Making Sense of Ethnicity Updates

In the last few days, Ancestry completed a rollout of an ethnicity update. For many customers, this is the first update since they tested – and the shocked, surprised, happy and unhappy commentary began immediately.

I’m receiving a lot of questions, including people who are doubting paternity based on  ethnicity. In a word – DON’T.

Ethnicity is the tool that encouraged many people to test via ads promising to tell you who you are. Consumers perhaps had unrealistic expectations about their results.

I was seriously upset when Ancestry posted my first ethnicity results in 2012 stating that I had 12% Scandinavian, when I don’t have any. 12% isn’t “noise,” it’s equivalent to one great-grandparent – and I know who all of my great-grandparents are, confirmed by DNA, and where they were. No Scandinavians among them.

Make no mistake, I used to get excited, upset, or both. I was outraged in 2012, here, but not any longer. I’ve adjusted my expectations.

I understand what’s really going on, meaning that ethnicity is a great feel-good sales tool (queue up the music), but does not have the ability to predict ethnicity accurately beyond the continental level (Europe, Africa, Asia), plus Native American and Jewish.

New Results

Companies continually try to refine ethnicity estimates by:

  • adding reference populations
  • mining their own customer data
  • taking advantage of academic research that may provide more and better tools

Consumers crave country or region-level specificity, but the technology today can’t deliver that, and maybe never will.

I discussed this in the article, Ethnicity is Just an Estimate – Yes Really!, which I illustrated by showing states in the US overlayed over Europe. No one would expect a company to be able to tell the difference between Indiana and Illinois residents, but for some reason, we expect differentiation between Germany and France. Or maybe we’re just hopeful!

Ethnicity states over Europe

That said, here is the graphic of my new Ancestry ethnicity results.

Ancestry ethnicity 2019.png

Along with the percentages.

Ancestry ethnicity percents 2019.png

I remember the first time I received an ethnicity result. I was INCREDIBLY excited – even though it turned out to be highly inaccurate.

Now, as then, ethnicity is ONLY AN ESTIMATE.

Let me say that again.

ETHNICITY IS ONLY AN ESTIMATE

Your ethnicity percentages at all the vendors are going to change, sometimes for the “better” and sometimes for the “worse.”

Of course, better and worse are terms defined by every person individually based on family stories, research or even just perceptions.

How Can You Determine Accuracy?

Years ago, I assembled a chart of what my expected ethnicity would be based on my known and proven family tree. You can read about how I did that in conjunction with my search for my Native American heritage in the article Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage Using Y-line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosomal Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis.

Understand that while each person inherits half of their DNA from each parent – we don’t inherit exactly half of their ancestor’s DNA that our parents carry. We might get 20% from one grandparent and 30 from another – totaling the 50% of our DNA inherited from one parent. So population level DNA isn’t going to be passed down in equal chunks in every generation either – but determining where your ancestors are actually from is the first step in setting expectations realistically.

Of course, this only works for genealogists who have already invested time into creating and documenting a family tree.

Comparing Ethnicity

Comparing expected ethnicity to ethnicity estimates can be enlightening for everyone.

Here’s the chart I created showing various Ancestry updates beginning in 2012 through the current 2019 update, today. My “expected” percentage of DNA is shown in the Genealogy % column.

Ancestry ethnicity over the years.png

Note that my Scandinavian is “worse” at 15% than the original 2012 estimate at 12% – especially given that I have no Scandinavian ancestors. It had dropped to 0 in 2018.

The British Isles is about right. Western Europe is low, but if you combine Scandinavia with western Europe, that would be about right.

Ancestry vacillates back and forth on my Native. Now you see it, now you don’t. Those segments are proven through 23andMe’s ethnicity segment painting along with Y and mitochondrial DNA from those ancestral lines.

It’s worth noting that many companies provide ranges of DNA, with what’s expected to be the “most accurate” shown.

In a few days, I’ll share my results from all of the companies so you can take a look at the differences between companies.

Ok, so what now?

