Autosomal DNA Transfers – Which Companies Accept Which Tests?

Somehow, I missed the announcement that Family Tree DNA now accepts uploads from MyHeritage.

Update – Shortly after the publication of this article, I was notified that the MyHeritage download has been disabled and they are working on the issue which is expected to be resolved shortly.  Family Tree DNA is ready when the MyHeritage downloads are once again functional.

Other people may have missed a few announcements too, or don’t understand the options, so I’ve created a quick and easy reference that shows which testing vendors’ files can be uploaded to which other vendors.

Why Transfer?

Just so that everyone is on the same page, if you test your autosomal DNA at one vendor, Vendor A, some other vendors allow you to download your raw data file from Vendor A and transfer your results to their company, Vendor B.  The transfer to Vendor B is either free or lower cost than testing from scratch.  One site, GedMatch, is not a testing vendor, but is a contribution/subscription comparison site.

Vendor B then processes your DNA file that you imported from Vendor A, and your results are then included in the database of Vendor B, which means that you can obtain your matches to other people in Vendor B’s data base who tested there originally and others who have also transferred.  You can also avail yourself of any other tools that Vendor B provides to their customers.  Tools vary widely between companies.  For example, Family Tree DNA, GedMatch and 23andMe provide chromosome browsers, while Ancestry does not.  All 3 major vendors (Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe) have developed unique offerings (of varying quality) to help their customers understand the messages that their unique DNA carries.

Ok, Who Loves Whom?

The vendors in the left column are the vendors performing the autosomal DNA tests. The vendor row (plus GedMatch) across the top indicates who accepts upload transfers from whom, and which file versions. Please consider the notes below the chart.

  • Family Tree DNA accepts uploads from both other major vendors (Ancestry and 23andMe) but the versions that are compatible with the chip used by FTDNA will have more matches at Family Tree DNA. 23andMe V3, Ancestry V1 and MyHeritage results utilize the same chip and format as FTDNA. 23andMe V4 and Ancestry V2 utilize different formats utilizing only about half of the common locations. Family Tree DNA still allows free transfers and comparisons with other testers, but since there are only about half of the same DNA locations in common with the FTDNA chip, matches will be fewer. Additional functions can be unlocked for a one time $19 fee.
  • Neither Ancestry, 23andMe nor Genographic accept transfer data from any other vendors.
  • MyHeritage does accept transfers, although that option is not easy to find. I checked with a MyHeritage representative and they provided me with the following information:  “You can upload an autosomal DNA file from your profile page on MyHeritage. To access your profile page, login to your MyHeritage account, then click on your name which is displayed towards the top right corner of the screen. Click on “My profile”. On the profile page you’ll see a DNA tab, click on the tab and you’ll see a link to upload a file.”  MyHeritage has also indicated that they will be making ethnicity results available to individuals who transfer results into their system in May, 2017.
  • LivingDNA has just released an ethnicity product and does not have DNA matching capability to other testers.  They also do not provide a raw DNA download file for customers, but hope to provide that feature by mid-May. Without a download file, you cannot transfer your DNA to other companies for processing and inclusion in their data bases. Living DNA imputes DNA locations that they don’t test, but the initial download, when available, file will only include the DNA locations actually tested. According to LivingDNA, the Illumina GSA chip includes 680,000 autosomal markers. It’s unclear at this point how many of these locations overlaps with other chips.
  • WeGene’s website is in Chinese and they are not a significant player, but I did include them because GedMatch accepts their files. WeGene’s website indicates that they accept 23andme uploads, but I am unable to determine which version or versions. Given that their terms and conditions and privacy and security information are not in English, I would be extremely hesitant before engaging in business. I would not be comfortable in trusting on online translation for this type of document. SNPedia reports that WeGene has data quality issues.
  • GedMatch is not a testing vendor, so has no entry in the left column, but does provide tools and accepts all versions of files from each vendor that provides files, to date, with the exception of the Genographic Project.  GedMatch is free (contribution based) for many features, but does have more advanced functions available for a $10 monthly subscription.
  • The Genographic Project tested their participants at the Family Tree DNA lab until November 2016, when they moved to the Helix platform, which performs an exome test using a different chip.
  • The Ancestry V2 chip began processing in May 2016.
  • The 23andMe V3 chip began processing in December 2010. The 23andMe V4 chip began processing in November 2013.

Incompatible Files

Please be aware that vendors that accept different versions of other vendors files can only work with the tested locations that are in the files generated by the testing vendors unless they use a technique called imputation.

For example, Family Tree DNA tests about 700,000 locations which are on the same chip as MyHeritage, 23andMe V3 and Ancestry V1. In the later 23andMe V4 test, the earlier 23andMe V2 and the Ancestry V2 tests, only a portion of the same locations are tested.  The 23andMe V4 and Ancestry V2 chips only test about half of the file locations of the vendors who utilize the Illumina OmniExpress chip, but not the same locations as each other since both the Ancestry V2 and 23andMe V4 chips are custom. 23andMe and Ancestry both changed their chips from the OmniExpress version and replaced genealogically relevant locations with medically relevant locations, creating a custom chip.

I know this if confusing, so I’ve created the following chart for chip and test compatibility comparison.

You can easily see why the FTDNA, Ancestry V1, 23andMe V3 and MyHeritage tests are compatible with each other.  They all tested utilizing the same chip.  However, each vendor then applies their own unique matching and ethnicity algorithms to customer results, so your results will vary with each vendor, even when comparing ethnicity predictions or matching the same two individuals to each other.

Apples to Apples to Imputation

It’s difficult for vendors to compare apples to apples with non-compatible files.

I wrote about imputation in the article about MyHeritage, here. In a nutshell, imputation is a technique used to infer the DNA for locations a vendor doesn’t test (or doesn’t receive in a transfer file from another vendor) based on the location’s neighboring DNA and DNA that is “normally” passed together as a packet.

However, the imputed regions of DNA are not your DNA, and therefore don’t carry your mutations, if any.

I created the following diagram when writing the MyHeritage article to explain the concept of imputation when comparing multiple vendors’ files showing locations tested, overlap and imputed regions. You can click to enlarge the graphic.

Family Tree DNA has chosen not to utilize imputation for transfer files and only compares the actual DNA locations tested and uploaded in vendor files, while MyHeritage has chosen to impute locations for incompatible files. Family Tree DNA produces fewer, but accurate matches for incompatible transfer files.  MyHeritage continues to have matching issues.

MyHeritage may be using imputation for all transfer files to equalize the files to a maximum location count for all vendor files. This is speculation on my part, but is speculation based on the differences in matches from known compatible file versions to known matches at the original vendor and then at MyHeritage.

I compared matches to the same person at MyHeritage, GedMatch, Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. It appears that imputed matches do not consistently compare reliably. I’m not convinced imputation can ever work reliably for genetic genealogy, because we need our own DNA and mutations. Regardless, imputation is in its infancy today.

To date, two vendors are utilizing imputation. LivingDNA is using imputation with the GSA chip for ethnicity, and MyHeritage for DNA matching.

Summary

Your best results are going to be to test on the platform that the vendor offers, because the vendor’s match and ethnicity algorithms are optimized for their own file formats and DNA locations tested.

