ThruLines™ Introduced by Ancestry: TrueLines or TrueLies?

Last week was an exciting week for many genealogists who attended the RootsTech conference or, like me, who followed the live stream from home. My interest was focused on DNA related news. Ancestry added MyTreeTags™, New & Improved DNA Matches, and ThruLines™ to their site. The most talked about is ThruLines™ which is available to customers without an Ancestry subscription for a limited time.

I found a few things about ThruLines™ which were helpful but there was something which upset me so much that I stopped checking. I took a few days to calm down before I gave feedback to Ancestry on their new ThruLines™ tool. First the good and the bad, then my feedback.

TrueLines or TrueLies?

There are several reasons for my snarky title. I may know and you may know that ThruLines™ is not the same as true lines or true lies. But do all users, especially those who are very new to family history research, realize this new feature is like the Ancestry Hints and Shared Ancestors Hints? It isn’t a fast and easy fix. We still need to do research.

The Positive

ThruLines™ has helped me to find two cousins descended from my great-grandmother Laura Belle INGRAM’s half-sister Ocie Ola INGRAM. Ocie has been ignored by many in their trees. The marriage of her mother to my great-great-grandfather Irvin Lewis INGRAM took place in 1888 and no 1900 census listing has been found to show the family group. As far as we know, they had only this one daughter. The marriage ended in divorce in 1904. I have tried to follow Ocie’s children and grandchildren but I would probably not have found these DNA cousins without looking through thousands of matches. ThruLines™ pulled them right up and with the correct connection even though the matches did not have public trees back to the INGRAM common ancestor.

I’m now seeing 63 of my 64 maternal 5th great-grandparents in the ThruLines™. The missing ancestor, Gerard MALAMBRE, was found in other trees with a different surname spelling. It wasn’t a surprise to find all maternal ancestors except this one listed. Not many people who have worked on these lines have their trees on Ancestry. I have very few maternal matches, mostly 5c and 6C, from clusters of descendants of a few immigrant families in America.

The Negative

Ancestry’s New & Improved DNA Matches and ThruLines™ are ignoring my 2nd great-grandparents William A. W. DEMPSEY and Sarah Ann WOOD as the parents of my great-grandfather William Henderson DEMPSEY. In the case of this family line, ThruLines™ resembles quick & dirty tree work which shouldn’t be public or searchable unless it has been proven.

Don’t get me wrong. They haven’t changed my tree. People who are new to genealogy research and those who do not know how to use this tool will take this seriously. They will accept these errors without bothering to verify.

Screenshot of Common Ancestors of a match on AncestryDNA. According to Ancestry family trees, these are common ancestors.

The white boxes are actual entries in my tree while the dashed boxes are from information they have knitted in from other trees. The third cousin match has a private tree which likely includes William A. W. DEMPSEY as he is showing up on the match’s side. Why, if we both have this name in our trees, does the common ancestor show up as a Private person three generations further back? Why not William A. W. DEMPSEY?

ThruLines™ shows Emmanuel DEMPSEY of Logan County, West Virginia, as the father of my great-grandfather William Henderson DEMPSEY and this is reflected in the Common Ancestor match above.

I was hoping this new feature would help with my great-grandfather’s father William A. W. DEMPSEY’s brick wall. I was able to get the error above fixed. A person with a large tree likely accepted a Potential Father and Potential Mother and attached the wrong parents to my great-grandfather. The owner is not a direct descendant. The tree is so large I could not figure out how or if he is related.

I placed a comment on the tree with the wrong father for William Henderson DEMPSEY. The tree owner was quick to thank me for the help. He unlinked him and added the correct parents. There are still a few issues which I have further commented on. The owner appears to be willing to work on fixing his tree.

In ThruLines™ Emanuel DEMPSEY, his parents James DEMPSEY and Dorcas HAGER, his grandparents John DEMPSEY and Rachel SOLOMON, as well as the HAGER and VANNATER grandparents, have disappeared as potential ancestors. On a positive note, I was surprised to see this happen overnight.

I’m very disappointed I’m not seeing my 2nd great-grandparents William A. W. DEMPSEY and Sarah Ann WOOD as ancestors. There are hundreds of matches who descend from Sarah’s parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents (WOOD, McGRAW, HONAKER, HONEGGER, WISEMAN, and DAVIS) and they are not being found with the ThruLines™ tool. Matches I need to sift out of the rest to be able to find fourth cousins who descend from William’s unknown parents or more distant cousins who descend from his parents’ ancestors.

