Using Ancestry Stars to Distinguish DNA Matches

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My recent Mirror Tree obsession has made me realize that having a consistent method of organizing Ancestry DNA matches is key for finding the most elusive ancestors.  Are you overwhelmed by the hundreds of ‘4th cousin or closer’ Ancestry DNA matches, and not sure what to do with them?   Have you been struggling with how to identify which of your Ancestry DNA cousin matches make good Mirror Tree candidates? Using the Ancestry stars to distinguish your DNA Matches may help you maneuver around these common DNA challenges.

If you are an adoptee with a closed adoption or do not know the identity of your biological parents, then your family tree will only contain one person, you. In order to benefit from this suggested use of the Ancestry Star, you will need to have at least one of your biological parents or grandparents identified.

What is the Ancestry Star?

The Ancestry Star can be found to the left of the profile photo of the DNA Matches. Many of your DNA matches will not upload their own photos, and will have a stock female (pink) or male (blue) silhouette as their profile photo. The stars are originally a light gray, but become yellow when they are clicked. I have no idea what the stars next to the DNA matches are intended for, and could not find any guidance on the Ancestry help pages on how to use the stars.

Example of a starred DNA Match. The star for the match on top is selected (yellow). THe star on the bottom match is the default color gray which means it was not selected.
Example of a Ancestry starred DNA Match. The star for the match on top is selected (yellow). The star on the bottom match is the default color gray which means it was not selected.

The popular website craigslist uses similar looking stars for shoppers to mark their favorite listings.  The purpose for these stars in craigslist is very clear.  When you hover the mouse over the craigslist star, the tool-tip, ‘save this post in your favorites list‘ is revealed.  Are the stars in Ancestry supposed to be used to mark favorite DNA Matches? If so, what makes a DNA match a favorite?

I am sure many people have different ideas of why you would ‘favorite’ a DNA Match.  When I first started using Ancestry DNA, I would star the DNA Matches that I wanted to research further, creating a task list.  I found this method unhelpful because I often forgot why I had initially starred each DNA Match. Over time I developed a better method for using these stars that has helped me organize my DNA Matches.

Suggested Use for the Ancestry Star

When you identify that a DNA match shares a known common ancestor with you, make the star yellow. This will allow you to easily identify which of your DNA matches have a known relationship with you.   When searching for unknown ancestors, you only need to explore the unstarred DNA matches.  By following this tip, you can easily eliminate known relatives when searching for unknown ancestors.

 How this Tip Can Help your Genealogical Research.

The above suggestion is a recommended method of organizing DNA matches to help maximize the benefits of using genetic genealogy to further your family history research. You can also use this tip to track your genetic genealogical success and to help pick a good candidate for a mirror tree.

On the Ancestry DNA home page, the center column displays a summary of your DNA Matches.  At a quick glance you can see how many ‘4th cousin or closer matches’ you have, how many of the DNA matches have ‘shared hints’ (have a same ancestor in their tree as yours),  and how many of the DNA matches are ‘starred‘.

THis is an example of the DNA Natch section of the Ancestry DNA home page.
This is an example of the DNA Match section of the Ancestry DNA home page.

The number of Shared Ancestor Hints will vary daily due to a variety of possible reasons (a public tree becomes private or vise versa, DNA is moved to different trees, A DNA is moved to a mirror tree, a tree is deleted/added).  If you follow this tip, then the number of Starred matches on the DNA summary page will only change when you discover new relationships to DNA Matches. Therefore, the number of starred matches will only increase over time, and this number can be used as a tool to measure your  genetic genealogy success.

Having the starred matches represent the DNA matches that you know the relationship to is also helpful in determining whether an unknown DNA match would make a good candidate to build a mirror tree from. If you are not familiar with what a mirror tree is, I recommend reading How to Build a Mirror Tree.

If you have a close genetic cousin that you want to build a mirror tree from (and you have some biological family identified), click on the ‘shared matches’ tab when you view the match in question. This will allow you to see a list of the ‘4th cousin or closer’ DNA matches that you share with this cousin. This means that these DNA Matches are also estimated to be ‘4th cousin or closer’ Matches to the cousin you selected.

This is an example of shared matches for an Ancestry DNA match.
This is an example of shared matches for an Ancestry DNA match.

The ideal candidate for a Mirror Tree is one whose shared match list has no stars attached. If you see several yellow stars associated with these matches, then they are likely a match through your known family, and you may not want to use this match to build your mirror tree from.  One exception to this would be if the genetic family of the unknown individual has lived in a small community for a long time such that endogamy has occurred.  Endogamy creates a much more complex DNA environment that is a subject that will need to be addressed in a future blog post.

If you have found this suggested use of the Ancestry Star feature to be helpful, please leave a comment below.  If you are already a frequent user of the starred feature, and have an alternate suggestion for its use, please describe it in the comments.  I am very curious of how others use this feature.

3 thoughts on “Using Ancestry Stars to Distinguish DNA Matches

  1. Hi Marcia, I feel your pain. I had to do this to, and there is no easy way to unselect all of them. You can filter your matches by star, and then unselect them until you no longer have any matches in the star filter. I didn’t do this, and question whether I unselected all of my mine. It is a slippery slope. Sometimes I come across a starred match that I didn’t take good notes on, and I question whether this was left over from my original method of using the stars. I used to use them to highlight DNA matches that I wanted to explore more.

  2. I’d like to “unhighlight” my starred matches and begin fresh. Can’t figure out how to do this except selecting each one by one. Suggestion?

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