That means that if you are transferring an Ancestry V1 file, a 23andMe V3 file or a MyHeritage file, for example, to Family Tree DNA, your matches at Family Tree DNA will be the same as if you tested on the FTDNA platform.  You do not need to retest at Family Tree DNA.

However, if you are transferring an Ancestry V2 file or 23andMe V4 file, you will receive some matches, someplace between one quarter and half as compared to a test run on the vendor’s own chip. For people who can’t be tested again, that’s certainly better than nothing, and cross-chip matching generally picks up the strongest matches because they tend to match in multiple locations. For people who can retest, testing at Family Tree DNA would garner more matches and better ethnicity results for those with 23andMe V2 and V4 tests as well as Ancestry V2 tests.

For absolutely best results, swim in all of the major DNA testing pools, test as many relatives as possible, and test on the vendor’s Native chip to obtain the most matches.  After all, without sharing and matching, there is no genetic genealogy!

More About Genetic Communities and Display Problem Hints

You don’t know what you’re missing, sometimes, until you see that someone else has one. Isn’t that how the seeds of discontent are often sewed?

It was in my case. Blaine Bettinger also wrote about Genetic Communities, here, and in his article, he had connecting lines and pins. I experienced difficulty during the BETA with the maps (which continues), so I never saw pins and I only saw connecting lines flash one time, then disappear. I did report this to Ancestry, but never heard back before launch.  However, just now, my contact did provide this link for suggestions about how to resolve issues with displaying their maps as related to browsers.

I asked the genetic community about lines and pins, and thankfully, someone else had figured this out. Hat tip to Sue and Traci! I was trying my iPAD and laptop, thinking somehow it was a browser issue. It wasn’t.

It’s a “hidden” feature that’s not at all intuitive, combined with display issues, so let me share what I’ve discovered with you. If you haven’t read my first article about Genetic Communities yet, you might want to read it now so that you’ll be familiar with how to navigate the features to this point.

When you first click on Genetic Communities, you’ll see the screen above. Click on the Genetic Community you want to view, at left. If your maps don’t load, try it again, or try clicking on the community or go back to the DNA home page and try again. Mine load sporadically, about every third time, using Internet Explorer, Chrome and Edge.  I have not tried Firefox.

Clicking on the Settlers of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana Community, I see this screen which defines the locations of the Community, along with the boundaries.

In order to make the connecting lines and pins appear, click on the various date ranges in the stories to the left. Yes, this was the hidden piece.  Not very hidden if you know what to do, but not intuitive either.

In this case, I clicked on “Religious Mecca of the New World,” which then listed the ancestors in my tree that fell into this category, below the text.

First, I was very excited, then I realized that we have a bit of an, ahem, problem.

You’ll notice that the community, as defined by Ancestry, does not include New Jersey. In fact, the eastern-most portion only includes southern Pennsylvania and Maryland not further east than the Hagerstown region.

However, if I look at the pin showing my ancestors included in this group, I see Susannah Anderson born in Hunterdon Co., NJ and died in Wilkes County, NC. That’s a bit of a fly in the ointment, because she clearly does not belong in this red group.

However, expanding the screen shows something different.

The people showing aren’t just in the Community, but seems to be all of my ancestors in the tree born in this general area during this timeframe. The red circles show where other people who match me have ancestors born during this timeframe too. Had I not expanded this map, I would have thought that I was only seeing people from the Settlers of Alleghenies Community, not a more general view, based on both the context and the coloration.

I hope that users don’t interpret this to mean that these ancestors showing on their map were all part of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana community, because they clearly aren’t. In my opinion, the red circles that aren’t part of this Community should not be colored the same color as the circles that are part of the community – red in this case.

This extends across the pond too, with Johann Michael Miller’s pin, who does belong to the community, settling in Hagerstown, Maryland, being located right beside Jacob Kobel and Isaac DeTurk who do not belong in the Community, settling in Schoharie County, NY and then in Berks County, PA, both of which are outside of the defined Genetic Community – but shown on top of or with red circles.

Hopefully display issues are a short term problem and Ancestry can get them resolved quickly. I really don’t think they are all browser related, but some probably are.

But more important long term, I hope Ancestry will consider making some changes in the coloration and display that will not confuse newbies. The confusing coloration is probably less important to seasoned genealogists, because we can look at the display and quickly surmise that what we are seeing is not quite as it would initially appear – but new people are much more likely just to take information at face value and run with it.

In the mean time, I hope you can find a new hint or clue that will be helpful to your search!

Genetic Communities

Ancestry’s Genetic Communities is being released today after a long BETA that included many people in the genetic genealogy community. You may have been hearing the chatter.

Before I show you my results, let’s talk for a minute about Genetic Communities.

According to Ancestry’s white paper, Genetic Communities are groups of AncestryDNA members who are connected through DNA most likely because they descend from a population of common ancestors, even if they no longer live in the area where those ancestors once lived.

Ancestry created Genetic Communities by analyzing the DNA of their members and looking at their trees and who they matched. They discovered that they could predict “fine scale ancestral origins from the genetic sharing patterns among millions of individuals.

The research and resulting paper led to the 300 different Genetic Communities defined by the research and available for people to cluster into today.

Ancestry created a short YouTube video here that talks about Genetic Communities.

Beneficiaries

For the most part, I think that beneficiaries will tend to be individuals who have done less genealogy rather that more. People who have done more genealogy already know who their genetic communities are. Still, it’s pretty cool to see that these groups of people tend to cluster, and in the future, I’m hopeful for tighter clusters, even quite specific locations, that actually will benefit seasoned genealogists by reaching back further in time.

Now, the good news for you is that I’ve done a lot of genealogy and have proven many lines both with paper and DNA, so my tree for several generations back in time is fairly robust. I created a five generation birth and migration pedigree chart which will give us a good foundation for judging the accuracy and usefulness of my Genetic Communities.

The percentages across the top reflect how much DNA from that generation, on average, one would carry. In other words, I carry approximately 3.125% of each of my 32 3X great-grandparents.

Cut to the Chase

I know you’re dying to see what exactly Genetic Communities does, so let’s take a look.

Your Genetic Communities link is a part of your DNA Results, under Genetic Ancestry.

Click on “View Your Genetic Ancestry.”

Your ethnicity estimate will be shown above, on the upper left, and reflected on the map with the fully colored green European circles, in my case. Ethnicity estimates are now labeled as “thousands of years ago,” while Genetic Communities are labeled “hundreds of years ago.”

The Genetic Communities are reflected by the areas that are comprised of tiny dots with outlined shapes. I have two, both located in the US. You can view all of the Genetic Communities available by clicking on the “View All” button, but let’s face it, most people want to see their own first.

By enlarging the screen, you can see that I have a gold group and a red group. Both of these groups are clustered into two regions that overlap somewhat.

The dots represent matches and clusters of matches.

You don’t need a paid subscription to see your Genetic Communities, but if you don’t have a tree linked to your DNA, Ancestry can’t pull tree matches into your results.  If you haven’t linked a tree to your DNA results, now would be a great time to do that.

Settlers of the Alleghenies and Northeast Indiana

I must say, I was surprised to see a region as finely identified as “Northeast Indiana.”

