Ethnicity Results – True or Not?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many questions I receive that go something like this:

“I received my ethnicity results from XYZ.  I’m confused.  The results don’t seem to align with my research and I don’t know what to make of them?”

In the above question, the vendors who are currently offering these types of results among their autosomal tests are Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry along with National Geographic who is a nonprofit.  Of those four, by far, Ancestry is the worst at results matching reality and who I receive the most complaints and comments about.  I wrote an article about Ancestry’s results and Judy Russell recently wrote an article about their new updated results as did Debbie Kennett.  My Ancestry results have not been updated yet, so I can’t comment personally.

Let’s take a look at the results from the four players and my own analysis.

Some years back, I did a pedigree analysis of my genealogy in an attempt to make sense of autosomal results from other companies.

This paper, Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage Using Y-line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosomal Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis was published in the Fall 2010 issue of JoGG, Vol. 6 issue 1.

The pedigree analysis portion of this document begins about page 8.  My ancestral breakdown is as follows:

Geography Percent
Germany 23.8041
British Isles 22.6104
Holland 14.5511
European by DNA 6.8362
France 6.6113
Switzerland .7813
Native American .2933
Turkish .0031

This leaves about 25% unknown.  However, this looks nothing like the 80% British Isles and the 12% Scandinavian at Ancestry.

Here are my current ethnicity results from the three major testing companies plus Genographic.


80% British Isles

12% Scandinavian

8% Uncertain

Family Tree DNA

75% Western Europe

25% Europe – Romanian, Russian, Tuscan, Finnish

23andMe (Standard Estimate)

99.2% European

0.5% East Asian and Native American

0.3% Unassigned

Genographic 2.0

Northern European – 43%

Mediterranean – 36%

Southwest Asian – 18%

Why Don’t The Results Match?

Why don’t the results match either my work or each other?

1. The first answer I always think of when asked this question is that perhaps some of the genealogy is incorrect.  That is certainly a possibility via either poor genealogy research or undocumented adoptions.  However, as time has marched forward, I’ve proven that I’m descended from most of these lines through either Y-line, mitochondrial DNA or autosomal matches.  This confirms my genealogy research.  For example, Acadians were originally French and I definitely descend from Acadian lines.

2. The second answer is time.  The vendors may well be using different measures of time, meaning more recent versus deep ancestry.  Geno 2.0 looks back the furthest.  Their information says that “your percentages reflect both recent influences and ancient genetic patterns in your DNA due to migrations as groups from different regions mixed over thousands of years.  Your ancestors also mixed with ancient, now extinct hominid cousins like Neanderthals in Europe and the Middle East of the Denisovans in Asia.”

It’s difficult to determine which of the matching populations are more recent and which are less recent.  By way of example, many Germans and others in eastern Europe are descendants of Genghis Khan’s Mongols who invaded portions of Europe in the 13th century.  So, do we recognize and count their DNA when found as “German,” “Polish,” “Russian,” or “Asian?”  The map below shows the invasions of Genghis Khan.  Based on this, Germans who descend from Genghis’s Mongols could match Koreans on those segments of DNA. Both of those people would probably find that confusing.

genghis khan map

3. The third answer is the reference populations.  Here is what National Geographic has to say: “Modern day indigenous populations around the world carry particular blends of these regions. We compared your DNA results to the reference populations we currently have in our database and estimated which of these were most similar to you in terms of the genetic markers you carry. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you belong to these groups or are directly from these regions, but that these groups were a similar genetic match and can be used as a guide to help determine why you have a certain result. Remember, this is a mixture of both recent (past six generations) and ancient patterns established over thousands of years, so you may see surprising regional percentages.”

Each of the vendors has compiled their own list of reference populations from published material, and in the case of National Geographic, as yet unpublished material as well.

If you read the fine print, some of these results that at first glance appear to not match actually do, or could.  For example, Southwest Asia (Geno 2.0) could be Russia (Family Tree DNA) or at least pointing to the same genetic base.

This video map of Europe through the ages from 1000AD to present will show the ever changing country boundaries and will quickly explain why coming up with labels for ethnicity is so difficult.  I mean, what exactly does “France” or “Germany” mean, and when?

4. The fourth answer is focus.  Each of these organizations comes to us as a consumer with a particular focus.  Of them, one and only one must make their way on their own merits alone.  That one is Family Tree DNA.  Unlike the Genographic Project, Family Tree DNA doesn’t have a large nonprofit behind them.  Unlike 23andMe, they are not subsidized by the medical community and venture capital.  And unlike, Family Tree DNA is not interested in selling you a subscription.  In fact, the DNA market could dry up and go away for any of those three, meaning 23andMe, National Geographic and Ancestry, and their business would simply continue with their other products.  To them, DNA testing is only a blip on a spreadsheet.  Not true for Family Tree DNA.  Their business IS genetic genealogy and DNA testing.  So of all these vendors, they can least afford to have upset clients and are therefore the most likely to be the most vigilant about the accuracy of their testing, the quality of the tools and results provided to customers.

