AncestryDNA: So what does it take to get a DNA Circle?

So I’ve previously shared my frustrations with the whole DNA Circles thing. Namely, the fact that I have a distinct lack of what AncestryDNA refers to as DNA Circles.

For those of you not in the know, DNA Circles on Ancestry.Coms DNA testing service purportedly go beyond finding a common ancestor with your DNA matches. These circles are meant to link you to additional AncestryDNA members with the same common ancestor…thus creating a Circle of people who are all related. Nice and simple, isn’t it? :O)

Given the size of my tree and known DNA matches for my family lines such as Sheffey, Roane, Harling and Josey –  I shared my frustration about the fact that I didn’t have a single DNA Circle on  I felt (and still do) that this was a legitimate gripe…and a gripe shared by many using the service, especially those with African American lineages.

Two months ago two names suddenly appeared on my AncestyDNA landing page. Now, the sting in the tail was these two names appeared as “New Ancestry Discoveries” and not as DNA Circles. And, of course, neither name was familiar to me. Then, just as suddenly as these two names appeared, they disappeared just as quickly.

So you can imagine my surprise when these two individuals appeared once more today.

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I have no Medders or Altmans on my family tree. So, in order to determine how these two people could conceivably relate to me, I had to do some digging.  And this is what I discovered:

I clicked on the link for John Smith Medders.

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I then clicked on “See Your Connection” in the right column…for obvious reasons. And got this:

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This left me none the wiser about who John Medders was or how we might be related. So I clicked on the “Relationship” link, hoping this might shed some light.

What this gave me was a list of members I shared varying degrees of DNA with:

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Well, one thing became quickly apparent: I was definitely in the realm of the Medder family. Each and every individual was a member of various Medders family groups on Ancestry.

The second thing that quickly became apparent was that I had a solid DNA match with two individuals – the same two individuals that are shown in the third image in this post.

In order to “see what I could see’, I selected the “View Relationship” for both individuals. And that’s when things quickly clicked. I’m only going to show one of the relationships to illustrate the discovery.

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The surnames of Flowers, Gregory and Moore are exceedingly popular surnames in America. However, taken collectively, and with roots in Pennsylvania, and then the Carolinas, I knew exactly what family in my own tree these names related to: the Harlan / Harling family. Yep, another Quaker family connection via the Quaker Harlan family.  The Harlan / Harling family had married Flowers, Gregory and Moore for nearly three centuries: first in England and then northern Ireland. And continuing such marriages in Pennsylvania and then in the Carolinas.

In this instance, Hannah Flowers b. 1722 (a cousin many times removed), married a Joseph Ashton. Their daughter, Hannah Ashton, married William Thomas.  Hannah and William’s son, William Jr, married Celia Alice Gregory (yet another Quaker cousin through the Harlans). The Meddars family shown for my two DNA connections above are descendants of William Thomas, Jr and Celia Alice Gregory.

So, at the very least, I am a distant cousin to at least John Smith Medders.  I may yet be a cousin of Mary Ann Altman. At the moment, I haven’t come across any familiar family names in the family trees I’ve seen for her.

So, while these two DNA matches don’t have a single Harlan or Harling in their tree (yet!), I get the connection.

I don’t get the lack of DNA Circles though.  Of which I still don’t have a single one. Go figure.

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19 thoughts on “AncestryDNA: So what does it take to get a DNA Circle?

  1. Unless I’m misunderstanding how these work, I also don’t have anybody in my DNA circles and my matches and ancestry are all northern European type matches. Kind of strange how I have nobody in any DNa circles, wouldn’t you say? Not to mention my parents and a 2nd cousin are all on Ancestry DNA, too. So maybe I don’t have settings set up properly?

    1. Hi Luanne. That is surprising. I’d hazzard a guess that it’s nothing that you’ve done. There really aren’t any settings you can tweak where AncestryDNA is concerned. The results, and how they are configured, are down to the service.

      1. I checked my dad’s, my mom’s, my husband’s (mostly Ashkenazi ancestry), and my second cousin’s. No DNA circle matches. Seems almost impossible to me.

