New Ancestry DNA Launch: “DNA Circles” of Matching Individuals

By Diane Haddad

Ancestry DNA—the genetic genealogy services arm of—is launching major new updates for its customers today. I’ll save what I think is the most interesting one for second:

Improved matching
The number of tests that Ancestry DNA has processed—about 500,000—has allowed it to create a new algorithm to determine your matches. Customers will now see higher-quality matches and, for most people, a smaller list of matches as the lower-quality ones drop off. In the online demonstration I saw last week, Ancestry DNA Senior Product Manager Kenny Freestone said his own match list went from more than 100 pages of matches to 36 pages.

You’ll still see the notes and stars you’ve added to the matches who stay on your list. For the time being, you can download your old match list, including any notes you added, via a link on the View All DNA Matches screen.

A link in the top corner will let you access help content including an article that explains your match “confidence score” (for example, a “very high” confidence level means it is very likely that you and your match share an ancestor within five or six generations).

Also here, a white paper that explains matching in technical detail, including a process called “phasing.” Freestone said Ancestry DNA is the only major testing company that performs this complicated, expensive process, which determines whether parts of DNA called SNPs came from the mother or the father. (See a more thorough description of phasing here.)

DNA Circles
This update, in beta right now, is potentially extremely helpful to genealogy researchers. Ancestry DNA will create DNA Circles—clusters of test-takers who all match the same ancestral individual. Each person in a circle matches at least one other person in the circle and has the same ancestral individual in his or public Ancestry Member Tree.

Circles will be constantly updated as DNA customers add and change family trees, and new people test.

Circle members can see a list of everyone in the circle, the confidence level of the person’s membership in the circle, and how each person is related to the ancestral individual genetically and on his or her tree. Members can link to each tree to view the information and records they contain.

DNA Circles help customers put their DNA test results to work solving family mysteries—explaining how genetically matched people are related, leading to new relatives and verifying traditional research.

To be in and view a DNA Circle, you must:

  • be an Ancestry DNA customer
  • have an member tree that’s set as public (because your membership in a DNA Circle gives others access to your tree)
  • subscribe to

Here’s what DNA Circles look like. William Gray is the ancestral individual at the center of this DNA Circle:

Circle members can see a list of other members:

This comparison shows two members of the William Gray DNA Circle (Kenny Freestone and L.S.) and how they’re related to William—making Kenny and LS second cousins once removed. In this case, they’re not a DNA match, which, due to the way DNA recombines over generations, isn’t unexpected.

These updates will take effect automatically—no need to upgrade or take a new test. Ancestry DNA customers will receive an email message about the changes today.