Be careful with ThruLines on Ancestry.com

+30 votes
560 views

I had been using FamilyTree DNA and GEDmatch exclusively.  But, I was told about Ancestry.com's ThruLines and thought is might have some information that would be helpful.

NO>>>>what I have found is all the same mistakes that I find everywhere else.   While Ancestry.com tries to help with mistakes by posting messages on a "potential ancestor" that show there may be a mistake.   But, people are seeing a connection and grabbing it.   What a mess.   

I highly recommend that you learn about DNA before using ThruLines, or at least READ all the warning messages, even though they may be hard to interpret, such as

None of the trees linked to your DNA matches identify Hannah Wilson as the daughter of Jonathan Wilson.

1 tree linked to your DNA matches has Hannah Wilson, but not as the daughter of Jonathan Wilson.

in The Tree House by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (592k points)
I have yet to find much useful on Thrulines. But it really depends on the quality of the traditional genealogy connected to the DNA test. There are certainly possibilities for making break-throughs.
I've found it to be helpful on occasion (it can help connect matches below the 20 cM shared match threshold, for example), but you definitely have to use it as just a hint and verify for yourself.
Excellent advice.

Unfortuntely, far too many Ancestry patrons believe that the "hints" provided by Ancestry are proof of descent.  I have seen a fair share of new genealogists who take every connection as "proven by DNA" and don't realize that the lines are only as good as the trees entered and that they are matched to.
I use it simply for the clues it provides.  Sometimes the person they show as related are indeed related, just not in the way shown on others' trees.  It definitely gives me information to research, though, and has, for me, proven useful.

9 Answers

+15 votes
It is true that many ThruLines are wrong and misleading.  Others are just silly, as when I and my siblings and first cousins are shown as the only sources for a third great grandfather.

However, ThruLines do something else that really can be helpful.  They sometimes identify how you are likely to be related to a person with a private tree.  They also save time occasionally, by identifying actual relatives that you might have to do a lot of sifting of matches to find.

ThruLines are definitely not all good, but they can be useful.

Edit was to correct grammatical error.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (229k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
I agree. The only use for them for me has been identifying connections to private trees. However, even those can be wrong since they still rely on the validity of Ancestry Family Trees.
+8 votes
I have found them useful in trying to work out possible matches where I already have some of the family in my tree. But I always do the research myself because so many Ancestry trees are full of nonsense. One I looked at a few hours ago had children born in Nova Scotia at the same time as the family were on the Scotland Census. Talk about blind copying without logic.
by Margaret Allison G2G6 Mach 1 (10.2k points)
+5 votes
I totally agree with the posts here. We must do our own research and use things like Thru-Lines as merely hints. They can help but they can do a lot of harm. The Thru-Lines take our Ancestry DNA, match us up with others on Ancestry and then create the Thru-Lines with what those people have on their own trees. We have all heard the phrase "Garbage in, garbage out" and this is a take on that. I have used Thru-Lines to see what is there but don't get excited about anything unless I have done the actual research.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (301k points)
+3 votes

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I’ve had three breakthroughs using Thrulines, although when I say breakthrough really if I was diligent and smart enough I could have worked it out without being pointed there by Thrulines.

I’m defining breakthrough as extending back a generation or more, or finding a whole bunch of siblings to an ancestor I hadn’t known about.

Three breakthroughs is far smaller than the number of dodgy leads I’ve had. The big problem is the “possible ancestor” suggestions that actually have no DNA basis, they’re just in a DNA relatives tree, farther back than the connection actually is.

Where I’ve found it most useful is where I’ve been unable to trace a sibling or nephew, and their DNA descendants tree matches up to mine. Nine times out of ten the paper trail is very strong and I metaphorically slap my forehead for not finding it in the first place.