  2. I just got my results a week or so ago, and due to some family crises haven’t been able to do much more than glance at them (and write a blog post). I’ve got 9 DNA circles. Yep, nine. They all seem to be based off ancestors who are my 2nd , 3rd or 4th great grandparents and include people it says not only share my DNA , and each other’s, but have tree evidence that they are related to my given ancestor. And they grow! When I first looked at the circles they had 1-3 members, but when I went back to look while writing this comment one for one of my 4th great grand- father’s has 16 members! (did more people join Ancestrydotcom and put together a documented tree that fast, or is it taking Ancestry awhile to crawl through their databases to match people [DNA Circles is still list as in Beta form on the page.]?)

    This is observational info only. I haven’t figured out what it is either.

  3. I have been told that the circles are not created for relationships in the 2nd cousin range or closer (which is why in your circles you see clusters of family members). It took a while for me to get any circles either and now I have nine. More people are testing every day.
    I also have lots of endogamous Quaker branches. I am surprised we aren’t related since mine ended up in North Carilina too at one point.

  4. At least 10 descendants of 4 children of my GGGGgrandfather have tested with Ancestry. We don’t all match every single other, but there are multiple matches connecting all of us. No Circle.

  5. Hello, just found and bookmarked your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed reading several posts so far. I have often pondered this question myself of how Ancestry’s DNA Circles algorithm works. I signed up for a free account on a whim a few years ago and looked around, then did not return again until last October (2014) when the scientific DNA aspect of my genealogy became too intriguing to resist. When I first received my test results (11 months ago), I had 72 4th cousins or closer and almost 3,000 total matches! (58 pages) That really blew me away. I was able to use many of my DNA matches to help fill in and build my family tree. I must admit I am now totally hooked and obsessed with my new hobby. I have learned such interesting and fascinating stories about my ancestors, solved one family mystery, and discovered a new one in my ethnicity. Anyhoo, I digress.

    To get back to the Ancestry DNA Circles, several appeared as soon as Ancestry introduced them. After reading this post and the comments, I feel bad now saying that I currently have 56 DNA circles. My DNA matches have also increased significantly in less than a year to 293 4th cousins and over 7,000 total matches (149 pages) with 210 Shared Ancestor Hints. I attribute that increase to several popular genealogy TV shows and Ancestry’s marketing.

    I was wondering how the DNA circles work because of one person in my matches who is NOT in my DNA circles, who is from the one branch of my family tree that I am most sure about because of family records in his possession. He is one of two family genealogists from the older generation of my family who researched our genealogy the hard way starting in the 70’s driving from courthouse to library, town to town, state to state to find records to meticulously piece together our tree. I was annoyed that I match only 2 out of 8 members in the two DNA Circles he should be included in (but now realize after reading your story that I have no good reason to complain). I even called customer service to try to find out more but the friendly Ancestry rep with the Irish accent could not offer much explanation or advice other than to wait and he might appear later.

    Since then I have learned and observed just a few things about Ancestry DNA Circles (Beta):

    1. DNA Circles require at least three members with a shared common ancestor in a public family tree, and each member must match a long DNA segment with at least one other member, so submitting DNA of a parent or child, or possibly a sibling, and attaching the test to your tree will highly increase your chances of receiving DNA Circles (I sent in my Mother’s DNA).
    2. Birth date, birth place, and surname spelling variations between trees sometimes cause exclusion from DNA Circles, but not always. (Try adding the surname variation from your matches in front of your existing surname spelling, or change it completely to match the most common spelling, birth date, and birth place used by your matches, then wait up to two weeks or more to see if this worked – you can keep your preferred/more likely to be correct facts in the Notes section of your ancestor’s Profile page under Tools, View Notes to change back to later)
    3. DNA Circles can disappear when a DNA match changes or deletes a person in their tree or changes their tree to private. (I imagine at least two kinds of reactions when a person receives their results and is shocked by the large numbers of matches – either “Wow, cool!” or “Yikes! Switch to Private!”
    4. DNA matches with private trees are not included (this was the cause of my DNA Circle issue). Double check that your tree settings are set to Public
    -Go to your Ancestry tree
    -Click on Tree Pages (near top next to tree name)
    -Choose Tree Settings
    -Click on Privacy Settings
    -Choose Public Tree
    5. Keep in mind that historical records prove accuracy of ancestors and not DNA Circles alone. A DNA Circle can be incorrect if the Shared Common Ancestor in all the DNA Circle trees is incorrect. This can happen when several people copy each other’s tree information without verifying the information using records.

