Posted by Paul Rawlins on September 4, 2017 in AncestryDNA

Remember when you got your ethnicity results? The anticipation, the excitement, the screen shot sent to friends and posted to Instagram? But did you ever stop to wonder where your estimate came from? And did you know there’s a lot more to it than a pie chart and percentages?

DNA is proof, right? So why do you call it an ethnicity estimate?

Creating an ethnicity estimate based on your DNA sample is a complex process based on probability, statistics, shared DNA, and ongoing research and science. AncestryDNA calculates your ethnicity estimate by comparing your DNA to a reference panel made up of thousands of people. Because reference panels and the way we analyze your DNA both change as we get more data, your ethnicity results can change as we get more data, too.

What’s a reference panel?

How does AncestryDNA decide if your DNA came from Ireland or Polynesia or Senegal or another region? First, our scientists create a reference panel by testing lots of people whose families have lived in one area for generations—Ireland, for example. Then they look for trends in their DNA results and compare those to other groups. Once they identify these trends for each region in the reference panel, they can look for them in your AncestryDNA test results.

Finding patterns that are distinct enough to tell one group from another is harder in places like Europe, where people have moved around and intermarried a lot. That’s why AncestryDNA continues to gather samples and improve its reference panel.

Snip, SNP

Here’s a simplified example of how AncestryDNA turns those trends into an ethnicity estimate. AncestryDNA looks at about 700,000 markers in your DNA sample. Those markers are called SNPs (pronounced snips). Each SNP refers to a certain position in human DNA. And each snip is made up of a pair of letters, either some combination of A and/or T or C and/or G. Let’s say that at SNP rs122 there are two possibilities: A and T. Because you get one letter (or allele) from each parent, you can have an AA, AT, or TT.

Each possible outcome at each SNP has a probability for how likely it is to show up in each region represented by the reference panel. We’ll pretend that rs122 occurs in three populations—Native American, Swedish, and English—at the following frequencies:

A = appears 5% of the time in Native American populations, 75% in English populations, and 80% in Swedish

T = appears 95% of the time in Native American populations, 25% in English populations, and 20% in Swedish

So, if you have AA at rs122, it seems you are more likely to be Swedish than Native American. If your DNA reads TT, the opposite seems more likely. One SNP doesn’t tell us much about your ethnicity, but when we apply the same process to thousands of SNPs, and then do the math, the grand total becomes the basis for your ethnicity estimate.

You Contain a Range of Possibilities

When you get your ethnicity estimate, the first thing you look for are the region names and percentages, right? I’m 32% Ireland! 24% Native American! 9% Benin/Togo—where’s Benin/Togo? But there are some other numbers that are just as important. Here’s an example of an AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate for someone with strong ties to northern Europe:

These results say that AncestryDNA estimates that 99% of this customer’s DNA comes from Europe. The next level includes Great Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. Each of these regions has a percentage and a range. AncestryDNA determines the range by analyzing each DNA sample an extra 40 times. Each time,  a few randomly selected portions of the sample are left out to help improve statistical validity of the first analysis, which is done with the entire sample. The percentage you get is the average of those 40 tests. The range reflects most of the results of those 40 analyses, with extreme outliers left out.

In the example above, those 40 analyses showed that as little as 14% and as much as 46% of this customer’s DNA appears to match the Ancestry Irish reference panel, with an average percentage of 30%. The likelihood that this user’s actual genetic Irish ethnicity is exactly 30% is not very high. However, AncestryDNA has relatively high confidence that this person’s genetic ethnicity falls within the range.

On the Downlow

The next level includes Low Confidence Regions. For each of these regions, the possible range includes 0% and does not exceed 15%. Since there is only a small amount of evidence of genetic ethnicity from these regions, it is possible that you may not have genetic ethnicity from them at all.

