Have you heard about ThruLines? One of our genealogists shares how to use this tool to extend your family tree.
For many years, I’ve worked on building a large family tree. I always was interested in knowing who my second, third, and fourth cousins were, even though I might never have the opportunity to meet them. As a kid, I wondered if any of my classmates were somehow related to me. Turns out that some of them were. (Hi, Cuz’n Todd!)
When I received my AncestryDNA results in late 2015, I instantly recognized a few names near the top of my match list, and set to work figuring out who the other close (and sometimes not-so-close) matches were. This effort has continued over time as new matches were added. Because I already had a robust family tree, this process was more straightforward than it might be for someone with little knowledge of their extended family tree. Yet, this process has been time consuming. Really time consuming.
When AncestryDNA announced ThruLines this February, I checked it out, because I like all the new and shiny tools. I didn’t expect it to help me, but was really surprised when it correctly identified some of my tested relatives with barely-existent family trees, or trees that were incorrect in really unusual ways. With a click of a button, ThruLines identified some of my matches that I had spent a LONG time studying. It also found some connections that I hadn’t.
My family tree is offline, with just a subset of that tree (which has remained unchanged for years) attached to my AncestryDNA results. Any additions I have made to my family tree are not reflected in any of my trees on Ancestry; thus, ThruLines found these connections on its own, and not from my family tree.
What is ThruLines?
ThruLines shows identified descendants of a given ancestor who have tested with AncestryDNA, and share DNA with the tester whose results are being reviewed. The ancestral path between the common ancestor and each DNA match is provided, along with predicted relationship and amount of DNA shared.
ThruLines replaces Shared Ancestor Hints, and greatly expands upon the data provided by those hints. AncestryDNA has long been able to compare family trees for a tester and any given match, and note common ancestors between the two trees. ThruLines builds upon this by including data from all public or private searchable trees in the AncestryDNA network. When a genetic cousin’s tree is incomplete, ThruLines provides the opportunity to view connections that would take a great deal of research to find manually. Of course, any time data from family trees is utilized, all of the names/dates/places should be viewed as clues rather than fact. Comparisons between multiple family trees are only as accurate as the data contained in said trees.
ThruLines is accessible from “Your DNA Results Summary” under DNA in the top menu bar on Ancestry. To have access to ThruLines data, your family tree must be public, and linked to your DNA test. To check this, go to Your DNA Results Summary, and click on the Settings button (near the top right corner of the screen). Then follow the instructions in the Family Tree Linking section.
ThruLines is still in Beta testing. Several revisions were made shortly after introduction, but I have not noticed significant changes to my own data in recent weeks. Kudos to the programmers at Ancestry! This was an ambitious undertaking with a relatively smooth implementation. ThruLines is currently available to all AncestryDNA users, but eventually will only be offered to those testers with an Ancestry subscription.
ThruLines Example: John Berger/Eva Lenz family
John Berger and Eva Lenz were my great-great-grandparents. My research has uncovered a great deal of information about Eva’s parents and extended family, but I have not spent much time researching John. He came from Mecklenburg, Germany, to Minnesota as an adult, and I am not aware of any of his siblings or extended family who traveled with him. John is buried in the cemetery at the small Lutheran church where my family has generations of history. I have not personally viewed the church burial registers, but a distant relative reported that names for John’s parents were listed, but no other dates or specific details were provided about them.
Many descendants of John and Eva are in my match lists on the various testing sites. I’ve used the shared matches functionality to identify other DNA matches who share DNA with me and with these known Berger/Lenz descendants. I’ve added notes about these shared matches and have utilized AncestryDNA’s new grouping functionality to create custom groups for these matches.
ThruLines has two views: Relationships and List. Relationships provides a graphical view of descendants of a given ancestor. Here is the Relationships view of my ThruLines for John Berger:
The default Relationship View for a given ancestor shows your connection to that ancestor (although some details may be collapsed), and any other testers who are the only identified descendant of a child of that ancestor (S.B. is an example of this in the above graphic). Data is collapsed for all other children of the target ancestor, but can be expanded by clicking on the “# DNA Matches” link under the child’s name.