Ethnicity IS

  • Interesting
  • Fun
  • A great discussion at the holiday table (and much safer than politics)
  • An entry level test that will hopefully encourage at least some people to become interested in genealogy
  • Cousin-bait
  • Not to be taken terribly seriously, seriously
  • To be taken with a very large grain, up to the entire lick of salt
  • A wonderful way to introduce the topic of family stories to people who might not otherwise be interested
  • A great way to distinguish between continental level DNA, and matches, if you’re lucky enough to be admixed in this way
  • NEVER to be used to doubt parentage
  • To be viewed as an “entertainment value” test

Ethnicity IS NOT

  • Ever a reliable predictor of parentage
  • Confirmation of minority ancestry without additional research
  • Disproof of minority ancestry without additional research
  • A shortcut in lieu of genealogy research
  • A reason to dismiss, or believe, a family story

Ummm – About Parentage

Regarding parentage – ethnicity testing can’t tell you any more about your parentage that your eyes looking in a mirror. People with known Italian parents, for example, show no Italian ethnicity – even when the matches to their Italian family are confirmed.

If you have ethnicity from multiple continents, by the time you can no longer see that visually – the percentage is too low for ethnicity to be able to help you reliably. Keep in mind that we can visually see continental admixture at the 25% level, and Ancestry gave me 15% Scandinavian ethnicity which I don’t have in reality. That’s more than the expected 12.5% of a great-grandparent.

Also remember that we often see what we are looking for. If I look long enough and hard enough in the mirror, I could see those Vikings😊

Why Do the Companies Produce Ethnicity Estimates?

If these results need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a lick of salt, then why do the companies continue to produce ethnicity estimates?

  • Plain and simple, because consumers want them
  • Ethnicity sells DNA tests (have you seen those ads?)
  • Testers are enchanted with the results
  • Ethnicity results engage consumers, making more people want to test “just to see”
  • Ethnicity updates bring people back to sign in to their account and check their results again

For some companies, ethnicity is the gateway (drug) for selling subscriptions to search for those ancestors whose tales are told, or hinted at, through ethnicity results. Don’t think “gateway drug” like it’s a bad thing.

For all of us, ethnicity is a way for many people to stick their collective toes in the genealogy water – in a place where we can see that they exist. Even if they never create a tree or answer a message – for some, who can figure out who they are – just the fact that they are IN the data base helps us to place other matches accurately.

There’s always hope that we can introduce ethnicity testers to the wonderful world of genealogy. I always offer to share. I was a beginner once too, as we all were.

Testing

You can obtain ethnicity results from any of the major testing vendors, including:

You can also transfer your DNA to GedMatch to obtain other estimates using their admix tools.

Instructions for downloading your files from the vendors in order to transfer can be found here.

Resources

If you’d like to read more about ethnicity results, I recommend the following article that explains what goes on under the hood, so to speak, and how estimates are created:

Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum

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43 thoughts on “Making Sense of Ethnicity Updates

  1. I’m one of those people who truly DO NOT like the recent changes to Ancestry. The previous update was the closest that I had to my family tree. The current is NO WHERE near that! I have also tested with FamilyTree DNA & MyHeritage. I mainly tested with Ancestry to see if any of my Dad’s side of the family had a DNA test.

  2. Remember when the older ones of us were practicing our typing (lol who knew how valuable that would be in the future!) and we were told to type, “…now is the time for all good men [excuse me women, you know you’re included….] to come to the aid of their country.” Well, it’s now the time that we (who had science in school) all need to come to the aid of all the folks who must have skipped their science classes! An estimate is an just that–an estimate! And it’s for fun!! Let’s have some fun!!

  3. What I noticed most about the update is that ancestry now shows a more modern version of what people refer to as the countries of Germany, France, and England in the ethnicity updates. Prior to the updates, a large portion of what we now consider North Western France and surrounding areas was included in English ancestry, due to the fact that areas, such as Normandy had often been a part of England during history. With the update, my percentage of German heritage based on immigration records now more closely matches my ancestry DNA and seems more appropriate. Sadly, I also noticed some of my cousins with trace Native American heritage seem to have lost this status (though I don’t know when or why this occurred). Since some of us test as having Native American DNA on 23andme, and it also fits with our family trees, this loss on ancestry,com was disappointing.

  4. I always tell people that the estimate is just that. An estimate. When you have a gene pool like that of Europe, you are going to get crazy results. One day you’ll get Scandinavia and the next it vanishes.