But My Family Never Lived in [Your Mystery Region Here]

Our example estimate shows 30% Ireland. But what if you’ve never heard of anybody in the family being from Ireland? This is where the maps and the polygons can help. By clicking on Ireland, the first thing that pops up is a note that this ethnicity is found primarily in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. OK, so already there are new possible places the ancestor who passed this down might be from. Going from See Details to the Region History tab brings up a map with three colored, concentric polygons in and around Ireland. The smallest covers most of Ireland, but by time you get to the outermost ring, you can see that DNA from this region is found throughout most of Great Britain as well.

The outer ring for the Great Britain region includes even more area: Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, France, bits of Norway, even Switzerland and Northern Italy. This all makes sense when you consider the migrations that took place more centuries ago, as Romans, Germanic tribes, Norsemen, and Norman French all made inroads into England. (You can read about those sorts of invasions and migrations under the map on the Region History tab.)

So, your ethnicity estimate can provide insight not only on where your ancestors might have lived but also migrations they might have been part of.

When Did All This Happen?

Your genetic ethnicity estimate tells you about your possible historical origins, not necessarily about where you live today.  AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity estimates go back hundreds to thousands of years, when populations and their boundaries were often very different. This might lead to a different genetic ethnicity estimate than you might expect.

But while someone’s language, name, or culture may change when they move to a new location, their DNA doesn’t. This can lead to surprises in your genetic ethnicity.  For instance, if the ancestors of your Italian ancestors migrated from Eastern Europe hundreds of years ago, you might show up as having Eastern European ethnicity instead of Italian.

The opposite can also happen. DNA is passed down randomly and the amount of DNA you might inherit from any particular ancestor decreases with each generation. That means you can have an ethnicity you know of in your family history that doesn’t show up in your ethnicity estimate.

If you haven’t looked at your ethnicity results in a while, go back and give them another look. You’re much more than a pie chart and a handful of percentages. And so is your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate.

61 Comments

  1. Alfredo Sumibcay

    I want to cancel my membership I don’t really need it I was looking for something it didn’t help meat all. Thank you

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Muriel: We’re sorry for the delay in our response. You should be able to see the pie chart on the first page if you click on the DNA tab. When you go to Genetic Ancestry, the URL should look like this: https://www.ancestry.com/…/xxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx…. If you would like to get to the old version of the ethnicity estimate page, please change “origins” in the URL to “ethnicity”, we hope this helps.

  2. Donald J Krueger

    I would suggest individuals get to know their countries history first, than read your DNA and you will see how the GGGGGparents moved from one part to another because of wars, employment, weather, etc and find parents or grandparents in ___like a 100 years ago and it would com some nerves.

  3. Diane Melvin

    I’ve had such fun immersing myself in the history of all of countries and regions of my DNA. There are many wonderful old history books and journals and published family genealogies available on amazon.com that I discovered through searches on my Kindle that are either free or very cheap. I’ve gained a very different perspective reading history written not by Americans, but by the historians of the regions and countries of my DNA.

    • Monika

      ..and that is why I put up a big fight with ancestry.com a couple of years ago, when they insisted that the place of birth that an ancestor was born in should be identified as what it is today, geographically, and not what it was historically at the time that our ancestors lived. I do not even consider it appropriate to say that an ancestor who died in 1687 in Boston died in “Boston, Massachusetts, USA” as ancestry.com wanted to see it listed. There was no USA in 1687!!!

      • Kalani

        I second that Monika and have said it over & over & over again how I don’t like the pre-filled out locations where it forces you to choose only the selected location. I actually put my own but I’ve seen people have all kinds of names for the places where I am from and where my ancestors were from that changed since before 1778, more so from 1893, then 1897, then 1900 or so, then in 1959.

        • Cathy

          I also list the name of a place as it was when my ancestor lived there, including the name of the territory or county in which they lived. In the timeline notes or comments, I provide the present day place name as a reference for further research. It is also helpful to collect reference maps that show changes over time. Sometimes your ancestor did not move, but the place name changed during their lifetime. To me, this is an important part of the research and should not be ignored.