When you click on the area with the title in the box, above, or on the associated part of the map, you are taken to a screen with two links; Story and Connections.

The story will be showing in the box on the left.

In my case, I knew immediately when I saw the map that this was my mother’s Brethren lineage. The story isn’t that specific, but we’ll see in a minute how I know this is true.

Click on the “Connection” link.

You will see the confidence range that you belong in this community, but more importantly, you will see how many people are in this genetic community and the associated surnames, at bottom right. Miller, Cripe, Ulrich and several others that I recognize as being very specifically Brethren are showing. In the box at bottom left, you can click to view all of the matches that you have that fall into this community – including matches with and without trees.

By clicking on “View All Matches,” I can see my matches from just this community, as opposed to all matches in the data base, including matches with those valuable shakey leaves that mean they are a DNA match and we share a common ancestor on our trees.  Within a Genetic Community, those common ancestors are very important and will define why you are found within that community.

On your match page, you can then click on “Search Matches” and search for everyone in the group with the surname of Miller, for example.

Please note that as of last evening, I was having issues with this search (as well as the maps) using browsers Internet Explorer, Edge and Chrome.  I did not try Firefox, but others reported that both Chrome and Firefox were working for them.

Maps

Looking at the map, you can view the migration points. The Brethren settled as a group in lower Pennsylvania and into the Hagerstown, Maryland region before migrating, more or less as a group, in the late 1790s to the Dayton area of Ohio. Then another 30 years later they moved on into the Goshen/Elkhart region of Indiana, again, as a group. This map reflects that migration history amazingly well, including the larger circles located appropriately.

For some groups, there are also connecting “migration lines” back to the locations in other countries where those immigrants originated.

Early Settlers of the Lower Midwest and Virginia

Looking at the map, it was clear immediately that this was my father’s side of the tree.

The surnames are the first place I looked, and I only recognized one, Dodson, but there are many that I recognize as “married in” to various ancestral lines from this region.

Report Card

So, how did Ancestry do?

The two Genetic Communities they reported for me are accurate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that major communities are absent and the communities that are present don’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know .

However, that wouldn’t necessarily be true for everyone.  This tool would actually be more informative for people with unknown parentage, I would think, than ethnicity results. Furthermore, it appears to be more accurate than ethnicity estimates, although we’ll have to see if others have the same experience.

Half of my genealogy, on my father’s side, is indeed from Appalachia, originating mostly from Virginia. Of my 16 3X great-grandparents, the breakdown of their birth locations is:

  • Virginia – 10
  • Tennessee – 1
  • North Carolina – 4
  • England – 1

Their primary heritage is as follows:

  • Scotland – possibly Scots-Irish – 2
  • English – 5
  • Uncertain – probably British Isles – 5
  • Dutch – 1
  • Irish – 3

Hopefully the American communities will someday morph into European ancestral communities as well.

On my mother’s side, Ancestry didn’t do as well.

My mother’s one Genetic Community is accurate for her Brethren line, but that’s only 1 of my 16 3X great-grandparents.

The 16 3X great-grandparents on my maternal side were born in the following locations:

  • Netherlands – 4
  • Maryland – 1
  • Pennsylvania -1
  • Germany – 6
  • New England – 2
  • New Hampshire – 1
  • Connecticut – 1

Their heritage is:

  • Dutch – 4
  • Brethren German/Swiss – 1
  • German – 7
  • Acadian – 2
  • English – 2

Ironically, the only ancestral line that translated into a Genetic Community was the Brethren line – probably because they have so many offspring who have tested. One of the other German lines may have fallen into this group due to geography, but the balance of the German immigrants were quite separate and lived in another areas.

The reason, I’m sure, that the Dutch and German lines don’t cluster is that there aren’t very many descendants, and there aren’t a lot of Dutch and German people living in the Netherlands and Germany who have tested. Hopefully, someday.

I’m surprised that the Acadian lines didn’t cluster as many Acadian descendants have tested..

The Good News

More than the actual Genetic Communities and maps themselves, the matches within the community will do more to tie people to the family sides and groups for me than anything else. In some cases, for people with shakey leaf matches, I already knew which common ancestor we share, but for people with no tree, it was impossible to tell. Genetic Communities will at least give me an idea.

Caveat – just because someone matches you and is in the same Genetic Community doesn’t mean that’s how you are genetically related to them. For example, someone could be descended from a Brethren line that I’m not, find themselves in the same community, but be related to me on a completely different line that doesn’t have a community showing today.

So don’t be confused and don’t assume. Use all of the tools available, together, including traditional written records, other DNA matching tools and triangulation which can be achieved at either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch utilizing chromosome browsers if your matches will transfer their data to either location.

My Hope

  • I hope that in time this tool can become refined enough that I will be able to tell where in Europe certain family groups originated.
  • I hope that the “Early Settlers of the Lower Midwest and Virginia” can connect with other groups such as someplace in Scotland or Ireland, where I know many of my Scots-Irish originated, but I don’t know where.
  • I hope that someday integration will exist between matches, Genetic Communities and perhaps ethnicity in a way that allows people to break down brick walls in their genealogy.
  • I hope that Ancestry can pick up those areas that are missing from Genetic Communities today, like my mother’s German heritage, Acadian, and other prevalent genealogical heritage.

I’m very pleased that what is showing is accurate, unlike ethnicity results which can mislead people.

The Future

Ancestry plans to do a number of things in the future:

  • Add Genetic Communities when new clusters form
  • Show common Genetic Communities between you and your family members
  • Add records collections focused towards Genetic Communities

All Matches Now FREE at Family Tree DNA for Transfer Kits

Family Tree DNA just sent the following e-mail to the project administrators regarding the new Ancestry and 23andMe file upload ability. It’s full of good news! This information is in addition to my article this morning, available here.

Exciting new points are that ALL of your matches are free for transfer kits, not just the first 20 matches. In addition, the matrix feature is free too, so you can see if your matches also match each other. Great added free features and a reduced unlock price for the rest of Family Tree DNA’s nine autosomal tools.

Did you already upload your results, but never unlocked? Now you can unlock for just $19.

family tree dna logo

Dear Project Administrators,

You’ve all been waiting for it, and it’s finally here – transfers for 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 files!

Here are the details, point by point.

  • Customers can now transfer 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 files in addition to the 23andMe© V3 and AncestryDNA™ V1 files that Family Tree DNA accepted previously. MyHeritage and Genographic transfers will be supported in the coming weeks.
  • Family Tree DNA still does not accept 23andMe© processed prior to November 2010. A Family Finder test will need to be purchased.
  • 23andMe© V3 and AncestryDNA™ V1 now receive a full list of matches and the ability to use the Matrix feature FOR FREE. For only $19, the customer can unlock the Chromosome Browser, myOrigins, and ancientOrigins.

ftdna-myorigins-transfer

  • 23andMe© V4 and AncestryDNA™ V2 receive all but the most speculative matches (6th to remote cousins), also for free. After transferring, if the customer wants to receive speculative matches, they will have to submit a sample and have a Family Finder run at the reduced price of $59.
  • Matches should take somewhere between one and 24 hours to appear, depending on the volume of tests in the autosomal pipeline.
  • myOrigins update will be released in the coming weeks. Until then transfers will include only broad populations.
  • Additionally, all previously transferred files that have not been unlocked will receive their matches and have access to the Matrix feature for free as long as the release form is signed.  These kits will be also be able to unlock the other Family Finder features for $19. If the transfer was on a kit with another product where the release form has already been signed, then the matches will appear with no further action necessary.
  • The Autosomal Transfer webpage has been enhanced to include a new image and a FAQ section. The FAQ section is displayed towards the bottom of the page.

ftdna-new-transfer

  • If a customer tries to transfer the same autosomal file a second time, a message will be displayed that the file is a duplicate and will list the kit number of the original kit.
  • The main Autosomal Transfer topic in the Learning Center has been updated. This topic contains the most recent information and now includes all transfer subtopics on the same page. Additional FAQ information will be added to this topic as needed in the future.