To view detail for a specific line (for example, Emma Berger), click on “5 DNA Matches” below her name, which results in the following view.
This provides detail of the ancestral path to each of my DNA matches from that family, my relationship to them, and the amount of DNA shared.
The default Relationship view for John shows that descendants of four of John Berger’s children have tested (and have been identified by ThruLines—in many cases, other descendants will have also tested). John and Eva Berger had a total of six children: the four listed here (Carl, Gustav, Emma, and Otto), along with a son, Henry, and a daughter, Bertha. Henry died around age 20 and had no known children. I reviewed my DNA results in search of Bertha’s descendants (in case they were not detected by ThruLines) and did not find any.
Bertha had a large family, and most of her children had children. This lack of tested descendants represents a research opportunity. Bertha most likely inherited some segments of John Berger’s DNA that her siblings did not, so it would benefit research efforts for this family if her descendants were also in the testing databases. In previous research, I have already identified 14 of Bertha’s grandchildren, born between 1912 and 1938. Focusing on the younger grandchildren is probably my best strategy to find available testers. If no grandchildren are available or willing, I can recruit great-grandchildren, but Bertha’s grandchildren are a better choice, if available.
The List View shows the same descendants as Relationship View, but all in one list. When using Relationship View, if you expand one line, the other lines will automatically contract. List View provides a great “at a glance” view, with all of the relationship and shared DNA information included. (To easily save the entire list, load this view in the Firefox browser, and then right click, choose “Take a Screenshot”, and then choose “Save full page” (top right of screen).)
Seeing the relationships and amount of shared centimorgans for all relatives in one place provides a good cross-check for your family tree (and the family tree of your matches). If the predicted relationships and centimorgans shared are not consistent with each other, there may be errors in your tree or the trees used to collect this data. This type of view can sometimes make half relationships more apparent than they might be by looking at individual results.
Because John and Eva Berger are my great-great-grandparents, their other great-great-grandchildren are the same generation as me, and except for my close relatives, will be my third cousins. Their great-grandchildren are my second cousins once removed, and great-great-great-grandchildren are my third cousins once removed (check out our handy DNA & Relationship Chart to help decipher who’s who).
When choosing DNA testing candidates, it’s optimal to find the oldest available relatives. John and Eva’s children and grandchildren are all deceased, so the oldest available relatives are their great-grandchildren. My list of tested relatives shows one great-grandchild of John and Eva (a second cousin once removed). I happen to know of two other second cousins once removed from this family who have tested (but do not have family trees); however, they too are from the Carl Berger family. Before I started this process, I knew a few great-grandchildren of John and Eva were in my test results, but hadn’t realized that they were all from the Carl Berger family. Recruiting older testers from other lines in the John/Eva Berger family will hopefully reveal other matches that aren’t available in my own match list.
The lack of testers from the Bertha Berger family has already been noted. Further review of the list as a whole shows that coverage is minimal from the Gustav Berger family, and in my own Otto Berger line. If I were to prioritize further testing, I would choose testers in the following order:
- Great-grandchild of Bertha Berger (currently no known testers)
- Great-grandchild of Gustav Berger (currently only one great-great-great-grandchild tester)
- Great-grandchild of Otto Berger (currently two great-great-grandchild testers)
- Great-grandchild of Emma Berger (currently four great-great-grandchild testers)
Ideally, I would ask all of these testers to share their results with me, to allow for better visibility of their distant matches within our family.
When ThruLines Misses the Mark
Observant readers may have noticed in the list above that I am listed correctly in the family of my great-grandfather, Otto Berger, but my sister appears in the family of Otto’s brother, Carl. This type of misclassification might occur if my sister had an error in her family tree, but she does not. Her tree includes our mother and grandmother (with names and dates identical to my family tree), but does not include a father for our grandmother. I reviewed all the family trees in which I could find my grandmother, and none named Carl as her father, nor did Carl have a daughter named Evelyn. It’s a mystery why ThruLines created this connection.
This error is far more obvious when viewing my sister’s results, as people who are actually her second cousins once removed and third cousins display as first cousins once removed and second cousins, with impossibly low centimorgans shared.
