DNA Ethnicity Results: Exciting or Exasperating?

Are your DNA ethnicity results exciting, confusing, inconsistent, exasperating…or all of the above?

Recently Kate expressed on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page her frustration with her ethnicity results provided by AncestryDNA. She gets right to the point when she writes, “the way they refer to the results is confusing.”

Kate, you are not alone. Many genealogists have been lured into taking the autosomal DNA test at one of the three major DNA testing companies just to get this glimpse into their past. Remember that the autosomal DNA test can reveal information about both your mother’s side and your father’s side of your family tree. Many take the test hoping for confirmation of a particular ancestral heritage, others are just curious to see what the results will show. Though their purposes in initiating the testing may vary, the feeling of bewilderment and befuddlement upon receiving the results is fairly universal.

Kate has some specific questions about her results that I think most will share. Let’s take a look at a couple of them. First up, Kate wants to know if our family tree data in any way influences the ethnicity results provided. The answer is an unequivocal “no.” None of the testing companies look at your family tree in any way when determining your ethnicity results. However, the results are dependent on the family trees of the reference population. The reference populations are large numbers of people whose DNA has been tested and THEIR family history has been documented for many generations in that region. The testing companies compare your DNA to theirs and that’s how they assign you to an ethnicity (and place of ancestral origin?).

Next Kate asks, “Do they mean England when they report Great Britain?” Or to put it more broadly, how do these testing companies decide to divide up the world? All of the companies handle this a little bit differently. Let’s look at Ancestry as an example. When you login to view your ethnicity results, you can click on the “show all regions” box below your results to get a list of all of the possible categories that your DNA could be placed in. These 26 categories include nine African regions, Native American, three Asian regions, eight European regions, two Pacific Island regions, two West Asian regions, and then Jewish, which is not a region, per se, but a genetically distinct group.

Clicking on each individual location in the left sidebar will bring up more information on the right about that region. For example, clicking on Great Britain tells us that DNA associated with this region is primarily found in England, Scotland, and Wales, but is also found in Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Basically, this is telling us that people with generations of ancestry in Great Britain are quite a genetic mix from many areas.

The first chart here shows that if we are to test the DNA of 100 natives of one of these primary regions (England, Scotland or Wales) then 50 of them willhave the great Britain “pattern” of DNA covering 60% or more of their entire genome, and 50 of them will have that pattern in less than 60% of their DNA. The fact that this half-way number is so low, only 60%, tells us that there is a lot of uncertainty in this ethnicity estimate because there is so much mixture in this region. Kate, for you that means that when you see Great Britain in your ethnicity estimate, it could mean England, or maybe it means Italy- Ancestry can’t be certain.

But that uncertainty isn’t the same for every region. Pictured here is also the ethnicity chart for Ireland. You can see that half the people who are native to Ireland will have 95% or more Irish DNA.  Kate, for us this means that if you have Irish DNA in your results, you can be pretty certain it came from Ireland. From these tables you can see your membership in some regions is more robust than others, and Ancestry is using these tables to try to help us tell the difference.

 

In the end, the ethnicity results reported by each DNA testing company are highly dependent on two factors: the reference populations they use to compare your DNA against, and the statistical algorithms they use to compute your similarities to these populations. Every company is doing both of these things just a little bit differently.

Kate, if you want to get another take on your ethnicity results, you can take your data over to Family Tree DNA, or you can be tested at 23andMe. A free option is to head over to Gedmatch and try out their various ethnicity tools. If you need help downloading and transferring, you can head over to my website: http://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring.  Most people have found after searching in multiple places that their “true” results are probably somewhere in the middle.

While these ethnicity results can be interesting and useful, for most they will just be a novelty; something interesting and exciting. I have found that their most useful application is acting like a fly on a fishing line. They attract our family members into DNA testing where we can then set the hook on the real goal: family history.

If you’re ready to bait your own hook, I recommend you check out my series of DNA quick guides. These guides will help you choose the right DNA tests for your genetic genealogy questions. You’ll become a smart shopper, more prepared to choose the testing company that’s right for you. And you’ll be prepared to maximize your results from each company, rather than look at them blankly and wondered what the heck you just spent that money on. Click here to see all my DNA guides: I recommend the value-priced bundle!

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Genealogy for Beginners: FREE Podcast Series

The FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast series teaches genealogy for beginners with step-by-step, hands-on help at a friendly pace!