Click here to get started!!!

Family Tree DNA Now Accepts All Ancestry Autosomal Transfers Plus 23andMe V3 and V4

Great news!

Family Tree DNA now accepts autosomal file transfers for all Ancestry tests (meaning both V1 and V2) along with 23andMe V3 and V4 files.

Before today, Family Tree DNA had only accepted Ancestry V1 and 23andMe V3 transfers, the files before Ancestry and 23andMe changed to proprietary chips. As of today, Family Tree DNA accepts all Ancestry files and all contemporary 23andMe files (since November 2013).

You’ll need to download your autosomal raw data file from either Ancestry or 23andMe, then upload it to Family Tree DNA. You’ll be able to do the actual transfer for free, and see your 20 top matches – but to utilize and access the rest of the tools including the chromosome browser, ethnicity estimates and the balance of your matches, you’ll need to pay the $19 unlock fee.

Previously, the unlock fee was $39, so this too is a great value. The cost of purchasing the autosomal Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA is $79, so the $19 unlock fee represents a substantial savings of $60 if you’ve already tested elsewhere.

To get started, click here and you’ll see the following “autosomal transfer” menu option in the upper left hand corner of the Family Tree DNA page:

ftdna-transfer

The process is now drag and drop, and includes instructions for how to download your files from both 23andMe and Ancestry.

ftdna-transfer-instructions

Please note that if you already have an autosomal test at Family Tree DNA, there is no benefit to adding a second test.  So if you have taken the Family Finder test or already transferred an Ancestry V1 or 23andMe V3 kit, you won’t be able to add a second autosomal test to the same account.  If you really want to transfer a second kit, you’ll need to set up a new account for the second autosomal kit, because every kit at Family Tree DNA needs to be able to have it’s own unique kit number – and if you already have an autosomal test on your account, you can’t add a second one.

What will you discover today? I hope you didn’t have anything else planned. Have fun!!!

Revisiting AncestryDNA Matches – Methods and Hints

I think all too often we make the presumption about businesses like Ancestry that “our” information that is on their site, in our account, will always be there. That’s not necessarily true – for Ancestry or any other business. Additionally, at Ancestry, being a subscription site, the information may be there, but inaccessible if your subscription lapses.

For a long time, I didn’t keep a spreadsheet of my matches at Ancestry, and when I began, not all of the information available today was available then – so my records are incomplete. Conversely, some of the matches that were there then are gone now. A spreadsheet or other type of record that you keep separately from Ancestry preserves all of your match information.

I was recently working on a particular line, and I couldn’t find some of the DNA Shared Ancestor Hints (aka green leaves) that were previously shown as matches. That’s because they aren’t there anymore. They’ve disappeared.

Granted, Ancestry has been through a few generations of their software and has made changes more than once, but these matches remained through those. However, they are unquestionably gone now. I would never have noticed if I hadn’t been keeping a spreadsheet.

Now, I have a confession to make. At Ancestry, the ONLY matches that I really work with are the DNA matches where I ALSO have a leaf hint – the Shared Ancestor Hint Matches.

ancestry-ancestor-hint

That’s not to say that this approach is right or wrong, but it’s what works best for me.  The only real exception is close matches, 3rd cousins or closer.  Those I “should” be able to unravel.

I’m not interested in trying to unravel the rest. About 50% of my matches have trees, and those trees do the work for me, telling me the common ancestor we match if one can be identified. For me, those 367 green Ancestor Hints DNA+tree-matches are the most productive.

So I’m not interested in utilizing the third party tools that download all of my Ancestry matches. I also don’t really want all of that information either – just certain fields.

Adding the match to my spreadsheet gives me the opportunity to review the match information and assures that I don’t get in a hurry and skim over or skip something.

So, when some of my matches came up missing, I knew it because I HAVE the spreadsheet, and I still have their information because I entered it on the spreadsheet.

Here’s an example. In a chart where I worked with the descendants of George Dodson, I realized that three of my sixteen matches (19%) to descendants of George Dodson are gone. That’s really not trivial.

ancestry-match-information

If you’re wondering how I could not notice that my matches dropped, I asked the same question. After all, Ancestry clearly shows how many Shared Ancestor hints I have.

Ancestry matches periodically have a habit of coming and going, so I’ve never been too concerned about a drop of 1 in the total matches – especially given adoptee shadow trees and such. Generally, my match numbers increase, slowly. What I think has actually been happening is that while I have 3 new matches, what really happened is that I lost two and gained 5 – so the net looks like 3 and I never realized what was happening.

ancestry-dna-main-page

Because I’m only interested in the Shared Ancestor Hint matches, that’s also the only number I monitor – and it’s easy because it’s dead center in the middle of my page.

When I realized I have missing matches, I also realized that I had better go back and enter the information that is missing in my spreadsheet for my early matches– such as the total segment match size, the number of matching segments and the confidence level. That’s the best we can do without a chromosome browser. It would be so nice if Ancestry provided a match download, like the other vendors do, so we don’t have to create this spreadsheet manually.

The silk purse in this sow’s ear is that in the process of reviewing my Ancestry matches, I learned some things I didn’t know.

Why Revisit Your Matches?

So, let’s take a look a why it’s a good idea to go back and revisit your Ancestry Shared Ancestor Hints from time to time.

  • People change their user name.
  • People change their ancestors.
  • You may now share more than one ancestral line, where you didn’t originally. I’ve had this happen several times.
  • People change their tree from public to private.
  • People change their tree from private to public.
  • Your matches may not be there later.
  • Circles come, and Circles go, and come, and go, and come and go…
  • If you contacted someone in the past about a private tree, requesting access, they may have never replied to you (or you didn’t receive their correspondence,) but they may have granted you access to their tree. Who knew!!!
  • Check, and recheck Shared Surnames, because trees change. You can see the Shared Surnames in the box directly below the pedigree lineage to the common ancestor for you and your match.

ancestry-shared-surnames

  • Ancestry sometimes changes relationship ranges. For example, all of the range formerly titled “Distant Cousin” appears to be 5th – 8th cousins now.
  • When people have private trees, you’re not entirely out of luck. You can utilize the Shared Matches function to see which matches you and they both match that have leaf hints. Originally, there were seldom enough people in the data base to make this worthwhile, but now I can tell which family line they match for about half of my Shared Ancestor Hint matches (leaf matches) that are private.

This is also my first step if I do happen to be working with someone who doesn’t have a tree posted or linked to their DNA.