Who’s In? Who’s Out?
A total of nine descendants of John and Eva Berger were identified in my ThruLines. This represents just over a third of the Berger/Lenz descendants I have personally identified. Why weren’t the others included? I reviewed data for the descendants that weren’t included, and found that all but two had no family tree at all, or had a family tree that is not linked to their DNA test. As such, we wouldn’t expect their inclusion in ThruLines, as they’ve provided no data to ThruLines other than their username.
Of the two cousins with family trees, one contains only four living people (although one of them is a Berger descendant). Because everyone in that tree is living, I can’t see the details provided. In the other tree, a Berger descendant was included, but without any dates. There are several family trees that include this individual, but her name is not distinctive enough to distinguish her without a date of birth. Based on limited information, I believe ThruLines’s non-inclusion of that match was the right decision.
I also reviewed data for the nine Berger/Lenz descendants who were included in my ThruLines. Four of them had family trees that included John Berger and Eva Lenz (although one had an incorrect name for Eva). One had a private family tree. I can’t see the details, but it’s large enough that I suspect these ancestors were included. Three of the other four family trees ended with one of John and Eva’s grandchildren, and the fourth extended back to one of John and Eva’s children. Four of the nine (nearly half) family trees did not include the common ancestors. These four trees would not have generated Shared Ancestor Hints, but do generate data included in ThruLines.
Why Is This Helpful?
I intentionally chose a simple example for this post, one with a small data set and with testers whose identities I had previously verified. Because I already knew who these people were, what is the benefit to me? Because of the large amount of time I’ve spent doing match identification, that part of ThruLines functionality may be less beneficial to me than it will be to others with less-developed family trees. However, ThruLines is finding connections that I haven’t, so identification of matches (when that identification is correct) still benefits me. I’ll say it again—all connections suggested by ThruLines must be verified!
The data organization and display are what I’m excited about. Many genealogists have documents, spreadsheets, and handwritten notes all over the house to help them organize their DNA matches. Any time the testing companies provide tools to achieve these purposes, I’m all for it.
I’ve previously identified a very small group of matches who share DNA with some of my Berger/Lenz matches, but who are not descendants of John and Eva Berger, and do not share DNA with members of Eva Lenz Berger’s extended family. This group of people may be distant relatives of John Berger. I’ve found common ancestors between them, but it’s a really small group, and the shared DNA falls in a range where they might be a generation or two back from John, but they also could be really, really distant relatives. I just don’t have quite enough data.
Review of my ThruLines data shows me there are significant gaps in the testing coverage of the John Berger family. One entire ancestral line is missing, and coverage is spotty in others. Most important, though, is the realization that the majority of the tested descendants are five or more generations removed from the ancestors of interest (John’s parents). That information was, of course, available to me all along, but the display of data (even when not all matches are included) made these trends much more obvious.
If I want to use DNA to make progress with researching this line, older DNA testers would provide a great benefit. Testers who are a generation older than me may have matches that I don’t have at all, or shared matches with people who are below the shared matches threshold for me. There may be a group of really fascinating matches from this line that I’m not seeing because they all share 18 or 19 centimorgans with me and aren’t appearing on shared match lists, but would be listed as shared match for an older tester if they share just a bit more DNA than I do.
Confirm, Confirm, Confirm!
My father-in-law has a ThruLines connection that surprised me, because it identified a potential ancestor with a surname I didn’t at all recognize. This particular match is said to be a half sixth cousin to my father-in-law, and the algorithm utilized eight family trees to make this connection. Have I added these new ancestors to my family tree? Absolutely not! There’s a lot of research that needs to be done to confirm this, both because of the number of generations to verify, as well as the fact that this connection involves a couple of generations of people named Smith, which makes the verification even more difficult. However, shared matches with this individual are from the lines I would expect, so I will explore these results, and attempt to confirm or refute the connection.