My Opinion

So what is my personal opinion on all of this?

I think these ethnicity results are very interesting.  I think in some way all of them are probably correct, excluding Ancestry.  I have absolutely no confidence in Ancestry’s results based on their track record and historylack of tools, lack of transparency and frustratingly poor quality.

I think that as more academic papers are published and we learn more about these reference populations and where their genes are found in various populations, all of these organizations will have an opportunity to “tighten up” their results.  If you’ll notice, both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA still include the words “beta.”  The vendors know that these results are not the end all and be all in the ethnicity world.

Am I upset with these vendors?  Aside from Ancestry who has to know they have a significant problem and has yet to admit to or fix it, no, I’m not.  Frustrated, as a consumer, yes, because like all genealogists, I want it NOW please and thank you!!!

Without these kinds of baby steps, we will never as a community crawl, walk, or run.  I dream of the day when we will be able to be tested, obtain our results, and along with that, maybe a list of ancestors we descend from and where their ancestors originated as well.  So, in essence, current genealogy (today Y-line and mtdna), older genealogy (autosomal lines) and population genetics (ethnicity of each line).

So what should we as consumers do today?  Personally, I think we should file this information away in the “that’s interesting” folder and use it when and where it benefits us.  I think we should look at it as a display of possibilities.  We should not over-interpret these results.

There is perhaps one area of exception, and that is when dealing with majority ethnic groups.  By this, I mean African, Asian, Native American and European.  For those groups, this type of ethnicity breakdown, the presence or absence of a particular group is more correct than incorrect, generally.  Very small amounts of any admixture are difficult to discern for any vendor.  For an example of that, look at my Native percentages and some of those are proven lines.  For the individual who wants more information, and more detail into the possibilities, I wrote about how to use the raw autosomal data outside of the vendors tools, at GedMatch, to sort out minority admixture in The Autosomal Me series.

Perhaps the Genographic Project page sums it up best with their statement that, “If you have a very mixed background, the pattern can get complicated quickly!”  Not only is that true, it can be complicated by any and probably all of the factors above.  When you think about it, it’s rather amazing that we can tell as much as we can.



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205 thoughts on “Ethnicity Results – True or Not?

  1. Thank you for the info Roberta.  Any help I can get is very much appreciated.  I have had the yDNA test by Family Tree DNA back in 2007 and it is updated.  I have links to British Royalty and a certain direct link to a William Hilton who was born in 1488 and also to the Mayflower Passengers (Pilgrims) from the same person.  My Family tree goes back the Celts and Picts .  My Ancestry is linked to Hylton Castle in Sunderland, Co. Durham, England.   There are several Coats of Arms related to the  ancestry carved into the Castle stone.  I wish to get the  Mitochondrial DNA PLUS TEST done on my Mother’s Morris side of our family.  Is  this a good test to have done??  I cannot afford too much at present re the $$$. I  spend hours per day re the links that I have located over the years.  My MOM and GRANDMOTHER spent parts of 30 years from 1920s to the 1950s with research.  There was no computer back then !!!!!   All the best with your research.  Sincerely Yours,  Paul Morris Hilton  -Harvey Station, New Brunswick, Canada.


  2. Hi Roberta!
    Why do I like your blog eh? Simply because it’s full of details and learning 🙂
    Do you mind if sometimes I quote you in my new blog that I launched last Thursday? It may help to educate the francophone (the french mainly ha!). I got some great feedback for the launch and content, it was a huge miss for the francophones.
    After 8 days only, the page 3 pages published have been viewed a thousand times.
    Thanks for your great work!

  3. Excellent article, Roberta! I have been tested at all three companies, and Ancestry’s ethnicity results are the least accurate, showing me at 68% British, 2% unknown and 30% Eastern European (I have no Eastern European ancestors whatsoever, within five generations, at least).

    23andMe (speculative view) is actually matches my own genealogical research the most, with Family Tree DNA a close second.

