Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Opening the Ancestry DNA Toolbox

It's always exciting when a DNA testing service rolls out a new tool to help us connect our DNA cousins to our family tree. However, there may already be so many additional tools out there that we can lose track of some of them.

A comment yesterday by reader Kat got me wondering if there are more good things to come from Ancestry DNA, or whether I am taking for granted all the genetic genealogy toys I availed myself of when I signed up for Ancestry's beta tests of MyTreeTags and other options. Just in case it's the latter, I thought it might help to review what we can access among Ancestry's tools already in place.

Today, let's talk about one of the options on Ancestry's MyTreeTags product that I find useful. Ancestry released this particular product back during RootsTech 2019. The launch included an option to sign up for a "test drive" along with the beta version of their "new and improved" DNA matches system (which we'll review tomorrow), although now, I believe both options are mainstreamed so all customers can use them.

Ancestry's MyTreeTags is useful for a variety of labeling options. Of course, I don't use them all, but I find a few are particularly handy for identifying my DNA connections.

Here's what I use. First, let me take you to one of my trees on Ancestry, where I've clipped a portion of the pedigree chart for my great-grandfather.

I've highlighted one person—William David Davis—in that chart, in yellow. Notice his tile not only provides his name and dates of birth and death, but in the upper right corner, Ancestry has added an icon. It's a blue circle with three heads inside. I've circled it in red, just to help you spot it.

Now, if you click on that blue icon, you will get a pop-up box with an entry like this.

The enlarged pop-up box shows the ancestor's name, dates, and locations. However, below the bar offering the choices to access Profile, Search, or Quick Edit, there is a down-pointing carrot. Clicking on that, for any ancestor having that blue icon (such as I have for Will Davis), will reveal the note about the availability of some ThruLines suggestions for that particular ancestor. Clicking the green bar below that note will show you the possible family connections for this ancestor, found in other trees at Ancestry.

For instance, here is what I see when I click through for Will Davis:

Of course, I've cut off the portion which reaches down to living people, but the diagram (or the list option) will provide you with other possible connections.

In my own experience, I've found this portion of the "new and improved" Ancestry to be rather pedestrian, but I'll never refuse a chance to gain a hint from someone else when I'm stumped on a particular connection. I just keep in mind the possibility that those other trees Ancestry relies on to provide their data for ThruLines may contain flaws.

Clicking through to the actual profile page for this ancestor allows me to demonstrate the meat of those new developments. Here's a snip from Will Davis' profile page. You'll notice those same dates and places we've already seen elsewhere, but with the details comes another icon, a blue oval with a plus sign and a drawing of a little tag. (I threw in the red arrow for free.)

If you click on that tag icon, it will open up a sidebar to the right of your screen. This provides the menu for the options on the MyTreeTags service. There are several choices for how to label any particular ancestor—far more than I'd use, but you may find some handy.

First of all, notice that the sidebar has three options: MyTreeTags, Notes, and Comments. I've got the bar open to the first choice right now, but I do also use the Notes option while I'm working on a particular research issue with that individual ancestor, to help me keep track of what I'm doing, what I've already ruled out, and what I still need to complete.

On this first column, notice I've got the carrot for the label "DNA Tags" open, to reveal the three choices involving DNA testing: Common DNA Ancestor, DNA Connection, and DNA Match. Next to each label is a question mark icon; simply clicking on each one will pop up a reminder about what that label can be used for.

Of course, for any ancestor who died in 1911, there won't be any chance to ask him or her to test, but for those in my tree who are already on my DNA match list, this is the tag—"DNA Match"—I click to label that person's profile page in my tree. That signifies to me that that person has taken a DNA test at, and that that name is on my match list.

Now you realize why I am so persistent to add collateral lines for all my ancestors, and then bring those lines down to the present time, filling in all their descendants: I can label and diagram where my matches fit into my family tree.

From that point, I click over to the notes section of that same side bar and enter which branch of my family tree includes this person (based on the color coded labels we'll discuss tomorrow). Then, I'll also provide a shorthand confirmation of the relationship between me and that particular DNA match—for instance, 2C1R for second cousin once removed. Finally, if I have sent that Ancestry subscriber a message to connect with my fellow DNA match, I will note the date when I sent the message. After completing all the notes I need to preserve there, I click back over to the DNA match page, where I can color code and label my DNA matches yet another way—but we'll talk about that tomorrow.

For a much clearer explanation and demonstration of MyTreeTags you can watch Crista Cowan's demo or read the actual explanation on Ancestry's website...or just jump in and play with these toys on your own. Learning by doing is a great way to jump start a project.


  1. Jacqi what I read was on Kitty Cooper's blog on March 24. It's a beta version now. We will have to wait and see!

    1. Thanks for the info, Kat. I was wondering about that, since I couldn't find any recent announcements online. Hopefully, we'll see something about this in the near future. I'd love to try it out!


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