DNA circles on Ancestry have changed, some were dropped others added.

+14 votes
I have noticed that Ancestry dropped some of my DNA Circles and added others. Adding circles is great but what happened with the dropped circles?
asked in The Tree House by Sue Hall G2G6 Mach 9 (90.2k points)
I had about 20 circles. I now have three!  Not happy about it either.
They are making a lot of changes.  I've been on Ancestry for a long time and the last 2 yrs have been rather dynamic.  Unfortunately, the internet is both the greatest tool for finding good information and for spreading bad information.

12 Answers

+16 votes
Best answer

I suspect Ancestry changed their algorithm again. I recently gained the 17 circles that I lost the last time they changed their algorithm. What concerns me are the "12 NEW ANCESTOR DISCOVERIES" These are potential new ancestors or relatives who are not already in your family tree. Problem is 10 of the 12 new ancestors are in my tree (and have been for years) and match the circles. Ancestry has some large problems and one will get the same scripted answer every time one calls. Just tell them they are disrupting your research and they will offer you three free months. I am working my 6th free month because they cannot fix their problem. Thank goodness we have Chris and AleŇ° and WikiTree'rs strive for accuracy. Ancestry used to come up first when one Googled genealogy but pleasantly WikiTree comes up first all the time now. This tells me more and more people trust the accuracy of Wikitree! Thanks to our Volunteers, Mentors, Leaders...

answered by Loretta Corbin G2G6 Mach 4 (48.8k points)
selected by Lynden Rodriguez
Thanks, Loretta. :-)
+13 votes
I haven't closely watched DNA Circles but I did notice a change.

I think it's important to note that AncestryDNA still shows Beta at the top of the screen. They may have said something on a blog, but Beta usually means changes don't need to be announced.

As these DNA Services evolve and incorporate new information and new customers to test against, the statics change, and with new statistics, we get different results, and I presume, they become more accurate.

This is just my opinion.
answered by Ken Sargent G2G6 Mach 5 (56.5k points)
The DNA circles they dropped had DNA cousins that matched the tree. It would be interesting to know why they dropped them.
Being familiar with how software works, I'd guess that the MAIN problem they have is in looking at the representations of ancestors in two different trees, and being able to tell they're the SAME person. Is "Gerhard Johann Schmitz", born in Bocholt, Westfalen the same person as "John Schmitz", born in Germany? YES! But how do you write SOFTWARE that can figure that out? Sometimes it's hard enough for a seasoned genealogist to sort it out!

This last go-round, my John Schmitz Circle disappeared - but his WIFE's circle remains!

The point is, the reason is probably quite complicated, and a whole team of people may be working on de-bugging - as we speak.
+8 votes
One story they like to tell is that some of the participant in the circle might have made their trees private, privatized or deleted their DNA information, or removed themselves entirely.  These are some of the causes.

That might very well be true but I also have recently seen one circle appear and another disappear and I doubt that any of the causes stated above can explain the disappearance.
answered by Thom Anderson G2G6 Mach 2 (27.1k points)
Realistically, this is about what you'd expect them to say. They list a few possibilities that are NOT their doing - LEGITIMATE things - because then you are less likely to get mad at them. Even if YOU'RE a reasonable person, and might be fine with "We're still tinkering with our algorithms, and sometimes the results are screwed up - please be patient while we fine-tune these crazy things!", they know that there are PLENTY of people who AREN'T.

The people dealing with the public probably don't even KNOW exactly how it works, or why it is happening.

But over the past 6 months, I've only seen ONE DNA test simply disappear from the matches, out of the about 600 that I'm tracking. So that's almost certainly not it. I know I have people on my "Shared Ancestor Hints" list whose trees are private, so I have to wonder if that (which I expect is ALSO somewhat rare) would even keep them out of a DNA Circle, anyway.
+7 votes
A while back, I was dropped from 2 of my ancestor circles, a husband and wife.  They still exist, but I'm not in them.  The thing is, my line to them is solid and I can back it up with a number of DNA connections.

I just can't figure it.

Even worse, with a different DNA circle, the little bio of the person gives the wrong parents.  That is because most of the people in the circle have those incorrect parents.  They're basing the lineage on a old DAR application which I have since proven incorrect, with a whole slew of DNA connections, to a totally different family.   I've been trying to get them to change it to the right parents, but most haven't responded to me.
answered by Craig Albrechtson G2G6 Mach 6 (64.5k points)
I was dropped from a pair of gt-gt-gt grandparents, and can't tell if their DNA Circles still exist or not. It was crazy, because I was one of only three people in those circles. My older brother tested a few weeks before me, and he was never in it. I typed his tree in for him - COPYING mine, of course - so they were EXACTLY the same. We test as full brothers (as expected).