    • 5 generations isn’t very much. certainly not enough to determine “where you came from”. Wouldn’t you want to know if you did in fact have genes that you may not have otherwise known about? in your case the eastern european. Isn’t that one of the main reasons someone might take a dna test in the first place? to find out what you didn’t know? or of course to confirm research you had found on your 6th or 7th generation that showed a connection to eastern europe. you can’t just look at these results and say, oh wow, they’re wrong my folks were from new york city, not eastern europe

  4. Roberta, I can not begin to tell you how true your statements is concerning Ancestry. I received my results on Monday,and talk about confusion. They have me at 86% west African 7% (modern day Finnish/Russian)and 7% unknown,I’m listed as 83% west African on 23andme,so the west African portion I can take it or leave it. But How in the world could I possibly have Finnish and Russian ,when most of my close European relative matches on Ancestry have British Isles and other parts of Europe?

  5. I find very interesting your articles in general. FTDNA makes the tests for the NG Genographic 2.0 project, I think the Geno 2 autosomal test is pretty right, at least it was right for the main ethnicity percentages in my test, only the smallest percentage registered (2%) was a bit surprising to me, but it could have an explanation. Y-DNA and mtDNA results were according I expected too. I’m waiting for the Family Finder results now, FTDNA lab is using the same samples I sent for the Geno 2.0; when you live about 10,000km from the lab , it’s a real relief if you needn’t to send the samples every time you want an upgrade.
    Thank you for your blog content.
    Carlos Pontevedra- Argentina.

  6. Autosomal testing is very subjective, in my opinion. I watched a TV show where a woman from the UK whose ancestors had all lived in England — yet she tested 10% Native American. I read a story from a guy from The Netherlands who also had an autosomal test done that showed Native American ancestry. Hmmmmmmmmm. How could it be that people whose ancestors could not possibly had contact with Native Americans somehow test positive for Native ancestry? It would seem to me that the only way would be that the strains came into their genes tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago during the “Out of Africa” stage when humanoids were dispersing across what is now the Arabian Peninsula..

    • Could also mean that he/she has Asian ancestors?, Often Asian and Native American are calculated the same.

    • I’ve heard that prior to the founding of the United States of America as a Republic unto itself, that often “Native” American’s were taken back to England for various anthropological reasons and that there was some mating going on with those specimens… Possibilities are endless..

  7. FYI, Ancestry is in the process of revising their ancestry composition estimates. I’m one of the lucky ones who has already received their “new” totals, and they are a lot more in line with my paper trail than the originals.

  8. My husband has also received revised ethnicity predictions from Ancestry, and yes, they are much more in line with his oral family history and paper trail research. I think the answer to all this teeth gnashing about “unexpected ethnicity” predictions from Ancestry lies here. Ancestry is a paper trail research subscription service who added DNA testing to their “product line”. FT-DNA is a genetic genealogy DNA testing company with no databases of historical information that a member might subscribe to and add to their traditional family tree. Ancestry does a pretty good job at their core business and after being repeatedly bashed for their “ethnicity” predictions, have been trying to get their act together (expected by the end of the year to be completed). As far as I know, Nat Geo’s Geno 2.0 project is a joint effort by Nat Geo/IBM/AND FT-DNA. The other thing to remember is that most of the actual testing efforts are conducted at the same labs but the numbers (raw results) are crunched separately based on whatever algorithms are used by whatever company is doing the reporting. Add to that the incredibly rapid growth of the knowledge base regarding the human genome and costs of keeping current from a simple reprogramming perspective and one might realize why Ancestry is a bit behind the curve. It isn’t their core business, but I believe they are now realizing they are losing customers and better get current with their DNA products just as they do with their historical records collection. And “current” is a rapidly moving target which is likely to stay that way. And so it goes. You should have your DNA testing (and ethnicity predictions) done by more than one provider and split the diffs. It is going to change next month anyway.

  9. There’s much to chew on as always. I do have a couple of comments:

    1) Ancestry is rolling out a beta of their updated ethnicity results, of which I am a part. For me, the big draw is the breakdown of West African results, which neither FTDNA nor 23andMe have currently. It’s impossible to ever prove what my true African makeup is, but it does seem plausible. The rest of my ethnicity projections seem better, except some of the results on the edges seem a little bizarre.

    2) You said, “current genealogy (today Y-line and mtdna), older genealogy (autosomal lines) and population genetics (ethnicity of each line).”

    I’m not sure I understand. Y and mtDNA tests have been around longer than autosomal tests and have a longer reach in time. Why are the former current and the latter older?

    3) You also said, “I dream of the day when we will be able to be tested, obtain our results, and along with that, maybe a list of ancestors we descend from and where their ancestors originated as well.”

    Funny you should mention this. Blaine Bettinger talked about it in his blog post, “The Science Fiction Future of Genetic Genealogy”: .

    • Hi Venice,

      A couple of comments. Regarding African Ancestry breakdown, Family Tree DNA does show tribes when they have the information under both the Haplogroup Origins and Ancestral Origins tabs. Have you checked there?