    When people ask questions, I tell them to go with their tree and see how the dna gels with it.

    I certainly kept this in mind when a 4th cousin’s mom “lost” her French even though she and her sister are at 5% French. The tree has our common ancestors be our 3x great-grandparents. They are still in the Québécois communities.

    If I were new to this I would assume the worst. However, the paper trail is pretty concrete and they do have matches with me, my mother and several others who have the same 3x great-grandparents in the tree.

    Dna is a roll of the dice, right. As for me, my Italian percentage went from 43 to 45 and my father and great aunt are at 100% Italian. The latter gels with their trees. My mom’s uk popped back up for me. France is still hanging in there. It’s all random. Best to go by the old tree if you can. 🙂

  5. The recent update gave me a sizeable chunk of Icelandic which had me scratching my head. It was enough that I should be able to find it. Now, Iceland is very committed to their genealogy. It’s my understanding that a genealogy is required to get a marriage license is much of that country! So my ancestral family should be obvious shouldn’t it? Not!
    I do have Viking roots through my maternal grandmother, so that has to be the only credible explanation for that anomaly.

  6. I tend to agree with most of what you say, but there is one caveat: if you thought that you were 100% of European ancestry, and you turn up say, 50% European and 50% Sub Saharan African, this would indeed be enough to challenge parentage. It has happened before and most likely will continue to do so.

    If people are making determinations based upon say Italian v French, obviously do not do this! I keep plugging that there are four distinct groups of humans, because imo, there are. On a continental level, the companies all seem to get into the wheelhouse together.

    MyHeritage for myself, is painfully inaccurate, with FTDNA a close second. I think that Ancestry has come a long way and have impressed me greatly with their last two updates. Probably most impressive is the Native American prediction of my friend and his wife, predicting that they were of the Native Peoples of Ecuador (which they are). His wife was 100% Native admixture and he was 99% at Ancestry.

    To your point, estimates are estimates until they are not, and my two friends are evidence of that. I have seen instances where people are 100% French as well. In asking around, this appeared to not be as rare as I thought. I suspect that 100% “French” is a bit useless as they are just as mixed as Americans, and perhaps even more so. So I actually question the algorithm.

    Very few of us can account for NPEs that may have occurred further back in our trees, which may trigger something new and fascinating in terms of ethnicity. Perhaps haplogroups give us some potential insights on those. It is also fascinating that one can have a Native or African haplogroup while not having any admixture of the two. This shows us that these chromosomes are mutually exclusive of each other (including the mitochondria), and one does not infer assumptions of the other.

    Like your experiences, I have seen too many people taking their results (the granular results) literally and I scream with you- DO NOT!!!!

    Thanks for the thoughtful article!
    Rosario

    • Hi Rosario. If you are expecting 100% European and you’re 50% African, you don’t need a DNA rest, just a mirror:). Hence my commentary.

      • Lol- It’s interesting, I would not guess half African for my mother, nor half European for Obama. DNA mutations have a mind of their own. Your work is always on my MIND, and I have some very new and exciting projects coming up!

          • No. The fact that she claimed that her father was Sicilian, I had no other reason to not believe her. Having travelled extensively to Sicily there was no doubt in my mind that she was not telling the truth. However….

            My brother had a very tight afro which always had me thinking. I also tan extremely well, often being called “The Mexican” by my classmates.

            In hindsight there were aspects in my house that signaled that she was not telling the truth but had nothing to do with her phenotype. She looks like a Latina or Mediterranean woman for sure…

          • No- this is an interesting case study. Mom is 26% SSA, 4% NA, 4% Malagasy (Southeast Asian), the remainder is European.

            However, her first cousin is 36% SSA, 2/2% NA/SEA, rest is Euro.

            My brother has more SSA than I, but I have more NA/SEA. He has an Afro, I am darker.

            It really is interesting!

