Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

DNA ethnicity estimates are fun conversation-starters. But the “pie charts” become more meaningful genealogically when you can assign timelines to the places your ancestors were from. Here’s an update to our ongoing conversation about what DNA ethnicity results really mean.

DNA ethnicity estimates

Understanding DNA Ethnicity Estimates

Where did I come from? This is a fundamental human question, and it is driving millions of individuals all over the world to have their DNA tested. Now, we genealogists would like to think that they are being tested to aid their family history efforts, or to connect with us, their cousins. But they aren’t. They are after that pretty pie chart that tells them what percentage of themselves came from where.

Now, I know you have heard me say that these kinds of results are just for fun, and don’t hold much genealogical value. But due to some interesting developments in the world of DNA, my previous assertions of these ethnic origins results being somehow second class to our match list might be changing.

Living DNA and DNA Ethnicity Results

A U.K. company called Living DNA launched their DNA product in the fall of 2016. Right now, all they are focusing on is reporting ethnic origins information. But they are doing it in a manner that changes the way we look at our DNA ethnicity results.

In addition to the standard map that you will see at any genetic genealogy company, Living DNA also offers a tool they call “Through History.” It literally takes you step-by-step back in time to show you how similar your DNA is to others on earth during 11 time periods ranging from 1,000 years ago to 80,000 years ago! In the images shown below, we see a glimpse into my earliest time period, a peek at the middle, and a view of the last. The intensity of the blue on the chart tells you how genetically similar I am to the people in that area.

In the first chart shown here, you can see that since I am 100% European, I share DNA with, well, people from Europe:

DNA ethnicity estimates

But, if we go back not very far, I am sharing DNA with people in the Middle East and Russia, as shown in the second map:

DNA ethnicity estimates

As my DNA marches further back in time I can see that I am sharing that DNA with people in a variety of locations, until we get back to the beginning of man, and I am sharing DNA with literally everyone in the world.

DNA ethnicity estimates

DNA Ethnicity Estimates Over Time

So, how does this work from a DNA standpoint? Well, the fact is, not all DNA markers are created equally. Some markers have developed relatively recently in on our timeline making them helpful for determining recent relationships and modern populations. Others have been around longer, linking us to early settlers of Europe or even Asia. Still others link us together as a human race and help to track our origins back to a single time and place.

Part of the struggle that these DNA testing companies have is trying to figure out the time and place for each of the markers they test. Certainly part of the puzzle is the ability to look not just at modern day populations, but ancient populations.

You may have heard of some recent reports that scientists have completed DNA testing on ancient remains. One example came from Ireland where they were able to determine that one body tested had ancestry in the Middle East, and another had roots in Russia. It is the combined efforts of both ancient DNA testing and your own modern samples that unite to help us improve our understanding of our own personal origins, as well help us understand how humankind developed and evolved.

3 Ways to Better Understand Your DNA Ethnicity Estimates

To get the most out of your genetic genealogy populations report, you may want to:

  1. View your results in the context of a more historical timeline, as opposed to your own genealogical timeline.
  2. Try testing at multiple companies (you can transfer into Family Tree DNA from 23andMe or AncestryDNA for only $19). Click here to see recent updates to Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity categories.
  3. Give the multiple population tools at Gedmatch a try, just to get a better feel for how different companies and tools can provide us a different look at the populations we are carrying around in our DNA. My quick guide for using Gedmatch, shown here, is available as a printed guide or digital download.
The Author: Diahan Southard

The Author: Diahan Southard

Your DNA Guide

Diahan Southard is Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems. She been in the genetic genealogy industry since it has been an industry, having worked with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. She holds a degree in Microbiology and her creative side helps her break the science up into delicious bite-sized pieces for you. She’s the author of our popular DNA guide series, which includes Getting Started: Genetics for Genealogists and Y Chromosome DNA for Genealogists (find the full series in the Genealogy Gems Store).

DNA ethnicity estimates

Family Tree DNA Now Offers Vitagene Wellness Report: New in Genealogy and Genomics

A Vitagene Wellness Report is now available to Family Tree DNA customers. The $49 report just takes a week and promises personalized recommendations for your nutrition, exercise, and supplements based on your genetics and lifestyle. Here’s what Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard has to say about it.

Vitagene Wellness Report

Recently, Family Tree DNA offered its customers a new $49 add-on product: a wellness report that promises to “empower you to make more informed decisions about your nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.” The report comes via a partnership with Vitagene, a nutrigenomics company.

How does it work? When you order the report, Family Tree DNA shares the results of your Family Finder test with Vitagene and gives you a lifestyle questionnaire. According to the site, “this information, along with your DNA raw data results, will be analyzed using the latest research available in the areas of nutrition, exercise, and genomics. You can expect your results to be available on your dashboard within one week of purchase.”

At this point, the test is only available to those who have taken the Family Tree DNA Family Finder DNA test (we called to check with them specifically about those who transfer their DNA to Family Tree DNA, but the Wellness Report isn’t available to them, either). Those who qualify will see a Wellness Report upgrade option on their Family Tree DNA dashboard, as shown below:

What’s included in the Vitagene Wellness Report?