      Regarding your second question, autosomal has the capability to reach far back in time on the lines that Y and mt can’t touch – maybe my choice of words could have been better. What I was trying to say is that we could use all of those tools together to reach from close relatives to distant relatives to anthropological relatives.

      Blaine and I are on the same page. I blogged about the Future of Genetic Genealogy just about a year ago and I’m still dreaming that “Big Dream”:)


      • Back to front:

        * I read your blog post. Good stuff. I’m sure I read it last year, but forgotten about it. The future does look closer now.

        * I see your point on DNA tools now that you’ve clarified it.

        * I’ve done the mtDNA test at FTDNA. Neither Haplogroup Origins nor Ancestral Origins shows anything in Africa because (a) I don’t have any matches, and (b) I have a European haplogroup. I haven’t done the Y-DNA test. Under Population Finder, FTDNA has two West African populations and I show one of them. Ancestry shows me as much more of an African mutt, and I tend to believe them – though, again, it’s very difficult to prove any of it.

  10. I tested with Ancestry back in 2002 when they first started DNA testing. They eventually dropped the program. A waste of my money. Now they are at it again with better advertising and promoting. Once bitten, twice shy. I won’t use them again. FTDNA is reliable. They aren’t going away.

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  13. Hello it’s Daren I’m not nor does my family Moroccan, I am native America and I think FamilyTreeDNA needs to back to the drawing board. I have pictures and if you LOOK at the Alaskan Natives , My People you will see and Maybe being here more then 40,000 years should be enuff. I have my family tree and I’ll pick that over your so called being baby DNA steps. Look up my second great grand father CHIEF DRY BAY GEORGE he is online by just looking and typing his name in the internet because Familtreedna has not got one relative right. I love that people are trying to get things right but you must listen to the people. I’m not 50,000 years old but my people the native people have been here for a long time. Look up DNA results because it’s making Indians white and some white people Indian and only almost half and not morrocan, or Arab or Aisian or Mexican or spainish from Spain, there maybe something 50,000 Years Ago but it’s is not in my family tree except for Eyak,Aleut, Tuscarro Crow, Cheyenne Blackfoot Sioux German , French, Danish, Scottish, Irish. It makes me made that people in the DNA business think there right, your in a new area. Let people help with there today family tree instead of being told, it’s nice in all but it’s still off on the DNA stuff Thank you for your time Daren

    Sent from my iPhone


    • I completed the autosomal with familytreedna and the results were Northwestern European 90% and Middle Eastern 10%. According to my family tree I am 75% Germanic and 25% a Scots and Native mix. I do have a very good match with a registered member of the Cherokee and this matches our Blackfoot band of the Cherokee. My extended family moved across the Ohio River about at the time of the Trail of Tears. These lines are tied to the Scots trading families in North Carolina. So I went to Gedmatch. It is slowly getting up and running again. With their pools I test positive for South American. and Amerindian. But where they come up with a big chunk of Greek I don’t know. They must have pulled from way back in my gene pool. I just think this is a science still in development stage.

    • Mexican? Mexicans came about from Spanish and Natives of North America, duh! Mexican shouldn’t come up on DNA results. Just FYI.

  14. I’d like to second the possibility that I received an updated version of the Ancestry test recently. I was planning to go the 23andme route, but my sister surprised me with a test as a gift (testing my brother) and the breakdown was relatively accurate to what I expected. In fact, as someone with traceable Swedish heritage (a great-grandparent), I was expecting the test to say something akin to 60% Scandinavian like previous users were getting. In fact, the biggest shock was that Swedish clocked in only around 4%! Perhaps Ancestry has stepped up their game and the tests are no longer a total wash?

    • Since I uploaded my raw data on to Gedmatch I am getting much more accurate results. 75% is Baltic, Eastern European and North Atlantic. The other 25% is mostly the Druze/Phonecian/Iranian blend that migrated to North America some where between 12,000 and 22,000 years ago to become part of the Eastern Bands of Native Americans. I have read everything I can find on this. And I have small amounts of Amerindian and South American Native in the mix. I had to wait 2 weeks to upload the data but it was worth it. And not everything is working yet.

      • I used exported my DNA from 23andme to Gedmatch too and I was very pleased with the accuracy of the results. I Used Eurogenes K36 to analyze the data and it classified me as a mixture of 18 different peoples/ethnicities. I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, and it showed my Middle Eastern roots (about 33%) plus my numerous European DNA mixes (about 66%). I then used Oracle (which is available at Gedmatch) and it told me that the best 4 ethnicity match was 25% each – Askenazi, Northern Swedish, Tuscan and Serbian.

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  16. My friend is full Pakistani…she wanted to get a test done, but what she thinks is that the test will come out most prob, at least, 90% Asian. Do Pakistanis have mixed blood or not?