  7. A few months ago I gifted a friend with a Family Finder test. I also researched her family tree for her, so I know that most of her great-great grandparents immigrated to St. Charles County, MO from Germany in the early to mid 1800’s. The others came from Alsace. So, even knowing what I know about ethnicity results, I was amazed when FTDNA said 90% British Isles. And MyHeritage is similar. My explanation is that the Germanic tribe which traveled across Europe hundreds of years ago dropped off my friends ancestors as they went through on their way to England. (She has matches with persons living there.) I am guessing they were the Angles & Saxons. Will any of this hold water?

    • Another explanation is that Ancestry just overestimates “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe” (where “Northwestern Europe” appears to be not much more than an afterthought). The truth is, it can be hard to tell “British” from “German” ancestry in some cases. That doesn’t make British ancestors less British, or German ancestors less German. It just means there is a lot of overlap that no reference panel or wishful thinking will ever eliminate.

      By my paper trail, a little over 34% of my ancestry came from colonial-era “Palatine Germans”. My “Germanic Europe”, by contrast, is just 10% — and that’s up from 6% before the latest update.

      Another 3.1% of my ancestry came from France and French Canada and settled in French Louisiana very early — as early as 1700. I have no “France” at Ancestry.

      A little less than 41% of my ancestry consists of British and Irish combined. I really can’t separate it, because some of my “Irish” were “Anglo-Irish”, and many of my “British” were actually Scots. But that’s a *combined* number. If you add the 73% “England, Wales & Northeastern Europe” Ancestry says I have (which is down 7% from before the update) to the 14% “Ireland and Scotland” (up 3%), that gives 87% for what in reality is only just under 41% (on paper).

      My maternal grandmother was half Spanish — both grandfathers being Menorcan immigrants. Ancestry is now at least showing “Spain”, which before the update wasn’t in the picture at all. But in terms of my actual Spanish ancestry, it’s over 10% too low. Then there’s my grandmother’s Alsatian-born paternal grandmother. This is one-fourth of my grandmother’s ancestry, and ought to be a sixteen of my own. Not much, perhaps, but where is it? I have no French, according to Ancestry, and if the Alsatian is included in the 10% “Germanic Europe” that only leaves 4% for the 34% of my ancestors who were Palatine Germans.

      Oh, and there’s 1% Swiss — which presumably should be either with the French or Germans. (Although this small an amount might no longer be reflected in my DNA.)

      There is also 1% “Indigenous Americas – North”. It had been 2% “Native American – North, Central, West”, and there was no change to the range (0-3%). But I guess room had to be made for “Spain” — and of course they couldn’t take it out of the excessive “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe”.

      But here’s the problem with “updates”. If your DNA percentages change, that implies that the previous percentages may not have been correct. Ancestry, however, always wants to persuade you to take as gospel whatever percentages they assign you.

      So if your last name is “Merker” and your mother’s maiden name is “Zimmerman”, you can decide that not only are you Scottish — you also can say, “We’re not German at all.”

      Well, Kyle was probably half right. He clearly does have some Scottish ancestry. But “not German at all”? I’d have maybe *kept* the lederhosen (I actually do own a pair, but I was born in Germany) and simply *added* the kilt. Nah, my legs aren’t cute enough.

      (Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84LnTrQ2us8)

  8. So glad you wrote this piece. My mouth dropped open with latest update. I know now to look at more detail at the reference panel information to tie back to why my results swing so wildly. For me I am looking for who my ancestors were as opposed to trying to reconcile the ethnicities that don’t make sense. Thanks for educating us.

