Shared Matches and Colour Coded Groups

You may be looking at a DNA match list that connects you to hundreds, or even thousands, of people.  Separating your matches into groups enables you to concentrate on one area at a time.

Ancestry’s Grouping Tools

Ancestry enables you to colour code/label/filter groups of matches.  See here for Ancestry’s guide to Grouping and Filtering.

  • You can create custom groups to suit your needs – eg, a maternal group, a group for matches who all seem to have ancestors from the same location, a group who have the same surname appearing in their trees etc. 
  • The choice of text label (“Granny McPherson’s ancestors”) and colour for each group is up to you, and can be edited as your research progresses.
  • Coloured dots appear next to matches to indicate which group(s) they have been added to.  Using this information, along with the notes you have added, will gradually help place each match within your family tree.

Where do I start?

Different searches start from different points.  Someone searching for their birth-Father may have information about the maternal side of their family, whilst someone who is adopted may have no information at all about their family. 

If you are trying to find your birth-Father and your Mother has tested it should be fairly straightforward to separate your matches into maternal and paternal groups – Ancestry will automatically label your maternal matches.  However, you will still need to divide the paternal matches into groups to research that side of your family.

Maternal or Paternal?

It is worth creating a Maternal Group and a Paternal Group at the start of your search, so they are available even if you can’t use them at the moment.

  • If your parent has tested, your match list will be automatically labelled to show which matches are related to you on that side of your family – you will see “Mother’s Side” (or “Father’s Side”, or “Both Sides”). 
  • Automatic labelling only works if a parent has tested – if other close family members have tested (eg, your half-sibling or Uncle) Ancestry cannot label your matches in this way – but you create/add matches to a Maternal or Paternal group yourself.
  • If you cannot test a parent, testing a close known relative will help, eg, if you can persuade a half-sibling, Aunt/Uncle or first cousin to test.
  • If that is not possible, testing more distant relatives, or identifying people on your match list who are related to your known family, will still be helpful. 
  • If you have no knowledge about your biological family, separating your matches into groups is the best way to start your search – until you have undertaken more research you will not be able to tell whether your matches are maternal or paternal.

Separating Matches into Groups

Ancestry provides lists of Shared Matches (see here for more information) which can help you divide your matches into groups.

  • Sometimes it is easy to identify what a group of shared matches have in common – eg, if your maternal half-sister had tested, her shared matches would be related to you through the maternal side of your family. 
  • Sometimes it takes a lot more detective work to discover the connection.  Initially you may have no idea why your matches fall into these groups – do not let that worry you!  The first step is to identify and colour-code the groups, then you can work out what they have in common and how the different Shared Match Groups are connected to each other.

Colour Coding Shared Match Groups

  • Ancestry’s Grouping Tools enable you to identify and colour code Shared Match Groups directly within your Match List.
  • Adding Shared Matches to groups is the same process whether you are working with a large group (eg, creating a Maternal Group using shared matches with your maternal half-sister) or a smaller group (eg, an unknown 4th cousin match without a tree):
  • Or, in more detail:
  • Create a Group for the matches.  You may be able to use a meaningful name for the group (Maternal matches) or you may have to use a less descriptive name such as  “Group 1” or “Green Group”
    • Add the initial Match to the Group
    • Click on the Match’s Name to go to the Match Compare screen, then click on Shared Matches
    • Add these Matches to the Group (there is no “add all” option, you need to add each match individually)
  • Repeat the process for each of the Shared Matches you have just added to the Group:
    • View their shared match list
    • Add their Shared Matches to the Group
  • Return to your main Match List
    • Find the next match that has not been added to a group
    • Create a new Group and repeat the process
  • Continue adding Groups/Matches until you have accounted for as many matches as you can.

The Leeds Method

  • The Leeds Method: enables you create a table/spreadsheet/handwritten list that divides your match list into groups/clusters of shared matches and colour-code them for easy reference.
  • If you have enough DNA Matches in Ancestry’s 2nd and 3rd cousin categories this technique can separate your matches into four groups, with each group representing the ancestors of one of your sets of Great-Grandparents. 
  • If you do not have many 2nd/3rd cousin category matches you can use 4th cousin matches, but you’re likely to end up with more groups, reflecting more distant branches of your family.
  • If you use the Leeds Method, you can set up groups on Ancestry using the same colour-coding system add you add your matches.

Pitfalls and Problems

There are occasions when grouping matches doesn’t work as well as you might hope…

  • If your maternal and paternal ancestors all lived in the same area for a long period of time and intermarried it may not be easy to separate them. 
  • If one of your parents is from a location where DNA testing is not easily available/popular you may find that the majority of your matches are from one side of your family.  If there are very few matches to your unknown family, it can make researching more difficult. 

Click here to return to the Free Resources page