    • When the British left Hindustan, India and Pakistan were formed. It’s possible that your friend could have central to east Asian genealogy (Afghani, Indian, Bengali, Sri Lankan, Nepali, Tibetan, etc)

  17. I favored FTDNA because unlike’s fast food 1-week turnaround, FTDNA took a few months to return results. However, FTDNA showed that I’m 16% European about a year ago. Now they have me at 13%. I think that’s inaccurate. My hair texture, bone structure and skin color suggests more European ancestry. Like 16%-25% is probably more correct. Certainly not unde 16. So they’re credibility is questionable to me now, but I’m not spending another $100 on an alternative service.

    • Do you know FTDN is Autosomal DNA, inherited from both parents and includes random contributions from their parents, grandparents, and so on. This test is better use to find a family relative rather than your ancestry. means this test can show you 50%

  18. Hi Roberta,

    I had my Family Finder test through FTDNA. I also tested my father. We’re related (yeah), but it is interesting when I run “Not In Common” with my father under the Family Finder Matches section, my dad is actually related to other people that I am not related to. My only thought is that he is simply closer in relationship to them than I am. Most are 3rd-5th cousin.

    But I do have a question. Does anyone know the approximate length of time MyOrigin (under Family Finder) traces back to? My dad is primarily Hungarian, but both of us show Turkish and Scandinavian, and my dad shows Middle Eastern. I don’t know if MyOrigin is relatively recent (last 500-2000 years) are much deeper. Do you know by chance? BTW, there is no known Turkish, Middle Eastern or Scandinavian ancestry in us.



  19. Hi there! Great article! I am hoping you can answer a question, keeping in mind that I know next to nothing about ethnicity testing (but feel as if I now know quite a bit more just from reading your article!) My husband is adopted. He already knows that his birth mother was African American and birth father Caucasian. He’s really curious as to his specific ethnic heritage though, especially on the Caucasian side. Long story short, he thinks he’s Irish, and would get a kick out of having this confirmed, or even knowing that he is in reality not Irish but a descendent from some other ethnic group. I’d like to get him ethnicity testing as a gift, but I know we will feel ripped off the results come back vague… such as “European.” We already figure he’s probably some sorta European, ha ha, and so we don’t feel the need to fork over $100 to have that confirmed. We want to see more specificity, such as “Irish” or “Italian,” among the “display of possibilities.” Is that unrealistic? If not, which company would tend to provide the most accurate and SPECIFIC ethnicity breakdown in his case? Much thanks! Maya

    • Unfortunately, there is really no “one” company that stands out in terms of European ethnicity. They all have breakdowns, and they will all differ from each other to some extent.

      • Thank you. I told my husband about what I’ve been learning about the limitations of ethnicity testing, and he decided he’d rather it remain a mystery than just be given a likely range of ethnic possibilities that may or may not even be complete or accurate… we feel like that’s not really an improvement over a wild guess based on facial features and skin coloring. So we’re gonna wait till the science is more advanced before testing. Thanks for providing the public with such balanced and detailed information on this confusing topic. Maya

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  21. DNA Predictions of Ethnic % Are Misleading
    I read with great interest the above post dated 04 Oct 2013 titled ETHNIC RESULTS – TRUE OR NOT. I found it very enlightening. In my opinion the problem is not solved & yet the Genealogy TV programs quote ethnic % results as if they are scientific fact.

    I don’t know if my DNA ethnic % predictions are typical or atypical. But I am not happy with their lack of agreement. I have been tested by 23&Me, AncestryDNA & FTDNA and there is little agreement.

    I like the fact that both 23&Me & AncestryDNA gives a range of results along with the probable result.

    Here is a brief summary of my ethnic % results:

    EUROPEAN: They all agree that I am 99 to 100%, but the breakdown within EUROPEAN has no agreement between the three companies.

    Here are 2 Examples:

    Britain & Ireland
    23&Me 31 Oct 2014 10.7-42.6-70.8
    26 Dec 2014 7.1-45.9-69.3
    AncestryDNA Both dates 19-59-100
    FTDNA Both dates 8

    23&Me 31 Oct 2014 0.1-1.6-3.4
    26 Dec 2014 1.1-2.8-6.3
    AncestryDNA Both dates 0-16-37
    FTDNA Both dates 34

    There is obviously no standardization in how these ethnic % predictions are obtained.
    Genealogists & the public are all being misled, and I think it is important that this situation be corrected.