Click on the “View Match” link on your main match page for the match you want to see, then on the “Shared Matches” in the middle of the gray bar.

ancestry-shared-matches

The hint that you are looking for in the shared matches are those leaf hints, because you can look at that person’s tree and see your common ancestor with them, which should (might, may) provide a hint as to why the person you match is also matching them. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a hint.

ancestry-shared-matches-leaf

Of course, if you find 3 or 4 of those leaf hints, all pointing to the same ancestral couple, that’s a mega-hint.

Unfortunately, that’s the best sleuthing we can we can do for private matches with no tree to view and no chromosome browser.

  • You may have forgotten to record a match, or made an error.
  • Take the opportunity to make a note on your Ancestry match. The “Add Note” button is just above the “Pedigree and Surnames” button and just below the DNA Circle Connection.

ancestry-note

On your main match page, you can then click on the little note icon and see what you’ve recorded – which is an easy way to view your common ancestor with a match without having to click through to their match page. When the person has a private tree, I enter the day that I sent a message, along with any common tree leaf hint shared matches that might indicate a common ancestor.

ancestry-note-n-match-page

Tracked Information

Part of the information I track in my spreadsheet is provided directly by Ancestry, and some is not. However, the matching lines back to a common ancestor makes other information easy to retrieve.  The spreadsheet headings are shown below.  Click to enlarge.

ancestry-spreadsheet-headings

I utilize the following columns, thus:

  • Name – Ancestry’s user name for the match. If their account is handled by someone else, I enter the information as “C. T. by johndoe.”
  • Est Relationship – ancestry’s estimated relationship range of the match.
  • Generation – how many generations from me through the common ancestor with my match. Hint – it’s always two more than the relationship under the common ancestor. So if the identification of the common ancestor says 5th great-grandfather, then the person (or couple) is 7 generations back from me.
  • Ancestor – the common ancestor or couple with the match.
  • Child – the child of that couple that the match descends from.
  • Relationship – my relationship to the match. This information is available in the box showing the match in the shared ancestor hint. In this case, EHVannoy (below) and I are third cousins.
  • Common Lines – meaning whether we have additional lines that are NOT shown in Ancestor Hints. You’ll need to look through the Shared Surnames below the Shared Ancestor Hint box. I often say things in this field like, “probably Campbell” or “possibly Anderson” when it seems likely because either I’ve hit a dead end, or the family is found in the same geographic location.

ancestry-common-lines

  • Shared cMs – available in the little “i” to the right of the Confidence bar, shown below.

ancestry-shared-cms

Click on the “i” to show the amount of shared DNA, and the number of shared segments.

  • Confidence – the confidence level shown, above.
  • MtDNA – whether or not this person is a direct mitochondrial line descendant from the female of the ancestral couple. If so, or if their father is if they aren’t, I note it as such.
  • Y DNA – if this person, or if a female, their father or grandfather is a direct Y line descendant of this couple.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that if they are mtDNA or Y descendants, and I don’t already have that haplogroup information, I’m going to be contacting them and asking if they have taken that test at Family Tree DNA. If they have not, I’m going to ask if they would be willing. And yes, I’ll probably be offering to pay for it too. It’s worth it to me to obtain that information which can’t be otherwise obtained.

  • Comments – where I record anything else I might have to say – like their tree isn’t displaying correctly, or there is an error in their tree, or they contacted me via e-mail, etc. I may make these same types of notes in the notes field on the match at Ancestry.

Musings

It’s interesting that at least one of my matches that was removed when Ancestry introduced their Timber phasing is back now.

However, and this is the bad news, 82 previous leaf hint matches are now gone. Some disappeared in the adjustment done back in May 2016, but not all disappearances can be attributed to that house-cleaning. I noted the matches that disappeared at that time.

If you look at my current 367 matches and add 82, that means I’ve had a total of 449 Ancestor Hint matches since the Timber introduction – not counting the matches removed because of Timber. That means I’ve lost 18% of my matches since Timber, or said another way, if those 82 remained, I’d have 22% more Ancestor Hint matches than I have today.

Suffice it to say I wish I had more information about the matches that are gone now. I’d also like to know why I lost them. It’s not that they have private trees, they are simply gone.

As you may recall, I took the Ancestry V2 test when it became available to compare against the V1 version of the Ancestry test that I had taken originally.

ancestry-v2-match

It’s interesting that my own V2 second test doesn’t show as a shared match in several instances, example above and below.

ancestry-no-v2-match

It should show, since I’m my own “identical twin,” and the fact that it does not show on several individual’s shared matched with my V1 kit indicates that my match to that individual (E.B. in this case) was on the 300,000 or so SNPs that Ancestry replaced on their V2 chip with other locations that are more medically friendly. All or part of that V1 match was on the now obsolete portion of the V1 chip that my V2 test, on the newer chip, isn’t shown as a match. That’s 44% of the DNA that was available for matching on the V1 chip that isn’t now on the V2 chip.

My smallest match was 6cM. Based on the original white paper, Ancestry was utilizing 5cM for matches. Apparently that changed at some point. Frankly, without a chromosome browser, I’m fine with 6cM. There’s nothing I can do with that information, beyond tree matching without a chromosome browser anyway – and Ancestry already does tree matching for us.

Frustrations and Hints

Aside from the lack of a chromosome browser, which is a perpetual thorn in my side, I have two really big frustrations with Ancestry’s DNA implementation.

My first frustration is the search function, or lack thereof. If I turn up bald one day, this is why.

Here’s the search function for DNA matches.

ancestry-search

I can’t search for a user ID that I’ve recorded in my notes that I know matches me.

I can’t narrow searches beyond just a surname. For example, I’d like to search for that surname ONLY in trees with Shared Ancestor Hints, or maybe only in trees without hints, or only people in my matches with that surname, or only people who have this surname in their direct line, not just someplace in their tree. Just try searching for the surname Smith and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Not to mention that Ancestry searches do not reliably return the correct or even the same information. Ancestry lives and dies on searching, so I know darned good and well they can do better. I don’t know of any way around this search issue, so if you do, PLEASE DO TELL!!!

My second frustration is the messaging system, but I do have a couple hints for you to circumvent this issue.

I have discovered that there are two ways to contact your matches, and those two methodologies are by far NOT equal.

On your DNA match page, there is a green “Send Message” button in the upper right. Don’t use this button.

ancestry-messaging-green-button

The problem with using this button is that Ancestry does NOT send the recipient an e-mail telling them they received a message. Users have to both know and remember to look for the little grey envelope at the top of their task bar by their user name. Most don’t. It’s tiny and many people have no idea it’s there, especially if they are receiving e-mails when other people contact them through Ancestry. They assume that they’ll receive an e-mail anytime anyone wants to contact them. Reasonable, but not true.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that by the time I realized that envelope was there, I had over 100 messages waiting for me, all from people who thought I was willfully disregarding them, and I wasn’t.

So, if you use the green button, you’ve sent the message, but they have no idea they received a message. And you’re waiting, with your hopes dropping every day, or every hour if it’s an important match.

If you click on your little gray envelope, you’ll see any messages you’ve sent or received through the green contact button on the DNA page.

You can remedy this notification problem by utilizing the regular Ancestry contact button. Click on the user name beside their member profile on this same DNA page. In this case, EHVannoy.