  4. Charlotte Hunter

    There are some very basic statistical problems with Ancestry DNA and others. No one, to my knowledge, discusses what size the statistical population of known DNA subjects is, nor how that population is determined. I don’t know if they have the DNA of 15 people or 15,000 people. How have they determined any of the statements that are made by these companies? All that you’ve described is based upon some unknown statistics and that is not good science. These companies need to be transparent in order for me or anyone to trust them.

  5. Chuck Howard

    I am looking forward to comparing my results with my Natl’ geographic results. I have tracked my lineage as far back as 1301 and this should give more knowledge of my origins. Since I am Jewish on my mothers side hopefully it will also show the Russian/ polish side as well.

  6. Alan

    Hope you can make progress breaking out Western Europe and Britain results better. Many long-term European ancestors showing British ancestry doesn’t make s

  7. Sally Johnson

    There’s no map on the page showing my ethnicity regions. I’ve been in this from the start, and the ethnicities were always overlaid on a map, as the example on this page. Now all I get is two green blobs on an empty blue background, and one of the blobs changes shape and almost disappears when I grab the screen and move the display, looking for the map. What is the problem? The older display worked. This one clearly doesn’t, at least not on my page!

  8. Tim

    It is certain the more we learn about DNA and how Ancestry processes it the greater will be the value of DNA testing. One of the aspects of which all who manage multiple DNA tests should be aware is that for downloads of raw DNA of three or more of the tests you manage, when the raw detail is reviewed you may find that all the subsequent tests you download will be “exactly” the same. This has happened to me and Ancestry blew me off on the assumption that I didn’t know how to correctly download the test! Ancestry also didn’t bother to tell me of this conclusion.

  9. Our family have used the DNA kits extensively. We are racing to get the DNA of the eldest of our family members. Two things occurred to me as I read the blog. 1. Ancestry’s DNA support is excellent. A DNA match showed up cousins in our family that could not be explained. A knowledgeable DNA division person looked at the results and explained a half-sibling was a better interpretation. With that information we found blood relatives that had not taken the DNA test but could be linked through the half sibling that had. Lastly, my daughter shows 40% British. The family derives from everywhere but Britain. In fact, the Irisih branch of the family is from an area of Ireland consistently occupied by British Troops for centuries, explaining the “mystery.” We have found the moving target of borders over the course of wars can also explain unusual results. Poland, Russia and Germany come to mind. I know you know all this, but I thought someone else might find it interesting.

    • Freddie Thames

      Not to say this is the case, but illegitimet children, can cause differences in the DNA too. Whenever wars or massive migrations have taken place there is a possibility a DNA difference has taken root. This is looking at reality, not moral judgements.

  10. Jane

    Having just read the above Blog & Comments, I agree that it would be helpful for some members to know the size of the ‘statistical population’ (although I believe ANCESTRY said ‘thousands’?). That being said, I’m delighted that ANCESTRY has provided members with a means of identifying our various ethnicities! Even if the process needs some fine-tuning, I’m thrilled to be able to ‘look back in time’ to see where my ancestors lived! Have also just ordered another DNA test kit for my sister so we can see to what degree we differ in this fascinating random DNA lottery. As far as the comments above go, regarding ‘place/country names’, perhaps one solution would be to list not only the present-day name ~ but also the earlier ‘also known as’ names (maybe in parentheses)? I have encountered that problem when searching for my Polish Grandparents: they were Polish…but on my mother’s birth record, the parents list their birth places as ‘Austria’ (which makes sense given the Austro-Hungarian takeover).

    • Monika

      When it comes to places of birth, marriages and deaths, actually, I do it just in the reverse from what you suggested. E.g., I will say “Antonia Jandl, born April 26, 1879 in Dittersbach, Bohemia (now Stasov, Czech Republic). I think that this is a more accurate way of stating it then to claim that she was born in Stasov, Czech Republic, a world that she did not live in.

