Friday, 30 December 2016

If you have taken an AncestryDNA test please upload a tree!

A wee tip if you have been given an AncestryDNA ( test for Christmas is to remember that there are two sides to the test that need to work in conjunction for this to be a powerful tool for your family history research. The first is quite obviously to take the test, and to send the sample off! The second though is to upload a family tree, no matter how basic, to your Ancestry account. Once uploaded, Ancestry flags up potential cousin matches, based on shared sections of DNA that you and your cousins will have inherited. If you don't upload a tree, prospective cousins will see the following if a DNA match is flagged up:

This is what Billy Connolly might refer to as being 'as useful as a fart in a spacesuit'...

There are two parts to the AncestryDNA test results. The first is the so-called ethnicity profile. If you want my advice, forget this - not only is it vague, but the bottom line is we're all human and have ancestors who come from across different parts of the world. And we all eventually make our way back to Africa - so tell me something I didn't know! The second part, the cousin connect, is where the real power of the test lies - but only if you play ball by supplementing the DNA evidence with your documentary evidence in a tree.

In the last two months I have made many connections with folk who have shared their trees. In the last week alone I have fleshed out an entire ancestral story from Donegal in Ireland, thanks to a tip found via a cousin connection, and have spent the last two days researching my first ancestor confirmed to have fought in the Peninsula Wars.

So please - do add your tree. You can privatise it to protect the living before you upload, or even make it private, so that potential cousins have to contact you for more info. But without a tree to accompany your DNA result, all that you effectively have is a boffin's result from some spit inside of your mouth that tells you next to nothing on its own.

UPDATE: Useful advice from a reader (thanks Veronica!): "Just read your blog post today and wanted to mention a tip my sister told me that when an Ancestry DNA researcher has a connection but the other person does not have a Tree linked to their results one should look at their account anyway. Many of these people actually do have a tree on Ancestry, they just haven't linked it to their DNA test. It may pay off to dig a little deeper."


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Beginner's Guide to British and Irish Genealogy, A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit


  1. Hear, hear! It is very frustrating to see all the matches with no tree!

  2. Agree, however, the problem seems to be getting worse, rather than better. If you follow any of the genetic genealogy groups on facebook, so many post the question, "I got my DNA results - what do they mean and what do I do now?" These folks have little interest in genealogy, and very likely no tree to upload.

    1. I agree with Craig. There's an exciting tourism feel to finding out your DNA results, so I wonder how many testers feel like they want to do research... you know, it's not as easy as dribbling in a tube and posting a sample off. I think that AncestryDNA needs to be more vocal towards those testers explaining just how much more they'll discover by putting some relatives on the site. Most of my DNA matches have no trees, and most of those I've politely messaged don't reply - probably because they're not regular site users, and probably see the 'youve got a message' email as another guise to get them to use the site. It's tantalisingly frustrating.