Ancestry DNA® results can be tantalising – but also extremely frustrating. Being given a long list of strangers who may be your 5th to 8th cousins is certainly exciting – but in most cases it’s impossible to prove their connection to you. More often than not, there are no shared matches with other people, and the names in their family trees (if they have one) may have no overlap with your own.

Hooray, then, for Ancestry DNA’s new ThruLines™ tool, which illustrates how you might be related to your DNA matches through a common ancestor. Basically, you’re given a list of ancestors that you share with DNA matches. By clicking on them, you can see how your family trees overlap. As well as helping you to see why some random stranger is on your list of DNA matches, ThruLines can also help to confirm some of your genealogical hunches – which, for me, is the main value of having taken a DNA test in the first place.


For example, if I look at the ThruLines entry for my supposed maternal 4th great grandfather William Holdsworth (1771 – 1827), I find that I have one DNA match via his daughter Eliza, my 3rd great grandmother, which I already knew about (a second cousin), and three DNA matches via his daughter Phoebe (1796 – 1875) – which I didn’t previously know about. Opening up the tree, I discover that these are people who are descended from Phoebe’s son Thomas and daughter Ann, from her first marriage to Thomas Chamberlin (1794 – 1837). ThruLines tells me that one of these descendants is a 5th cousin of mine, while the other two are 5th cousins once removed. If I were relying simply on their individual DNA reports, I would never have discovered the nature of their connection to me: in all three cases, there are ‘no shared matches’, and only one of them has a single matching surname in their tree.

Plaque on the former premises of Blanch & Sons, coach builders, in Church Street, Chelsea

At the same time, this ThruLines connection provides me with confirmation that I’m on the right track in my research into my maternal ancestors, and that I am indeed descended from William Holdsworth, a shoemaker in Whitechapel and Bethnal Green in the early nineteenth century. This is not a huge surprise, but in other cases, ThruLines has provided evidence of connections about which I’ve had significant doubts. For example, I’ve often wondered whether my maternal 3rd great grandfather John Blanch (1802-1869), another East End shoemaker, was indeed the brother of Soho and Chelsea coachbuilder David Blanch (1810 – 1866), and the son of Bristol-born patten maker James Blanch (1755 – 1840), especially as there seemed to be some discrepancy in the christening records. However, ThruLines tells me that I have a DNA match with a descendant of David Blanch – a 5th cousin – and also one with another Blanch brother William Henry (1804  – 1857) – this time a 4th cousin once removed.

I’m hoping that future matches via ThruLines will provide confirmation of more distant ancestors – but that, of course, relies on other researchers having ventured as far back in our shared families’ histories as I have.