How to count Ancestry Matches

In July 2018 I posted detailed instructions on how to count Ancestry Matches. This was after an update to the Ancestry website had “taken away” a simple display count at the top of the match list page. That old post is now invalid. Ancestry has recently rolled out a few new filters at the top of the list page, and I notice that one of them gives the count of your total matches.

The Shared Match Filter

Click on the shared match filter at the top of the match list page, and there is the count. Highlighted in a big bold font, and surrounded by heraldic cherubs (or cherubic heralds)!

Count of Ancestry Matches

Actually no, the number is in a lighter gray font, almost apologetic for getting in your way with useful information.

The Usefulness of the Total Count of Ancestry Matches

When you pay for a service like Ancestry over time, it’s natural to want to have an idea about the rate at which your matches are growing. However I don’t think Ancestry have really grasped that desire. They understandably trumpet the total growth of the DNA database as part of their financial figures, but at times have made it hard for individual users to track our personal numbers. My original post described a convoluted method of paging through matches and calculating the total using a classic mathematical algorithm. Now I’m delighted that the total number is back within easy reach!

Three years ago I had about 8,000 matches in total, and was envious of other users reporting double that number. Today, I’m closing in on 16,000. It’s a headline figure that keeps me coming back to Ancestry. Yet it doesn’t really tell me “usefulness”. What if 80 of my 8K matches in 2017 were 4th-cousins-and-closer, and today a mere 90 of my 16K cousins are above the 20 cM threshold? I would be very disheartened. However, the Shared Match filter does give me a broad breakdown between close and distant. I see that my close matches have also nearly doubled, which keeps me well-motivated to keep researching. Some day a new match with a fantastic tree will break down one of my many brick walls!

More Useful: A Detailed Count Breakdown

Personally, I like to know a bit more about the breakdown of my matches by centimorgan. It allows me to plan my research by picking a reasonable threshold of centimorgans to use when doing a deep-dive into my matches. In earlier years I paid a lot of attention to my lower CM matches such as 6-7 cm, while being aware that a proportion of these are not genuine genetic relatives. Over time, my total matches have doubled and I’ve slowly moved my bar upwards.

When I work with a client, the first thing I do is provide a more detailed breakdown of match count falling into specific ranges. Here is an example for one client in December 2019. The centimorgan range is along the x axis, and the number of matches along the y axis. So she had a little over one thousand matches above 15 cm, and a further 5,270 at 10 cM and above.

Sample breakdown of matches by cM

The Power of Counts and Filters

30K of her total 36K matches were below the 10 cM threshold. There could be gold in those low matches with fantastic trees, but it can take a long time to sift through the dust thrown up by chance matches. I think it best not to start within a dust bowl. She asked us to provide a detailed analysis of her top 5K matches. That was a nice round number which went right down to about a 10.5 cM threshold. From there, our deep-dive spreadsheets will provide more counts and filters than Ancestry gives you at time of writing. This gives you answers to questions like:

  • show me the top 5K matches who have linked trees with more than 20 people?
  • show me matches that have more than four shared matches on their shared match tab?
  • show me matches who at least six “hidden” shared matches below Ancestry’s 20 cm threshold?

Slicing and dicing your matches on these kind of criteria lets you strategize which matches you will spend your valuable time researching. Arrange your matches by descending (a) number of shared matches, (b) tree size and (c) centimorgans. Then take it from the top of the list, and start your research!

Sample spreadsheet with filters on total shared matches and tree size

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