ThruLines is making amazing connections for many AncestryDNA testers. Of course, there are plenty of erroneous family trees in existence, so data from ThruLines will be incorrect when the underlying family trees are incorrect. I would encourage caution whenever common surnames are involved, and with more distant connections. The fact that you share 6 or 8 centimorgans with ten people who descend from a common ancestor does not mean that you also descend from that ancestor. ThruLines data should never be accepted blindly, but with proper confirmation, the clues provided by this tool have the potential to guide research in new directions.
Our resident DNA experts would be happy to help you analyze and make sense of the results you get from any of the major DNA testing companies. Give us a call or drop us an email and let us know how we can help you!
Gretchen, my sister also showed up on Thrulines as related to another family member, she showed as a cousin instead of a sibling! WHOOPS…comes to find out…there was an NPE…and I found it…and researched her matches separately, and found out where her connection really was, because of Thrulines! (a hint to research, research, research)
Thru Lines have been helpful in pointing a direction and appear to take a lot of direction from a conglomerate of public trees, but it is important to follow up research to verify the connection. I’ve found simple close connections such as my half siblings being identified with the same father which negated their entire paternal line until the error was pointed out (more than once), while my full blooded brother was left out entirely. This has been corrected since but I still had to point out the errors. 4th and 5th Great Grandparents have been more helpful but occasionally the overwhelming trees that share the same error will send people who share the same dna down the same wrong path unless they do their research. Still, the Thru Lines have been helpful in making a connection stronger, discovering a new surname to research, or just getting plain lost in a collateral line that provides an interesting distraction for a while.
Donald Walker Quigley says
Can you comment on the use of ThruLines as a way to find “missing” ancestors by “marrying” a person in your tree to a possible partner in a family known to be around at the right time and place? If this shows that common ancestors connect me to one or more of my DNA matches (after confirming that the trees leading to the connections are sound), can this be taken as evidence that the missing ancestor (or at least their family) has been found? What about auxiliary lines of relationships?
I’ve been trying this approach, but would like an expert’s opinion of its validity.
Safety Harbor, FL
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
I think you’re asking about adding speculative family members to your tree to see if ThruLines will generate hints.
I would suggest caution with that approach,and note that it’s outside of the scope of what Ancestry intended for the product. If your tree is public, you run the risk that others will copy your speculative connection, which may be problematic long-term if your theory turns out to be false. (I think we all know how incorrect information can spread like wildfire in family trees, and it’s generally difficult to convince others to retract incorrect information).
If you add a speculative ancestor to your tree, getting hints from ThruLines is not necessarily confirmation of your theory. You’ll need to look at the expected relationship compared to amount of shared DNA – if ThruLines is showing matches that are supposed to be 2nd cousins, but they generally share less than 50 cM with you, that’s a sign that you have not identified the correct connection. Likewise, if you share many hundreds of centimorgans with a 5th cousin connection; again, your speculative ancestor is probably not correct.
Additional caution and lots of verification is required with distant ancestors. A page full of 6 or 8 cM connections on ThruLines is not strong evidence. The best evidence is multiple ancestral lines from your family matching multiple ancestra lines from the target family. Using the shared matches feature to confirm that each member of the target family shares DNA with the line of interest can also help with confirmation.
I don’t think there are any experts in Thulines. I also cannot find how to document a DNA finding using Thrulines.
I have used Thulines and trial and error to find my greatgrandmother. I started by tagging which family group my cousins belonged to. Missing a great grand mother should leave a large hole of unidentified cousins. Then I started trying different people with little success. I then contated a a second cousin on my list and gave her some of the family stories and the approximate date of death. We found out that there was a death record with my great grandfather as the father and we found about his affair in 1877 and how I was related to my cousin.
It gets better. I tried a suggestion of my cousin and I put in the name and father and mother. Thrulines lit up and connected the cousins. It was like turning on a flood light. I research this great grandmother and had to rule her because she was pregant with another child when my grandfather was born. So I looked at her sisters. I found one without a date of death but a note in the 1900 census that she had died before the 1900 census. She was last seen in the 1880 census. I was looking for a death date of 1893 to 1897 but not later than 1900.
Now I have found a new double cousin by DNA. She has some cousins from my great grandfather. I am trying to find out how to document this because there are a lot of people that need to change their tree.