There are several components to the Family Tree DNA and Vitagene Wellness Report. The site describes them as follows:

Nutrition Report. “Personalized, actionable recommendations designed to help you reach your weight goals. Learn how your DNA affects traits such as obesity risk, emotional eating, weight regain after dieting, and more. Included Reports:  Obesity Risk, Alcohol Metabolism, Cholesterol Levels, Triglyceride Levels, Lactose Sensitivity, Gluten Sensitivity, Emotional Eating, Weight Regain After Dieting, Fat Intake, Sodium Intake.”

Exercise Report. “Outlines the optimal physical activities for your body to start seeing better results, faster. Included Reports: Power and Endurance Exercise, Muscle Strength, Muscle Cramps, Exercise Behavior, Blood Pressure Response to Exercise, Weight Response to Exercise.”

Supplementation Report. “Reveals which deficiencies you are more inclined to suffer from and recommends a supplement regimen that will help keep you healthy and feeling 100%. Included Reports: Full Supplementation Regimen, Vitamin D Intake, Vitamin A Intake, Folate Intake, Vitamin B12 Intake, Iron Intake.”

And what about your privacy? According to Family Tree DNA’s Q&A, “Your data is 100% secure and protected by industry standard security practices. We will not share your information without your explicit consent.”

A Little More about the Vitagene Wellness Report (and Others Like It)

This is just one of many services that are cropping up or will crop up in the future to offer additional interpretations of our DNA test results. (23andMe was the first major company in the genealogy space to offer these–click here to read about their health reports, and click here and here to read about the company’s long road to FDA approval.)

Essentially, each DNA test you do for family history looks at a certain number of your SNPs, or little pieces of DNA (not your entire genome, which is costly and isn’t necessary for genetic genealogy purposes). A nutrigenomic profile compares your SNPs with SNPs known to be associated with various conditions or ailments. (These genetic markers have been identified by researchers, many in academia, and deposited in ClinVar, a large, publicly-accessible database that itself is part of an even larger genetic database, SNPedia.) In this case of Vitagene, they are likely mining ClinVar for specific places in your DNA that pertain to nutrition, and were also evaluated as part of the Family Finder test.

Of course, many factors affect your health, nutrition, exercise capacity, and other wellness indicators, not just your genes. The purpose of reports like these is to give you just one more piece of information to weigh personally or with your health care provider.

When considering whether to purchase a nutrigenomics report such as this, I’d look carefully at what’s promised in the report, as well as the company providing it and the cost. Vitagene does also sell vitamin supplements, so they have a clear motivation to tell you about what supplements to take. And, for your information, Vitagene also offers this $49 health report for AncestryDNA and 23andMe customers.

Keep Reading: My Picks for DNA Health Reports

DNA and Health

Of course, if it is health advice you want, for only $5 you can turn to Promethease.com and receive a health report–based on any testing company’s autosomal DNA report–that includes some nutritional factors. Or, I will just tell you right now, for free, without even looking at your DNA: Exercise more and eat more green vegetables and less ice cream. There. I just saved you some money. You’re welcome.

I’ve blogged recently about Promethease and another inexpensive recommendation for DNA health reports. Click here to read it!

REGISTER NOW – Free Webinar “Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA and Family History”

free webinar

What to reveal more about your family’s unique story through DNA and genealogy? Grab your seat in our upcoming free webinar:

Date: Sat. Sept. 23, 2017
Time: 11:00 AM Eastern
Length: 90 minutes including Live Q&A

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Your DNA Guide will dispel the myth that there’s just one DNA test
There are more options, and possible outcomes, than you might think! Diahan will walk you through the choices.

Creative ideas for filling in the gaps in your family’s story
Lisa will show you online tools that go well beyond names and dates. Then we’ll expand your story in unexpected ways by finding DNA connections.

Share the story you’ve uncovered through awesome video
Lisa & Beth will show you how easy it is to tell your story like a pro!

Please share this free webinar with your friends

Please share this free webinar with your friends and genealogy society. Here’s the link to the registration page to share on social media:

https://events.genndi.com/register/169105139238464863/a65a2c57c6 

Adoptee DNA Test Leads to Emotional Mother-Daughter Reunion

Years after a 15-year old mother put her baby girl up for adoption, the two reunited after both tested with MyHeritage DNA. See how an adoptee DNA test led to a sweet reunion.

Moms come in all shapes and sizes, and all have different stories. Sometimes, those stories include great self-sacrifice that ensures the best future possible for a child. That’s the case with this story that I want to share with you today. It’s a very special mother-daughter reunion which was covered recently by ABC15 in Mesa, Arizona.

As a 15-year-old, Robin Passey made the brave decision to put her baby daughter up for adoption to a loving family. Even though she knew it was in her child’s best interest, the decision understandably left a longing in her heart. Like many adoptive moms, Robin wondered how her daughter was doing, what she looked like, and if she was happy. That longing was filled thanks to the latest genetic genealogy technology available. Through a bit of genealogical serendipity, Robin and her biological daughter Becky both tested with MyHeritage DNA, and started a new chapter in their lives.