        • Monika

          Are you aware that you can get census records for Bohemia from the time period of 1860 on until WW 1? If not I can give you a contact in the Czech Republic for that. Ten years ago I was able to get these census records for $20 a piece. That has now increased to about $40 a piece, but has been worth EVERY penny to me. It becomes particularly interesting when you see your ancestors identified as “Bohemians” in 1870, but then identified as “Austrians” for decades after that, due to the fact that Bohemia became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

        • Freddie Thames

          Quite possibly names of areas, cities, etc have changed many times through the centuries. Adding as many of the known names in the parentheses, could be a big help.

  11. Nancy Neville Cordell

    I appreciate this post, but I am still troubled by Ancestry’s use of the term “ethnicity .” Ethnicity refers to ones culture, not their biological heritage. Culture is learned, not passed on genetically. Admixture or biogeographical origins would be more accurate terms to use.

    • Monika

      Pardon my barging in this many times in this blog, but I grew up during the war years, my parents coming from two different countries that were at war with each other. My understanding of the definition of “ethnicity” is a “state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition”.

  12. Barbara Baker

    This still does not explain why a second cousin through proven purely English ancestry is in my IRISH community. Likewise a second cousin with shared proven purely IRISH ancestry is shown by ancestry as being in my ENGLISH community. Does not engender confidence.
    Ancestry think they have explained this to me but certainly not to my satisfaction….

  13. J Fitz

    Why are there no effective methods to get assistance or a question answered? Calling the support line is fruitless – I’ve sat on hold for over 10 minutes multiple time. There is no longer an email or chat option. Messaging on facebook got a response, but they didn’t answer the questions and when I responded to that effect, it was ignored. Thoughts? What is working for others?

    • Tim

      I have contacted Ancestry by phone several times. I have always been treated by the phone respondents quite politely and patiently and for very minor “how to” questions have gotten answers. The same cannot be said for a VERY MAJOR PROBLEM with download of raw DNA files. I initially called quite sometime ago and went through the download procedures with the person answering the phone telling her that I (a manager of a number of DNA tests) was getting the exact same raw DNA detail for each of the downloads (a first cousin once removed, a sister and a friend of 60 years not related at all to either). All had the exact same detail. She sent this info to some office who, as I stated above, determined that I did not know how to download the raw DNA files off of Ancestry, tossed by concern into what used to be called the “circular file” and then, apparently, forgot about it since I did not receive a reply from Ancestry on the item. On my follow-up the next very polite lady took down my concern that Ancestry’s DNA program could not be trusted since this problem still existed and I have yet to hear a word back from Ancestry on a problem that makes Ancestry’s entire DNA program worthless since, if you cannot trust the download of raw DNA for tests that you manage, then nothing can be trusted. So to answer your last question: “What is working for others”, the answer appears to be “nothing for serious problems”. And I surmise my latest effort to address the raw DNA problem is also already in that circular file known as the trashcan.

      • Member Services Social Support Team

        @Tim: We’re sorry to hear that. We’ve tried to replicate this issue but we’ve not been able to do so, we received different results in the raw DNA data download when we downloaded the files. Are you requesting one download link at a time, downloading the file, renaming the files (because they all have the same name), and then move on to the next download and then checking all the alleles on many different lines? Please note that RAW DNA data files will likely be very similar.

