Five Mirror Tree Questions Answered

Mirror Tree Questions - Answered

On my most popular post about finding shared ancestors, I got a few questions and even more via email about how to set up and use a mirror tree.  I’m going to do my best to answer some of those questions on mirror trees and how they work with your DNA profile on AncestryDNA.

1. How do I make a mirror tree?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just click and save a person’s entire tree and use it as our own? Well, it’s just not possible as far I know.  Here is my best suggestion to you…

  • Open two windows and have it set up as a split screen.  You can do this by grabbing the window and sliding it to the far right or left of your screen and it should re-size to fit just that side.  Do the same with your other browser window to the opposite side of the screen.
  • Pull up your DNA match tree in pedigree format in one screen. And the other browser window for your new tree.
  • **IMPORTANT** Set your tree privacy settings to private.

    Make your mirror tree private! Select the TREE Tab. Select your tree. Select Tree Settings. Not Pictured: Select Privacy Settings Scroll down and check both boxes in the Private Tree section
    Select the TREE Tab.
    Select your tree.
    Select Tree Settings.
    Not Pictured:
    Select Privacy Settings
    Scroll down and check both boxes in the Private Tree section
  • In your new tree (or new branch) start with your DNA match.
  • *TIP* In the suffix line write DNA and in the first name field input their username (or first name if you know it – just note somewhere how it’s listed in the tree) and the last name should be the accurate last name.  When searching for my DNA cousins in the tree, it’s easy to type in DNA and the whole list of them pull up.  Totally optional but has been very helpful in keeping me organized.
  • Fill in your mirror tree using your cousin’s tree.   Right now focus on getting the names, and birth & death info like dates and locations.  You can fill in the records later.
  • Go back a bit further than what your cousin has listed.  My top two 2nd cousins that aren’t adopted have only filled in their tree about 2-3 generations depending on what line you’re looking at.
  • I always try to go back into the 1700’s but sometimes the records are just hard to come by so don’t beat yourself up over it.

That’s it.  Now you have a tree that is a mirror image of your DNA cousin and maybe a little better 😉

3. I made the tree but how do I link it and who do I link it to?

The whole point of this is finding shared ancestors using YOUR DNA and your COUSINS TREE.  I’m not shouting here… just trying to point that out.

  • In the DNA section of Ancestry, select your DNA profile (if you only have 1 test just ignore this step)
  • Click Settings
  • Scroll down to “Family Tree Linking”
  • Select the mirror tree you created
  • Type in the name of your DNA cousin… by the time I get to this step I have already forgotten their name – have I mentioned i have a memory problem? This is when I type in DNA (only works if you type DNA in the suffix line like I mentioned in my tip above)
  • Select and click “Link to DNA”

That’s it.  Now just give the system a little time and you should have a few shared ancestor hints pop up.

3. I did what you said but I don’t have any hints.

My first thought is – Did you set up the tree correctly and is the person you linked to actually in the right place.

I have done it before.  I’ve set up a tree and somehow the home person isn’t connected to half the tree.

  • View your mirror tree in pedigree view and make sure you see all lines.
  • If you are missing parts of the tree, it’s possible somewhere a relationship got mixed up.

For instance: Home person is the son of Martha (no dad listed) but Martha has a spouse named Dan… Dan is the biological father of the son but something funky happened.  Edit the relationship so that Dan is listed as the father.  The other half of the tree should now be visible.

  • My next thought is you haven’t gone back far enough.  If you are mirroring a 2nd cousin’s tree, you need to go back at least 4 generations (including home person) to get to shared ancestors… but you need to go back further because you don’t have 15 2nd cousins to compare against.. You are comparing against mostly 4th cousins.
  • My last idea here is the tree you mirrored is wrong.  I copied a whole tree when I was first getting started only to find out it was not his biological tree. It was his adopted tree.  I spent so much time on trying to find matches and chase down similar surnames.
  • If that doesn’t work, I’d say move on the next match. If anyone has any other ideas for this, let me know.

4. Why do I need to mirror? Can’t I just click on the shared matches button now?

I love ancestry for their shared matches button but if you forgo the mirror tree step, and only look at shared matches and compare those trees, you may be missing some information.

I’ll give you this example – when I first got started, I had 1 3rd cousin and maybe 5 4th cousins. If the button was there back then, I would have concluded that none of them were related when really three of them did.

They shared ancestors but none of the same DNA segments.

5. I have shared ancestor hints but what does it mean?

What you are looking for is multiple shared ancestor hints that point to the same branch of the mirror tree you created.  I would print the mirror tree out and with a pen mark all of the shared ancestor hints when connected to that cousin.  Hopefully, they will gather on just 1 branch.  That is the branch of the family tree you are most likely related to.  Go to the generation that have the most shared ancestors and now work forward in time (and back – you have to work back on the spouses)

For instance, you have 8 shared ancestor hints for James and Mary Elmgren.. Well, now you need to know which of their children you are a descendant of.