Watch their story and happy reunion:

More and more stories like theirs are appearing in news outlets, on blogs and in social media posts around the world. I find it deeply moving that who we are genetically–how we are connected–is literally encoded within us on such a fundamental biological level.

Learn more about MyHeritage DNA here at their website. 

We can help you with your own DNA testing journey, whether you’re an adoptee or just looking to learn more about your family. Start with these essential posts:

Getting Started with DNA Testing

DNA Testing for Adoptees: 5 Must-Read Tips by Genetic Genealogy Experts

(Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. Thank you for supporting the Genealogy Gems blog!)

Adoption Research Success: “I Continued His Quest to Find His Birth Mother:”

Searching for birth parents? This adoption research success story involved several proven techniques: mapping DNA matches, research legwork–and years of patient determination.

Adoption Research Inspiration

This inspiring letter about adoption research came to me from Liz:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your part in a major milestone of my genealogy research! You motivated me, educated me, and shared many wonderful resources throughout hours and hours of your podcasts. After listening to you talk with Diahan Southard a few times, it finally dawned on me that I should contact her to help me better understand DNA and its impact on my research.

Here’s the “story” as it unfolded for me.

During much of the last 30+ years my brother-in-law, Chuck, searched constantly for his birth mother. Chuck maintained hope that information he requested from the state of Michigan or newly available electronic adoption records might give him enough clues to help him find his mother. Six or seven years ago, Chuck was disabled by a stroke and a few years following the stroke vascular dementia robbed him of his ability to continue the search for his mother. In January 2015, we were able to get Chuck (despite the dementia) to spit in the test tube and provide a DNA sample. Little did we know he would be dead by Thanksgiving. As I wrote Chuck’s obituary, I realized I could offer one other piece of assistance to Chuck’s widow and children. I offered to continue his quest to find his birth mother.”

Then Liz outlined the steps she took to carry on the search:

“After gathering the limited detail we had (birth date, location, possible mother’s name and age) I began my research in earnest. Ultimately I:

  • created a “proposed” family tree for Chuck based on Chuck’s birth mother’s surname and his birth location,
  • reviewed Chuck’s DNA matches and
  • began to narrow down the family tree.

I used Diahan Southard’s website tutorials as the foundation for my analysis, put together a PowerPoint presentation with my research and theory and presented the information to her in a video conference. She found no fault in my logic and helped me plan my next steps: the search for Chuck’s birth father.”

Eventually, the paper trail and the genetic research came together to tell a story:

“Last week my niece finally received the adoption records from the state of Michigan, eighty-six years after Chuck was born, over twenty years after Chuck first requested them and almost a year after his daughter requested the records. I am impatiently awaiting my copy! What I do know so far:

  • Postcard of Harper Hospital, MI, posted on RootsWeb (click to view).

    My research (thanks to you and Diahan and DNA) accurately determined the identity of Chuck’s mother.

  • She had a very difficult young life and died of TB—tuberculosis – when she was just 25 years old in 1939.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant with Chuck while a ward of the state and an Inmate at a girls school.
  • Chuck’s mother became pregnant during a time when the school “farmed out” Inmates to Harper Hospital to work as nurses’ aides.
  • Both Chuck’s mother and her sister checked on Chuck after turning him over to the state, both in an attempt to get him back and to learn how he was doing.

It was heartwarming to learn that Chuck actually had a birth family who cared about him! I wish he had known!”

WOW, what an incredible story! Congratulations to Liz on such thorough and persistent research. I feel very sure that Chuck knows that not only did he have a birth family that cared, but also a wonderful sister-in-law (although I would guess he well aware of that even before he passed.)

I’m also thrilled that Genealogy Gems was able to play some part in Chuck and Liz’s story.

Get Ready for Adoption Research Success

Are you looking for someone’s birth parents? Get started with the DNA strategies Liz used:

  • Take a DNA test from a company such as AncestryDNA, which has an enormous database of testers and family trees. Click here to learn more about your DNA testing options.
  • Map your DNA test results using Google Earth and/or, if you test with AncestryDNA, the site’s tool within an individual DNA match view for identifying locations you have in common on your tree. Click here to learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy by watching my free full-length video class on using Google Earth for genealogy.
  • Share your DNA results on other websites (such as Gedmatch) to increase your chances of finding matches.

To access Diahan’s great video tutorials on her site that Liz used, click here— as a Genealogy Gems reader you’ll get a great discount on them.

Along with DNA evidence, create the best paper trail possible, as Liz did. Scour all available records and follow up on all possible leads for any information about the birth parents. In this instance, Liz needed to rely on records created by or about institutions, such as the hospital and state girls’ school. Genealogy Gems Premium members will find tips for finding and using these records in my newest Premium video tutorial, Institutional Records. (If you’re not a member yet, click here to learn more. )

Sources in our cover image for this post include this photograph of a pregnant woman and a postcard found on the Harper Hospital (Detroit, MI) hospital webpage at RootsWeb. Click to view full citation information.

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