You’ll then see their profile page, with a tan “Contact EHVannoy” button, EHVannoy being the user name.

ancestry-messaging-brown-button

Use this tan contact button to contact your matches, because it generates an e-mail. However, the tan button does NOT add the message to your gray envelope, and I don’t know of any way to track messages sent through the tan button. I note in my spreadsheet the date I send messages and a summary of the content. I also put this information in the Ancestry note field.

What’s Next?

Now, I know what you’re going to be doing next. You’re going to be going to look at your grey envelope and resend all of those messages using the tan button. There is an easy way to do this.

First, click on the grey envelope, then on the “Sent” box on the left hand side. You will then see all the messages you’ve sent.

ancestry-sent

Then, just click on the user name of any of your matches and that will take you to their profile page with the tan button!!! You can even copy/paste your original message to them. Do be sure to check your inbox to be sure they didn’t answer before you send them a new message.

ancestry-sent-to-profile

Hopefully some of the people who didn’t answer when you sent green button messages will answer with tan button messages. Fingers crossed!!!

Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages

There has been a lot of discussion about ethnicity percentages within the genetic genealogy community recently, probably because of the number of people who have recently purchased DNA tests to discover “who they are.”

Testers want to know specifically if ethnicity percentages are right or wrong, and what those percentages should be. The next question, of course, is which vendor is the most accurate.

Up front, let me say that “your mileage may vary.” The vendor that is the most accurate for my German ancestry may not be the same vendor that is the most accurate for the British Isles or Native American. The vendor that is the most accurate overall for me may not be the most accurate for you. And the vendor that is the most accurate for me today, may no longer be the most accurate when another vendor upgrades their software tomorrow. There is no universal “most accurate.”

But then again, how does one judge “most accurate?” Is it just a feeling, or based on your preconceived idea of your ethnicity? Is it based on the results of one particular ethnicity, or something else?

As a genealogist, you have a very powerful tool to use to figure out the percentages that your ethnicity SHOULD BE. You don’t have to rely totally on any vendor. What is that tool? Your genealogy research!

I’d like to walk you through the process of determining what your own ethnicity percentages should be, or at least should be close to, barring any surprises.

By surprises, in this case, we’re assuming that all 64 of your GGGG-grandparents really ARE your GGGG-grandparents, or at least haven’t been proven otherwise. Even if one or two aren’t, that really only affects your results by 1.56% each. In the greater scheme of things, that’s trivial unless it’s that minority ancestor you’re desperately seeking.

A Little Math

First, let’s do a little very basic math. I promise, just a little. And it really is easy. In fact, I’ll just do it for you!

You have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents.

Generation # You Have Who Approximate Percentage of Their DNA That You Have Today
1 You 100%
1 2 Parents 50%
2 4 Grandparents 25%
3 8 Great-grandparents 12.5%
4 16 Great-great-grandparents 6.25%
5 32 Great-great-great-grandparents 3.12%
6 64 Great-great-great-great-grandparents 1.56%

Each of those GGGG-grandparents contributed 1.56% of your DNA, roughly.

Why 1.56%?

Because 100% of your DNA divided by 64 GGGG-grandparents equals 1.56% of each of those GGGG-grandparents. That means you have roughly 1.56% of each of those GGGG-grandparents running in your veins.

OK, but why “roughly?”

We all know that we inherit 50% of each of our parents’ DNA.

So that means we receive half of the DNA of each ancestor that each parent received, right?

Well, um…no, not exactly.

Ancestral DNA isn’t divided exactly in half, by the “one for you and one for me” methodology. In fact, DNA is inherited in chunks, and often you receive all of a chunk of DNA from that parent, or none of it. Seldom do you receive exactly half of a chunk, or ancestral segment – but half is the AVERAGE.

Because we can’t tell exactly how much of any ancestor’s DNA we actually do receive, we have to use the average number, knowing full well we could have more than our 1.56% allocation of that particular ancestor’s DNA, or none that is discernable at current testing thresholds.

Furthermore, if that 1.56% is our elusive Native ancestor, but current technology can’t identify that ancestor’s DNA as Native, then our Native heritage melds into another category. That ancestor is still there, but we just can’t “see” them today.

So, the best we can do is to use the 1.56% number and know that it’s close. In other words, you’re not going to find that you carry 25% of a particular ancestor’s DNA that you’re supposed to carry 1.56% for. But you might have 3%, half of a percent, or none.

Your Pedigree Chart

To calculate your expected ethnicity percentages, you’ll want to work with a pedigree chart showing your 64 GGGG-grandparents. If you haven’t identified all 64 of your GGGG-grandparents – that’s alright – we can accommodate that. Work with what you do have – but accuracy about the ancestors you have identified is important.

I use RootsMagic, and in the RootsMagic software, I can display all 64 GGGG-grandparents by selecting all 4 of my grandparents one at a time.

In the first screen, below, my paternal grandfather is blue and my 16 GGGG-grandparents that are his ancestors are showing to the far right.  Please note that you can click on any of the images to enlarge.

ethnicity-pedigree

Next, my paternal grandmother

ethnicity-pedigree-1

Next, my maternal grandmother.

ethnicity-pedigree-2

And finally, my maternal grandfather.

ethnicity-pedigre-3

These displays are what you will work from to create your ethnicity table or chart.

Your Ethnicity Table

I simply displayed each of these 16 GGGG-grandparents and completed the following grid. I used a spreadsheet, but you can use a table or simply do this on a tablet of paper. Technology not required.

You’ll want 5 columns, as shown below.

  • Number 1-64, to make sure you don’t omit anyone
  • Name
  • Birth Location
  • 1.56% Source – meaning where in the world did the 1.56% of the DNA you received from them come from? This may not be the same as their birth location. For example an Irish man born in Virginia counts as an Irish man.
  • Ancestry – meaning if you don’t know positively where that ancestor is from, what do you know about them? For example, you might know that their father was German, but uncertain about the mother’s nationality.

My ethnicity table is shown below.

ethnicity-table

In some cases, I had to make decisions.

For example, I know that Daniel Miller’s father was a German immigrant, documented and proven. The family did not speak English. They were Brethren, a German religious sect that intermarried with other Brethren.  Marriage outside the church meant dismissal – so your children would not have been Brethren. Therefore, it would be extremely unlikely, based on both the language barrier and the Brethren religious customs for Daniel’s mother, Magdalena, to be anything other than German – plus, their children were Brethren..

We know that most people married people within their own group – partly because that is who they were exposed to, but also based on cultural norms and pressures. When it comes to immigrants and language, you married someone you could communicate with.

Filling in blanks another way, a local German man was likely the father of Eva Barbara Haering’s illegitmate child, born to Eva Barbara in her home village in Germany.

Obviously, there were exceptions, but they were just that, the exception. You’ll have to evaluate each of your 64 GGGG-grandparents individually.

Calculating Percentages

Next, we’re going to group locations together.

For example, I had a total of one plus that was British Isles. Three and a half, plus, that were Scottish. Nine and a half that were Dutch.

ethnicity-summary

You can’t do anything with the “plus” designation, but you can multiply by everything else.