Screenshot of my public tree on Ancestry. These are ancestors who were in Circles.

This is not the only 2nd great-grandparent who is missing. My Gordon Washington ROOP was married twice and there are DNA matches coming from both wives. However, ThruLines™ is only recognizing his second wife, the step-mother of my great-grandfather Walter Farmer ROOP. This means I have the wrong potential 3rd, 4th, and 5th great-grandparents. Once again this is a branch of the family which has hundreds of matches, descendants of PETERS, LIVELY, CASH, PROFFITT, ROBERTSON, and COCKRAM. The branch and all other matches are missing. Yes, they are still there but difficult to ferret out.

Screenshot of my public tree on Ancestry. These are ancestors who were in Circles.

What I Am Doing to Make this a Good Experience

This could be a good feature when used correctly. When we find cousins who are DNA matches and fit into our tree we cannot accept the connection without following the records to prove the relationship. I’m worried about the people who accept shaky leaves, potential parents, and now a line back to a potential common ancestor using 2, 3, or 4 trees. I don’t want to throw away the good with the bad. I’ll take a close look at each ancestor and the matches they are supposedly coming from.

I’ve had a public tree with only ancestors linked to the DNA test I manage. I don’t have any other public tree on Ancestry. In the past days, I’ve added known and proven matches to fix some ancestors on the ThruLines.

It’s strange that the lines with the most descendants are not showing up correctly. I’m hoping this might turn out to be more positive – with people cleaning up their trees so that the correct connections get noticed.

My Feedback to Ancestry

  •  I’m finding ThruLines useful in that it pulls up distant matches which would not have been found due to the thousands of matches which are impossible to sift through.
  •  I would not say that it adds value to my Ancestry experience. It only reminds me of the many errors in trees. Mine is not perfect and the reason I  attached a public tree to DNA with only ancestors. In hopes this will help improve ThruLines, I have started to add the siblings of ancestors with DNA connections and the descendants who are DNA matches.
  • Since the public tree I’m using is based on well-researched work on my part, I hope it is being managed appropriately by Ancestry and not being used to suggest false potential ancestors as I am seeing up to 4 different trees are being used to show a line down from a potential to a match.
  • I DO NOT want a quick and easy way to add an ancestor or a match to my tree or anyone else’s tree. I believe people should take time to analyze and then add to the tree. Any trees with quick & dirty work should be made private and unsearchable.
  • I strongly disagree that having a common ancestor with a match is proof that the DNA is coming from this ancestor. The only way this can be proven is by using a chromosome browser for comparing with other matches with the common ancestor.
  • Although I am not overall happy with ThruLines at this early time, I strongly agree that we should check back often as more people take the test.

Final Thoughts

New & Improved DNA Matches gives us the ability to sort matches using colored groups. MyTreeTagsTM should help eliminate the need for strange ancestor names and keep our research and connections to new matches more organized. The lists of matches who descend from common ancestors seen in ThruLines™ will help both our research and proving of ancestors.

Will all the hoopla about these recent additions to the Ancestry experience distract us from the lack of a chromosome browser? Perhaps for a while but I’m still referring matches to my Dear Cousin post.

© 2019, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

42 thoughts on “ThruLines™ Introduced by Ancestry: TrueLines or TrueLies?”

  1. Thank you, your article was a very helpful analysis. As noted, it helps sift through what would otherwise be overlooked possible family links.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Cathy. You’ve reiterated my thoughts exactly! As I was wading through my ancestors, I came across a parental connections for my 3x great-grandfather Jenkins (Harry) Harris in Wales. I knew right away it was not correct, for my Jenkins Harris was born in Breckonshire, and died in Monmouthshire. The Jenkins Harris the other tree had connected to my Jenkins Harris had him dying in Glamorganshire. I only see this tool that you take with a “pinch of salt”. Brian

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As you know, I also have had a mixed experience. On the positive side, I have found two “new” living descendants of my ancestors—third and fourth cousins—whom I’d not located before. They or their parents were on my tree, so they are not really new discoveries in any way, but now I am in touch with them and learning more about their branch of the tree anecdotally. So that’s the good.