Family secrets don’t keep with DNA.
Donald Walker Quigley says
Thank you for your reply. I concur with everything you have said.
A few comments:
1. The speculative family connections to my public tree on Ancestry are well marked as just that and that they are being used solely for ancestor hunting. They are short-lived (a few days) before being deleted. My public tree is also replaced periodically with gedcoms uploaded from my “official” family tree on my desktop.
2. This approach has identified two possible families in the 1790s that might the be source of my 3rdGGF, who was born out of wedlock and only his mother’s name is known. The preponderance of my (“tree-confirmed”) DNA matches for one of the families (with some shared matches as well) points me in that direction. My plan now is to use Y-DNA testing of a male descendant in my line to get further evidence.
3. I recognize that Ancestry probably did not intend that ThruLines be used in this way. But, used correctly, it would seem to be a powerful tool. In my (admittedly limited) experience, it appears to have used (“confirmed”) data from multiple (often partial) ancestral lines to identify possible connections to my DNA matches. In many cases, I would never have made the possible connections myself because their trees are so short.
Thanks again, Gretchen, for helping me to put this all into perspective.
Penny Lynn Booth says
When I pull up my name in trulines. It shows my husband’s family. Also if I access my name on.locating my relatives places, my husbads relatives comes up. On the maps. Can my family members be placed on my Trueline and related map placement?
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
I would suggest you check your family tree linking (under “Tree Link” in the DNA settings screen) to be sure that your tree is linked to the correct person. Your ThruLines should only contain your own linkages, assuming that the family tree is linked correctly.
Hi Gretchen and crew! Great article, thank you for the helpful info. I had an unexpected DNA result of a small (5-6%) Native American proportion. Neat but I had no idea who that could be. My parents knew nothing past their parents, hardly knew anything about their grandparents. THRULINES recently found a potential ancestor with the name Alabama, amidst all the expected Mennonite names, listed as 3rd great grandparent. Turns out Alabama is a Choctaw name. In your expert opinion is this a lead worth exploring? The mystery of the DNA result was had me rather intrigues! Thank you, may you be blessed eternally!
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
A 5-6% Native American ethnicity prediction may be large enough to trace to a specific ancestor. That’s about the amount of DNA we expect from a great-great-grandparent.
As far as the ThruLines prediction is concerned, definitely explore the green “Evaluate” buttons, which show the records and family trees used by ThruLines, and may help you understand whether the proposed connection to an ancestor named Alabama is accurate. It sounds to me like this connection is one worth exploring!
Thank you for the vote of confidence! Explore we shall!
Hi Gretchen, I have a tree on Ancestry,I am not a member right now but my truline has my grandparents as my parents do not know how to fix it.Also says my parents could be relatives. Would like to know how that happened. Thank you
I didn’t read all the replies so this may be covered but what about the flaw that is built in to thru lines that was handled very well through the now gone circles?
Because of the nature of autosomal dna, and how it is passed down, not all children get the same from parents, so you end up with cousins that are known documented cousins that don’t share any autosomal dna. This grows with each subsequent generation.
Circles showed people that descended from a mrca that didn’t match with you, but did match with other descendants that you did match with.
How do you recommend dealing with this glaring blatant flaw in thru lines?
Hershel Parker says
I need help. On my ThruLines there is a new post for Samuel Porter Glenn as my 5th great grandfather (1746-1813). ThruLine says he is a DNA relative—DNA MATCH–A KNOWN CONNECTION–but it is described only as a “potential” ancestor. How confident can I be that we share DNA?
Bill Bryant says
Thanks for the nice article.
The approach I have been using, though somewhat labor intensive, has been to try and confirm.byworking from the bottom up.
If I see a connection that is of interest, I will make a “side tree” and attempt to recreate the line proposed by Thrulines going back to my relative. Many times I am working with 6th cousins and going back to the predicted common ancestor.
Ocassionally I will work top down in the same manner.
In any case the effort is to take me through the proposed lineage to do a quick confirmation, if possible, that the line makes sense and has no glaring errors.