In a perfect world they only have 2  kids.  Bonnie and Fred. Bonnie married Joe Black and had 2 kids.  Fill in Joe Black’s ancestry. Link your DNA to one of Bonnie’s and Joe’s kids – no new shared ancestor hints?  You probably aren’t related to Joe Black.

Move on to Bonnie’s brother Fred.  Fred married Cindy Lane.  Fill in Cindy’s ancestry.  They had 1 child names Fred Jr. Link your DNA to Fred Jr and now you have 10 new shared ancestry hints in Cindy’s line?  Awesome! Keep doing this!

In most cases, it won’t be that easy. Back in the 1800’s it seemed that every family had about 10 kids.  Stay the course and don’t get distracted by seeing something that looks familiar.  I probably would have solved who my mom’s mom was a lot sooner if I didn’t keep going, “This line has Johnson in it. Maybe that’s another spelling for Johnston”.

The reason I am having trouble finding my mom’s birth father is because the mirror trees come up with shared ancestors on multiple lines.  This happens frequently when you get back into colonial America and smaller communities.  My second cousins are double 2nd cousins so that makes things interesting.

Those are the main questions I’ve gotten and I hope this proves to be a little more helpful.  Let me know if you have any other questions.

If you have any other topics you would like me to write on, please contact me.


Page with Comments

    1. You want to choose a close DNA match. Preferably closer than a predicted 4th cousin. I would start with the first match you have.

  1. Thank you for your explanation of mirror trees. A question– Do I make the person I am connecting my DNA to, my home person? Or does it matter? I have been connecting to it right where it is and am not sure if this is working correctly. I have one set of “mystery” great grandparents and another semi-mystery great grandparent. We know his name but don’t think he belongs to the family he’s connected to. I have 2 3rd cousin matches whose trees I’ve mirrored. One day I hope to understand this stuff!

    1. The home person in a tree has no impact on your DNA results or shared ancestors so it doesn’t matter at all. My spec tree doesn’t have a home person set.
      You’ll get it. Sometimes the connections are a bit more difficult to make and it just really depends on getting that close cousin that has all the answers in their tree. Let me know if you need any help. Feel free to contact me through my contact page.

      1. I’ve set up the mirror tree just as explained. When I attempt to link, it asks, who are you in this tree? I cannot move forward unless this is filled in. HELP?!

  2. Thank you so much for your clear explanations. Is it recommended to have multiple mirror trees, or to just keep mirroring to my research tree? Do I tie them all together somehow? Also, can I attach my DNA to multiple trees, or just one at a time? Thanks for your help with this.

    1. I’m glad you find it helpful. If it weren’t for the DNA detective showing me this process, I would still be lost! When I first started, I had multiple trees and ultimately bought family tree maker to merge them when I found connections between the trees. If you don’t have software to merge your trees, it may be easier to have one large tree and then merge individuals when you find duplicates. That’s more of a personal preference than anything. You can only link your DNA to 1 tree at a time. Let me know if you need any more help! 🙂

    1. I’ve had shared ancestor hints pop up in as little as 30 minutes and some take as long as 48 hours. It just depends. I would leave your DNA linked to your mirror tree for at least 3 days if not longer before moving on.

  3. Hi , so I do see ‘hints” and I continue to add relatives to the mirror tree. I do not see a “DNA” link. I think I followed the steps??? Is there a specific icon, that indicates DNA link?? Do I create new trees if I get no DNA links??? Thank You!!!

  4. Hello, thanks so much for these mirror tree posts!
    What do you do when you know a DNA match’s tree is inaccurate? Do you stick with their inaccuracies and still build an exact replica tree or do you build a corrected tree instead?

    1. I’ve done it both ways. I’d make it their way first. If the tree is significantly different from records, they may know something that you don’t. If it’s slight inconsistencies like the month or year of birth don’t match the records, I follow the records.

  5. Elizabeth Leesa G,: I just made a mirror tree. I see under the DNA “home” page that my DNA data is indeed linked to the new tree .

  6. Can you link your own DNA to this mirror tree and still keep it linked to you home tree ? I want this for myself not another that I manage.

  7. Thanks for sharing your method! There’s something that’s just not “clicking” for me. Prior to linking my DNA to the mirror tree, there are already many hint leaves in the tree. How do hint leaves help once my DNA has been linked? Thanks again…

  8. Wait, wait, I see how this works when the results are viewed through the DNA matches page. I was referring to the pedigree view in the above post.

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