    On the other hand, I have a number of presumed ancestors (some labeled Private though clearly long dead) for whom I can find no basis for Ancestry’s conclusion. Most come from trees without sources, and looking at those trees I have already found many mistakes—e.g., linking my relatives to someone with the same surname even though there is no basis for doing so otherwise—except maybe some shaky leaf. I found new children added to my ancestors, for example, who were definitely not my ancestor’s children. So now that “child’s” descendants have become my presumed cousins simply because we share some small amount of DNA.

    I haven’t bothered trying to send corrections to the flawed trees. Most of largely inactive—people who haven’t been on Ancestry for over a year. I just figure I need to close my eyes and only rely on Thru-Lines when I KNOW that the linkage is supported by research and sources.

    Thanks, Cathy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t want to come across as being completely negative about the ThruLines. I was happy to hear you had found new cousins. We’ve always dealt with the trees which are in error. This is giving them even more attention. Thank you, Amy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thanks Cathy…this was very helpful. I’ve been very disappointed in the DNA reports that come with the Ancestry Tests…the ones 10 years ago were so great and detailed….my frustration lately has been “off the wall”…but you’ve given me hope once again. I’m still trying to uncover more information on Seaton B. Dempsey…but not giving up!!!!


  5. TrueLies.I can not fathom why my matches are for my ggreatgrandmother’s SECOND husband’s PARENTS. I am not related to them. I also am not related to my granduncle’s wife’s mother. I have very few family suggestions and none of them are my line. The ONLY suggestions I am getting are for my sister who is in my tree. Duh? The circles they got rid of were much, much better than this. I will look at them one more time someday and if they still show me related to everyone in my sister’s family in my tree then I won’t bother ever again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Toni, sorry to hear you are so upset about this. There are definitely things which are not working the way they should be. Did you know you can go back to viewing your Circles? On your DNA profile page where you go into the ThruLines, in the box at the bottom you will see: Still want to use DNA Circles? This will take you to them. Good luck with getting your lines fixed.


      1. Oh, good. I thought it would be eliminated in favor of “new and improved! NOW with even more things to ruin your tree.”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. But the “STORIES” at the circles are preposterous. My grandmother did not have 18 kids by 3 different men. She had 8 kids with 2 husbands. The circles themselves showing relationships with other trees is good. It’s quick and easy to check those.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw it by accident and could not believe my eyes. And it wasn’t just hers. All my female relatives seemed to really get around! Sometimes in two countries at the same time. Men must have found them fascinating. Or easy!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Cathy

    In my view, your assessment of what is right and wrong with ThruLines is spot only. Thank you for taking the time to write it down and say it so well.

    From my perspective, the tool appears to be more heavily weighted towards tree and public record data than DNA data. I only have maternal ThruLines … no Paternal ThruLines. From what I can see from some of the things written by Christa Gowan of Ancestry in various places, this is because I have not put in full details about my father. For personal reasons I am unable to fully identify him in my public tree. I have him shown as living and I have put in his birthdate and place. I have his death date in a note. In my tree he clearly links me to my grandparents who are fully documented and my tree has lots of DNA matches connected including 2 half siblings. As I understand it, because I have not fully documented my father so that he matches what is in other people’s trees by showing him as deceased, ThruLines won’t make the connection. It gives precedence to information that is repeated in multiple trees (whether right or wrong information ) over DNA connections. Incidentally I have 10 Paternal DNA circles. Tools on DNA pages should be predominantly drawing on DNA information in my view. In not doing so it is no better than the potential parents hints on its family tree pages … which have their place as clues to be examined carefully but have nothing to do with DNA.

    The new’ Theory of Family Relativity’ tool on My Heritage seems to be a much more intelligent tool in terms of using trees but leading with DNA. Of course like anything else, the theories need to be viewed as clues and examined with a critical eye.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the days and weeks to come I hope we will be getting more information on how information in our trees is treated to make ThruLines work.

      I haven’t had time to try out MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity. I had a quick look at one or two of the top matches and they looked good, i.e. were what I had already figured out.
      Thank you, Jane, for stopping by and leaving this interesting comment.


  8. Dear Cousin,

    Always in over my head, I attended a presentation by the Santa Cruz County Genealogical Society’s DNA special interest group member speaking about his use of DNAPainter. Paul Franklin made several points about the program and I’ll try and list them here. I’m sure I omitted some or may have misinterpreted; take it with a grain of salt.

