as a list. and will tell you if they are a genetic match to you, or only to the circle.   If you click on the match, you can either view the match profile page, or see the relationship path compared to yours.


I hope that I have helped you understand a bit about what is going on behind the scenes in the DNA Circle arena – and how you can get into a DNA Circle (or more than one, hopefully). 

I love Ancestry DNA and all of the features, and the DNA Circles are just one of the great aspects of testing with the company (but be sure to build a tree and attach to your DNA!).

What kind of experience have you had with DNA Circles?  Did you learn anything from yours?  I would love to hear your story in the comments.

Thank you so much for stopping by!

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