What Does Close Family Mean On Ancestry DNA? (Answered)

You will see several different explanations of “close family” in support documents on the Ancestry.com website.

However, their descriptions contradict what we see on our list of DNA matches.

I asked ten different Ancestry customers to show me which relatives Ancestry classifies as close family for them. Read on to learn what Ancestry really means by “Close Family”.

How Ancestry Displays Relationship Categories

If you don’t have parents or siblings who have tested on Ancestry, there are some categories that you won’t see on your list of DNA relatives.

My closest relative is a first cousin once removed. This means that “Close Family” is the first category of relationships in my DNA Matches.

However, some people see other categories before they scroll down to reach the Close Family label.

What is closer than “Close Family”?

Check out the example below from a customer whose daughter and brother have also tested with Ancestry.

This picture is just to show you that Ancestry has labels that are closer even than “Close Family”. In this case, it’s “Parent/Child” and “Full Sibling”.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Parent/Child must be the highest possible. No, that’s not so.

Highest category on Ancestry

The highest category is labeled as “Self/Twin”.

This label covers two cases. One case is for identical twins.

The “Self” covers cases where the same person has tested several times. Of course, that person’s test kits match with each other nearly perfectly. Why would people do this?

Well, Ancestry has gone through several iterations of chip technology for testing. A small number of genetic researchers have purchased different versions to get the most recent improvements.

As the DNA results are near-identical, Ancestry can’t tell the difference between this and an identical twin.

“Close Family” Includes Half Siblings As The Closest Relatives

Now that we’ve seen the different categories, we can understand where the highest cut-off point is for Close Family.

Full siblings have their own category as shown in the picture above.

But what about half-siblings? These are included within the Close Family category.

We have a separate article on how Ancestry shows half siblings. Here is an example from another Ancestry customer who confirmed to me that this was a half sibling.

label reads close family to first cousin

What Are The Most Distant Relationships Within Close Familly?

Ancestry displays our DNA matches from highest to lowest on the DNA match list.

They are grouped into categories like “Close Family”, “Extended”, and “Distant”.

The category immediately below Close Family is Extended. So, what cut-off point does Ancestry use to define the lower end of Close Family?

Real data

I asked ten people who tested with Ancestry DNA to show me where their Close Family matches ended and the Extended label began.

The table below shows the details. The next section explains what you’re seeing here.

Lowest Close MatchLowest Close cMHighest Extended  cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin255 cM152 cM
1st cousin 2x removed243 cM165 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin224 cM200 cM
2nd cousin 1x removed219 cM181 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin213 cM177 cM
2nd cousin213 cM197 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin210 cM150 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin205 cM196 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin203 cM198 cM
2nd – 3rd Cousin202 cM197 cM

What the table shows us

I’ve ordered the customers by the highest centimorgan match that was that person’s lowest DNA match within the Close Family category. (I hope that sentence makes sense!).

It’s clear that Ancestry is placing DNA matches that are lower than first cousins into this category. This contradicts what their support pages say (I’ll show these in the next section).

But I think that if you look at the last column, what’s going on becomes a little clearer.

The third column shows the cM of the top DNA match in the “Extended” category. When you compare the adjacent matches, the cut-off point becomes more apparent from the data.

What “Close Family” Really Means On Ancestry DNA

“Close Family” on Ancestry DNA includes half siblings at the top end of the range.

From a review of ten Ancestry customers, we conclude that the website is using a lower cut-off point of about 200 cM when grouping DNA matches on the list page.

I don’t have a problem with Ancestry’s lower cut-off. They can choose any arbitrary point that they want. I just wish that they’d update their support documentation.

If you haven’t seen what they say, I’ll show you in the next section.

Support Pages On Ancestry.com Are Out Of Date

The problem is that Ancestry has definitions on several support pages that don’t seem relevant to how they display DNA matches to us.

One support page on the website is titled Match Categories. This is a quote straight from the page:

Close family could be an aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, grandparent or grandchild, great-grandparent or great-grandchild, a half sibling, or a double first cousin. Someone who appears in this category is rarely a first cousin. 

Ancestry.com support page

Explanation contradicts the DNA Matches list

Notice how they are emphasizing that the category should not include first cousin relationships.

That is clearly not happening in my own list of DNA relatives. I have two second cousins under the Close Family category. I checked with other Ancestry customers and they have similar results.

Is it just that my second cousins are unusually high in our shared DNA? No. This page also says that the cut-off point at the lower range is 680 centimorgans.

Nope! My second cousins are 235 cM and 271 cM. This is well below the stated cutoff on this page.

Other support pages?

Maybe this page is just a mistake? Let’s keep searching the Ancestry.com website.

I checked out another set of explanations on the aptly titled Match Explainer page.

Nope, that’s got the same explanations for close family. Again, it doesn’t match how Ancestry is grouping relatives on the DNA Matches list.


Don’t let Ancestry.com support pages confuse you.

Your eyes are not deceiving you – their information contradicts what you see in your DNA results.

Margaret created a family tree on a genealogy website in 2012. She purchased her first DNA kit in 2017. She created this website to share insights and how-to guides on DNA, genealogy, and family research.

2 thoughts on “What Does Close Family Mean On Ancestry DNA? (Answered)”

  1. So what family member would share 359Cm? Its saying its my closest relative. Im so confused. This is my dads side and I dont know who my dad is.

    • I recommend plugging the number into Shared CM project which shows you the probabilities.
      You’ll see that they range from 1st cousin once removed to second cousin, with lots of “complicated” relationships in there that you may be rule out due to age.
      For example, it could be a great-great-aunt or uncle. But if the match has put up a profile picture and is a lot younger than you, then you can skip that possibility.
      You should also look at the shared matches you have between you, it can give you some clues.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.