So, for Scottish, 3 and a half (3.5) times 1.56% equals 5.46% total Scottish DNA. Follow this same procedure for every category you’re showing.

Do the same for “uncertain.”

Incorporating History

In my case, because all of my uncertain lines are on my father’s colonial side, and I do know locations and something about their spouses and/or the population found in the areas where each ancestor is located, I am making an “educated speculation” that these individuals are from the British Isles. These families didn’t speak German, or French, or have French or German, Dutch or Scandinavian surnames. People married others like themselves, in their communities and churches.

I want to be very clear about this. It’s not a SWAG (serious wild-a** guess), it’s educated speculation based on the history I do know.

I would suggest that there is a difference between “uncertain” and “unknown origin.” Unknown origin connotates that there is some evidence that the individual is NOT from the same background as their spouse, or they are from a highly mixed region, but we don’t know.

In my case, this leaves a total of 2 and a half that are of unknown origin, based on the other “half” that isn’t known of some lineages. For example, I know there are other Native lines and at least one African line, but I don’t know what percentage of which ancestor how far back. I can’t pinpoint the exact generation in which that lineage was “full” and not admixed.

I have multiple Native lines in my mother’s side in the Acadian population, but they are further back than 6 generations and the population is endogamous – so those ancestors sometimes appear more than once and in multiple Acadian lines – meaning I probably carry more of their DNA than I otherwise would. These situations are difficult to calculate mathematically, so just keep them in mind.

Given the circumstances based on what I do know, the 3.9% unknown origin is probably about right, and in this case, the unknown origin is likely at least part Native and/or African and probably some of each.

ethnicity-summary-2

The Testing Companies

It’s very difficult to compare apples to apples between testing companies, because they display and calculate ethnicity categories differently.

For example, Family Tree DNA’s regions are fairly succinct, with some overlap between regions, shown below.

ethnicity-ftdna-map

Some of Ancestry’s regions overlap by almost 100%, meaning that any area in a region could actually be a part of another region.

ethnicity-ancestry-map-2

For example look at the United Kingdom and Ireland. The United Kingdom region overlaps significantly into Europe.

ethnicity-ancestry-map

Here’s the Great Britain region close up, below, which is shown differently from the map above. The Great Britain region actually overlaps almost the entire western half of Europe.

ethnicity-ancestry-great-britain

That’s called hedging your bets, or maybe it’s simply the nature of ethnicity. Granted, the overlaps are a methodology for the vendor not to be “wrong,” but people and populations did and do migrate, and the British Isles was somewhat of a destination location.

This Germanic Tribes map, also from Ancestry’s Great Britain section, illustrates why ethnicity calculations are so difficult, especially in Europe and the British Isles.

ethnicity-invaders

Invaders and migrating groups brought their DNA.  Even if the invaders eventually left, their DNA often became resident in the host population.

The 23andMe map, below, is less detailed in terms of viewing how regions overlap.

ethnicity-23andme-map

The Genographic project breaks ethnicity down into 9 world regions which they indicate reflect both recent influences and ancient genetics dating from 500 to 10,000 years ago. I fall into 3 regions, shown by the shadowy Circles on the map, below.

ethnicity-geno-map-2

The following explanation is provided by the Genographic Project for how they calculate and explain the various regions, based on early European history.

ethnicity-geno-regions

Let’s look at how the vendors divide ethnicity and see what kind of comparisons we can make utilizing the ethnicity table we created that represents our known genealogy.

Family Tree DNA

MyOrigins results at Family Tree DNA show my ethnicity as:

ethnicity-ftdna-percents

I’ve reworked my ethnicity totals format to accommodate the vendor regions, creating the Ethnicity Totals Table, below. The “Genealogy %” column is the expected percentage based on my genealogy calculations. I have kept the “British Isles Inferred” percentage separate since it is the most speculative.

ethnicity-ftdna-table

I grouped the regions so that we can obtain a somewhat apples-to-apples comparison between vendor results, although that is clearly challenging based on the different vendor interpretations of the various regions.

Note the Scandinavian, which could potentially be a Viking remnant, but there would have had to be a whole boatload of Vikings, pardon the pun, or Viking is deeply inbedded in several population groups.

Ancestry

Ancestry reports my ethnicity as:

ethnicity-ancestry-amounts

Ancestry introduces Italy and Greece, which is news to me. However, if you remember, Ancestry’s Great Britain ethnicity circle reaches all the way down to include the top of Italy.

ethnicity-ancestry-table

Of all my expected genealogy regions, the most definitive are my Dutch, French and German. Many are recent immigrants from my mother’s side, removing any ambiguity about where they came from. There is very little speculation in this group, with the exception of one illegitimate German birth and two inferred German mothers.

23andMe

23andMe allows customers to change their ethnicity view along a range from speculative to conservative.

ethnicity-23andme-levels

Generally, genealogists utilize the speculative view, which provides the greatest regional variety and breakdown. The conservative view, in general, simply rolls the detail into larger regions and assigns a higher percentage to unknown.

I am showing the speculative view, below.

ethnicity-23andme-amounts

Adding the 23andMe column to my Ethnicity Totals Table, we show the following.

ethnicity-23andme-table-2

Genographic Project 2.0

I also tested through the Genographic project. Their results are much more general in nature.

ethnicity-geno-amounts

The Genographic Project results do not fit well with the others in terms of categorization. In order to include the Genographic ethnicity numbers, I’ve had to add the totals for several of the other groups together, in the gray bands below.

ethnicity-geno-table-2

Genographic Project results are the least like the others, and the most difficult to quantify relative to expected amounts of genealogy. Genealogically, they are certainly the least useful, although genealogy is not and never has been the Genographic focus.

I initially omitted this test from this article, but decided to include it for general interest. These four tests clearly illustrate the wide spectrum of results that a consumer can expect to receive relative to ethnicity.

What’s the Point?

Are you looking at the range of my expected ethnicity versus my ethnicity estimates from the these four entities and asking yourself, “what’s the point?”

That IS the point. These are all proprietary estimates for the same person – and look at the differences – especially compared to what we do know about my genealogy.

This exercise demonstrates how widely estimates can vary when compared against a relatively solid genealogy, especially on my mother’s side – and against other vendors. Not everyone has the benefit of having worked on their genealogy as long as I have. And no, in case you’re wondering, the genealogy is not wrong. Where there is doubt, I have reflected that in my expected ethnicity.

Here are the points I’d like to make about ethnicity estimates.