        • Tim

          It is great that you follow the rule that the absolutely last thing that Ancestry should do is have someone in its IT department actually talk to the person that identified and continues to have a problem that could be impacting many of Ancestry’s members without their realizing it. Yes, I have done each of the things that you and the folks before you have suggested and the results are the same. I even downloaded one of the files today and it is unchanged and exactly the same. Of three files one is of an Iberian (31%)/Native American (28%), one is 99 percent European and is 4% Italy/Greece and the third one is 92 % European and one is 38% Italy/Greece. These are not at all likely to have exactly the same results in the first three lines. The following shows an extract of these lines from each DNA download plus a fourth set which is my DNA download that I did in 2015. One can instantly see how similar my results are to the other three sets. I am kin (first cousin, once removed to one of these individuals). I am sure your experts can instantly tell which one.
          rsid chromosome position allele1 allele2
          Download of D.S. as of 2 Sep 2017 and 11 Sep 2017 (Both used same download date and time).
          D.S. file was generated by AncestryDNA at: 09/02/2017 20:35:11 UTC
          rs369202065 1 569388 G G
          rs199476136 1 569400 T T
          rs190214723 1 693625 T T
          H.S. file was generated by AncestryDNA at 9/2/2017 at 2:14:51 UTC
          rs369202065 1 569388 G G
          rs199476136 1 569400 T T
          rs190214723 1 693625 T T
          E.D file was generated by AncestryDNA at: 09/02/2017 21:08:43 UTC
          rs369202065 1 569388 G G
          rs199476136 1 569400 T T
          rs190214723 1 693625 T T
          C.B. file generated by AncestryDNA at: 07/13/2015 23:35:57 MDT
          rs4477212 1 82154 T T
          rs3131972 1 752721 G G
          rs12562034 1 768448 G G
          To summarize: There is a major problem and instead of continuing the “blame the customer game”, it is high time that Ancestry became serious about this problem and puts someone on it that can actually deal with it (I suggest the guy/or gal in the worn out jeans, dirty sneakers with broken laces buried somewhere in the depths of the IT department. And you might even have someone contact me about this problem. It is amazing what can be discovered when people actually talk to each other. Sincerely, Tim.

        • Tim

          To: Member Services Social Support Team: In my previous and extensive note, I indicated that I needed to talk to an IT person. I have just done that and, yes, he does meet the description I gave of a person with worn out jeans, shoes and so forth and he does work in an IT department. He very quickly pointed out that the problem was not with Ancestry but with a certain user of Ancestry who neither had stayed up with the times nor had done sufficient review before making claims of a problem. This note is my apology for having very erroneously raised an issue that did not exist. Again, my apologies, Tim.

        • Member Services Social Support Team

          @Tim We appreciate your comment, thanks for your words. We are glad to hear that the problem you used to have has been completely sorted. We strive to offer our members the best customers experience possible and we hope you will continue to provide us feedback, so that we can keep working on improving the website and the tools offered.

  14. Cathy

    My DNA results were similar to the example. I found the book “Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland” by Bryan Sykes to be very helpful. I also had the National Geographic DNA, test which better explained the deep roots of my ancestry, and the corresponding migration patterns. Looking at the bigger picture tends to make a lot more sense.

  15. Lana Henson

    I have already had my DNA on this website, ancestery.com. I was very disappointed to learn they do not have indian DNA in their database. My grandmother was about 3/4 Cherokee indian on my mother’s side. So I was anxious to see how much indian blood I have in me. But since Ancestery.com don’t have any indian blood in their database, I was not able to see that part of my DNA.

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Lana Hi there, we can confirm that the Native American ethnicity is one of our 26 ethnicity regions. It is entirely possible to have a Native American ancestor in your family while your results say you have 0% Native American. The reason for that is because what you do inherit from your ancestors is randomized by genetic recombination.

      Let’s say, purely as an example, your grandmother was 50% Native American. She can then pass down up to 50% of the Native American DNA to her children, but what her children inherits are completely randomized. So, for this example, your mother only inherited 12% of it. If your mother has 12% Native American DNA, then she can only pass down 12% of it to you, but, it is possible as with your mother in this example, you may not get all of the 12% in your DNA. It may even be possible that you inherit 0% despite the fact that your mother had 12%. If your mother had inherited 0% of the Native American DNA then she wouldn’t be able to pass down any of it to you, so DNA can fade out of a family like that as well.

      All of this is also dependent on how many other ethnicities your parent or grandparent may have and in what amounts they inherited these ethnicities from their ancestors. If there are many different ethnicities with a person’s genetic make up, then it is possible for the Native American ethnicity to have a diminished chance of getting passed down to a single individual. The following article explains this in more detail: http://ancstry.me/2uYyh83

    • Jackie

      I agree. I know my dads grandfather was full blooded Cherokee. This test shown zero . totally incorrect. Also bringing in other siblings who I certainly question. Major flaws in this test. Don’t do it would be my recommendation. This test is inequevently incorrect..