    John Adam FARRIS, Albuquerque, NM, USA
    Administrator for the FTDNA Y-DNA Project called FARRIS SURNAME GROUP

    • I have wondered if all of the areas that predict ethnicity are being included in the analysis. For example when I run the eye color test through gedmatch my eyes come out green. My eyes are very definitely brown. This is the message I get. “9 rules were used to make this prediction. There are 61 active rules in our evaluation model, utilizing 41 SNPs Please note that your FTDNA Illumina results do not contain many of the SNPs used by this utility, and therefore a considerable amount of accuracy is lost.”

      So I have to wonder how much this effects their ethnicity results.

  22. Very interesting report. I’ve wavered back and forth on whether to even have this test done. I know a lot of my genealogy. However, there are areas I’m definitely struggling with. I’ve wondered if the test would be accurate enough to reveal some of these areas. I DO find this interesting.

  23. I have heavy ancestral roots from Quebec, Canada. My DNA results were surprising, shocking, perplexing. While my mum’s people come from Ireland and Wales….and thats reflected in almost half my DNA test, the other half reflects almost 50% makeup of Greek/italian, and middle eastern DNA. But I do not have one ancestor within that last several hundred years or ever with that ethnicity. My ancestors migrated from France in 1600’s and were original pioneers of Quebec Canada. Most came from Normandy/Perche France and colonized a small area and often intermarried within the same families. I’ve traced many back to the founding pioneer families of Quebec, and my DNA matches are all right on for both parents being my natural bio parents as well as my grandparents etc….many matches….so what gives here??? I was honestly expecting maybe a 10% native American result…with some trace of other diversified DNA here and there, but WOW, there is nothing that explains this large percentage of Greek, middle eastern, caucasus DNA totally 50% I’m up for any suggestions, interpretations, etc… family spoke French! just for further discussion; Here are my Dna results from……Great Britain 41%, Ireland 7%, Scandinavia 1%, East Europe 1%……Greek/Italian/Mediterranean 36%, Middle East and Caucasus 8 %, jewish 4%, and North Aftican 2%. The results were a little different from Ftdna but pretty similar; British Isles 34%, West & Central Europe 16%, Southern Europe (Greek/Italy, Mediterranean) 32%, Middle East 18%. So while I understand the history of the Roman conquest of most of Europe, later the Germanic tribes conquest, and how merchants and seafaring persons from the Mediterranean contributed to our genetic make up 50% is too high, and indicates a more recent genetic contribution, or a continued genetic contribution to my ancestry. New France in the 1600’s was started with appox.. 200 pioneers and grew rapidly. Approximately 800 arrived during 1663–1673 and By 1672, the population of New France had risen to 6,700, from 3,200 in 1663.. This sounds like the Founder Effect and possible Genetic Drift, but 50% Mediterranean and Middle Eastern DNA??? WOW!!!!

    • Are you still here. I am 1/2 French Canadian and I got the same result and I freaked . I think its the Normans in Siclit and Turkey.

  24. I just wasted $99 on Ancestry’s test which came back today. My well-documented lines go through Quebec to France (100% of them, some back to 1550), Sweden (100% of them, some back to 1600, and Armenia (my birth father’s ancestors were from Armenia). I was expecting something like 25% French, 25% Swedish (with a touch of German) and 50% Middle East. Results? I’m almost exclusively English and Irish, with only a bit of French and Swedish, and less than 1% Middle Eastern. I’ve been told that “people moved all over” and I should get a good history book and read it (I’m a history major, BS and MS). NONE of the excuses people are giving me make any sense. So I’ve gone with Family Tree DNA and if their results are similar, I’ll simply have to assume that most of the thousands of records I have used to document my lines are wrong. It’s like I can prove that 2+2=4 thousands of times, yet Ancestry says 2+2=7.

    • Hi Micheal, I just wanted to tell you the same thing has happened to me. I have 300 years of French Canadian heritage and it has come back saying that I am 50% Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. I was shocked and perplexed. I did the same thing….from Ancestry to FTDNA to Gedmatch. I do like Gedmatch, because it breaks down the lineage, but it is largely the same thing as the others were. I was expecting some Native American lineage….even a small percentage. This is very odd, and I think because of our French Canadian heritage there is something going on that causes the dna calculators to not accurately analyze our dna properly.

      • Are you both sure that you don’t have ancestors who arrived as Irish orphans to Quebec as a result of the potato famine (1847-1950s)? Many of these orphans were adopted by French Canadian families – often keeping their Irish surnames.

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  26. Hi Roberta – I’m African American, and I am really only looking to get an ethnic breakdown from doing the FTDNA test. It looks like the $99 Family Finder test will provide the ethnic breakdown, but I’m wondering if they give specific countries. In your breakdown above, did they tell you broadly “Western European” or is that what you listed here just as a summary? What I’m hoping is that they can identify specific countries…can this test provide that? Thank you for your assistance! This was a wonderfully helpful article to read before I make my purchase (I had been looking at Ancestry!).

