Recalibrating DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Genealogy testing companies have been hard at work recalibrating your ethnicity calculations based on new and better data. Here’s the latest from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard. 

Family History DNA Pie Charts and Percentages

Remember that the pretty pie charts and percentages are based on fancy math and reference populations. The initial reference populations released by our testing companies were a great start, but many categories lacked sufficiently high numbers of people to represent all of the facets of a population. In the 10+ years since their release, many updates have been made. But the fancy math that is used to produce our percentages can only be as fancy as the numbers you give it. The numbers have been hard at work at Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in the past couple of months with the result being a major overhaul in the way our ethnicity results are reported.

23andMe chart ethnicity updates

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23andMe

We recently reported about the update at 23andMe and their increase from 31 reference populations to 150. However, for me, the totally 100% European me, there wasn’t much excitement. As you can see in the 23andMe chart, I had a couple of numbers move up or down slightly, but not anything to write home about. However, I am certain those with South American, or Eastern European ancestry have a much different story. 23andMe added many new reference populations to better represent these underrepresented areas of the world, a move which has likely made a big difference for the ever diversifying pool of individuals who have taken a DNA test.

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA also released their latest Ethnicity update in September, boasting an additional 13,000 reference samples to their database. They not only upgraded their numbers, but also shifted some of their categories around based on this new data. They seem to not be quite sure what to do with Ireland, as in early 2017 it was its own category, later moving in with Wales and Scotland, and now appears in this latest update as simply Ireland and Scotland. My previous numbers from AncestryDNA seemed to at least loosely reflect my heritage (meaning that I do actually have people in my genealogy chart from a few of these places).

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But the new DNA numbers? Big Changes.

I have one set of great grandparents from Germany, but it looks like nearly all my German was sucked into England, but miraculously, they seemed to have precisely found my Swedish 2X great grandmother, with the 7% that I should have from that area.

With the new update, though I am sad to see my German go, AncestryDNA is now more fully in line with the results I have received from 23andMe, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage, all of which put my England/British Isles count up around 90%. If I compare my results from various companies and combine any subcategories into one England/British Isles category, indicate Scandinavian, and then lump everything else together, the results from the four companies are actually quite similar (I don’t have my own results at Family Tree DNA, only my parents).

My Family History DNA Results

Company DNA Ethnicity Comparison 2018

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Here’s how my results currently stack up at each of these websites. (Image 3)

Which DNA Testing Company to Choose

So which company is the best at all of this? Well, I usually say that if you test everywhere, your “true” answer is likely somewhere in the middle. But really, you can determine which company is best for you by examining their reference populations, and determining which company is most likely able to meet your goals.

In the end, it is always good to remember two things:

  1. Your DNA does not fully represent your family history, so your ethnicity results can’t possibly tell you everything about your heritage.
  2. This technology is purposefully titled as an estimate. So be sure you treat it that way.

Learn More about Genetic Genealogy

Recommended reading at Genealogy Gems: Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Get Diahan’s quick reference guides including Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist at the Genealogy Gems store.

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BYU Family History Conference 2016


The BYU family history conference is coming up July 26-29, 2016 in Provo, Utah. I’ll be there! Will you? I hope you’ll come say hello.

I hope to meet many of you at Brigham Young University’s annual Conference on Family History and Genealogy in Provo, Utah, coming up on July 26-29, 2016.byu family history conference 2016They’re keeping me busy during the first two days of the conference, when I will be teaching five lectures! Those presentations will include:

  • Genealogical Time Travel: Google Earth is Your DeLorean. Get ready to experience old historic maps, genealogical records, images, and videos coming together to create stunning time travel experiences in the free Google Earth program. We’ll incorporate automated changing boundaries, and uncover historic maps that are built right into Google Earth. Tell time travel stories that will truly excite your non-genealogist relatives! You’ve never seen anything like this class!
  • Get the Scoop on Your Ancestors with Newspapers. Yearning to “read all about it?” Newspapers are a fantastic source of research leads, information and historical context for your family history. Learn the specialized approach that is required to achieve success in locating the news on your ancestors.  Includes 3 Cool Tech Tools that will get you started.
  • Google Tools & Procedures for Solving Family History Mysteries. In this session we will put Google to the test. Discover Google tools and the process for using them to solve the genealogical challenges you face. You’ll walk away with exciting new techniques you can use right away.
  • Soothe Your Tech Tummy Ache with These 10 Tech Tools. Are you sick and tired of navigating the countless tech tools available to help with your family history? The good news: You don’t need them all to accomplish your genealogy goals. The video session will soothe your suffering by simply focusing on these 10 technology tools that will help you bypass tech overload and get back to your genealogy research.
  • Tablet and Smartphone Tricks, Tips and Apps. Tablets and smartphones are built for hitting the road and are ideally suited for genealogy due to their sleek size, gorgeous graphics and myriad of apps and tools.  In this class you will discover the top apps and best practices that will make your mobile device a genealogical powerhouse! (iOS and Android)

WHAT: Brigham Young University Conference on Family History & Genealogy
WHEN: July 26-29, 2016
WHERE:  BYU Conference Center, 730 East University Pkwy, Provo, UT
REGISTER: Click here for full conference information

Gems editor Sunny Morton will join me at the BYU family history conference in the vendor hall and in the classroom. She’ll be lecturing on researching collateral relatives (as indirect routes to direct ancestors); finding “relatively recent” 20th-century relatives; finding family history in Catholic church records; how to carefully consider your sources; and a hands-on workshop for planning your next family history writing project.

This year’s conference promises to be rich in expertise and education. Keynote speakers include FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood and professional genealogist and author, Paul Milner. There are more than 100 classes planned in several topic areas. ICAPGen will host a luncheon, too. A nice extra is that the conference center is so easy to get around in, with free parking right next to the building.

Click here to learn more about the conference and register. And please come say hello to me and Sunny at the Genealogy Gems booth in the exhibit hall on Wednesday or Thursday!

The BYU Family History Conference 2015

Last year, I delivered gave a keynote address on various technologies that help our research. It reminds me how quickly technology moves–and how enthusiastically genealogists continue to embrace new opportunities given them by technology. Click here to read a summary of that talk and whet your appetite for this year’s conference!

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