A Look at AncestryDNA’s Ethnicity Updates
If you’ve looked at Ancestry recently, then you may have noticed that your ethnicity results have changed. Does that mean that you’ve changed as well?
In 2018, Ancestry released an update to their algorithm that calculates your ethnicity and that resulted in a change of the results that are reported for lots of people. Let’s walk through how my results changed and then explain some of the reasons why they would have changed.
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NO Big Surprises
To begin with, my ethnicity results are what I would expect them to be based on paper genealogy research. Most of my ancestors are from England, with some of them from Germany. That’s exactly what my Ancestry ethnicity results show.
If I want to see how my current results changed from my previous estimates, I can go up to the updates section, and by clicking on the “update section.” it’s going to give me a couple of bits of information.
Larger Reference Population for AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates
Previously, Ancestry had 3,000 samples in their old reference population with 363 regions. So really less than a hundred samples per region if it was evenly spread which it’s not. That is a significant upgrade by going from 3,000 to 16,000 reference samples.
Now, Ancestry says this new analysis is based on 16,000 samples. More samples hopefully are going to lead to more accurate information.
Next, there are now 380 possible regions. I only have four of those possible regions. Some people might have a dozen or more of those possible regions depending on how mixed their heritage is.
Percentage change thanks to new AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates
If we look over at the table of percentages, we can see a few little differences. First, the England/Wales area hasn’t really changed regarding the name or even what area is covering. The ethnicity percentage has increased by about 17 percent.
Scandinavia has now been changed into a couple of different regions. The one that I’m apparently related to is what they call their Norway region. It is not near as much as what the overall Scandinavian region was before. That dropped by about 9%
The Europe West region got renamed to Germanic Europe and the percentage changed by only a few percent.
Finally, the Ireland/Scotland region's ethnicity percentage decreased by about two percent, but the region itself stayed the same.
How is AncestryDNA calculating these ethnicity estimates?
Some people get confused as to whether these results are accurate or whether Ancestry is just making stuff up. In the Ancestry FAQs, there are a few questions that help enlighten us on what is actually being calculated and why we might be seeing these changes.
The question, “how can my DNA change?” Ancestry assures us that our DNA doesn’t change. You’re still you. What has actually changed is their knowledge about analyzing that DNA and how that relates to the different ways we look at heritage.
The next question is, “how do you actually predict the regions that my DNA is from?” Ancestry explains that they have this reference population and you’re being compared to that reference population.
That reference population is people whose families have long-standing documented roots in a specific area. That’s where they’re getting all these different regions from.
Next, “why are there different regions in my ethnicity that my family members may not have?” Ancestry tells us there are two reasons for this. One is that DNA inheritance is random and two they’ve updated their ethnicity results and so some of those regions may be showing different things.
Another good question is, “why do my ethnicity results not match what I already know about my family tree?” There are several possible reasons for this. You might not have inherited DNA from that region even though you have one or two or even a handful of ancestors from a specific area, depending on how far back they appear on your family tree.
Another reason is that DNA may look a lot like some regions nearby. Maybe you have the Ireland/Scotland DNA, but you don’t have the England/Wales DNA. Those two regions are right next to each other, so there’s actually some overlap between them.
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Next is that genes don’t follow political boundaries. Genes follow people. People don’t necessarily follow political boundaries. We cross over all the time.
The last reason they give me is the best. Some places are complicated. The reference that they use is Nigeria Africa being the birthplace of modern humans is the most genetically diverse place on earth. A country like Nigeria is going to have a lot of genetic diversity, and that makes trying to figure out which parts of the DNA belong to which groups really difficult.
Some people, besides just having the ethnic regions, also have specific migrations. These migrations are figured out a little bit differently. Ancestry looks at people who were known to be a part of that migration and what their DNA looks like in comparison to yours. If your DNA is similar enough you might have ancestors that were part of that migration as well.
Final Thoughts about AncestryDNA Ethnicity Estimates Updates
Even though Ancestry changed my ethnicity results, they didn’t really change anything about me. They might have changed the names of some regions and some of the percentages, but all of the areas were indeed from that northwestern part of Europe.
My experience is not going to be the same as everybody else’s. Depending on where you are and how big a reference population was for specific areas you originated, you may have actually seen a drastic change in your results. There’s actually more information now that allows Ancestry to have a better calculation.
People are still going to ask me what is the accuracy of this and whether or not Ancestry is the most accurate. I still don’t think that any of the companies have a large enough reference database to really say that they’re the most accurate.