6 Things You Need to Know About the AncestryDNA Ethnicity Update
If you haven’t checked your AncestryDNA results recently, you’re in for a treat. The recent AncestryDNA update includes some big changes to its ethnicity estimates, and there’s something for everyone to explore. Here are six things you need to know to get the most out of this new tool for learning more about your ancestors.
1. Everyone has access to the updated reports. Like most new Ancestry features, this one was gradually rolled out to Ancestry users. That left some of us to watch and wait as our genealogy friends were able to test drive the new ethnicity estimates. The wait is over, and your results should be in. Here’s how to access them:
1. Sign in to your Ancestry account.
2. Click the green ‘Discover Your DNA Story’ button on the left side of the screen. You may be prompted to answer some brief survey questions about how much you expect your results to change. Don’t worry, it won’t take long.
3. You’ll see a screen called ‘Updated Estimate’. This is where you’ll see your new results, along with a line below indicating whether this is an increase or decrease from your previous estimates. New estimates will be labeled with a green ‘NEW’ banner, and the items removed altogether from your estimate will be listed at the bottom.
2. There’s lots of new data. Ancestry recently announced that they have more than 10 million people in their DNA database. That large population allowed them to use 16,000 reference samples to develop their new ethnicity estimates (up from 3,000 reference samples from the previous estimates). This has allowed for refinements of the existing estimates, as well as the addition of new regions. Here’s a list of the changes to the old regions:
We’ve also seen lots of people lose old estimates that didn’t make sense. In particular, I’ve noticed that a number of clients with European Jewish ancestry had a Europe South estimate that is now gone. Fewer people are reporting Finland/Northwest Russia (unless, of course, they have ancestors who came from that area). In general, most users are seeing less “noise”—those one-to-three percent amounts of a particular ethnicity that didn’t make sense given what they knew about their families. I’ll miss my own 2% Iberian Peninsula, but as a person with far northern European ancestry, it didn’t really fit in my family tree.
3. The regions with solid dots next to them have ranges of probability. If you’re seeing an ethnicity that doesn’t quite make sense to you, click on it. You’ll see a range of probability that your ancestors actually came from that region. My own Scandinavian ancestry was updated to mostly Norwegian, which matches what I know about my many ancestors from Norway. I was a bit surprised to see 4% Swedish ancestry as well. Did a Swede sneak into my family tree? When I click on that “Sweden” listing, I see this range:
This makes more sense. That 4% Swedish is Ancestry’s best guess, but the range of probability is 0% to 6%. This is telling me that I may or may not have a sneaky Swede in my tree. I’ll keep an eye out, but I won’t lose sleep over this.
4. Don’t neglect the maps. When we think of the countries our ancestors came from, we tend to picture their home countries as they appeared on the maps we see today. It’s important to note that DNA doesn’t necessarily respect modern political boundaries. That means that some countries have more DNA overlap than others, so a region might be named for one country, but include bits of others as well. In fact, when I looked at the map associated with the Sweden DNA region, I discovered that it includes quite a bit of Norway.
I have deep roots in the part of Norway covered by this map. I might still find that sneaky Swede, but either way, this map does accurately reflect what I already know about my ancestors. Similarly, I wondered why my German-speaking Hungarian ancestors weren’t showing up, but the map for Germanic Europe clearly covers nearly all of modern Hungary. They’re in there, but you have to look closely at the maps to see them.
We’ve found that this is especially important when looking at the region Ancestry calls England, Wales and Northwest Europe. Many users see “England,” and say, “But I’m not that English!” A closer look at the map for this region reveals that it includes much of France, a huge chunk of Germany and Denmark, and all of Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Even a bit of northern Italy is included in this group. If you think about the history of this part of Europe, it makes sense that there would be some DNA overlap. People in these areas have been interacting for thousands of years, and it stands to reason that some of these interactions involved DNA.
5. You can use some ethnic regions to sort your cousins. This isn’t a new feature, but it’s one a lot of AncestryDNA users miss. Your main regions will have a solid dot next to them. For the ones with a dotted line around that dot, you have a special option.
If you see these dotted-line dots, go to your main cousin match page, and click the ‘Regions’ button at the top of the list (it’s to the right of ‘Hints’, ‘New’, ‘Starred’, and your parent(s) who have tested). You’ll see a drop-down menu that allows you to choose a region, and see only cousin matches who are in that same region with you.
This tool can be extremely helpful. I have Eastern Norwegian ancestry on my paternal side, and Central Norwegian ancestry from my mother. All of these ancestors have generic names like Nels Nelsen or Ole Olsen, but sorting by region has helped me separate the two different sets of cousins. We often use this tool in unknown parentage cases, where we may not have enough information to otherwise identify maternal versus paternal matches. Try it, and see if it helps you make sense of those matches you haven’t been able to place yet.
6. They’re called estimates for a reason. Updates like this can be exciting, but you might find that they still don’t quite match what you know about your family. We are all fortunate to be pioneers in this new era, but it’s important to remember that being a pioneer is never a sure thing. I took my first DNA test in 2006, and it told me I was Italian and Greek, which would have come as a big surprise to my Norwegian and British ancestors. This technology is evolving, and it will continue to evolve. It’s likely that some parts of your estimate will ring true, and others will be a bit of a headscratcher. Remember that the best tool for learning more about your ancestors isn’t on the ethnicity page; it’s your cousin match list. Your best strategy is to enjoy the fun of the maps and pie charts, and then click over the match list and get to work.
Take a look at your own updated AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates, and let us know what you’ve seen. Are they more or less in line with your known family tree? Have you seen any surprises?
Our resident DNA experts would be happy to help you analyze and make sense of the results you get from any of the major DNA testing companies. Give us a call or drop us an email and let us know how we can help you!
NOTE: Legacy Tree Genealogists is not affiliated with AncestryDNA, or any other company offering DNA testing.