  27. [Not sure if my comment went through so I will summarize previous comment/write again]

    Hi Roberta – I’m African American and simply looking to identify areas of the world in which my family has roots. I do not have any desire to do anything advanced with the information, but simply to have the comfort of knowing what hundreds of years of slavery among my ancestors has prevented me from knowing. I just wanted to clarify because your results under FTDNA above simply read “Western European” – did they share specific countries and you just summarized for the sake of brevity? Just curious because the next line has specific countries under “Europe”.

    Thanks, and I appreciate your very helpful article.

  28. I’d love to try DNA testing but, i’m a bit concerned about the storage. I just don’t like the idea of these companies storing my DNA (results/samples). Apparently some companies keep their records indefinitely….others for a minimum of 25 years. That makes me uncomfortable…do you know why they do that?

    • I can’t speak for Ancestry or 23andMe, since you can’t order upgrades at either company, but Family Tree DNA does this so you can order upgrades without reswabbing. You can request that your DNA be destroyed after the test you order is complete instead. I have to tell you though, I’m extremely grateful for the 25 year storage because after my Mom died, I could order the autosomal test which was not available when she was with us.

  29. HI,
    Loved your article on this seemingly debatable topic.
    I was just wondering, If tests were were on my father and mother , would I require to take a test to trace back my ancestry? As by using simple logic here, I assume that both my parents test combined would be mine. correct? apart from the change in the percentages, but at least the basic ethnic breakdown should be similar?


    • Yes, if you’re lucky enough to have both of your parents to test, by all means, do. Also, at Family Tree DNA, you can have your fathers Y and mtDNA tested and your mothers mtDNA.

  30. There’s a major fallacy in your blog post. The idea that our DNA is an exact representation of our ancestry is false. For example, if your four grandparents were Norwegian, Turkish, Chinese and Native American. Your DNA would NOT show you as 25% Scandinavian, 25% Turkish, 25% Asian and 25% Native American.
    We inherit different percentages of our grandparents DNA. One could end up with DNA that is 50% Norwegian, 10% Turkish, 35% Chinese and 5% Native American. Each sibling will also get different percentages of the grandparents DNA.

  31. So I get that ethnicity estimates are mostly guesstimates beyond ID’ing the continent. But how accurate are the FF and Y-DNA matches from FTDNA.? Greater accuracy than the ethnicity estimate, less than, about the same?

    • The ethnicity beyond the continent level is by far the least specific and the least accurate. The FF matching and the Y DNA matching are spot on. It’s a matching technology as opposed to an interpretation technology.

  32. Last year I got my DNA sequenced by Ancestry. What intrigued me was the African DNA that showed up (only less than 1% North African by Ancestry, but up to 4% South and Sub-Saharan on Gedmatch, with high amounts of North African: 15%) depending on the test. I even found several relatives that I share both European and African DNA with (African American and white relatives).

    I have my DNA on Gedmatch also, which I think tells a little better story but still confusing. I’m 1/4 Polish with my genealogy research having my other ancestors from Western Europe and the British Islands (many relatives coming into Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina during colonial times.) However, finding so many relatives that I share African DNA with that seem to be in different parts of my family (mother’s and father’s) could the African DNA not be showing up as strongly as it should in my admixture?

    The African DNA was a surprise as I don’t have any know African ancestors. Some of my relatives that I share African DNA are African American relatives as recently as 4.2 MRCA. So can African DNA show up differently if it isn’t the majority of your DNA admixture? I would think I would share more African DNA with my AA relatives and also have more. For example, I have African American relatives that share a known ancestor, but I am related to each in a separate generation previous to their known common ancestor (confusing, sorry). They share at three generations and I share at four and five generations, respectively. They share a common ancestor with a family name not in my family tree.

    I also have high amounts of Mediterranean with no known Spanish or Portuguese Ancestors (up to 25%). Could there be a connection? Am I looking at this wrong? Is the African misplaced because of the stronger European, can it show up differently? Any help you can offer that may help explain will be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    • Many people have small percentages of minority admixture. The only way I’ve ever been able to solve any of that, outside of paper trail genealogy, is to triangulate known ancestral lines on that segment and then look to see if your matches also carry Native on that segment utilizing the ethnicity chromosome mapping tools at GedMatch. If so, then you know which line it came from and where to look.

  33. Just read that FAMILY TREE DNA is the testing partner for National Geographic….which seems to throw your analysis off a bit.