  9. I have enjoyed looking at the different companies estimates of my Ethnicities. I have worked on my Family Tree the old fashioned hard work way for many years. I have traveled to many States and looked at a lot of microfilm. The only glitch I have had to all of this is learning that my mom is adopted after 35 years of researching her “adopted” line. We found out through doing our DNA two years ago. She is 85 now. So, I have a very accurate paper trail at least on my father’s side. I have a decent one on my mother’s biological side as I have tested with several companies, thus creating many matches to work with. Many have been very cooperative and forthcoming with hand written copies of family trees. They are mostly recent arrivals to the United States and many were Mormons. One side came directly from Sweden.
    We also have documented Native American Roots. Those roots go back to the Great Sachem Canonchet of the Narragansett through my 7th Great Grandmother. We also have another Native American branch on my mom’s side, not as far removed. We have not determined what tribe as of yet. This is on her Biological Fathers side.
    I have Miller roots from the Palatine Immigration to Berks County, Pennsylvania and then down to Rowan County, North Carolina. Large numbers of my family immigrated from Ireland to the Carolinas and Virginia. They moved further west to Missouri and beyond.
    My complaint with Ancestry is with the Ethnicity they add a DNA Story based on where they assume your family came from. Mine is far from correct. It reflects only a handful of my Ancestors from my father’s side. My “17%” German is from my mother’s biological family not my dad’s. They did not settle in New York! My Western European does fit my Dad, but, it also fits my mom’s biological mother’s maternal side. They are from Wales one generation removed. They settled in Utah. Half of my fathers family came directly from Northern Ireland and settled in Canada. We have proof! The DNA Story has them lumped in the New York group going to the Great Lakes. Only a Handful of my father’s side came from the Northeastern States and moved to the Great Lakes. I am missing an entire Southern Branch and the Mormon Branch. That handful is mostly from Rhode Island, not New York. If I had not been born in Michigan, would it be different? Most of my family wasn’t. Just more to think about.

  10. Roberta,
    Thanks for that.
    You have a great knack for politely bringing our expectations into reality. As a young boy, I remember asking my father about his ethnicity. He answered with just three words:”I’m an American.” Sixty years later I found he was descended from John Taylor, the puritan who arrived in Boston 1638-9. Many of the descendants ended up in New Milford, Litchfield county, Connecticut which was a hotbed of Revolutionary patriots.
    Somehow, my father intuitively knew he was an American and not a Loyalist.

  11. The sometime disconnect between ethnicity and communities is confusing. Some communities, e.g., western ireland, Aran islands, are subsets of an “ethnicity” – Ireland and Scotland. Acadians are not, despite the fact that they all came from France – OK some Basque in there, maybe. But Acadians are only a community. I have that community, but only 1% French.

  12. Oh how I wish I knew how to get this information out to the thousands of people who I see asking questions every day on Facebook. I have your blog on ‘speed dial’ and refer people to it all the time but Ancestry and others with their TV ads still have a wider audience. Thanks for keeping up the fight Roberta.

  13. Keep in mind “Scandinavian” as you sited in your article, is often found outside of Scandinavia proper. So, you could have ancestors from England that were English in every sense of the word, but ethnically mostly Scandinavian. Or ancestors from Germany that were Germans in every sense of the word, but ethnically polish. This can explain how one may show certain ethnicities or an elevated percentage of an ethnicity outside of the countries of origin where that ethnicity originated as gene flow was throughout Europe to and from many different areas. Another reason why folks want to simplify something that is just way to complex as admixture is fathomless.

    • 15% when most of my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times us highly unlikely. Furthermore, it comes and goes and isn’t found at other companies. If it were a small amount, I would think the same thing, but not 15%.

    • The Swedish Vikings even invaded Ukraine (especially Kiev).

      My husband’s known heritage is English and Scottish with some French. Some of his ancestors have been in the USA since colonial days. His father tested at 86% British Isles and 14% Eastern European. The Eastern Europe was a surprise to me as I would have expected that 14% to be Western and Central European. No Scandinavian at all.

  14. I’m sure Ancestry thinks it’s great how many new “Indigenous Americas” categories there now are. But there’s a potential problem. Customers have the option of either showing all of their “ethnicities” to their matches, or only those they have in common.

    The problem is, supposed one party has 1% “Indigenous Americas – North”. If the match has 1% “Indigenous Americas – Mexico”, that doesn’t automatically mean the DNA was inherited from different ancestors. It might have been, but it’s also possible that the ancestor — or ancestors — would not show up as 100% in either category, if direct testing were a possibility, but would have some combination — and perhaps even additional “Indigenous Americas” categories.

    I decided to test this, using ThruLines to identify fellow descendants of my 2nd great grandmother Marie Eulalie (Ryan) Canet. “Eulalie”, as she was known, was French, Irish, Swiss, and Native American. Her husband Ramon Canet was a Spanish immigrant from Menorca.

    Presumably, any DNA I share with the descendants of any of Ramon and Eulalie’s children — other than in my great grandmother Mary Cannette Seymour Pons’s line — is traceable to either Ramon or Eulalie, or both. It therefore *ought* to show up as French, Irish, Swiss, or Native American; or some combination thereof.