I find the biggest challenge is when multiple trees.have assumed similar bad information and carrying this through resulting in apparent relationships do.not exist. At that point my choice is to try and sort.out where the real connection might be for that line…and that can be painful. Thrulines may say it is a “Jones” connection, but actually it eas their “Smith” line.
There are very few older generation family members still living, so narrowing down the DNA lines for me entails a lot of “side-line” work across distant cousin connections. Some 22,000 folks in my working tree at this point with all ancestors thru 5gg known or predicted in Thrulines…..and 1,000s of DNA mysteries.to.solve=)
Most of.my lines go back, in the USA, to the early 1700’s so Thrulines is a good path to explore connections where.little.documentation exists. No perfect but a nice tool
Mary Flynn says
Looking for information on Robert Widdup…said to be a relative ( great great grandfather ) on my fathers side of the family
Mary Flynn says
Where can I find results of a test taken about 3 years ago?
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi Mary, you can access test results by logging into the account you created when you took the test. If you need additional assistance with accessing your account, we suggest contacting the DNA testing company through whom you originally took the test. Good luck!
Alan Atkinson says
I have a great-grandfather who is well-documented in our family tree, but there are no records of his parents on paper. I have utilized the ThruLInes for DNA matches to message to find out if any of the matches have any information or even just stories. I then went ahead and entered the ancestors some have included on Family Search trees. (I read your caution!) His supposed father had numerous children, all well documented. I completed their trees as well as I could.
Then I realized that I should check ThruLines for the great-great grandfather. When I did, there were 7 DNA matches back to 4 other children of my supposed great grandfather.. I have not checked all of the trees yet, but have gone through 2 and they seem to be solid. I have messaged the matches to share their trees with me, but have not heard back yet.
Am I drawing too great a conclusion to say the ThruLInes strongly indicates he is my great great grandfather?
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi Alan. Matching people from four different children of your suspected ancestor is a good start! I would suggest looking at these results in List View to see if the shared cM values make sense for the predicted relationships. I wasn’t sure from your description if you think your great-grandfather was a full or half sibling to other children of his suspected father – that information will make a difference in the expected shared cM. For sake of example, let’s assume that one of the children of the suspected great-great-grandfather was a daughter, Mary, and Mary was a full sister to your great-grandfather. Mary’s great-grandchildren would be your full third cousins if your theory is correct, and on average, they should share about 53 cM with you. There is, of course, a great deal of variability in ranges of shared cM. If all of these testers share very low amounts of DNA with you, that could be a sign that the relationship is actually more distant. In either case, I would also recommend searching your results for matches descending from each of the suspected great-great-grandfather’s parents. Representation from both family lines is additional evidence supporting your theory.
Finally, I would suggest recruiting the oldest possible testers from your family, as well as from descendants of the suspected great-great-grandfather. If you can find testers who are a generation older than you on one or both lines, then you’re comparing second cousins or second cousins once removed. The expected shared cM is much higher for those relationships, and you’ll be working with values that have fewer relationship options, which makes interpretation somewhat more straightforward. As always, if you would like additional research assistance, the team at Legacy Tree Genealogists is here to help. To get started, you may request your free quote here.
Alan Atkinson says
Amber, thanks so much for your reply! I tried to chat with Ancestry and got a trainee who knew nothing about ThruLines.
As far as I know, my suspected 2nd Great grandfather was only married once, so my great grandfather would have been a full sibling. I have looked at ThruLInes to my 3rd Great grandfather, and have 18 dna matches through 6 siblings of my suspected 2nd Great grandfather, and 7 dna matches through 2 siblings to my 3rd Great grandmother.. Most of them seem to have fairly well defined trees.
I don’t think I will be able to get someone older in my family tree to test, as I am 77 and a direct male descendant..
Please let me know if you have any other suggesstions.
I have 2 DNA tests connected with my Ancestry tree. My DNA test is listed as “owner”, my aunt’s test is listed as ‘manager”. I only have one person listed on my ThruLines, my father. My aunt has several of her family members listed on her ThruLines. I am trying to figure out how to get more of my family members to show up on my ThruLines.
Beth Harrison says
Hi Paula, have you contacted Ancestry about that?