  34. Pingback: Ethnicity Testing and Results | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  35. Hi, My great Uncle just did an Ancestry DNA test and his biographical ancestry results showed 72% Sub Saharan African and 28 % European. This was very surprising, because we did not expect to find any African ancestry! My Uncle and his siblings including my grandfather did not look African American. I know genetics and how people look can not really show everything, but 72% is such a high number. We did think we had some Native American in the family, so maybe it was African instead. It is the high percent that is so very surprising. Is it possible the results are not accurate? I feel like I was on some surprise genetic talk show! Thanks for any insight you might have!

  36. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Basic Education Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  37. I never met my father
    but l am small slim snd dark haired with green eyes. My mum and five siblings are taller stockier and blond and blue eyed. Realy all l want to know is what ethnicity my fathers familly may have been. I am my mothers first child. I am also a cancer survivor and perhaps my fathers ancestry may have some bearing on this matter.

  38. I am a geneticist by profession and am always surprised at the precision that people expect to see from this type of DNA testing. It’s a general outline and a lab that gives a 75% European ancestry and one that gives an 80% European ancestry have given the same result. The results quoted in the original post look pretty much the same to me, comparing lab to lab. The lab that tries to look further back in time for their mapping may well give a different distribution as it is designed to detect a geographic spread that is more distant in time.

  39. Hi there!
    I’ve been wondering, I want to have my dna tested, but I have no idea who to go with. I’ve been trying to research and see who is the better one to use.
    It’s so much info to take in!
    If you knew then what you know now, who would you go with?
    We know we’re Scottish, and French, but would like to know what else we are as well.
    Also, I was told only a few places actually send you your results, and others only post them online. I’d like to have a record sent to me..not posted,
    Thank you!

    • When the results are posted online, they are posted in your private account, not publicly, and you can see them and print them.

      I would test with Family Tree DNA. They offer the widest range of testing an allow you to compare results with others.

      If you are testing for ethnicity only, understand that these are estimates from all companies based on the reference populations they are using and each company uses a proprietary methodology.

  40. Hi!
    There is a website call that has several databases that test for ethnicity both ancient and modern. I realized very quickly that Ancestry’s regional breakdown was moronic, so we took all our stuff to getmatch. You can upload raw data and test it against any database they have for free. They have one to cater to pretty much everyone. Hope this helps!

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  42. Hi Roberta, thank you for your excellent article. I have French/English/Scottish ancestry but my FamilyTreeDNA results came back as 62% British Isles, 14% Scandinavian, 1% Finnish, 2% Eastern Middle East and 21% Eastern Europe. Yes thats 0% French and almost one quarter Eastern Europe, which is a complete mystery. Your article helped me understand not to necessarily believe the results.

  43. My paternal great great grandfather was 100% American Indian, yet my Ancestry dna results came back showing NO Indian! I am terribly disappointed as I also ordered test kits for each of my children (they have different fathers). What a waste of time, money and spit!!!!

    • You should submit your Ancestry raw data to GEDmatch. If the GEDmatch calculators also show no Native American ancestry in you, then that means you really have no Native American ancestry or your most recent 100% Native American ancestor lived in a generation older than that of your paternal great great grandfather so that enough generations have passed to enable the dilution of the Native American genes to 0% level through mixing with non-Native Americans.

      GEDmatch link:

  44. Pingback: Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  45. Hi,
    I came across this blog while researching how accurate the dna tests really are.
    My husband and I both just did an Ancestry dna and it is really confusing in some ways.
    I have done extensive genealogy research over the last 40 years and so has my mom. My mom is now deceased, but I continue to research.
    I can go back on all my lines no less than 5 generations (two lines on my dad’s side), and on all the other sides I can go back as many as 12-20 generations as I can go back to the 800’s on a few lines.
    With all this said, I know my family lines all go back to Ireland, England, Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Scotland (not necessarily in this order). These go back hundreds of years. However, my ancestry came back 27% Scandinavian, though I have no one who hails from there for 1000 years or so.
    I was also matched as being 1-2 cousins (highly) with a woman who was adopted who found her biological mother. Her father is Jewish (I am not), and her mother’s line goes back to Scandinavia. (genealogy line) though we can find absolutely NO connections with one another. How can we be related this close when my ancestors do not go back to Scandinavia and we have no ancestral lines? I have shared all of my trees with her and she can find no one whom she or her mother know. This is really bizarre.
    My husband and I both have Native Indian in us and we both tested out as 0%, which we found to be odd. My husband’s great grandfather on his maternal side was French and Indian. and on my mom’s side it goes back on her father’s mom’s side.I did read your blog post on this.
    I also tested as having 9% Iberian, though there are absolutely no recent (within last 5-8 generations) of anyone who hailed from this region. Ditto for Italian/Greek (7%).
    I guess I should take all this with a grain of salt.
    It is all weird.

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