    He, like you, has started leaning towards finding possible living relationships and mentioned, figuratively, “triangulation” to use as a map. Calling or emailing the match with more than 10% cM’s generally. He surveyed to audience of approximately 25. Most were AncestryDNA and he urged them all to upload to He commented that the Genesis was expected to improve the site.
    The program recommends you choose four basic colors for the grandparents, similar to the four file folders we used in the old days. And than you can choose variations of that color for ancestors or descendants. Using a chromosome browser, after you copy and past one to one from Gedmatch including the headers and it results in an initial vertical display from other folks that have uploaded there. Further queries about sex and assigning colors.
    He had four profiles showing one, his original with approximately 200 individuals he painstakingly uploaded one by one. The other profile was the wild west open range collection of cousins, limited by, either a bottom number of cM’s or percentages. I don’t exactly remember the third, but the fourth was set up for the class to observe step by step how to import and visualize stuff with the basic tools
    He has currently subscribed to five known DNA testing labs and noted Ancestry is the only one that will not let you download segments or snippits or percentages for direct import into DNAPaint. DNAPaint was a follow on to 23AndMe.
    A comment from Lisa who apparently is a numbers person said she used DNAGedcom, developed for seeking out biological relatives of adoptees and wanted to know if the information could be exported into a comma separated variable from DNAPainter.

    I’m hopeful this will assist you, I recall reading your way for organizing DNA studies, but aside from having the visual ability or study DNA, it appears it is becoming quite popular. It has free tools and more tools with a paid subsription. I don’t understand any of it and for me it might be a lengthy learning curve. But I see ThruLines doing pretty much the same thing and I expect you may have control in this particular environment.

    I’m will email a copy of this missive to Paul along with your blog URL.


    Cousin Ike


    1. Dear Cousin Joe, it would have been fun to attend that presentation with you. I am covering all the bases. I have the AncestryDNA test results on FTDNA, MyHeritage, and Gedmatch Genesis. I am collecting all the data and inputing it into Genome Mate Pro which is a program similar to DNAPainter in that it also maps the chromosomes. But it is much more than a painter. I can keep tract of who I have contacted etc.
      Best wishes,


  9. It is There is a public science event at the Museum of Art & History, 20Apr19 1-5 p,m hosted by the Science & Justice Research Center UC Santa Cruz. Several PhD candidates Biomolecular Engineering, Molecular, Cell & Developmental Biology and Art & Visual Culture. A couple of Asst Professors and one Professor. May I have your donut if you can’t make it?.

    “No, really, what percentage are you?” a public science event exploring: Race, Identity & Genetic Ancestry Testing


  10. Interesting post, Cathy. I have only spent about 5 minutes with ThruLines. I could see immediately that the lines of most interest to me were not represented so I have been focusing on using the new MyTreeTags to help tidy up my recent tree explosion on my Jerrain line. The discoveries are happening so quickly that I’m struggling to track certain tasks and the tags are soooooo helpful. Yesterday, I started tagging ancestors with very specific tags and found four missing babies from my efforts.

    I LOVE this point you made, “I DO NOT want a quick and easy way to add an ancestor or a match to my tree or anyone else’s tree. I believe people should take time to analyze and then add to the tree. Any trees with quick & dirty work should be made private and unsearchable.” AMEN! I don’t ever click the buttons to add people or data from other trees. I’m all about taking my time and making sure I understand the person(s) well enough that I know my additions are correct. I’m not in this to be a collector. I want to be accurate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amberly. I hope Ancestry also sees my point. Alas, there are collectors out there and more than there are serious researchers. For me, seeing Ancestry Family Trees as a source is a red flag especially when it is the only source.

      I don’t have my full tree on Ancestry. I think the ability to add tags is a very good feature and hope people will use it. I have been waiting since December 2017 for Ancestry to give back the ability to upload/update RootsWeb WorldConnect where I have kept my full tree with notes and sources and without the ability for others to download part or all of the gedcom since December 2000. If this does NOT happen within the year I may have to upload a Gedcom of my database to Ancestry but will not allow it to be public and maybe only searchable. I don’t like that I cannot synchronize. I know there are other programs which will do this but I have used Ancestral Quest for too long to switch.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope so too! I share your lament. Whenever I see Ancestry Family Trees as a source, it invalidates everything for me and I treat the tree very differently. That may be harsh, but it seems quite clear that avid researchers don’t use the one click method.