Don't get me started on the bios. I put in critiques about them at first, but learned to just completely ignore them. They're awful! On one of mine, the number of kids stated was over-the-top. No doubt the problem goes back to some researchers who mistook my guy (in western PA) with another guy of the same exact name (in NC!). People had (still have?) trees where his list of children is a COMBINATION of the children from both families. They apparently weren't bothered by the fact that there were duplicate names, kids born less than 9 months apart, or the fact that my guy never lived south of the Mason-Dixon line!
+7 votes
That happens quite regularly. I wouldn't worry too much about the changes. It is worth taking screenshots of your circles so you still have some clues if they disappear.
answered by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (619k points)
+5 votes
Competent genealogical DNA work is not easy to do and often difficult to explain to many of the people who are buying tests. That isn't the money-maker for Ancestry. The ethnicity profiles and the DNA circles are eye candy for non-genealogists... not unfounded but far from valid. Getting better over time? I would hope so but who knows? What we end up with are greater numbers of matches including many with no family trees, sparse family trees, incorrect family trees or private family trees. Expect continuing fluctuations of ethnicity and DNA circles. It puzzles me why, if I know someone is related to me, I would need to have them in a DNA circle.
answered by Douglas Beezley G2G6 Mach 2 (21.4k points)
It is cumbersome dealing with hundreds of matches. DNA circles help group people into a particular ancestor. Actually they don't all have to match you, but match someone in the group. You can trace their lines and see what there is on Wikitree. I wish there was more help in grouping clusters, especially without trees. My mother's parents were immigrants and the matches are further back than our trees. You can check out common matches. It would help to have a cluster of common matches to place them.  Doing it manually is very tedious.
Sue - I think this is what you might be looking for.


I have not looked closely at this but I believe it uses the notes section in AncestryDNA to place tags and then you can query on the tags. This way you can group matches on AncestryDNA.
With the way DNA is passed down, you get a randomly uneven amount of DNA from even your 4th or 5th great-grandparents, so I don't really see how ethnicity estimates can EVER be accurate. Maybe there's some clever trick that can by-pass that problem, but considering how hilariously inaccurate my own was, I doubt it.

But you'd think the DNA Circles should be for-real. I like to think that they could someday be developed into automatically determining your genetic pedigree, and possibly even break down some "brick walls". With enough descendants to draw from, a decent amount of an ancestor's DNA might be able to be RECONSTRUCTED - making it possible to better determine THEIR relatives.
I too lost the only one circle I was in and I know that I am related to the others that were in it.  Feeling frustrated about the circle problem mainly because I have found other cousins in the same line by the shared matches Ancestry shows.  I have a cousin in that same line that is in my tree, but no circle was started with just the two of us.  We would love to get our other cousins appearing in the shared matches into a circle.  We know they descend from the same mrc.  Do you think Ancestry now only makes circles if each cousins trees all include each other?

I expect your circle will return, eventually.

I don't know about MAKING Circles, but I DID see someone who was IN Circles without even having those ancestors on their tree.

I can try to characterize the DNA Circles I've seen. Basically, none was for an ancestor closer than a great-great grandparent (born before about 1850). For my wife and I most of the DNA Circles are for our PA roots, where the families were prolific, and have been in the US since at LEAST the 1700s.

But I've had Circles on my mother's side, too, where those gt-gt grandparents were immigrants - but only when there are at least a few tested descendants out there. My father-in-law has similar roots, in a way. But for him there are relatively few tested relatives with trees, and they were not very prolific - there are no Circles for him at all.

My mother-in-law's family, on her father's side, immigrated in the early 1890s, and there are no DNA Circles for them (even though one branch has a multitude on tested people with trees).

Basically, 2/3 of my wife's DNA matches are related to her grandmother from PA, and that's where all 12 of her matches are.
+3 votes
I noticed it too. It's not the first time I've seen changes. Seems like Circles I've been in previously return, eventually.

Between my and my brother's results, I'm aware of 25 DNA Circles that exist for our ancestors. A third brother and a nephew have also tested. It used to be that we belonged to heavily overlapping sets of circles, but after this latest round, they have put all 4 of us into appropriate "groups"" under most of the circles. We're all "synched up", but still not all in all the groups that have existed. With this new alignment,, I've been in all 25 at some time or other, but never all at once!

Maybe with that grouping worked out, it will make it more stable. I think more people have been added in too.

Another thing I noticed is a match ringing up a being in a DNA Circle, without even having the ancestor on their tree. So if that's a new thing, that's interesting.

I think one of my mother's circles mysteriously reappeared within the last day or two. That should bring me up to 19, which is the number it gives, but when I click on it to see them, it only shows me 18.