    Ancestry actually shows no French for me, though it reports 14% Irish. There isn’t a “Swiss” category as far as I know, though that could be German or French — or, oddly enough, possibly even “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe”. (Ancestry likes to think this category is “Great Britain”, but actually it seems to be more of a catch all.)

    Anyway, I have 27 DNA matches in ThruLines who are reportedly descended from various offspring of Ramon and Eulalie. All of them have “England, Wales & Northwestern Europe”, and all also have “Ireland & Scotland”. Two-thirds (18) have “Germanic Europe”. Only one has “Finland”, at 1% — the same as me. I have *no* known Finnish ancestry. Eight have “Spain”, mostly in very small amounts — like me — even though both of my maternal grandmother’s parents were half Spanish because their fathers were Spanish immigrants.

    However, some of these matches have *other* ancestries which at least *might* relate to our Menorcan ancestors. This includes Portugal, Sardinia, Malta, and France. Menorca is part of the Catalan region, which has had strong French influence; and both Sardinia and Malta are Mediterranean islands, just as Menorca is. I wouldn’t have thought of Portugal, except that before the update Ancestry reported 1% “Portugal” for my daughter. The funny thing about this is that neither her mother nor I had any “Portugal”, and in fact at the time I didn’t even have “Spain”. Now I do, but my daughter’s “Portugal” has disappeared. One of my nieces, though, also had 1% “Portugal” before the update. Currently she has 1% “Spain”. This is my sister’s daughter, whose maternal ancestry should be exactly the same as mine — since all of my sister’s ancestors are also my ancestors.

    Finally, eleven of the twenty-seven ThruLines matches to me have 1-2% of “Indigenous Americas – North”. Some of these in addition have “Indigenous Americas – Mexico”, and one has “Indigenous Americas – Andes” while another has “Indigenous Americas – Colombia & Venezuela”. Now, these *might* represent different ancestors, but I also believe they may simply reflect different inheritance from the *same* ancestors.

    In additon to these eleven, there also five who have only “Indigenous Americas – Mexico”, two who have only “Indigenous Americas – Yucatan Peninsula”, and one who has “Indigenous Americas – Mexico” *and* “Indigenous Americas – Yucatan Peninsula.”

    My sister’s daughter — my niece — has no “Indigenous Americas – North”, though her cousin — my daughter — and I both have 1%. (For me that’s down from 2% “Native American – North, Central, West”, but the range is unchanged: still 0-3%.) However, my niece is another one with 1% “Indigenous Americas – Mexico”. As far as I know, my niece’s father has no Native American ancestry.

    The point is, while I could see these additional ancestries that I don’t have, it was only because these relatives chose to allow their matches to see all of their ancestries — just as I do.

    But there happen to be five of these ThruLines relatives who are only allowing matches to see ancestries they have in common. In two of these cases, I can still see “Indigenous Americas” ancestry because it happens to be the same one I have — “Indigenous Americas – North”. But in three cases, I don’t have a clue as to whether they have “Indigenous Americas” ancestry or not, because it isn’t the *same* “Indigenous Americas” ancestry that I have.

    • Gary, before the latest “version” I had 30% French, and now NOTHING – 0. Notwithstanding I am over a third French Canadian, tracing over 300 lines of descent back to original immigrants from France and thousands of French Canadian cousin matches, AND Ancestry still shows Quebec as one of their major destinations. Now I guess, they are all lumped in with “Great Britain, Wales & Western Europe”, with their map eliminating any coverage for France.

      So don’t be disheartened by the fact Ancestry shows no French for you as well. In a word, their latest version simply sucks. Try 23andMe, they correctly showed my 1/2 of 1 % Native, verified through GedMatch and now found through the genealogy paper trail as an Algonquin 8th-great-grandmother. Oh, and Eulalie is a name I’ve seen many times in Quebec sources.