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Also Thrulines helps you work around private trees. It won’t show you the private person but will show you the exact same person in someone else’s tree.

by Mark Dorney G2G6 Mach 2 (27k points)
+10 votes
Your post is dead on. Thrulines are not purported by Ancestry to yield DNA connections, only hints for research. They are mainly based upon Ancestry Family Trees, no matter if those  are right or wrong. The problem is that Ancestry heavily markets these suggestions to beginners as “Leaves” in their commercials, implying that they will find family. The novice researcher doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to separate the bad hints from the good ones. The result is a compounding of errors in Thrulines with a mistaken belief that the resulting family trees are based upon sound DNA-based evidence. It’s a circular mess that’s rapidly becoming messier.
by Bill Vincent G2G6 Pilot (107k points)
I agree Bill.  Last evening I sent in a suggestion to Ancestry to be able to remove wrong potential ancestors from  Thrulines.  I gave them a few examples of wrong ancestors they they assigned to me.  The wrong ancestors come from other trees that have wrong information.  There are thousands of trees ancestry that use other trees as sources.  That is not good genealogy, but this is what Ancestry has created.  Maybe Ancestry will give us the option to remove the wrong potential ancestors in our Thrulines.  And, it's just not on Ancestry,  there are also wrong and unsourced trees on Geni, My Heritage, Family Search, and here on Wiki.  It is a shame.
Gary, If you are aware of wrong unsourced information here on WikiTree, I hope you're working with the profile managers to make corrections.
I have contacted some of the profile managers about their errors, and unsourced information.  I get no replies.  I have added comments into their trees about their wrong information, and have edited with proof showing the correct information. When the people believe their wrong information is true, there's not much that can be done.
+3 votes
I agree with your comment about ancestors, I have found it very useful and very accurate for find cousins as part of  surname project as it wades through private profiles rather well. Have you had issues with cousins, also?
by Marty Acks G2G6 Mach 9 (94.3k points)
@Marty

Yes, I agree about cousins....I actually found a 3rd cousin that I had been trying to validate, and she helped with a Family Bible to prove some other relationships.
+4 votes
I absolutely agree with what you are saying. As with anything else, Ancestry ThruLines is just bunch of hints that can be used to help narrow things down.  As with all the hints on Ancestry, they may or may not be correct when referencing tree information.  When I see a particular individual suggested in ThruLines, I check for sources of information, I dig into the individual trees referenced. Even when I think an individual may be correct, but I see all of the multiple sources are Ancestry Trees with no sources, I just don't go there. ThruLines has helped on one or two occasions that led to an actual ancestor, but more often than not, it leads to a potential ancestor with no sources other than another tree with no legitimate sources.
by Ken Parman G2G6 Mach 3 (34.1k points)
+5 votes
I have found that they are only as good as people’s trees. I have been lucky. 95% of the time, they have been accurate because of diligent researchers. Others haven’t been. The only time there may be contention is when I get to the 5th great-grandparents.

Some potential ancestors were odd and were easily dismissed. Some, though, I want to investigate because the people were in close proximity to where certain ancestors were born.

All in all, it is an okay system. At best it is a guide and people should be wary. Don’t get cocky and investigate no matter how ironclad it is. Do digging and see for yourself.

I did manage to nuke a few thrulines after disproving them. Again, 5th ggps gave me the most issues. If there are sources and is well documented, you should dig. That’s about all I can say. And if you have questions, send the dna match a pm.
by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (300k points)
+3 votes
My experience has been drastically better than I expected.  Yes, they are only hints.  Yes, one must perform due diligence to validate the line.  The fact is, though, that almost all of these thru-lines have proven to be legitimate.  I do have a cluster of false connections that connect in Ireland at a period where records are sparse or non-existent.  But even here, I see some value in that they might be able to help lead to a proper connection.  

With MyHeritage's version of ThruLInes, I have had much less success but still better than 50% are good so I am not going to throw the baby out with the bath water.
by Thom Anderson G2G6 Mach 3 (39.7k points)
Thom, your observations match my experience.

I would add that I have noticed it is not so much a difference between Ancestry and MyHeritage, but how well I have built parts of the tree. For ancestors where I have been able to build my own  tree sideways and down, the thrulines matches are generally very good. However in places on Ancestry where my tree is less developed then I have far more uncertainty in whether the offered information is correct, and there are certainly more wrong suggestions.

Especially in cases of remarriages or different fathers, thrulines has revealed new lines that our side of the family was not aware of - likewise the other side were not aware of us.

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