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!
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There’s a story behind every census record. In fact, there are as many stories as there are names on each census page. This is true not just for people being enumerated, but also for the census-takers themselves.
A female census taker interviews a mother and child for the 1950 US Census. Image courtesy of the US Census Bureau, found at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/uscensusbureau/5020542240/in/photostream/.
I was reminded of this by Joanne, author of the Researching Relatives blog. She wrote in response to a blog post I wrote about a census taker a few months ago:
“Thank you for inspiring me with one of your posts from October. I never paid attention to the census takers until I read your post, and then I went back and looked at some random pages and found two female census enumerators.”
Of course I went right to her blog. She says she looked through random census entries about her relatives without finding anything special. Then, “In the 1930 census, the enumerator was Anna M. Allen and, in 1940, it was Bessie Dorgan. I’m guessing that female census takers weren’t that unusual, but it still caught me by surprise. So like Lisa, I wanted to find out more.” She put her research skills to work and learned more about these women and their roles as providers for their family. Click here to read more about her discovery.
Do you blog about your family history? Have you ever blogged about a discovery made in response to a tip you got from Genealogy Gems? I’d love to hear about it! Learn more about blogging your family history in my FREE Family History Made Easy podcast, episodes 38-42. Learn how-tos and get inspired by the stories of others who are sharing their family history discoveries online!
The FREE Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast series teaches genealogy for beginners with step-by-step, hands-on help at a friendly pace!
“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.
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To access the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast:
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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 Started
6 Sources That May Name Your Ancestors’ Parents
Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records Online: Google and FamilySearch Wiki
When it comes to chocolate my general rule of thumb is that more is usually better! The same is true with DNA testing. With this big DNA test upgrade sale, now is the perfect time to get MORE! I love being Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, and today I’ll walk you through how to get the best deal and the right tests. Take my hand, and let’s get upgrading!
This month, Family Tree DNA is running this Family Tree DNA’s Friends & Family sale, which means that all of the kits and upgrades are on sale! This sale is the perfect time to upgrade your DNA tests. (By clicking our link above you are supporting the free Genealogy Gems Podcast. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and we will receive compensation from the affiliate link. Thank you!)
Once in your account, click the Upgrade button. In very basic terms, to Upgrade means that they are going to go back to your DNA sample that they have on file, and do more testing.
Depending on the tests you have already had completed at Family Tree DNA, you will see several different options in the Upgrade menu. Most of you will see this box, listing the option to do more advanced testing, find gene variants, or order certificates.
If you’re testing for general genealogy purposes, you can most likely ignore all of those options. The advanced testing is aptly named as it is only for very specific, very, advanced problems. The gene variant report can be interesting, but you can get a similar report for only $5 from Promethease.com. As for the certificates, that is up to you. It is a printed report of your DNA values for either your YDNA or your mtDNA test. These are nice to give to relatives that have tested for you that might want something tangible to hold as evidence of their participation in your genetic genealogy efforts.
The last option in this box is to have a personalized report written. This will be several pages of information about the DNA testing you have had completed, but don’t expect them to find your ancestors or do much interpretation of the results.
Beyond those options, if you have not had mitochondrial DNA testing completed, or if you have only had the lower mtDNAPlus test completed, you will see options to evaluate your mtDNA. If you are going to try to do family history with your mtDNA test, you need to have the Full Sequence test completed. For the most part, using mtDNA in your family history won’t get you very far, but it is a good record of your direct maternal line.
If you are a man with the YDNA test, you will also see options to upgrade your YDNA test to a higher number of markers. You will want to upgrade from 37 to 67 or 111 if you have other matches on your match page who have also tested at those higher levels and you would like to get a better comparison. You can check to see if they have tested at a higher level by looking at your match page under their name. In general, the 67 marker test will help you better decide if you are or are not related to someone, while the 111 marker test will help you better determine how you are related to known connections on your match list.
If you have not yet taken the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA, that option will present itself as well. If the person tested is still available for testing, you should actually start their autosomal DNA testing experience with AncestryDNA, then transfer for free into their FTDNA account. If your family member is deceased, then you can get permission from their closest living relative, or whoever is administrating their account, to have them tested on the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA.
So remember my general rule of thumb when it comes to chocolate and DNA testing, more is usually better. Click here to shop the Family Tree DNA Friends & Family!
Get more help with my quick guide: Understanding Family Tree DNA.