      • My French has also disappeared on this latest version. My French ancestry has now been included in with my British Isles ancestors. I’m also descended from French Canadians settlers. Ancestry has now said that I have Germanic & Swedish. I know of several common ancestors that I have with Roberta from Switzerland, but they came to America hundreds of years ago. My mtDNA is Norwegian, otherwise I still can’t find ANY ancestors from there either. My family in general has been in America for years before the Revolutionary War.

  15. We’re still looking for those pesky Scandinavians, too, and I do think it might be Viking. My dad’s ancestry is almost all from the British Isles and my mom is half British Isles and half German and Dutch. So Dad has 23% Scandinavian at FTDNA and Mom has a whopping 36%, which is actually down from a high of 48%. All of our lines have been here since colonial days and there are simply no known Scandinavians in the family tree in the past 300 years. We have lots of Scots-Irish and some Normans who I suppose could be of Viking origin. Doesn’t matter really. We started playing with DNA to see if we could confirm our more recent family tree and for the most part we have. We are who we think we are! And it has given me nothing but the greatest respect for the genealogists who did the painstaking research to create our trees so accurately long before the Internet, databases, digital copies, DNA and all the fun tools of today.

  16. Half of my great-great-grandparents on my mothers side of the family emigrated from either Norway or Sweden.

    All other great-great-grandparents families or their ancestors (for those who had arrived in the 1600s) came from countries (Germany, France, British Isles, BENELUX, Spain, Portugal, Italy and others, although they went by other names a thousand years ago) that had been invaded or conquered by Vikings, Normans or others that originated from Scandinavia.

  17. I recently attended a weekend conference on all things Genealogy and one of the presenters on the subject of DNA referred to the so-called ethnicity reports as “Genealogical Fantasy”!!!

  18. I found the latest 23andMe ethnicity estimate update to be surprisingly accurate, up to country level. Other companies will probably follow next decade; I am curious to see MyHeritage’s genetic regions unfold. My current interest is mapping my chromosomes using matches, I found MyHeritage to be the best for that (being European). It’s also a reason I did not test Ancestry; their database may be huge but it really needs a chromosome browser!

  19. Thank you very much for posting this. It says much more clearly and professionally and in detail what I have been trying to tell friends who are thinking of sending in a DNA sample – don’t do it if all you are interested in is ethnic origins, not family connections. As you say it is employed by companies as a way to attract customers. This must be a large reason for all the frustrating DNA links which results show to people who post no family information and don’t reply to messages.

  20. Last update is not accurate,there are a lot of missing information in it,compared with previous versions estimates.For example they added Egypt to Arabian peninsula as my ancestry of over 88% the rest from Ethiopia and Eritrea this is new info.They omitted Sudan,Tunisia,Algeria,and Morocco from the updates.Although it was in previous versions.
    I know from history,ancestry books and dna tests with other vendors l have far ancestors in those countries.

    They should keep the previous version or revise this one .

  21. Good article– most people don’t have a clue as to the inexactness of this “science”.

    I would like to also point out that parts of Great Britain and Ireland were heavily populated by Norse invaders from around 800 to 1100 AD (very approximate dates). Some areas (for example, the Wirral peninsula in NW England) have to this day a very large proportion of men with “Viking” y-DNA. Vikings also settled in Ireland in large numbers. If some of your British immigrant ancestors came from a heavily Norse area of Britain, it could show in your DNA.

    • Ancestry says that I’m 90% British. 23andme and My Heritage estimate 40-50% Scandinavian. The Vikings overran and settled in my home county in the UK and a study there found high incidences of Viking Y DNA within the population. There are no Scandinavians in my tree at all. When I first saw the Scandinavian estimates It didn’t bother me because I knew about the local history of the area.

  22. The biggest change to my ethnicity update at Family Tree DNA occurred in 2017 when my ethnicity changed from 91% Ashkenazi Jewish, 6% Western & Central Europe, 3% North African to 99% Jewish and 1% East Central Africa. Perhaps my French and German “ethnicity” represents mixed Jewish heritage as I can see from my MyHeritage matches.

    Recently, I’ve learned more about my maternal grandfather’s heritage – through newly discovered second cousins. That was exciting.

    I tested at Ancestry earlier this year after they did the big ethnicity update. However, my 23andMe ethnicity changed slightly with their recent update – new trace amounts of Native American and Japanese. I wonder where all that came from!

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