        I find your situation with your tree/gedcom/Ancestry fascinating. I was a PAF user for many years. When I started maintaining an Ancestry world subscription in 2006, I uploaded my gedcom as a private tree. I maintained both for quite a while. Then I abandoned PAF and used my Ancestry Tree exclusively (aside from my contributions to the Family Tree on FamilySearch) while trying to choose another program. I haven’t found one that seems just right for me. So, I regularly download gedcoms from my Ancestry tree as my backup. I do occasionally use various genealogy software programs at my local center to run very specific reports that I print for extended family members. I do that maybe once each year. At this point, I’m starting to feel about Ancestry trees the way you feel about Ancestral Quest. But – it makes me nervous…


      2. I’m surprised you never went from PAF to Ancestral Quest, Amberly. Since you’ve been using Ancestry to build your tree and you download gedcoms from there, I have a question. I know the records don’t get carried over into the gedcom, but do the events, sources, and notes you may add get imported into the gedcom? In the other direction, all my notes and sources from Ancestral Quest were imported into Ancestry.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m a Mac girl so I worked pretty hard to keep PAF on my computer. I had to have parallels and give up a portion of my harddrive, etc. When I decided it was too much work to update two trees, I just quit updating PAF and then eventually removed PAF and parallels from my computer. I kept thinking I would choose another program, but there weren’t many choices for a Mac back then. And so here I am today – Ancestry tree only. 😉

        Good question! I just did a quick test to make sure it is still working the same way. I downloaded a gedcom of my main tree and then uploaded it as a new tree. All of the events get imported. All of the notes are imported. All of the Ancestry sources are imported (and automatically linked to the actual source on Ancestry). All of the custom sources that the user creates under “other sources” are imported. Weblinks are not imported (bummer). The new MyTreeTags are not imported. And lastly, nothing from the gallery is imported – no photos, document images, pdfs, or stories written in Ancestry.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I need to make a note of this somewhere. I didn’t expect the images to be exported and imported. But it would be nice if the URLs could be transferred. Cool that the Ancestry sources are automatically linked to the actual source. Thank you so much, Amberly, for testing the gedcom function.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I have the URLs (with html code) of my blogposts in the notes in my database. These worked well with Rootsweb. I’ll have to check if there is a way to add a link to Ancestral Quest outside of the notes (only viewable by owner or guests) which will transfer. Maybe I should make an event for blogposts. I need to be ready in the event Ancestry decides to not fix the upload of gedcoms to Rootsweb.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for the warnings on this and appreciate that you balanced the positives and negatives. To be fair, Ancestry is labelling this “beta” for a reason. It’s just getting started. Hopefully they will incorporate feedback to make this a more useful/less dangerous feature.

    One question – on your public tree do you included all the records for your ancestors? Others have shown that trees with records get “counted” more and utilized in all of ancestry’s hints/trees, etc. Somewhat unfair because folks may have highly documented work elsewhere but that’s not counted.

    Bill Greggs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Bill. Yes, it is still in “beta” and I hope they will consider our feedback. Unfortunately at this time there are several bugs, i.e. step-parents showing as parents.

      The public tree I have on Ancestry is a gedcom I generated from my database and uploaded to A. I have not attached Ancestry records to each individual ancestor. The ancestors already have sources cited in my database under the Other sources section. From time to time I will go in and check an ancestor and may be inclined to add the record but this is double work for me.

      At this time the potential ancestors I am seeing are coming from trees which have few records and look like they were only built by accepting hints and potential fathers and mothers offered by Ancestry. I don’t want to sound negative. This could be a very useful tool if used correctly.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Bill.


  12. I was thinking the same thing. I couldn’t accept this info without first checking records to back it up. I know my last name was changed by a great great grandpop maybe even a 3great grandpop but not sure. Dna matches from those descendants have names in their trees going back further then my tree and shows a connection and possible potential ancestors which I’m excited to explore but you have to put the work in and not accept atvface value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is something everyone should know. These are the same as hints and need to be worked out and researched. I am seeing too many people praising Ancestry for a connection they didn’t know about and I fear this is going to cause error in a lot of trees. Thank you for commenting, Hinkie.


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