    Good luck and hope this helps!

  6. Was having the same issues…. No DNA circles…. I was able to get it working by doing this…. Goto the “Tree Settings” and set “Who you are in this tree” !!! OMG… Why doesn’t it report this was not set, instead of reporting no DNA matches. Hope this helps someone.

    1. It is frustrating. I definitely feel your pain. I finally have 3 DNA circles. It took a phone call to Ancestry and going through my tree with them to achieve this. In my case, the lack of circles is impacted by endogamy. Centuries of too many cousin marriages has confused the heck out of Ancestry. In fairness, I don’t think any of the big genetic ancestry services factored endogamy into their matching algorithms. Having spoken to two services, it doesn’t look like there any plans in the near-to-mid term to fix this.

  7. As I have told my relatives.. family history of our ancestors can vary greatly from the DNA of our actual ancestors. Most folks have trouble believing their parents or grandparents etc would stray from the marital bed let alone even give thought to sexual abuse of in their family. Sometimes .. most of the time .. these ancestry links will never be made clear to us.
    I can’t even imagine learning of a child you didn’t know you had or finding your parent isn’t who you thought they were. Not so easy to hide in the world of DNA.
    Just some thoughts to ponder. K

    1. Aye, the responses I’ve had from my new-found, less-melinated cousins has been mixed. Most of the responses have been brilliant. And, it’s been great to meet them. The others (thankfully in the monority), have been gard, chalkenging, and unpleasant. I just calmly tell them I’m not the one they should be angry with. Invent a time machine, go back in time, and tell our common ancestor to keep his trousers buttoned up 😉

  8. I have my a book on the Roane genealogy of Charles Roane and his wife Frances. They settled in Gloucester County Virginia in 1664. If you think there is a connection let me know.

    1. Thanks, K. I have the digital version. It’s a great book. I’m descended from the Scots-Irish Roane. So far, no one has been able to determine if they were related to the English Roanes. I’ve traced both back to the early 1400s in Britain. If there was a common ancestor, it goes back much further than the 1400s. Interestingly, the Scottish Roanes were courtiers to the Stuart dynasty. The English Roanes were courtiers to the Tudors and the Stuarts in England. Coincidence? The jury is still out.

  9. I just recently got my DNA results back (within the last couple of weeks). About a week after, I noticed I had DNA Circles listed. Fifteen or so in total. I looked around a little, but with work the next day, I had to cut it short. So I figured I would get back into it the next evening.

    Only problem is… that next evening, I had zero DNA Circles listed. And haven’t had any appear since. I asked Ancestry about it on their Facebook page, and they brought up the ‘New Ancestor’ section, but never bothered to really answer the question. And then other users responded, and they never really answered any of my questions either.

    I still fail to see why I can have DNA Circles one day… but after that day, there has been nothing. I’d chalk it up to just one of those things if we were talking only one or two circles. But it was in the teens, and then poof, gone.

  10. I have tested my father, mother, daughters and husband through Ancestry DNA. Everyone has DNA Circles, except for me. My mother has 32. My father has 7. Both daughters have 43 each. I have 0. It makes no sense to me that I am not included in a single DNA circle. We are all matched to the same family tree. My DNA matches to the people in each circle, yet I still not included in a single circle. It’s been a couple of years like this. Ancestry simply told me it’s Beta and in a month or two I would probably have some show up. After 24+ months, I’m still waiting…

    I double checked that I linked myself correctly to my DNA, and I did. I un-linked it. I re-linked it. I changed my tree to private – which removed all DNA matches from everyone. Then opened it up again. Everyone’s matches came back, and I still don’t have a single one. Hmm. I don’t get it.

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