Genealogy for Beginners podcast family history

“Which podcast is best for beginning genealogists?” This question recently came from our reader and listener, Beverly.

It cued me to remind everyone about my FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast! I created it for beginners to help them get started in a fun and easy way, and for more advanced researchers who want to brush up on their family history research skills in a step-by-step fashion.

Are you new to podcasts?

A podcast is like an online, on-demand radio show. You can listen whenever and wherever you want because they are recorded! Here’s a link to frequently asked questions about podcasts.

Get My Free Podcast – Perfect for Beginners!

To access the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:

1. Go to www.genealogygems.com

2. Hover your mouse over Podcast

3. Click on Family History: Genealogy Made Easy

4. Click the link for episode 1 entitled Getting Started (episodes are in numerical order.)

5. Click Play Now and then click the play button to listen on your computer.

6. You can also subscribe through iTunes here.

Get More Podcast Episodes, and Our App!

After you get started, enjoy the back episodes of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast for tons of additional ideas and strategies. The easiest way to listen is through the Genealogy Gems app available for Apple, Android and Windows.

More Gems: Genealogy for Beginners

We really want you to see Genealogy Gems as your guide through the fun and fascinating world of family history. That means in addition to our podcasts, we write loads of how-to articles just for you. To get instant access to all of our blog posts just right for beginners, click ARTICLES in the menu and select any article. On every article page there is a Categories menu. Click the down arrow, and click Beginner.  On your screen you will see all of our Beginner articles in chronological order starting with the most recent.

4 Beginning Genealogy Answers to Get You StartedFree Podcast

6 Sources That May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents

Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online: Google and FamilySearch Wiki

 

Important Digital Collection Available Free Online Through May 31, 2013

Here’s the latest from the National Archives:

National Archives Marks 150th Anniversary of U.S. Colored Troops

Sic semper tyrannis - 22th Regt. U.S. Colored Troops, 1864. Bowser, David Bustill, 1820-1900 , artist

Sic semper tyrannis – 22th Regt. U.S. Colored Troops, 1864. Bowser, David Bustill, 1820-1900 , artist

Washington, DC. . . Marking (the) 150th anniversary of its creation, the National Archives announces the completion of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Service Records Digitization Project, in partnership with Fold3.  For the first time, this collection – nearly four million images of historic documents with detailed information on former slaves – is available online to anyone, anywhere.

On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army.  These service records – including those of the men of the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry featured in the movie Glory – are a treasure trove for genealogists and a rich source of documentation on the black experience in America during the Civil War.

Researchers may be surprised to find that the USCT military service records hold not only muster rolls but also a huge array of personal papers that can include enlistment papers, correspondence, orders, prisoner-of-war memorandums, casualty reports, and final statements.  Starting in October 1863, slave owners could enlist their slaves and receive up to $300 upon filing a “manumission” or deed of ownership.  Unique to some of the records of the USCT are these deeds of manumission and bills of sale.  For genealogists, these records may offer the only source of documentation of an enslaved ancestor in the absence of other vital records.

For the first time, these valuable historical records are available online, thanks to Fold3, and to National Archives staff and volunteers who spent years preparing, preserving, microfilming, and digitizing them.  The collection is available free of charge to non-subscribers on www.fold3.com/category_268 today through May 31, and can be accessed for free at any time on computers at National Archives research facilities nationwide.

In total, the USCT consisted of seven cavalry regiments; 13 artillery regiments plus one independent battery; 144 infantry units; two Brigade Bands; and other miscellaneous smaller units.  Records are arranged by regiment and then alphabetically by surname of the soldier.

The USCT fought in 39 major engagements and more than 400 other ones.  Sixteen African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor.  The last USCT regiment was mustered out of Federal service in December 1867.

One soldier chronicled in the records is Edmund Delaney, a slave who served in Company E of the 117th USCT Infantry.  Delaney was 25 years old when he enlisted in August 1864.  His owner, Harvey C. Graves of Georgetown, Kentucky, filed a compensation claim for Delaney’s military service in December 1866, stating that Delaney was “purchased at private sale when he was quite a small boy.”  Graves attached to his “proof of ownership” a rare photo of Delaney, and letters Delaney had written to him while serving in Brownsville, Texas.

Another soldier’s file reads like an ultimate page turner and details the tragic story of Fortune Wright, a free black man before the Civil War who served in the 96th USCT Infantry.  Read USCT project manager Jackie Budell’s fascinating Prologue “Pieces of History” blog post.

More information:

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