A comparison of ethnicity results and why you should build a family tree.

This is my most recent admixture breakdown from Ancestry.com. On the right hand side you can see the areas that are “no longer in estimate.”  It’s worth noting that DNA does not recognize geographic boundaries, only DNA testing companies try to do that – an issue which often leaves people puzzling over their results. I’m not at all surprised to see that I no longer have 5% of my ethnicity under the Finland/Northwest Russia region. It was even less likely that I would connect in any way to the Iberian Peninsula so that is not a loss either. I would suspect that my “Ireland/Scotland/Wales” category is mainly Scottish DNA and I would be surprised if Ancestry ever broke this category out for me and started suggesting specific places in Ireland where my ancestors came from.
Living DNA analysis.

In 2016 I tested with the (then) very new LivingDNA company (graphic above). Their specialty is to isolate areas in the UK where your ancestors may have come from. It’s interesting to look at their map of suggested regions and see how my Ancestry DNA results appear to be converging around the same areas. From my paper trail I do know that the “top” areas in my Living DNA breakdown – Northumbria (27.5%), Central England (25.7%) and Aberdeenshire (11.9%) are representative of many of my known ancestors. In a breakdown of my deeper ancestry through Living DNA (graphic below), their chart encompasses most of the continental European ancestry that is suggested by Ancestry’s graphic.

Living DNA's analysis of where my ancestors may have lived 500 years ago.

So for me at least, the ethnicity estimates may be aligning. In this round of Ancestry updates I have heard various anecdotal complaints about the entire percentage of southern European, French or Italian ancestry “disappearing” from an estimate. It’s important to read all of the information that Ancestry provides when they make an update, which you will usually find on your DNA story landing page. This time around they have managed to address questions that may be specific to your update in a box beneath the new estimate percentages. There is even a thumbs up, thumbs down instant feedback capability, and they have developed a sense of humor in addressing some of the disappointment testers may face on receiving the new update. Noting that I had lost a small percentage of Iberian peninsula, they suggest that a common question might be “With my Iberian Peninsula region gone, should I quit matador school?” (Although the more serious question is answered in “What happened to my other regions?”).

As always with ethnicity estimates, updates and discrepancies from company to company, the important things to remember are:

  • This is an estimate of where your ancestors may have come from. The science is not currently advanced enough to “pinpoint” a location reliably beyond the continental level
  • Read the information that each testing company provides about how they test. Ancestry, for example, runs your sample for each region 40 times and gives an average percentage for each one. Each company has its own algorithms and reference panels. Your results will differ from company to company.
  • The relative matching features of testing companies are very accurate, although fewer people are interested in this as an outcome. If you are on Ancestry, consider adding a basic family tree to your profile and be open to people contacting you asking how you may be related. It may not matter to you, but you could be helping someone in the search for their biological family.