  16. Frank P.

    I have absolutely no clue as to what this blurb means! “Ethnicity”? “Snips” as referring to “A’s and “T’s” etc.? Please! Do your homework! We can’t even decide of what we mean by the term “gene” let alone try to embroil ourselves in the ATCG business. For that matter, we can’t even come to a common agreement as to what that unique state is which we “define” as “life.”

  17. Vivian Monroe

    My question is that I am showing up as dna matches with folks on my grt grndmothers side (sharing the last name) but I am not matching up with the folks on my daddy’s side?? The story is told that my grandmother was raped as a young girl and had my father and he was raised by her mother and father, (her mother who I keep matching up with that name on my dna) so how can I find out if this was a relative of hers and how to connect the Merrills that I connect to with the ones my grandmother (my dad’s mother) is connected to.?? any help would be appreciated…in solving this mystery…

  18. Jane

    This blog & the comments/discussions have increased my understanding about DNA results (so thanks, Ancestry & members!). However, I now have a question: Ancestry’s blog states that “AncestryDNA genetic ethnicity estimates go back hundreds to thousands of years, when populations and their boundaries were often very different.” However, in another statement Ancestry says “DNA is passed down randomly and the amount of DNA you might inherit from any particular ancestor decreases with each generation”. My question is: If our DNA decreases with each generation….then how can Ancestry identify genetic ethnicity going back ‘hundreds/thousands of years’? Is there a sufficient amount in each person to go back that far, even though it decreases with each generation? Thanks in advance…

  19. Ruth Waymire

    Is there any way to find birth family through the DNA testing? I have always wanted to know my medical history and ethnic background. It is always disturbing to go to a doctor and tell them you don’t know a thing, because you are adopted!!

    • Member Services Social Support Team

      @Ruth Hi there, you may be interested in our DNA Matching feature. You would be matched with other members who have taken our test and show similar DNA to you. Our system would predict what your relationships to these matches are. Many of our members would use this information as a starting point for finding out more about their biological family. The following article has more information about this: http://ancstry.me/2wwm0Z1

  20. John Woodward

    I was surprised when I received my Ancestry.com DNA results, since I have done much personal ancestry study. I have always been told that I am 75% from Great Britain (specifically England ). But that was not noted. Instead there was a high percentage from Ireland (41%). I read the material results and saw the map estimate, which also encompasses a bit of GB. My sister is getting her DNA tested. Should I anticipate our results to be the same?

  21. Dave Vukusich

    It’s all very interesting. I’ve had my DNA tested here and found it confirms a lot of what my parents, from well separated regions and with no siblings that I can fall back on, knew or suspected of their own family or origins or of presumed relatives. As an only child and although I’m not an expert in DNA, I’m a chemist/biochemist and an historian at heart and read a lot and can follow along. E.g. I saw that my late mother’s suspicions that her mother who died at her birth had been adopted (from a poorer family) and raised lovingly mostly by “aunts and uncles” in an old-fashioned rural manner by the local plantation owner (with several Native American slaves) was probably right. Grandpa, though with more recent Canary Island parents, had strong Celtic roots in northern Spain. Also true was that only my paternal grandmother was Croatian while grandpa was Dalmatian (and my father proud of his Austro-Hungarian allegiance, not the later Mussolini-imposed tie). A spot of Central Asian might be the a Turk in the conquered Balkans and a spot of South Asian might a Gypsy in southern Spain. What bothers a bit is the inability to better distinguish the local, almost extinguished but quite separated, Native American link from mainland tribes but a doctoral friend here with mostly Southeastern tribal blood confirmed that it was known that a number were sold in the Caribbean. Also. bothersome is the inability to recognize that Dalmatians who fled into the mountains after the Roman empire collapsed were an earlier people distinct from the invading Croats, maybe more similar to modern Albanians and a touch to Greeks. They used a Latinized tongue and much later the Venetian language until the new Yugoslavian (Serb) king outlawed it. But distant cousins consider themselves culturally and civically Croatians now. On a separate note, mom once mentioned the plantation owner’s eldest son married the daughter of a past-liberated slave which accounts for their children’s different appearances, almost southern Mexican, but which their grandchildren never admitted recognized, which they should since from a book I read people, largely Maya, there, autonomous under the Spaniards, rebelled against the newly imposing central Mexican authorities. Leaders were sold off and, through a Cuban refugee here, I learned some were sold in his cousins’ local city (after immigration from Spain split the family towards different islands), yet with some upward aspirations still in their hearts, no doubt. Overall, a lot can be confirmed and learned and passed along to at least one interested son so that memories and ties aren’t forgotten as a result of family stories and Ancestry.com.