So it's got issues. Really, they should hire me to fix this mess. (Seriously!)
answered by Frank Stanley G2G6 Mach 2 (27.9k points)
+5 votes
Ancestry's DNA Circles are in a constant state of flux, and will probably always be so.

1) they are constantly playing with their algorithm to try and make improvements (which may temporarily make things worse for some people)

2) your DNA matches constantly change, as more and more people are testing these days, which, even if they had a stable algorithm, this alone would keep changing things

3) there are often major differences and mistakes in other people's trees (but not in ours, of course), so again, as trees change and are updated, the Circles will also change.

Number 3, is the big reason they keep trying to change and improve their algorithm (and its probably most statistically based). I have close matching cousins who list one set of ancestors not to many generations back, and another set of close matching cousins who match a completely different set of ancestors for the same family. In my own research on this family, the error comes from a number of census where the female cousins were born about the same time in adjacent counties and each family lived in both counties (and an adjacent third) throughout their lifetime. And most people assume the two women are the same person. Their family names were misspelled/mistranscribed, so some records are difficult to locate.

These are common errors and everyone's tree is full of them. This is why Ancestry's DNA Circles are still just an experiment (that will probably never fully work)
answered by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (394k points)
OK, except that over time, and with more data, these things should eventually STABLIZE - settling on the CORRECT answer, hardly fluctuating at all.

Also, the DNA testing, itself, is precisely the mechanism by which the errors you speak of (which I doubt my own tree is "full of", BTW) would be discovered and REJECTED.

There are too many errors in everyone's trees. there will be no stabilization until the errors in other people's family trees can be removed -- that'll never happen.

DNA testing only matches living test takers. And some matches are not real (only matching by chance). But all the matches are grouped by the ancestors listed in their family trees (see previous point about errors in trees). Thus we get Circles. Inaccurate Circles, at that.

+1  What that guy Dennis said. laugh

+2 votes
On a related note, which you may find amusing, my older brother got an email announcing "We found new discoveries for [brother's name]".

Well, the "new discovery" was of an individual with shared ancestry - who happens to be my OTHER brother. Which is fine - I suppose that ought to be a pretty easy "find".

BUT the first match we saw when we first looked at his results - 6 months ago - was this "newly discovered" brother! So I guess it took them 6 months to figure that out, or something. I guess that might be related to how us 3 brothers, and my nephew, were finally "grouped" together in our DNA Circles.


On a different, but similar note, I have a 4th cousin on GEDmatch  who I match on two segments (10.7cM & 17.0cM), and she did her test on AncestryDNA - same as I - but she doesn't show up as a match on AncestryDNA.


These guys really have some work to do. But as somebody else here pointed out, THIS part of their software ISN'T what pays the bills. It usually isn't even in their advertising.
answered by Frank Stanley G2G6 Mach 2 (27.9k points)
edited by Frank Stanley
+2 votes
I wonder if the missing people on AncestryDNA circles went missing because the owners took  their tree private. Probably a good idea to take screen shots.
answered by Alma LaFrance G2G1 (1.8k points)
+1 vote
Wow! I just checked mine...I am up to 34 DNA Circles! Yay!
answered by Debbie Parsons G2G6 Pilot (117k points)
Wow, a lot more than me! Have you added them to the category for DNA circles? [[Category: AncestryDNA Circles]]
0 votes

Last night I got an email from Ancestry DNA "See what we've found in AncestryDNA results for you". So naturally I opened the email and one of my brickwall ancestors https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Whitworth-791 showed a new circle and gave a name for her mother and father and where she was born and died. I'm elated! Then I see it states she had 10 children, 9 with her husband and 1 son unknown relationship. Curious to say the least. Then today I look closer at the family tree they were recommending and realize that the 10 children listed were from the DNA matches family trees. So with different spellings and with middle names or no middle names I realize that most of her children have been duplicated. And one lone Richard making up a total of 10 children. So by using 6 matches and 6 family trees they managed to totally have their recommended tree via DNA messed up with duplicates and errors. So now even thinking I now had her parents I'm not sure I can even count on those being correct. So I went from excited to pissed off.

They had me take a survey if I wanted to and boy oh boy did I want to and there is a phone number to call if I wanted more information which I will call tomorrow. I should not be so surprised that they are taking family trees which are the most unreliable thing on Ancestry and building DNA family trees with DNA matches and their family trees. What a total disaster they are going to have until they find a way to clean up the messed up family trees!

answered by Louise Halpin G2G6 Mach 2 (27.9k points)
yep. that's exactly how DNA Circles work.

Its entirely built statistically from the family trees of your DNA matches.

And if there are errors in the trees, there will be errors in the Circles.

For example, I am in the wrong Circle for my 2nd great grandmother, because most people have her conflated with her 1st cousin. So my "correct" tree is in the minority.

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