  • Ethnicity estimates are interesting and alluring.
  • Ethnicity estimates are highly entertaining.
  • Don’t marry them. They’re not dependable.
  • Create and utilize your ethnicity chart based on your known, proven genealogy which will provide a compass for unknown genealogy. For example, my German and Dutch lines are proven unquestionably, which means those percentages are firm and should match up relatively well to vendor ethnicity estimates for those regions.
  • Take all ethnicity estimates with a grain of salt.
  • Sometimes the shaker of salt.
  • Sometimes the entire lick of salt.
  • Ethnicity estimates make great cocktail party conversation.
  • If the results don’t make sense based on your known genealogical percentages, especially if your genealogy is well-researched and documented, understand the possibilities of why and when a healthy dose of skepticism is prudent. For example, if your DNA from a particular region exceeds the total of both of your parents for that region, something is amiss someplace – which is NOT to suggest that you are not your parents’ child.  If you’re not the child of one or both parents, assuming they have DNA tested, you won’t need ethnicity results to prove or even suggest that.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not facts beyond very high percentages, 25% and above. At that level, the ethnicity does exist, but the percentage may be in error.
  • Ethnicity estimates are generally accurate to the continent level, although not always at low levels. Note weasel word, “generally.”
  • We should all enjoy the results and utilize these estimates for their hints and clues.  For example, if you are an adoptee and you are 25% African, it’s likely that one of your grandparents was Africa, or two of your grandparents were roughly half African, or all four of your grandparents were one-fourth African.  Hints and clues, not gospel and not cast in concrete. Maybe cast in warm Jello.
  • Ethnicity estimates showing larger percentages probably hold a pearl of truth, but how big the pearl and the quality of the pearl is open for debate. The size and value of the pearl is directly related to the size of the percentage and the reference populations.
  • Unexpected results are perplexing. In the case of my unknown 8% to 12% Scandinavian – the Vikings may be to blame, or the reference populations, which are current populations, not historical populations – or some of each. My Scandinavian amounts translate into between 5 and 8 of my GGGG-grandparents being fully Scandinavian – and that’s extremely unlikely in the middle of Virginia in the 1700s.
  • There can be fairly large slices of completely unexplained ethnicity. For example, Scandinavia at 8-12% and even more perplexing, Italy and Greece. All I can say is that there must have been an awful lot of Vikings buried in the DNA of those other populations. But enough to aggregate, cumulatively, to between a great-grandparent at 12.5% and a great-great-grandparent at 6.25%? I’m not convinced. However, all three vendors found some Scandinavian – so something is afoot. Did they all use the same reference population data for Scandinavian? For the time being, the Scandinavian results remain a mystery.
  • There is no way to tell what is real and what is not. Meaning, do I really have some ancient Italian/Greek and more recent Scandinavian, or is this deep ancestry or a reference population issue? And can the lack of my proven Native and African ancestry be attributed to the same?
  • Proven ancestors beyond 6 generations, meaning Native lineages, disappear while undocumentable and tenuous ancestors beyond 6 generations appear – apparently, en masse. In my case, kind of like a naughty Scandinavian ancestral flash mob, taunting and tormenting me. Who are those people??? Are they real?
  • If the known/proven ethnicity percentages from Germany, Netherlands and France can be highly erroneous, what does that imply about the rest of the results? Especially within Europe? The accuracy issue is especially pronounced looking at the wide ranges of British Isles between vendors, versus my expected percentage, which is even higher, although the inferred British Isles could be partly erroneous – but not on this magnitude. Apparently part of by British Isles ancestry is being categorized as either or both Scandinavian or European.
  • Conversely, these estimates can and do miss positively genealogically proven minority ethnicity. By minority, I mean minority to the tester. In my case, African and Native that is proven in multiple lines – and not just by paper genealogy, but by Y and mtDNA haplogroups as well.
  • Vendors’ products and their estimates will change with time as this field matures and reference populations improve.
  • Some results may reflect the ancient history of the entire population, as indicated by the Genographic Project. In other words, if the entire German population is 30% Mediterranean, then your ancestors who descend from that population can be expected to be 30% Mediterranean too. Except I don’t show enough Mediterranean ancestry to be 30% of my German DNA, which would be about 8% – at least not as reported by any vendor other than the Genographic Project.
  • Not all vendors display below 1% where traces of minority admixture are sometimes found. If it’s hard to tell if 8-12% Scandinavian is real, it’s almost impossible to tell whether less than 1% of anything is real.  Having said that, I’d still like to see my trace amounts, especially at a continental level which tends to be more reliable, given that is where both my Native and African are found.
  • If the reason my Native and African ancestors aren’t showing is because their DNA was not passed on in subsequent generations, causing their DNA to effectively “wash out,” why didn’t that happen to Scandinavian?
  • Ethnicity estimates can never disprove that an ancestor a few generations back was or was not any particular ethnicity. (However, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing can.)
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, except in very recent generations – like 2 (grandparents at 25%), maybe 3 generations (great-grandparents at 12.5%).
  • Continental level estimates above 10-12 percent can probably be relied upon to suggest that the particular continental level ethnicity is present, but the percentage may not be accurate. Note the weasel wording here – “probably” – it’s here on purpose. Refer to Scandinavia, above – although that’s regional, not continental, but it’s a great example. My proven Native/African is nearly elusive and my mystery Scandinavian/Greek/Italian is present in far greater percentages than it should be, based upon proven genealogy.
  • Vendors, all vendors, struggle to separate ethnicity regions within continents, in particular, within Europe.
  • Don’t take your ethnicity results too seriously and don’t be trading in your lederhosen for kilts, or vice versa – especially not based on intra-continental results.
  • Don’t change your perception of who you are based on current ethnicity tests. Otherwise you’re going to feel like a chameleon if you test at multiple vendors.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not a short cut to or a replacement for discovering who you are based on sound genealogical research.
  • No vendor, NOT ANY VENDOR, can identify your Native American tribe. If they say or imply they can, RUN, with your money. Native DNA is more alike than different. Just because a vendor compares you to an individual from a particular tribe, and part of your DNA matches, does NOT mean your ancestors were members of or affiliated with that tribe. These three major vendors plus the Genographic Project don’t try to pull any of those shenanigans, but others do.
  • Genetic genealogy and specifically, ethnicity, is still a new field, a frontier.
  • Ethnicity estimates are not yet a mature technology as is aptly illustrated by the differences between vendors.
  • Ethnicity estimates are that. ESTIMATES.

If you like to learn more about ethnicity estimates and how they are calculated, you might want to read this article, Ethnicity Testing, A Conundrum.

Summary

This information is NOT a criticism of the vendors. Instead, this is a cautionary tale about correctly setting expectations for consumers who want to understand and interpret their results – and about how to use your own genealogy research to do so.

Not a day passes that I don’t receive very specific questions about the interpretation of ethnicity estimates. People want to know why their results are not what they expected, or why they have more of a particular geographic region listed than their two parents combined. Great questions!

This phenomenon is only going to increase with the popularity of DNA testing and the number of people who test to discover their identity as a result of highly visible ad campaigns.

So let me be very clear. No one can provide a specific interpretation. All we can do is explain how ethnicity estimates work – and that these results are estimates created utilizing different reference populations and proprietary software by each vendor.

Whether the results match each other or customer expectations, or not, these vendors are legitimate, as are the GedMatch ethnicity tools. Other vendors may be less so, and some are outright unethical, looking to exploit the unwary consumer, especially those looking for Native American heritage. If you’re interested in how to tell the difference between legitimate genetic information and a company utilizing pseudo-genetics to part you from your money, click here for a lecture by Dr. Jennifer Raff, especially about minutes 48-50.

Buyer beware, both in terms of purchasing DNA testing for ethnicity purposes to discover “who you are” and when internalizing and interpreting results.

The science just isn’t there yet for answers at the level most people seek.

My advice, in a nutshell: Stay with legitimate vendors. Enjoy your ethnicity results, but don’t take them too seriously without corroborating traditional genealogical evidence!