  22. maribeth merton

    my husband and I both had our DNA tested. We are so confused. His father was born in Mexico, his father’s mother in Mexico…this shows nothing Mexican, but both of us have 2-4 % African. How can that be? No relatives on either side show up from that country…

    • Alicia Archuleta

      Native American and Italian/Greek or Iberian peninsula together traditionally accounts for “Mexican” or most other countries that the explorers like Cortez and Colombus invaded.

  23. Jay

    I am adoptee who is now on AncestryDNA, 23 and me, family tree DNA, my heritage, and I have also uploaded to Geni and Gedmatch. Through a match on 23 and me I was able to find a half-brother and a half-niece, but after that it matches dropped off to third cousins at best. On AncestryDNA I received several “1st to 2nd cousins and quotes”, and on the other services nothing better than a 3rd to 4th cousin. By going back-and-forth between Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me I was able to determine that my biological father had also then adopted. What I found frustrating in this whole process was that each of the services has both strengths and weaknesses.

    23 and Me’s strengths are a large database, a chromosome browser, and the fact that it does SNP haplogroup groups. The haplogroup determination was key in immediately determining that my half-brother was paternal, as we are both Y I-M253 but had different maternal haplogroups. The chromosome browser helped me confirm this by showing that we had no shared segments on the X chromosome. However, where 23 and Me falls apart is its lack of good family tree tool. You are given the option of uploading to MyHeritage, but as many of the customers are more concerned about health than heritage, few elect to do so. In addition, many test takers elect to never post their results for matching at all.

    Ancestry DNA strengths are its large data base, family tree tool, and list of members experienced in traditional old fashioned genealogy. When I started my “Tree” I had only the name of my deceased biological father and no biological mother to work with. As leafs appeared, that did not add up genetically, I knew that he too must have been adopted. With the help of other members and their trees I was able to trace back his biological fathers lineage to 1844, but I still have not confirmed who his biological mother was.

    Ancestry DNA’a major weaknesses are its lack of a chromosome browser, lack of real email addresses (23 and Me has this same weakness), and most importantly no SNP haplogroup determinations. For an individual without “known lineage”, such as an adoptee, this leaves them blind as to whether the DNA match is maternal or paternal. Furthermore, they don’t even have a chromosome browser to fall back on to see if the individual is an X chromosome match. Finally, while the “matches in common” tool is extremely helpful, it is inferior to 23 and Me’s tool in that it does not tell you how much percentage or cM of DNA your match shares with your other matches. In order to do this, you have to message the other members, and hope they even respond to your message. Most either never get the message or decide not to respond.

    Family Tree DNA’s strengths are its dedication to genetic genealogy, list of real member email address, tendency of members to respond to messages (they are generally really into genetic genealogy and very knowledgeable and helpful) and its chromosome browser. It also provides the most in depth phone support, Ancestry DNA’s phone support is barely adequate, and it will be a “cold day in hell” when you get someone to pick up the phone at 23 and Me. Family tree also provides the option to have in depth STR rather than SNP Y DNA analysis as well as full mitochondrial sequencing. This is extremely important if a member wants to absolutely confirm that they share a recent male or female common ancestor. Family Tree DNA also boasts a more robust international data base than 23 and Me or Ancestry DNA. This is very important if you descend from recent immigrants.

    Family Tree DNA’s major weakness is its small data base (I get nothing but 3rd cousins, at best, on this service), and what I believe is a weaker family tree tool than either Ancestry DNA or MyHertitage. It also does not perform SNP haplogroup determinations when members send there samples in for autosomal testing. As most individuals elect not to order the very expensive al la cart STR in depth Y-37, Y-67, Y-111 and mitochondrial DNA tests, the member is left wondering whether a match is a paternal or maternal match on the family finder. A “cheap and dirty” SNP haplogroup would go miles here. If you matched at the SNP haplogroup level, you could then upgrade to a Y-37 or full sequence mitochondrial test.

    MyHeritage has a colorful display and a excellent, but in my opinion is more difficult to use, family tree tool. They also seem to have a better international data base than AncestryDNA, both in terms of genetic and traditional genealogy. However, many of their traditional genealogy members appear to “newbies”, when compared to AncestryDNA. Their major weakness is of course their DATA BASE, DATA BASE, and DATA BASE. However, I do expect that their data base will expand in the next few years given the algorithm they are using to link matches.

    GENI’s strength is its international presence, but it has a very weak US data base.

    Gedmatch is very utilitarian, but only adoptees and people interested in genealogy take the time to up-load to it. Again, we are back to data base issues.

    A final word on ethnicity estimates. So far I do not know who my biological mother is, so I must assume I am missing at least 50 percent of the equation. In addition, I do not know the ethnicity of my biological paternal grandmother further reducing the known by a further 25%.

    What I been able to figure out, from what known, is that my paternal biological great-great grandfather came from Sweden and that my paternal great-grandmother was from Hessia. My biological great grandmother was Prussian and Swiss. This makes my biological father a combination of these. As all of the DNA services peg me as also significantly Irish and English with traces of Southern European and West Asian (some of the services do not even include any Southern Europe or West Asia), I must assume that the British and Irish is maternal and / or from my biological paternal great grandmother. However, what I did find interesting was how close AncestryDNA and 23 and Me were to the ethnicities I have determined so far, and how “totally off” Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage were when they both completely missed the Scandinavian heritage, and with respect to My Heritage both the Scandinavian and German heritage. I think this goes back again to data base.

    It will be interesting to see, as time unfolds, what my other true ethnicities are determined to be. This raises one final sore point. My paternal to maternal matches on Ancestry, as well as 23 and Me, are close to 10 to 1. Why? Was my biological mother a foreign student who went back to Ireland? Did she have a really small family? Is her family less likely to DNA test? I don’t know. Currently on Ancestry I have three “third cousins”, one of whom I suspect is really a 2nd cousin or first-half cousin once removed, who do not match any of my known paternal grandfather’s known relatives. Two of these three are siblings, have excellent trees, and have been as helpful as possible while the other has no tree, uses only initials and is under an “administrator” who does not respond to messages. Since the brother and sister do not match the other match, I could figure out which was related through my unkown paternal great grandmother and which was paternal if I was able to have my half-sibling uploaded to the service. I have sent him a kit, but I am still waiting for him to complete the test. Data base is everything, and very few poeple test on all of the services. The amount of money lost by having adoptees such as myself not test, simply because they can upload for free, is in my option offset by the value of the larger data base. Automatic sharing of chip files, with customer approval of course, would be a huge asset to the business; as would reporting in both cM and percentage shared, rather than having customers continuously multiplying and dividing by 68 in order to go back and forth between their matches on Ancestry, FTDNA, MyHertige, and 23 and Me.

    Jay

  24. billy Cagle

    I mailed in my D&A sample kit two different times, the last time in August. Haven’t seen any results from either test as of this date/Please advise. Thank’s Billy Cagle 731-426-4942

  25. billy Cagle

    I’ve sent in my D&A packet two times and have not heard anything back as of this date. Please advise/cagle.billy @aol.com/hone 731-426-4942.

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